The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

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Re: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Postby Drew » Tue Dec 12, 2017 11:31 am

Great convo. Super valuable to folks reading.

Just saw this and thought it was worth sharing for comment.

College Presidents Making $1 Million Rise With Tuition and Student Debt

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles ... ays-double
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Re: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Postby Juan » Tue Dec 12, 2017 12:23 pm

That trend is frustrating. Here's a question: does anybody have a sense of when the term "compensation" came to be the term of art? Has it always been used in a more formal way? Or is that a newer practice. It seems like a clever linguistic way of justifying higher pay for organizations' leaders.
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Re: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Postby Narddog » Tue Dec 12, 2017 1:04 pm

Juan wrote:That trend is frustrating. Here's a question: does anybody have a sense of when the term "compensation" came to be the term of art? Has it always been used in a more formal way? Or is that a newer practice. It seems like a clever linguistic way of justifying higher pay for organizations' leaders.


Not sure about timing, but it's about accuracy. Salary is an individual's base compensation. Then there are bonuses, incentives, etc. that are delivered in the form of cash (or stock, but not in this instance). Then you have benefits, some more traditional than others. This can include car payments, deferred compensation, club memberships, etc. on top of health, retirement, etc. And don't forget, many of these people get a university/college home.

When you lump everything together, that is compensation (although the home is rarely factored in). It (theoretically) accounts for the financial benefit associated with the employment, but to call it pay or salary would be misleading.

I obviously lived this world for many years, from two different vantage points. On balance, I think there are a lot of university leaders who are underpaid, a lot of who are overpaid, and few who are paid appropriately. But as a general statement, being a college or university president is incredibly hard, taxing, and requires organizational leadership of the highest order. These are often small city-states, especially among publics.
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Re: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Postby Juan » Tue Dec 12, 2017 5:36 pm

I just meant that "compensation" implicitly suggests some sort of symmetry between a person's labor and the money they are given. It seems like it helps to normalize ballooning executive pay scales. I don't have all the data lined up to substantiate this, but it seems to me that there is some correlation between leadership reaping ever greater rewards for their positions and performance (whether good or not) and the decline in people's trust in institutions. I found this article about George Romney's turning down various bonuses back in the middle of the 20th century to be mind-blowing. Can you imagine a university president, let alone a corporate CEO, expressing these kinds of sentiments nowadays?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/05/opinion/rich-getting-richer-taxes.html

Also, a relevant recent study from a few years back:

Student Debt Grows Faster at Universities With Highest-Paid Leaders, Study Finds
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Re: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Postby Juan » Tue Dec 12, 2017 7:45 pm

Bernard and I just settled this in person while walking to the local pizza place to buy macaroni and cheese bites. He said that many university leaders routinely turn down bonuses and pay raises. He did, however, concede that on the general point I made many good points and he thinks I am undoubtedly right and I changed his worldview. He's going to take some time to rethink his life.
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Re: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Postby Narddog » Tue Dec 12, 2017 8:37 pm

Juan wrote:Bernard and I just settled this in person while walking to the local pizza place to buy macaroni and cheese bites. He said that many university leaders routinely turn down bonuses and pay raises. He did, however, concede that on the general point I made many good points and he thinks I am undoubtedly right and I changed his worldview. He's going to take some time to rethink his life.


Lots of revisionist history as Juan delays writing his paper.
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Re: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Postby stormin mormon » Thu Dec 21, 2017 11:03 am

This was an interesting article:

https://slate.com/sports/2017/12/wesley ... iness.html

Especially the bit about how recruited athletes do "worse" than the student body in terms of academics by a few measures. Think it is interesting to note that the athletes recruited by Tom seem to buck that trend pretty hard.
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Re: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

Postby mwalsh88 » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:37 am

Economist article about Deep Springs


Deep minds: An alternative college education
IN THE spring of 1916 Lucien Lucius Nunn, a businessman in his early 60s, set off from Los Angeles in an open-top Stanley automobile. He chuntered north-eastward through Owens Valley, in the shade of the Sierra Nevada and the Inyo mountains, which the Paiute tribe named as the “dwelling place of a great spirit”. After some 300 miles he emerged from a gap known as Westgard Pass and gazed down at Deep Springs Valley, an area twice the size of Manhattan. Nunn had spent his life searching for a place like this. “The desert has a deep personality,” he said. “It has a voice.” And he wanted some of the best young men in America to hear it.

A century later, they are still listening. Founded by Nunn a year after his visit, Deep Springs is perhaps the most isolated and most selective small university in the world. It still functions roughly as Nunn imagined. Every year it admits just a dozen or so undergraduates, who spend two years there. They take classes, they help to govern the college, and they work on its cattle ranch and alfalfa farm.

At first glance, Deep Springs can seem like a chance for privileged young men to play cowboys before transferring to an Ivy League university, as many do. But it is more than an extended summer camp for posh, offbeat clever-clogs. It is a rare counterpoint to a mainstream model of higher education that is under increasing strain. Deep Springs has never charged fees, while the cost of tuition at private American universities has tripled in real terms since 1976. (About half of students with loan debt say the cost was not worth it, according to Pew Research Centre, a pollster.) And Deep Springs is committed to an education that develops its students as individuals and as members of a community in a way few other institutions can match.

The college has hewn to Nunn’s principles to a degree that can seem archaic. As it looks back on 100 years, though, it is starting to embrace change. After a century only admitting young men, next year it will admit female students for the first time. Meanwhile, a small band of Deep Springs alumni and devotees is establishing a similar college in Sitka, a town in south-east Alaska. One development asks if Nunn’s idiosyncratic vision can be broadened; the other asks if it can be reproduced. Will the voice of the Alaskan wilderness be as wise a teacher as that of the desert?

By the time he founded Deep Springs, Nunn had held stakes in gold mines, newspapers and banks (one of which was robbed of more than $22,500 by Butch Cassidy in 1889). But hydroelectric power made his fortune. Alongside Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, Nunn pioneered the use of alternating current to transmit electrical power over long distances. One business associate noted that there had seldom been such a bundle of energy wrapped up in such a small amount of skin. At about five feet tall (150cm), Nunn was almost half a foot shorter than Napoleon, whose relentless zeal he admired.

Another colleague recalled that Nunn saw work as “the one cure for worry and grief”. He knew both well. Nunn’s twin brother, Lucius Lucien, had died at the age of three. The loss would haunt him; he always referred to himself by their shared initials. Nunn also had to live with the social constraints around his homosexuality. (He was “forever getting crushes on pink-cheeked hotel bellboys”, one local gossip allegedly remarked). And in 1910 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, with which he would battle until his death in 1925.

Nunn saw himself as a builder of men. In 1891 he set up a scheme whereby his best engineers worked at remote power stations while taking classes that enabled them to apply to elite universities. In 1912 he sold his stake in the power company and devoted the rest of his life to establishing a college which would put into practice his ideas about education.

Those ideas reflected how Nunn himself had learnt. An alumnus of Oberlin College and Harvard Law School who built miners’ cabins as part of an early business, Nunn felt men should engage in practical tasks as well as intellectual ones. It was an idea reinforced by reading theologians such as Johann Herder and Charles Finney, as well as Thomas More’s “Utopia”, in which the philosopher imagined how collective farm work stops the rise of narcissism in his idealised community.

Some scholars suggest Nunn’s belief in remoteness came from reading “Love's Labour’s Lost”, the Shakespeare play in which the King of Navarre and his companions vow to isolate themselves. But it was also influenced by his attempt to set up a university in Claremont, Virginia, in 1916. It shut a year later, after the students complained about too much farm work and Nunn had to pay off one too many pregnant local women.

His ideas were also shaped by his era. “Progressive” educationalists such as John Dewey were criticising universities for expanding on an industrial scale while neglecting to instil character and purpose in students. Nunn wanted his students to take on “the burden of leadership” in “service to humanity”. Such sentiment may sound like the vacuous “mission statements” of today’s universities. But Nunn took them seriously. He was an elitist as well as an altruist. Influenced by Cecil Rhodes, the mining magnate and scholarship-founder, Nunn believed “the mass [of people] is dull-witted, sluggish, incapable”. He was looking for the “score in 100 million” who could lead.

Twice upon a time in the West

Deep Springs has since produced an impressive roster of scholars, diplomats, scientists and writers (and a disproportionately smaller share of bankers and consultants than other elite institutions). Though it has produced fewer alumni in an entire century than Harvard takes in undergraduates in a year, they include several Rhodes scholars as well as winners of the Pulitzer and MacArthur “Genius” prizes.

One evening in late September your correspondent arrived at Deep Springs, after a four-hour drive from Las Vegas, to meet its current class. It was dinner time; the dining room smelled of burning firewood and an indifference to showering. Nunn’s portrait looked down from the far wall. Most students had a shambolically rustic look: boots, jeans, oversized checked shirts and dishevelled hair.

Aadit Gupta, a first-year, explained that Deep Springs was “a way of escaping the trajectory I was on”. Born in India to diplomat parents, he saw his peers drifting through elite colleges and wandering unthinkingly into finance or consulting. He wanted a challenge. Says another student, Nkosi Gumede, “It was just weird enough for me and not too weird for my parents.”

Every student spends 15-20 hours a week doing such jobs as dishwasher, cook, gardener, irrigator or dairy boy—such manual labour being one of the college’s “three pillars”. Their work helps keep tuition and board free, but the main aim is to build a sense of responsibility. For Paul Starrs, who enrolled in 1977 and is now a professor of geography at the University of Nevada, the labour programme “presented a humbling, heroic and often embarrassing reality” for hitherto high-achievers. Slopping pigs and bucking bales of hay rarely comes easy.

As he milks Vera the cow, Hussain Taymuree, a second-year, explains that “work is the obligation you fulfil for the rest of the community.” He could work just the minimum hours per week and provide milk, he says, or work harder and make ice-cream, ricotta and yogurt. Work has helped him grasp how his actions affect the happiness of others.

The second pillar, self-governance, has a similar effect. Student-body meetings (pictured above) take place on Friday afternoons, when students at conventional universities might be playing beer pong. At these gatherings students set the rules by which they live. One recent decision was to try banning the use of the internet.

Over the century the student body has had its share of difficulty and scandal. In the 1930s the wife of the head rancher had an affair with the dean, whose wife was sleeping with a student. (The rancher was busy rustling cattle.) In the 1940s the college’s trustees limited the intake of Jews, against the wishes of most students. A decade later the director of the college was a paranoid McCarthyite who allegedly reported those he suspected of Communist sympathies to the FBI.

Students play a role in choosing both their teachers—some of whom are alumni—and the students who will follow them. Applications “will be scrutinised and debated with a diligence bordering on monomania”, according to David Arndt of the class of 1984. Applicants submit about seven essays and usually place among the top 2% in SATs, the national test used for university admission. Just 6-8% of them are accepted. Throughout the 20th century the vast majority of students were white and wealthy, many from private schools. Today most students are still affluent but they are more diverse: in the past five years 30% have been people of colour, according to the college. Many of those are international students, however. Very few students are African-American or Latino.

The responsibility given to students is one reason why Christopher Breiseth, a former Deep Springs president, wrote in 1981 that the college had a “subtle conservatism”. As another alumnus explains: at other colleges the anti-establishment student can rage against the system, but “at Deep Springs you discover you are the establishment”.

Student body meetings are also a crucible in which to apply the ideas learned in the academic programme, the college’s third pillar. Nunn stipulated that students must learn public speaking and composition. The rest is mostly up to them. Recent subjects include immunology, economic development, Dostoyevsky, Plato, Marx, Durkheim and—perhaps naturally for a group of rustic Übermenschen—Nietzsche.

There is an endearing sincerity to the Deep Springs student. Most speak slowly and deliberately, and eschew small talk. They walk slowly, too, ambling around the central circle comprising the university’s low-rise dorms and buildings. It is not uncommon to hear them say things such as: “The world we live in is very Straussian”, or “Imagine what Ibn Khaldun would say”. Such lines are delivered with only a little performance. “Things here are so much more genuine than at my high school”, says Arman Afifi, a second-year student from California. “People are interested in the texts for their own sake.” During lectures students are engaged, not on phones or laptops. Debates end in class and begin again in the boarding houses.

The Deep Springs experience is intensified by two rules Nunn laid down for the university. The first is no drinking or drug-taking. The second is isolation: students cannot receive visitors or leave the ranch. That way the effect of the desert is heightened. “In the city you’re surrounded by things in front of you,” says Mr Afifi. “The desert makes you more aware of yourself.”

“Three pillars, two ground rules, one valley,” writes Cory Myers, a recent graduate, in a book commemorating the centenary. “If Deep Springers are reactants, these are the catalysts.” “It’s not always enjoyable,” says Timothy Olsen, a second-year. “But we’re not here for comfort.” Students concede Deep Springs can take an emotional toll, but most like that it makes them think about what they want from life. What every student appears to cherish above all is the relationships with classmates. At his high school pupils were always jostling for social status, notes Mr Afifi. At Deep Springs “relationships are much more genuine and intimate”.

For 37-year-old Bryden Sweeney-Taylor, who now works for an education charity, Deep Springs was “the formative experience of my life”. The college was rarely easy but it gave him the companionship he craved, and encouraged him to reflect deeply on what he wanted to do with his life, opting ultimately to work in educational reform. By contrast, Harvard, where he transferred after two years, “was a let-down”. Yet Mr Sweeney-Taylor feels that Deep Springs has been too inward-looking. So, together with some colleagues, he is setting up Outer Coast, a new university due to open in Alaska in the autumn of 2020.

Is this place at your command?

The fact that today Deep Springs stands almost alone would have disappointed Nunn, who wanted it to inspire imitators and innovators. But it is difficult to set up a new university, explains David Neidorf, the current president. Obtaining credentials is a bureaucratic nightmare. Philanthropists want to give to their alma mater, not a new college.

That has not deterred the Outer Coast team. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, who came up with the idea for a college, grew up in Sitka and dropped out of Yale in 2012 to run, successfully, for the Alaska House of Representatives (he won re-election in 2014 and 2016). He sees Outer Coast as a way to rejuvenate both his hometown and the current model of higher education. Much as Nunn was in 1917, the team is frustrated with what Mr Sweeney-Taylor calls the “hollow nature” of today’s university life, and the poor quality of teaching by academics who would rather do research.

Like Deep Springs, Outer Coast will be a small, two-year college and involve labour and self-government. But the work will be for community organisations, not a ranch. And while Sitka’s surroundings are wild and beautiful, Outer Coast will not be isolated, as Deep Springs is. Nor will it be free, though it will try to offer scholarships to those with indigenous heritage.

Outer Coast will be co-educational from the start. But at Deep Springs the question of whether to admit women has hung without final resolution for decades. There have been two main reasons cited for staying stag. One is distraction. Nunn warned his students against “entangling alliances”, and though there have been gay relationships between students over the years, some alumni recall the 1980s, when sex among students, staff and faculty became commonplace, as a toxic time. The other is dilution; that special depth of camaraderie will be lost, not least because students will show off more.

Supporters of the move, including most current students, believe it is a simple matter of equality. In 2011 the university’s board of trustees voted 10-2 in favour of admitting women, and in 2017 California’s Supreme Court ruled in the majority’s favour after a legal challenge. Although it will make the college even more selective (since class size will remain the same), the new student body should not change the ability of Deep Springs to be an implicit critique of the surrounding culture. It is simply too remote and too unusual to revert to the mean. There is every chance that the young men and women who arrive in 2018 will, like most of their predecessors, take pride in applying Nunn’s ideals. One of the ironies of Deep Springs is that, although each class gets to make the school anew, they tend to keep it much the same. The voice of the desert is still ringing in their ears.




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