April 24, 2012

Geithner turned down Dartmouth Presidency?

According to whispers published in Britain’s Daily Mail, the father-in-law of U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner ’83 was overheard saying “Obama nominated [Kim] for the World Bank - so that there’d be an opening. 'They offered [Geithner] the presidency of Dartmouth. But now he doesn’t want it. He wants something else.'”  This bombshell has, of course, attracted a bit of media attention.

Geithner has been on ruminated short lists of potential replacements for the short-serving and now World-Bank-President-elect Kim.  He (along with Hank Paulson, who is also mentioned in the same breath) would make a great choice and would be a present-day Larry Summers in every sense: famous, technocratic, and politically controversial. His selection would help him gracefully out of a job he no longer appears to take much pleasure in and would also be a worthy capstone to his very impressive career.

I don’t doubt that Bill Helman ’80 or one of his representatives on the Presidential Search Committee has already reached out to Geithner, and they may have even hinted at special treatement for his candidacy, given his stature and history with the college.  It’s an intriguing, if distant, possibility that President Obama chose JYK for his World Bank job in small part because it would give Geithner a position to assume post-treasury. What I severely doubt is that any “offer” was extended to Geithner, or that such any offer could be given so quickly to anyone.  This point was probably a product of loose words from a proud father-in-law in casual conversation.
I’m curious though.  What was the other gig that Geithner wanted?  Something more… corporate?  How Dartmouthy of him.

The Grade Point Economy

In my last couple of posts, I have focused on the challenges of addressing grade inflation. To briefly summarize: given current data, it is hard to prove that grades are being inflated as opposed to simply compressed (i.e., merely a function of rising student quality). On the other, grades between departments are strikingly unequal, which presents a fundamental question of fairness. Why should students in Arts & Humanities or Languages be entitled to higher grades, on average, than students in the Sciences or Social Sciences?

After getting some feedback here and on Facebook, and after a good bit of pondering on my own, it seems that fixing the issue boils down to three options: force departments to meet some median requirements; require students to take more classes out of their disciplines; or change policies that make the interdepartmental differences less harmful.

The first of these departs from the principle of academic freedom. In the principal-agent relationship between the College and the faculty, the trustees delegate wide latitude to professors to distribute grades as they see fit. So long as faculty members are not engaging in untenable behavior -- discrimination by sex or race, or something equally egregious -- the College tends not to tamper with the grading policies of individual professors. Imposing required class medians would violate that relationship.

The first also imposes fairness quandaries of its own. An across-the-board median grade requirement could force professors to distribute grades lower than deserved. In the case of upper-level courses with specialized focuses, for instance, all students may (through self-selection) be quite apt and thus produce high-quality work deserving of high grades. Required medians may help distinguish the very best from the very good, but it would potentially devalue the very good into looking, on paper at least, like average work.

April 23, 2012

Announcing New Veterans Alumni Group

If you look on the Dartmouth Alumni website, you’ll see they have affiliated groups, local clubs, and professional groups for architects, lawyers, and whatnot, but none for armed service members. Now that’s going to change.
Back in December of last year, I contacted Sarah Sinclair of Dartmouth Alumni Relations to ask about starting a “Dartmouth College Uniformed Service Association”. In terms of what such an organization would offer, I sent her the following list of things, in no particular order.
  1. Advice and mentorship to students considering careers in the Armed Services (e.g. a designated career councilor for each service to discuss with students what training and life is like in the Army vs. Navy vs. USMC).
  2. Peer-to-peer professional mentorship for those currently serving.
  3. Moral support to young alumni (and their families) currently serving or in ROTC (sending care-packages, hosting holiday events for locally stationed members, writing letters, etc).
  4. Fundraising for service-related awards and scholarships within the Dartmouth Community.
  5. Fundraising for Dartmouth funds among service members generally.
  6. Upkeep of Dartmouth war memorials/ hosting on-campus commemorations for Veterans day, Memorial day, retirements, and funerals.

April 18, 2012

One Tip for a High GPA

As I pointed out a few days ago, showing rising median grades does not itself qualify as proof of grade inflation. One point made by Brian Solomon '11 that can stand alone, however, is the gap between median grades in science, social science and humanities courses.

The broad takeaway: if you want a high GPA, major in the Arts & Humanities or Languages.

Why would I suggest that? Well, after playing around with some data provided by the College, I'm left with the following distribution of grades by discipline:

If you need, click the image to enlarge. The figure shows the smoothed distribution of grades by discipline; the grey line shows what a distribution around a B-average would approximately look like.

Let's leave that grey line aside for a minute. The story told by the figure is this: Language and Arts & Humanities courses distribute much higher GPAs than do classes in the Sciences or Social Sciences. The Language and Humanities courses also have much less variation in grade distribution (as one would expect considering that the courses are bumping up against the upper bound).

Given this suggestive evidence, I wanted to push the data a bit further. I estimated a multilevel linear model that controls for class enrollment, department, discipline, year and the average admission rate of all classes at Dartmouth in each year. (The last is included to roughly control for rising student quality -- it's a coarse measure, but it will do for now.)

The results are disheartening. Given the average enrollment in courses by discipline, Language courses and Arts & Humanities courses give out GPAs at 3.69 and 3.63 respectively. Compare that to the typical grades distributed by the Social Sciences (3.48) and Sciences (3.47).

On one hand, the differences are not huge. On the other, these differences matter. Consider this: by these estimates, one would expect about 50 percent of Arts & Humanities majors, and almost 57 percent of Language majors, to qualify for "cum laude" honors. Contrast that with about 28 percent of Social Science or Science majors.

Whether or not the rise in grades is caused by grade "inflation" true to its name (see my last post) is inconsequential here. What matters -- and what I find troubling -- is that grades have risen so much more quickly for Arts & Humanities and Languages than for other disciplines.

This phenomenon is nothing new. In fact, the gap between disciplines has existed for at least 40 years, and persists across institutions and across the public-private divide. That does not render it any less problematic. Some scholars, like Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healey, suggest that this discrepancy disincentivizes promising students from entering the sciences at a time when we increasingly need them to.

This is not a critique of Arts & Humanities or Languages -- indeed, I chose French as one of my majors. But it seems that, if Dartmouth wants to take a lead on an issue in the academy, this issue is a prime candidate.

Any thoughts on how?

April 17, 2012

Prof. Lind's NPR Highlights

Government Professor Jennifer Lind took to the airwaves yesterday to promote her article in Foreign Affairs titled "Why North Korea Gets Away With It". Below are the highlights from her Op-Ed radio interview with NPR's Neal Conan, in which she offers rather astute, actionable insights into an ongoing foreign policy quandary of global importance.
  • The North Korean government censors all outside media in order to prevent citizens from ever possibly discover that they may have a better life without it. 
This conception of the North Korean people as ignorant to the point of being 'child-like' is one that North Korea seems to embrace. The jumping-up-and-down almost tantrum-like displays of grief displayed on Korean TV following KJI's death were not evidence of grown-up and mature society. In North Korean obituaries for the 'dear leader' and 'eternal president' North Korean media discussed the way KJI and KIS kept the people in a state of 'bliss, free of responsibility, as careless as children.'

Of course, a revolution cannot occur until a counter-factual to the status-quo is presented. As North Korea is basically free of the internet, outside information, and foreign trade, its people live in an Orwellian state where they lack even the vocabulary to form ideas against the government, let alone act on them.
  • Removing food aid would not help regime change. 
North Korea continues to enjoy the support of one neighbor, China, who will continue to back North Korea so long as it proves strategically useful in both buffering South Korea (and the American troops there stationed) and adding a 'wild card' element to PACOM geopolitics. Further, China doesn't want (1), in Lind's words, a "Korea-stan" that might break away its lands immediately adjacent to the Korean Peninsula, in the event of reunification, or (2), as Lind points out to me, a search for loose nukes in a reunified Korea with Chinese troops from the north brushing past US/ROK troops from the South. Even if China were to cut off aid and North Korea was left without food aid, the DPRK has already survived famines lasting decades that killed millions and could seemingly do it again without risk of government collapse.
  • North Korea is a very weak country and even though we will win a war with them, we don’t want to fight it.
Seoul, located just 30 miles from the DMZ, will be heavily damaged in the early hours of fighting. Lind argues that it will not be obliterated as once the shelling begins, the positions of the ground artillery will be discovered and immediately bombed into dust by superior South Korean air power. Still, many thousand civilians would die and I wouldn't want to be there for it.

April 14, 2012

Why North Korea "Madmen" Get Away With It

The Government department’s own Jennifer Lind has penned a piece in Foreign Affairs, on a topic very near and dear to my heart: Why North Korea Gets Away With It.

Most interesting to me is Professor Lind’s discussion of North Korea (DPRK)’s ‘deterrent triad’, primarily the first: “its ‘madman’ image.” Lind describes it as “the idea that the [DPRK] might react to [USA/ROK] retaliation [for their missile tests and other bad behavior] by plunging the peninsula into general war.” Essentially the notion that the DPRK’s cloistered and unaccountable leadership might respond asymmetrically to, say, the ROK shooting down their test missiles with, say, a full ground and missile offensive against ensures that allied countries will never take forceful action against North Korea unless DPRK aggression becomes so great that the Allies are willing to bear the extraordinary cost in blood and treasure of an all out war. When you add in the clandestine support China would give North Korea in such a war, it effectively eliminates any possibility of a “limited war” in the style of the one the US fought on that peninsula more than 50 years ago.

 But the more I study North Korea, the more it becomes clear that its primary national raison d'être is to preserve the survival of its government against its people, more than against neighboring states. As pretty much any documentary about life in North Korea will show (including the Vice Guide below) idolization of the government and deification of its leaders are the defining features of (whatever weirdness can be called) North Korean society.

April 13, 2012

Much Ado about Inflation

Grade inflation that is.

A couple days ago, Brian Solomon '11 reprised his data-driven critique of grade inflation at Dartmouth (See Parts I, II, III, IV). I find it refreshing that he backs up his case with data (particularly data visualizations). What the figures lack, however, makes all the difference: the figures cannot show that grade inflation exists or that it should be addressed. Let me explain my reasoning.

Mr. Solomon writes that:

With the administration and faculty not paying attention, poor work has become mediocre, and mediocre has become good. That’s the academic world we live in now, and it shows us that a big first step in the grading battle would simply be to curb further inflation. We can worry about making grades more meaningful again after we’ve stopped the bleeding.

Such a claim requires a few conditions to be met that, as of yet, have not been. To argue against grade inflation, one must make the case that:

1. Grade inflation exists. This sounds obvious, but such a claim presents more challenges than one sees on the surface. To show grade inflation, one must show (a) that grades are rising, and (b) that this rise is a function of falling grade value.

Mr. Solomon shows the first clearly: median grades are rising, and quickly. But is this really inflation? To borrow from economics, grade inflation really means grade devaluation; in other words, grade inflation means that students need exchange less quality work today for an "A" than they did three decades previous. Put another way, an "A" grade purchases less quality work than it would have in the past.

The alternative to grade devaluation is grade compression. According to this hypothesis, an "A" buys the same quality -- perhaps better quality -- work as it did in the past. The rise in grades is merely a function of a rising median quality of work. Since grades are retroactively immutable and naturally bounded (i.e. grade ϵ (0,4)), what some term grade "inflation" is actually the consequence of the grade distribution being compressed near the top of the grade space. Put another way: Dartmouth's students are abler, smarter, more driven or otherwise just do better quality work, on average, than they did in the past.

2. Grade inflation is a problem. Even if one can show that the College values grades less than before, one must then make the case that this marks a bad trend. Some argue (pdf) that it does: that harsher grading metrics push students to learn more, achieve more, and that it provides more opportunity to separate good students from middling ones. Others retort (pdf) that students suffer when the grading system fosters competitive, uncooperative or unpleasant working environments.

Mr. Solomon tries letting the data speak for itself, but rising grades do not a normative case make. He does show -- quite convincingly, I believe -- that grade discrepancies between departments pose a serious problem. Given that honors, Phi Beta Kappa and many other recognitions tend to be awarded on raw GPA, not performance relative to others in your department, one need seriously question the fairness of the current grading system.


Unfortunately, debates over grade inflation invoke ideology over the interest of students. Grade inflation has been a cause célèbre amongst conservative revolutionaries within the academy. Conservative commentators on life at the College (see Powerline and Dartblog for examples) tend to find rising grades most troubling. And as Harvey Mansfeld showed, grade inflation often gets implicated in a constellation of other issues, like diversity, political correctness and affirmative action.

Mr. Solomon has done a great job so far, but to discuss grade inflation at Dartmouth requires more work. The purpose of this exploratory post is to invite thoughts and comments on how we can extricate grade inflation from its ideological prison and discuss what grade inflation might mean for the future of the Dartmouth experience.

April 10, 2012

Please don't give this sham the credibility of your vote.

Every free man in a democratic society should be outraged at such a ballot.

Don't get me wrong. I love Nate Fick and what he stands for. But unchallenged candidates (you can't even write in someone's name here) are not only insults to the intelligence and discerning nature of Dartmouth graduates, they actively undermine democratic values everywhere. The alumni sold their soul in trading a competing voice for purely-cosmetic media-friendly unity. Hasn't the Gospel of Public Relations been disproven enough? Or does anyone truly believe that nothing at Dartmouth is worth a true contest of vision?

How dare the AoA even consider wasting valuable Dartmouth money with a ballot more worthy of Hussein's Iraq or Al-Assad's Syria than an Ivy League college in the freest country on earth.

April 8, 2012

Dartmouth wins two Goldwater Scholarships

A very hearty congratulations to Andrew Zureick (left) and my dear friend Marissa Lynn (right) on being named 2012 Goldwater Scholars. The $7,500 scholarship, awarded this year to 282 students, is in recognition of their promise in the field of science -- chemistry and biology for them respectively.

Well done. Dartmouth and the world need more brilliant scientists like you!
(photos by the very talented Joseph Mehling ’69)

State Senate candidate lies about Dartmouth Degree?

Matthew Tso '00(?) wanted to make the campaign about his opponent's fraudulent nominating petitions. But now it’s about his fraudulent Dartmouth degree.
SANTA FE — Matthew Tso, a Democrat running for the New Mexico State Senate in District 3 (McKinley and San Juan counties), describes himself as a proud graduate of Dartmouth College. But the Ivy League school in Hanover, N.H., will not verify his claim, which has been challenged in New Mexico for months. A Dartmouth spokeswoman said in an interview last week that Tso has placed "a confidentiality hold" on his student records. She said his action prohibits the college from releasing any information about whether Tso has the degree he claims.

Last September, a Dartmouth spokesman told the Farmington Daily-Times that Tso attended Dartmouth but did not graduate.
Two things are clear. (1) Mr. Tso enrolled with the class of 2000 but (2) he not graduate with them. His profile on the Dartmouth Alumni Database, which he updated on April 4th—probably in response to all this increased interest in his collegiate bona fides—lists only a class year under “Dartmouth Degree.”
So when, if ever did he graduate?
Asked for the date he received his degree, Tso said he would have to check his records. But he never provided an answer.Later, when asked on two occasions if he would make public his academic records from Dartmouth, Tso did not answer…

"He swears that he has a degree. We tried to get him to show us proof," [elected board chairman] Chance said. "One night he held up a piece of paper, but we never got to look at it."
Anyone this evasive about a degree, quite obviously did not earn it. The fact that a college spokesperson said he didn’t earn it is proof positive enough. But Mr. Tso seems more content to twist in the wind than admit to his supporters that of the many accomplishments he claims to have, a Dartmouth graduate he is not. Mr. Tso might yet prove successful, if not for his… previous experience with public officials.
Records in San Juan County show that the Internal Revenue Service in 2007 filed a lien against Tso, saying he owed $6,452 in back taxes. Also in 2007, Tso and another man, Sam Brandon, were evicted from a house in Albuquerque, according to Metropolitan Court records. The owner sought more than $1,600 from Tso and Brandon for what he said were unpaid bills.

In addition to money problems, Tso has had a handful of encounters with police. They twice arrested him. Perhaps the most serious case occurred in December 2007, when he was accused in Farmington of two counts of misdemeanor battery against a household member and resisting or obstructing a police officer.
Aside from this lone, bat-shit insane comment from fellow likely-non-college-graduate Doug Lashley (below), does anyone have anything to say? Matt? Did any of you remember seeing Matt walk across the stage to shake President Wright’s hand?

April 6, 2012

Who else has an Ivy League grad school named for them?

Now that Dr. Seuss owns DMS, how many other guys had the swag to see their name on an Ivy League graduate school? The answer: Thirteen. But just who are they?

They include seven businessmen, one woman, and almost one billion dollars spent between them. Medical schools are the most frequently named (the Geisel School of Medicine is the fifth in the Ivy League), though their namesakes include no doctors, just business fearful of their own mortality. Aside from Presidents Kennedy and Wilson (when you're POTUS, you don't have to give crap for people to name things for you) Sylvanus Thayer got the best deal at Dartmouth, spending $70,000 (or about $1 mil in dollars today), while Sanford I. Weill at Cornell got the worst, spending $250 mil. I guess Weill was no better cutting deals at Cornell than he was at CitiBank! Zing!

  • Warren Alpert Medical School, renamed in 2007 after entrepreneur Warren Alpert who donated $100 million. Mr. Alpert founded Warren Equities, which owns “oil, wholesale food and tobacco distributorships, real estate and XtraMart convenience stores at more than 250 East Coast gasoline stations.” Mr. Alpert also gave $20 million to the Harvard Medical School and $15 million to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He died two months after his donation to brown at the age of 83, saying (no joke) “I really don’t want my relatives to be rich.”

  • Columbia Mailman School of Public Health (not postal service), renamed in 1999 for Joseph Mailman in recognition of a $33 million gift from his Mailman Foundation. Mr. Mailman, who died 9 years before his foundation’s gift, founded Utica Knife and Razor Company. That’s what I call old money.

April 5, 2012

As if Dr. Seuss needed another reason to be loved at Dartmouth.

The name-shifting “Dartmouth Medical School” has changed its name to “the Audrey and Theodor Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.” While you might think the "Dr. Seuss School of Medicine" makes as much PR-sense as the "The Sponge Bob Square Pants School of Business", consider this:
Geisel and his second wife, who survives him, donated more money to Dartmouth College than anyone else in the college’s history
Doesn’t sounds so stupid now, does it?

But how much money are we talking about? How good was old Ted living off the royalties from those children's books? In 2009, Dartmouth announced a $50 million gift that it described as the “largest commitment in its history”, from an anonymous source later revealed to be the family of Leon Black. Other big gifts include the $35 million anonymously given in 2010 to establish the Dartmouth Center on Health Care Delivery Science, and the $30 million the Berry Family gave in 1992 to build the library that bears their name. Over his lifetime and beyond, Geisel must have at least given more than than.

The good Doctor's wealth is due to the fact that he “continues to be the all-time best-selling children’s author”, coming in at #8 on a 2012 list of highest-earning dead celebrities. That or the Geisels had one hell of a financial planner. Either way, they are generous beyond comprehension and well deserving of the rare and distinct honor of having an Ivy League graduate school named for them.

Addendum: If you’re interested in reading up on the man who was Dr. Seuss, I have a book recommendation.