Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘education’

Help for a Friend

August 22, 2008 · 1 Comment

My friend has been working on a project this summer introducing secondary education in rural Cambodia and she’s trying to secure funding through American Express.  Please take a moment to nominate her project by clicking on the link below:

Hi friends,
The NGO I have been wortking for this summer, The Cambodia Project, needs your help to raise money – actually 5 minutes of your time would do. Please go to or American Express site ( and nominate the proposed innovative project for secondary education in rural Cambodia. In one day, we got 98 votes. If we manage to have 3000 in 10 days, we can win up to a million dollar donation and get our project running for good… So please sign up and forward this to as many people as you want/can!
Thanks in advance for your support!

Categories: Neato · graduate school · work
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I am a sub-par student

April 16, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Bernanke textbook

Struggling through a problem set for econ, I decide that it might be a decent idea to reference the textbook I bought at the beginning of last semester (for some ridiculous three-figure sum).

This decision leads to a rather embarrassing sequence of events:

  1. When I pick the book up, there is a substantial layer of dust, which I wipe down with a t-shirt (the t-shirt must now must be washed).
  2. When I open the book, it creaks like Tales from The Cryptkeeper. This book somehow manages to simultaneously smell both new and musty.  The pages are laminated and stick together.  There are some pathetic highlighter marks in Chapter 1 (on how to calculate GDP) that I apparently made during Week 1 of last semester.
  3. After flipping through the first few pages, looking for the desired chapter, I notice in the acknowledgments section that one of the dedications is signed by BSB, Washington DC. Curious, I flip the cover back to see that BSB is Ben S. Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

I’m (hypothetically) getting a “real-world” education!

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Amoral Decisions…?

April 8, 2008 · 1 Comment

On the self-justifying nature of professional salaries, Ezra Klein writes:

Indeed, I’m always fascinated by how little self-consciousness the professional class has about their lives. You often hear folks with six figure salaries talking about how “hard” they worked to get ahead. But working at a law firm isn’t any harder than, say, laying tar, or standing on your feet selling cell phones all day. It’s just more highly valued. It’s smart early investments and a host of material and internal advantages that lead to one man’s labor earning hundreds of thousands, while another man’s barely pays the rent. But it’s hard to argue that attending an Ivy League school where you smoke a lot of pot and pretend you understand Focault is more taxing than entering a service sector job right out of high school. The professional class just likes to pretend that it is in order to lay a patina of virtue and ethics over what are, in fact, amoral decisions of the market.

It seems very difficult to take a stance on this issue without feeling either overtly callous or apologetically guilty.

Higher education may be over-valued as an indicator of diligence, perseverance, dedication, loyalty, or industriousness, but it is still pretty accurate as an indicator of ability, intelligence, creativity, and analysis. And those are skills that can’t be learned overnight… they are skills that represent years of time spent cultivating the mind.

Over time, the individual who reads on the subway and the individual who plays a PS3 (or does nothing at all) arrive at disparate life outcomes. Those hours should be considered (if not accounted for) when making comparisons between blue- and white-collar jobs.

Over the course of a lifetime, manual labor CLEARLY remains the undesirable career option, regardless of income. But if we are to compare apples and oranges, we should at least take into consideration the effort required to cultivate both crops, and not just their respective tastes at harvest.

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An Impulse I Never Understood:

January 10, 2008 · Leave a Comment

The call by Ron Paul and other Libertarians to “abolish the US Department of Education” and return the control of educational decisions to the local level, based on the 10th amendment.

(Granted I am biased, because I have worked in some capacity for the US Department of Education.  But I worked in the non-controversial branch — that is to say statistical data collection and analysis — not policy regulation and funding.)

I realize that we are a country founded on frontier schoolhouses and homeschooling.  But that tradition seems pretty antiquated in a modern, global context. 

Yes a more heterogeneous system may result in a healthier diversity, which is key to the concept of creative destruction and innovation in particular. 

But when we are competing against ethnically homogenous nations like China, Singapore, Japan, and to some degree India and most of Europe– and many of those countries have centrally planned educational systems resulting in a relative and absolute advantage in the percentage and number of highly-educated students… we lose.

The ironic take on this position is that Friedrich Hayek, one of the founding members of the Austrian School of economics that largely informs the libertarian position, observed that one of the results of the capitalist system and the labor specialization it entails is that as our society progresses technologically, the potential of any individual to retain a relative share of the totality of human knowledge must decrease. 

It therefore follows that the homeschooling impulse is misguided because unless a parent is a mental giant, his or her likilhood to better educate his or her children than might a trained, professional teacher, is extremely small. 

And it is national standards and accountability norms that result in highly trained professional teachers.  Federal standards raise the bar of what we expect our teachers to teach, and our children to know.  It’s really not that hard. 

The debate should be over where and how we set the bar, not whether it should be there at all. 

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What Do You Do, With a BA in English?

November 27, 2007 · 2 Comments

What do you do, with a BA in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college, and plenty of knowledge…
has earned me this useless degree…

So go the opening lines of “Avenue Q.” A musical that I found extremely relatable two years ago, when I moved to DC with a meager savings account, an over-valued skill-set, and a bohemian apartment on “U” Street.

I’ve heard it said before that “the BA is the new diploma.” The data backs this up. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (my employer, by the way), the total enrollment of students attending two- and four-year degree granting institutions has more than doubled since 1970. During that time, female representation has increased drastically from 40% to 56%.

I’ve written before about the constraints on opportunity that arise as a direct result of inaffordable higher education. Here’s the scary trifecta:

1. Average annual tuition of 4-year private institutions has increased from $9228 in 1986 to $27,317 in 2006 (not adjusted for inflation).

2. The average total amount borrowed by students to finance a 4-year degree (as measured in 2001 constant dollars) increased from $12,100 in 1993 to $19,300 in 2000.

3. The median income for a male graduate (as measured in constant 2004 dollars) has only increased from $46,300 in 1980 to $48,400 in 2005. And incomes are on the decline since 2000. Note that the average income for a high-school grad in 1980 was $38,800.

So… I borrowed $16,000 to finance my undergraduate degree, and will likely require (worst case) a staggering $114,000 to finance my Masters. Which not only begs the question: why the hell did I get a liberal arts degree in History, but why does anyone pursue anything else?

Clearly I’m on the high end of the spectrum for tuition, debt burden, and (please God) should also be on the high-end for income earners. So my case is atypical. But there are students at Columbia who do not face the same financial considerations, because their educations are subsidized by financial aid and awards.

I’m not going to play the reverse-discrimination card here, especially since I turned down a hefty fellowship from the Elliot School at GW to attend SIPA, but as a disinterested observation, it does seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy for white men, who are last in line for financial aid purposes, to pursue careers that inevitably reinforce the over-representation of “old white men” who sit in boardrooms chalk full of white haired or bald guys who look identical to each other (even though most of those guys are legacies who probably never even had debt).

My point is, there is a substitution effect for dedication/effort/expectations for every less dollar of debt burden… the more indebted someone is, the more they will value their job, work for performance bonuses, take less days off, rise the ranks, etc. Debt is a strong motivational factor. Which is why I’m up writing crappy blog posts instead of preparing for my in-class debate tomorrow.

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Unregistered Student or Illegal Alien?

November 19, 2007 · Leave a Comment

[Blitzer]:  Senator Obama, it seems the nature of the question lends itself to a yes or no answer:  “Would you extend student identification privileges to an undocumented student?”

[Obama]:  Now, this is a red herring argument.  These people aren’t coming to this University to get discounted movie tickets.  They’re coming here to enroll in classes.  What we need is comprehensive reform of our registration policies, so that we don’t have instances where we have these undocumented students.  We need to have a registration system that works, that doesn’t lock out people who are on the path to becoming legal students.  One that perhaps has the course listings, degree requirements, course descriptions, prerequisites, course approval requirements, and availability all in the same place, so we don’t have instances where students are falling through the cracks.

[Blitzer]:  An evasive answer to a simple question.  Let me pose this to the floor.  Congressman Kucinich:  where do you stand on this issue of illegal students?

[Kucinich]:  I take offense to the term “illegal.”  These are human beings, they’re just living their lives.  They’re undocumented, yes, but that’s because we make the path to documentation so utterly convoluted that we end up with situation at hand.

[Blitzer]:  Let’s hear from someone who’s not a hippie Keebler elf.  Senator Clinton, what is your take on this issue?

[Clinton]:  Well, as a carpetbagging New Yorker, this is an issue that’s very dear to my heart.  A lot of my constituents are dealing with these illegal students.  What if they have a seizure on campus?  How would we know where to send the medical bills?  Look: the fact is, in today’s global economy, our students are going to need to have the skills to navigate through a poorly constructed bureaucratic online system.  I say: give them their identification cards, and let them figure out the rest.

[Edwards]:  If I’m not mistaken, Senator Clinton just gave two different answers [confused eyebrow look].  That was a lot of words!

[Clinton]:  I don’t appreciate the mud-slinging from Senator Edwards.

[Edwards]:  With all due respect Senator Clinton, I’m from North Carolina… I sling tar.

[Clinton]:  [abruptly spastic laughter]

[Blitzer]:  Let’s get a Republican take on this issue.  Mr. Giuliani, as a New Yorker yourself, how do you feel about Columbia’s registration policies?

[Giuliani]:  Well first of all, this is an international school we’re talking about.  60% of the students are foreign born.  In a post 9/11 environment, we cannot afford to have undocumented students running around our universities, thinking that they’re registered for the following semester, when in reality they’ve neglected to enroll in the accompanying discussion sections, which have since been blocked out, or get departmental approval.  This is a security issue.  What if someone from India or Pakistan, with proficient IT skills, hacks our system and replaces it with one that’s fully functional and meets the needs of the students enrolling?  I think we can agree, this is an unacceptable risk we can’t afford to take.

[Blitzer]:  So what is your proposed solution?

[Giuliani]:  Well, first of all, we need to firewall the system.  Lock the students out if they’ve been inactive for longer than 3 minutes.

[Blitzer]:  I believe that’s already the case…

[Giuliani]:  Well, on a related issue, the Democrats seem to be flirting with this idea of amnesty: of letting students into impacted classes after they’ve missed their registration appointments, or because they improperly registered, or because they’ve failed to get instructor approval.  This is preposterous.  We need to identify those students who have improperly registered and give them “guest student” status, whereupon they can still pay full tuition to take classes they have no interest in, or otherwise don’t help their degree requirements or field of concentration, until the following semester.

I could keep going with this for hours on end.  Hey Columbia, your enrollment procedures suck.  See: UCLA Registrar for guidance.

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I’m a Finalist!

October 31, 2007 · Leave a Comment


I’m a finalist in the College Affordability Contest being organized by Campus Progress out of the Center for American Progress. My article, “The $57,000 Elephant in My Head,” (written for the Morningside Post) was selected in the top 16 out of over 400 entries. Fingers-crossed for the $2500 top prize!

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Dropping Knowledge: Rashid Khalidi

October 14, 2007 · 2 Comments

Yes, I know I promised a hiatus.  But this will be short.

All of my Conceptual Foundations of International Politics lectures are being hosted on YouTube.  Please enjoy for free the education that costs me a fortune.

It’s no Charlie Rose, and it can get a bit bland.  But Khalidi is provocative.   And he spit hot fire at the neo-cons when everyone else was buying what they were selling in 2003.  The lecture is framed through “Alternative Views of American Primacy” and was accompanied by the reading of Khalidi’s book, “Resurrecting Empire,” which I highly recommend.

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Morningside Post Article: Donor Disparity

October 10, 2007 · 1 Comment


Reader’s Note:  This article originally appeared in the Morningside Post.

Jonathan Host, MIA 2009

In a comparison of the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs at Princeton, and SIPA, the Columbia Spectator reports:

While SIPA has a $30 million endowment to support about 1200 students, the Woodrow Wilson School boasts a $558 million (endowment) for 200 students. This not only allows Princeton to be more flexible and swift in making changes, but makes opportunities possible that Columbia cannot offer its students.

This disparity is made even more explicit when visiting Columbia’s fund-raising campaign website. The endowment per student figures (included at the beginning of this post, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education for all degree granting programs, including the International Schools),is nearly four times greater at Princeton than it is at Columbia.

How does Columbia in general, and SIPA specifically, remain competitive?

Quite simply, it’s a matter of more students paying higher tuitions. Columbia’s revenue share from tuition is significantly higher than that of Harvard, Yale, Stanford or Princeton.

The substantial burden of financing an education intended to lead to a career in policy or public service is very distressing. At this year’s orientation session on Financial Aid, when Assistant Director of Financial Aid Claudio Vargas was asked the typical length of time expected to fully pay off student loans after SIPA, he responded: “For some people it’s six months… for others, 60 years.” (I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, but either way, I assure you… I did not laugh).

Princeton too, despite its impressive endowment, is not without its fair share of financial problems. Last month the Washington Post ran a front page article entitled “Exacting Donors Reshape College Giving.” The article detailed the ongoing lawsuit of Robertson v. Princeton, a case with enormous implications on the interpretation of the flexible use of “restricted” and “unrestricted” donations to educational institutions.

The Robertson endowment– originally a $35 million stock donation underwritten to to “establish . . . a Graduate School, where men and women dedicated to public service may prepare themselves for careers in government service”– today represents a fund that has grown to over $840 million.

Robertson claims that Princeton has “improperly spent more than $207 million (…) and that between 1990 and 2003, only about 10 percent of the graduates funded by the foundation went into international affairs jobs with the federal government.” (Interesting to note that Princeton told the Spectator that “85 percent of WWS graduates have taken employment in public service over the past three years,” although that statistic doesn’t describe “government service in isolation,” whatever that means).

The lesson learned from the Robertson case is that large, restricted donations– especially those earmarked for students– can handcuff the flexibility of a University’s administration.

On the bright side: I suppose you could assume that Columbia’s reliance on student tuition for revenue provides it with more flexibility, right? That a lower share of “restricted” alumni donations allows for greater administrative freedom?

If President Lee Bollinger’s recent opening address to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is any indication, I would speculate that’s not the case. As I’ve previously suggested, donors’ contributions (and more specifically, their threat of withholding future contributions) shaped the embarrassingly political nature of that speech.

Indeed, it seems to be the case in any budget that administrator’s are most attentive to the most volatile component. This is the case with stocks in mutual funds or taxes in national budgets. And it is clearly the case with alumni donations in University income statements.

Meanwhile, not only are students left without any recourse to protest (financially) the actions and decisions of their institutional leaders, but they must also bear the brunt of our predecessors’ capriciousness, or administration’s ineptitude. That is to say, to balance the books, more students are admitted at higher cost of attendance. And that in turn means greater competition for jobs, and rising indebtedness. Rising indebtedness means (even more) constraint in career choice.

And even if the constrained career choice directs alumni into careers and positions of higher lifetime earnings, I suspect that students’ long memories of Columbia’s stinginess will not translate well to future endowments.

But maybe I’m just bitter.

Jonathan Host is a first-year MIA studying Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. He writes for fun on his blog .

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UCI and I

October 10, 2007 · Leave a Comment

My good friend Joe was in town this weekend. His dad is a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and has played an instrumental role in laying the groundwork for the new law school there.

For those of my fellow Irvinians who haven’t been following the news, there has been quite a debacle over the selection of a dean for the new law school at UCI. Chancellor Michael Drake extended an offer to Duke University professor Erwin Chemerinsky, then shortly thereafter, reneged on the offer. Chemerinsky claimed foul play, stating that the reason behind the decision to hire, then fire him was because he was “too liberal” to reasonably represent a school in the heart of the conservative bastion of the OC. Drake weakly explained to the media that his decision was “managerial,” but ultimately caved and re-extended the position for the sake of public relations.

I have no insider information on what actually went down here, but I can reasonably speculate: Drake went out on a limb, extending an offer to a “name.” Well, the only “name” that matters in Irvine is Donald Bren, the principal owner of the Irvine Company. Yeah, he’s the one who contributed the $20 million to get his name on the building.

Bren’s the easy target, of course, and I’m sure he had a say. But there are a lot of wealthy, libertarian, extremely conservative, and extremely powerful people that could’ve pulled Drake’s leash on this hire. Most of these people are real estate moguls who could do without the next generation of lawyers coming out of Orange County being trained by a stable of professors hand-selected by a man who dared meddle as an outsider in the insider’s game of California proposition politics… Stay out of our beach community, you bum! [Coffee mug thrown at forehead].

Frankly, I’m of the position that the the cards in academia are stacked against conservatives, and if the people of Orange County want a conservative (public) law school, it should be provided to them. Like it or not, Chemerinsky was a poor hiring decision, in that sense.

The larger issue to me is the further disillusionment that “academia” is insulated from political pressure. I recently wrote about Lee Bolinger caving to the demands of vocal alumni and national leaders by giving a tongue lashing to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

We like to think that institutions of higher learning, and especially public institutions of higher learning, exist for noble pursuits… namely knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  Even professional schools such as SIPA or Irvine Law (in theory) offer skill sets to individuals who can then implement those skills in a multitude of productive opportunities and interests.

But disinterested knowledge and disinterested skills must be funded by disinterested sources.  Bren gave his money to UCI not to create a generation of do-gooder public interest lawyers who would muck up the open space laws in Orange County, but to create a generation of lawyers who would defend him from such do-gooders, or even better, enter public service and legislate against such do-gooders.  Similarly, in order to placate the Jewish donors at Columbia who are critical of a Middle Eastern program sympathetic to Palestian occupation, Bollinger chose to throw childish insults at the Iranian president.

More and more, the measure of good stewardship for university presidents and deans isn’t the quality of research produced, or even the prestige of the institution under his/her watch, but a) the amount of money fundraised, b) the amount of grants secured (which are becoming more and more competitive) and c) the amount of productive patents acquired.

The more disproportionate a) becomes in this measure, the more political pandering we shall see.  And the disinterested pursuit of knowledge or opportunity will suffer.

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