The Arizona Desert Lamp

New blog on the block

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 30 November 2008

The latest UA blogger, Alyson Hill, has just written her first entry for her new blog The New Century. You will never see Charlie Brown television specials in the same way again:

One wonders whether the parents are protesting the imperialist-consumerist Thanksgiving holiday and refusing to indulge Grandma’s traditionalism; or perhaps they’re lounging among naked hippies in a drug-addled haze, too out of it to even realize their children are missing — this is, after all, the seventies. The children do what they can to enjoy the holiday, but ultimately they’re either too young or too poorly brought up to be able to achieve much, and Grandma, that beacon of pre-post-modernism, must save the day.

As they say, read the rest here, and be sure to add this one to your blogroll.

Are legacy admissions unconstitutional?

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 30 November 2008

An article from Inside Higher Ed discusses two law articles that make the legal case against legacy admissions. The first article focuses on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, targeted against the former slave-owner aristocracy of the South, while the second uses the nobility clause of the constitution:

Because his paper focuses on titles of nobility — banned by the Constitution for use by federal or state governments — his argument applies only to public colleges and universities. Lawson argues that the nobility clauses, largely understood to ban the awarding of titles like “duke” or “earl,” actually ban any hereditary privilege.

I think this overstates the case, and in the process makes the Constitution far too flexible. This clause is literally talking about titles of nobility, not a (somewhat) natural aristocracy. Were the House of Clinton entitled to twelve admissions at Harvard, it’d be worthy of protest. Yet a form of aristocracy is natural, and will occur in all but the most dystopic societies. Even the Soviet Union, ostensibly the great socialist hope, quickly developed a ruling class. The key is to avoid a codification of these interests, which makes the aristocracy more artificial than natural.

The second article is focused largely on public universities, which use legacy admissions to a far lower extent than the private Ivies and other elite, private institutions. For instance, I don’t think that legacy plays anything but a negligible role in determining who gets in to the UA or ASU.

Yet I’m optimistic that it the long term, it doesn’t really matter. As elite universities rely too heavily on legacy admissions, more and more talented kids from non-entrenched families are left out. Yet these kids are often the most striving and hard-working (given their environment), and many will succeed even at a state school. As this occurs more and more often, and the alumni of less prestigious schools become more prominent, these schools gain prestige, and become less of a second or third best option. What we’ve seen in the past few years is the rise of schools which weren’t considered. Remember, there was once a time when the Ivies were the only option, and schools like the University of Chicago were backwater honor high schools with 20 students. As time has progressed, overall quality has gone up.

The fairness issue is a problem, and akin to the affirmative action issue — you have no control over the family you’re born into, nor over the amount of melanin that you’re born with. Yet I’m getting increasingly pessimistic over the fact that it’s nearly impossible to tell whether or not a school is discriminating, be it on the basis of race or family. Outside of a flagrantly discriminatory policy, like the previous point system at the University of Michigan, the admissions process is very opaque, with a litany of factors at play. Wide-spread policies of discrimination could occur without anyone knowing, even with the passage of the Ward Connerly sponsored bills or bans on legacy admissions.

The best way to solve this problem is to start cutting state and federal funding to schools that exercise such discriminating preferences. As far as I know, Hillsdale College in Michigan is the only non-profit school that does not take federal or state dollars. The fact that Harvard, with a $36.9 billion endowment, receives any government funding is fairly repugnant.

——
The Reason Foundation was on this case many months ago, and pointed out an interesting twist to the problem:

If there is any doubt about this, consider Caltech in Southern California. Its admission standards are the toughest among elite colleges. Its endowment is a “mere” $2.38 billion – yet it ranks an impressive 13th on economic diversity. Its financial aid package is no more generous than that of Stanford or other elite schools. So what’s the difference? It applies the same standards to everyone, refusing to give legacies a leg up.

The big difference here is between technical schools and non-technical schools. For a technical institute, you have to know your math and science — even if your dad is Bill Gates. With liberal arts studies, however, the incoming knowledge is less quantifiable — thus an ability to use “outside factors” to a far greater degree.

With this in mind, I’m almost left wondering whether there isn’t a case to be made for legacies. Since the sons and daughters of famous alumni are bound to be major players wherever they end up, it’s best to ensure that they are as informed as possible when they step into these positions. The real responsibility ultimately lies with the parents of these potential legacies, as to whether they use their influence to coddle their children, or force them to earn their admission to Harvard.

Incidentally, the institution which offers the best chances at advancement on merit, with virtually no undue legacy corruption, is the military. There are downsides, though.

Thanksgiving Break

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 26 November 2008

Blogging will be light throughout break, so apologies in advance. However, having taken off for Thanksgiving break a day early (as I’m sure many of you did), I’m considering the annual question of why the UA only has a two-day break. My sister, who attends a small school in Ohio, had the whole week off, as did several friends back home.

However, this isn’t just a small, liberal arts school luxury. Going through the list of the sixty Association of American Universities (AAU) schools, 11 of them offer a full week for the break. More importantly, a full twenty of them, while not offering a full week for break, do have a fall break that takes place in the middle of October.

Of the schools that don’t have either option, six of them are Cal schools, which are all based on the same schedule; this inflates the number of the schools that appear to offer no extra breaks. Furthermore, some of these schools start school much later than usual; Ohio State, for instance, doesn’t start classes until September 24.

The broader point here is that the UA could offer a longer Thanksgiving break, or a fall break, without sacrificing academic integrity. Cutting back on the number of academic days also helps to safe costs. Since Shelton has already decided to punish out-of-state students with another double-digit tutition raise, the least he can do is consider allowing these students an extra day or two to commiserate with their families.

Boo, Campus-Wide Education! Hooray, Protectionism!

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 25 November 2008

USA TodayThat’s the message of today’s opinion board editorial, decrying the Collegiate Readership Program sponsored by Sen. Emily Fritze.

First, let’s start with opinion’s absurd assertion of “subsidizing” USA Today:

Consider the fact that the Arizona Daily Wildcat doesn’t receive a single penny from the university; in fact, it pays a fee in order to be housed on campus. Consider the fact that the UA is so strapped for funding that it’s already being forced to raise tuition. Where’s the fairness in asking the UA to subsidize the world’s biggest newspaper company out of its students’ pockets?

It would be profoundly absurd for the UA to give a major corporation what amounts to a free ride on our campus. It would be like paying the Coca-Cola Company a fee for the privilege of letting them distribute Coke.

No, it would not be like that at all. I would hope that no one is expecting USA Today to start raining down free papers like it’s pro-American propaganda in Iraq. The fee proposed allows for these papers to be provided relatively free to UA students — take the total cost of the program, and divide it by ~37,000 students. The program in Nebraska costs $5 per student, which is a damn good deal for a full nine-months’ subscription of any paper. The CatCard swipe is merely to ensure that the papers aren’t being taken by random visitors, not to charge a fee each time a paper is taken.

Also, the program would be funded (as currently proposed) through the Student Affairs Fee, a fact that the board recognizes but seems to ignore. In fact, the program could have a net zero budgetary effect, if some of the other SAF programs have their funding from the fee reduced or eliminated. If you really think that every program currently funded by the SAF is worth more than a wide distribution of national newspapers, then I suppose you’d be justified in opposing this new cost.

As far as the Wildcat “paying a fee” to be housed on campus goes, I believe that’s called rent. USA Today is not taking up any Union offices, nor charging anything but the papers that are provided to college students at a discounted price (in an attempt, I’ll freely admit, to get subscriptions from these same students five or ten years down the road).

Of course, USA Today doesn’t have the option of just giving the newspapers away. That would violate the rules under which paid newspapers are audited. But we shouldn’t have any illusions about their motives. Counting campus distribution as circulation allows them to inflate their readership numbers, which is good for advertising.

And what of it? I’m perfectly willing to exchange increased advertising dollars for a free paper with my coffee before class. This boogey-man of “Big Newspaper” rings more than a bit false when you see numbers like these.

Yet after all this dancing, the Wildcat gets to the point:

The USA Today readership program has measurably harmed other student newspapers around the nation. “Our circulation for the first week of the spring 2005 semester was the lowest in my career here,” the general manager of The Daily Collegian, Penn State University’s student newspaper, told Purdue University’s The Exponent after Penn State introduced the USA Today program on its campus.

This, folks, is what we call rent-seeking. Ultimately, the paper is worried about itself and its distribution, not the overall well-being of the student body. The Wildcat humbly describes itself as the “UA students’ most important vehicle for ‘sharing ideas’ and ‘examining diverse points of views,'” but it’s ludicrous to act as though the paltry national/international coverage provides enough information for a college student to be informed.

Going back to the previously cited Nebraska example (source here), it’s worth considering what actually happened with the program:

The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska hoped the USA Today Collegiate Readership Program would be successful in its first semester on the UNL campus.

But they had no idea it would be the second-most popular college readership program in the nation — oh, and go $68,565 over budget.

“This program is a victim of its own success,” said Daryl Swanson, Nebraska Unions director. “Since the program was new, we had no track record to go by when we established the budget — we had no idea how many papers would need to be delivered each day.”

Swanson said an average of 6,119 newspapers are delivered each day, a number determined by USA Today distributors depending on the day of the week, the current news and even the weather.

Choosing between this outcome and no papers at all, I’ll certainly stick with the former. Ultimately, the more media sources on campus, the better off the UA campus is — even if the Wildcat takes a few lumps. Two modest proposals — cut the cartoons, and never publish WildLife as a stand-alone, colored section again.

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Incidentally, I’ve noticed that most of these readership programs also include the New York Times, a paper that is a definite step up in terms of quality. Any chance we could get them on board?

Why the Lamp Exists (Post-Election Wrap-Up)

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 24 November 2008

So, in a rather quiet denouement, the 2008 College Blogging Scholarship has officially come to a close. Congratulations to winner David Mauro, author of Burnt Orange Report, as well as runners-up David Cameron (the Mariners expert, not the Tory) and Thomas Peters (American Papist). The Desert Lamp finished tenth, right in the middle of the pack; not too shabby for a very local blog.

If you haven’t taken the time, you really should browse through some of these blogs. They cover a wide  — sports, national politics, religion, economics, linguistics, evolution  — and are, in my opinion, all excellently written and designed.

I’d also like to take some time to thank everyone who voted for the blog, as well as for everyone who has had a role, directly or indirectly, in making the Lamp possible. Hopefully, our work here has just begun.

Since voting has come to a close, I’d like to take a bit of time to discuss why I started this blog in the first place. Much of this comes from the last paragraph of the essay that I submitted to apply for the scholarship:

There is a great opportunity for college students in the field of focused campus coverage. With few exceptions (Dartmouth College’s DartBlog comes to mind), there is a dearth of blogs by college students about college issues. Yet this an area where college students can have a direct impact. While students often get involved in national and international issues, such as the “Save Darfur” movement, the impact from these movements pales in comparison with the impact that students can have on university policy. While Omar al-Bashir couldn’t care less about student protests, Arizona’s Provost must be concerned with what students think. If these ideas are plausible and well-formulated, they may very well be enacted, creating a tenable change for the better.

While the Wildcat is an excellent paper (really, it is — try reading other campus newspapers), it simply cannot provide in-depth analysis of issues on campus. It cannot criticize many institutions to the extent that they wish.

Any environment without competitive media (or, at the very least, alternative media) is an environment with stagnant discourse. I remember reading the Arizona Growler as a wee freshman, and it wasn’t until I was a junior that I realized what had been lost with Garrett’s graduation. Thus, the Lamp sought to revitalize this campus-wide conversation — whether it be through pointed critiques, airing of half-complete ideas, lengthy consideration of campus issues, or encouraging input from students on campus.

So far, things have gone better than this pessimist could have expected. Between guest writers, new blogs, and thoughtful comments, I would hope that the UA is slightly more informed than it was a year ago.

Ideally, we would start to see more university-centric blogs in the coming years. By closely observing their own student governments, university administration, campus culture, and other issues, they could begin a dialogue with other large state universities. A Penn State blog could discuss the pros and cons of the Collegiate Readership Program; a U. Washington blog could discuss their 150 member student Senate (more on this later; it’s pretty outrageous). Like working a local beat for a small-market paper, this sort of coverage provides excellent training for dealing with public policy issues on a broader level.

Already, we have the aforementioned DartBlog, along with U. Illinois’s The Quad. More, please. If any readers out there are aware of other campus-centric blogs, I’d appreciate the tip.

Subverting Rhodes

Posted in Culture by Evan Lisull on 24 November 2008

Cecil RhodesOne of the genuinely inspiring sports stories this year (i.e. not the usual pabulum about hardship, adjusting to campus celebrity, etc.) is the awarding of a Rhodes Scholarship to Myron Rolle, a black football player at Florida State University.

Why does race matter here? From Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence:

Scholars who called themselves anthropo-sociologists did not hesitate to assert that the “Mediterranean race,” with its brown eyes and round skull, was not disposed toward individual self-reliance and risk-taking. Its nature was to favor socialism — protection by the state; whereas the Nordic type was the pioneer, the individual endowed with courage and originality, who singled-handed achieves great things. On him alone all progress depends. The political implications of this pseudo science were that England, Germany, Scandinavia, and the United States were bound to prosper and lead the world, while the Mediterranean countries (“the Latin nations” would be left trailing farther and farther behind.

That fortunate adventurer in South Africa, Cecil Rhodes, believed this prediction so literally that to help prepare the future rulers of the world he endowed by his will of 1903 the scholarships that bear his name. They were intended for English, German, and American students of high character and ability, who would acquire at Oxford the attitudes and traditions that made Englishmen movers and shakers.

Rhodes was also an ardent colonialist, who once proclaimed that, “If I could, I would annex other planets.” Suffice to say, giving Rolle a scholarship isn’t exactly what Rhodes envisioned, and we can all be grateful in this case that his vision was subverted.

“We need to get past the obsession of how we’re going to run the cars”

Posted in Politics by mattstyer on 23 November 2008

This was my friend Justin’s gmail status a few weeks ago, and it’s had me thinking ever since. I feel like most of the discourse about alternative energy revolves around what we’re going to power cars with: high efficiency diesel, elecric, biodiesel, solar, hydrogen, smaller cars? All totally outside my expertise, though smaller cars seems like an obvious good start. What now seems even more obvious to me are exactly the words I took from Justin to title this post: it’s not what we’re running the cars on, it’s the fact that we’re so reliant on cars at all. A 2000 pound box of steel and rubber, along with millions of miles of road, isn’t great for the environment any way you cut it. I’ve got a hunch that we’re going to need cars for a good long while, but a big focus of our efforts should be on developing better mass transportation. People quibble about the sprawl of American cities as making good mass transportation basically impossible, but if we were to save a trillion here from ineffectual bailouts and a few trillion there from unncessary wars, a city like Phoenix or LA could probably use just a few percent of that to make a good subway system. The next time you’re stuck in stop and go traffic for a few miles on a 5 lane highway, gazing across the sea of cars, think to yourself: couldn’t we be moving along pretty well on a train?

Reply to Evan

Posted in Politics by mattstyer on 23 November 2008

This is going to be just a short little reply to Evan. As such I wasn’t whether to make it a post in itself or just respond in the comments, but lo and behold, here it is.

I missed Justyn’s posts that Evan just linked to when I made mine, but I think these two bits stand out as worth quoting:

The Web site’s language is vague – does “setting a goal” mean that the community service will be mandatory or merely encouraged? Making it mandatory for all students presents a host of problems; for one thing, it’s hard to imagine how the federal government could effectively enforce it, short of withholding funds to schools that fail to comply. That seems contrary to the spirit of what Obama is trying to do

and

….this is, after all, the inevitable divide between republicans who believe in the possibility of popular government and libertarians who think that any manifestation of “the state” is, in Murray Rothbard’s words, “a criminal band.”

The first quote basically speaks for itself. Unless we really fear that Obama is some kind of crypto-Fascist stealthily waiting to draft us all into his movement, rather than some kind of social democrat who  recognizes the importance of some amount of civic spirit and collective achievement, I don’t think we should be too afraid of what will turn out pretty innocuously, even if it succeeds wildly.

Justyn’s second quote is especially pertinent in light of Evan’s assertion that America is different than Europe (true) in that it is uniquely philosophically founded (true) on “Puritan-cum-libertarian” ideals (false). Puritan-cum-libertarian ideals are an important strand of thought in our history, but that completely marginalizes the massive influence of republican ideals in our history. If you’ve got the time, browse through Harvard philosophy prof Michael Sandel’s Democracy’s Discontent on Google Books. I get a distinct feeling listenting to Obama speak that he’s read this book (it’s quite famous), and its general thesis is that the ethos that goes along with laissez-faire is incapable of sustaining a viable democratic culture.

Relatedly, on education, there really is no such thing as a neutral education, or “just education.” Facts go along with values and fit into narratives (like folk theories) of the way things go together, and the way things should be. Educating kids with republican values is no less natural, no more an imposition, than teaching them in a way that emphasizes the private over the public sphere, as current education tacitly does. This has no bearing on which approach is the better one, but I think it’s an important point to make.

Weekend Notes and the Service Debate

Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 23 November 2008

First, I’d like to take some time to welcome new guest-writer Matt Styer, whose first post can be read here. Matt was also a columnist for the Daily Wildcat last year, and is indeed an “unrepentant social democrat with strong Green sympathies.” Zounds! But yes, expect some good intra-Lamp debates in the coming weeks.

Yet let’s not forget the inter-blog debates — and what a doozy we had this week. It started with Justyn Dillingham’s column praising Obama’s national service plan (which I’ve written about briefly at another blog). Connor quickly responded with a post and a guest column in the Wildcat, while Dillingham and Styer provided counter-counterblastes. Fun all around!

Unsurprisingly, I’m with Connor on this one. Matt describes this as a “freakout,” but somehow my fear isn’t assuaged by his assertion that this is “pretty unnecessary.” I have trouble seeing how this is different from a draft. I am being forced to engage in an activity for the federal government, an activity that I do not approve of. I realize that the Supreme Court ruled that the draft is not forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment, but the Supreme Court is not always perfect.

Furthermore, it ignores how quickly this sort of draft would be politicized. How will Dillingham and Styer respond when they are drafted to volunteer at an evangelical soup kitchen? Also, drafts are usually in responses to grand emergencies. What is the emergency here? Or will the “everything is worthy of intervention” approach to foreign policy applied to domestic policy as well?

Justyn also makes the assertion that “. . .requiring something of public school students is quite a different matter than requiring it of free men.” You’re slaves, all of you, blind slaves! But in all seriousness, I find this troubling as well. Crazy as it may seem, I’ve always held that public education is for. . .education. Not sensitivity training, not feel-good pabulum, not community outreach. Our kids act more kindly, but it is the kindness of ignoramuses rather than of free men. Already, schools are having issues getting kids to learn — is throwing in a 100 required hours of community service going to remedy the solution? At the very least, give the lower and middle classes the option to opt out of such a system, like the Obamas have. I can has voucherz, plz?

Matt approvingly cites the civil service requirements of Western Europe, but we have to remember that America is different. Warts and all, liberty means a lot more in the US than it does anywhere else — in fact, I’d argue that our nation is one of the few philosophically-based nations, rooted more deeply in a sense of the American Ideal (which, I’d argue is a Puritan-cum-libertarian one in politics) than any common Volk or shared history.

I’ll reiterate a half-joking, half-“No, really though, why not” proposal I made earlier — use the Obamatrons! Many of Obama’s young devotees still hold their dear leader in loving ecstasy, and would be more than willing to serve at his beck and call. Why not keep volunteerism voluntary, and enlist these drones, rather than using force to subject the rest of us to unwilling labor?

Finally, the “most generous nation” line refers to a study from the upcoming Foreign Policy (via Tyler Cowen).

Freakout on the civil service

Posted in Politics by mattstyer on 23 November 2008

I don’t have time at the moment to get too into it, but it seems as though a lot of conservative and especially libertarian types are very worried about Obama’s civil service initiatives, complete with, on Connor’s part, serious allusions to serfdom, and on the part of other far less reasonable people (I believe some CATO forums is where I read it?), confidence that this is just one step short of the brownshirts. No disrespect to Connor, because I respect him a lot, but this seems like a pretty unnecessary freakout, with pretty limited international and theoretical context.

What Obama is proposing, along with most of his other proposals, are just things that would put us in with the mainstream of other democratic countries. I don’t know as much about the latinate countries, but most of the Germanic/Nordic countries in Europe have a mandatory or semi-mandatory civil service that lasts two years. I met a guy named Mannie on a train in the Czech Republic, while he was going back to Austria after a holiday. He said everyone had to serve: some guys did stuff with the military, but most people did public works stuff, and he “opted out” to work at a retirement home. Quite threatening indeed.

I am not sure either where Connor gets the idea that we are “far and away” the most generous nation on earth. Certainly the Nordic countries donate a much greater percentage of their income to development issues; at the same time, they participate in voluntary civil society organizations just as much as we do. The Netherlands and Canada can also be tossed in as countries with broad public welfare programs, as well as a strong civil society.

The way it lacks theoretical context is emblematic in how it passes off Milton Friedman as a serious political theorist, which he is not. The approving quote in Connor’s article, I know, can’t be explained because it’s just an opinion piece. But Friedman’s pithy quote doesn’t reflect that he or Connor really understand the relationship between civil society (or free men, or whatever) and government, that there is no stark separation between the two, and nor can there be. They are both part of a liberal (in the historical sense) organization of society, intertwined in various ways. More on this later. And again, no shrift meant at Connor. I have a tendency to write diatribes, so try and read it toned down a little bit, and I’ll work on my writing style.

With that, an introduction is in order for me, I guess. I wrote with Evan and Connor at the Wildcat last year, and I wanted to start writing about current events again. I’m a 5th year senior in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on political philosophy and theory. I’m an unrepentant social democrat with strong Green sympathies, so it should be fun going against my liberarian komrades Evan and Connor here.