Linked and Merged

For many years I’ve had two LinkedIn accounts, one opened with my BU email and the other opened with Gmail. The result has been duplicate connections, connections in one account that are not in the other, and annoying logouts and logins to access the correct account to accept invitations. No more. I had LinkedIn transfer all contacts from and terminate the former account and I added the BU email to the other account. Problem solved. Not that I will start using LinkedIn–but if I do, my contacts will be consolidated.

Dr. Silber

In September 1971, a few months after John Silber became its president, I arrived at Boston University as a freshman to attend the Division of General Education–DGE, or “Deege”, which the brochure described as “a two-year honors interdisciplinary program.” Forty-one years later, at the time of Dr. Silber’s death, I am a senior lecturer at the Boston University School of Management. To say 41 years later I am still at Boston University would imply, misleadingly, that I never left. I did–to drop out of BU after completing DGE, travel, return to BU and graduate, work, attend law school, work more–but John Silber’s force field was never far away.

To me Silber was brilliant, occasionally charming, irascible, aggressive, tough, and proud. Like most students I knew in the early 1970s, I loathed and feared him. He disdained our anti-war demonstrations and loosed the helmets, shields, clubs, and tear gas of Boston’s TPF–Tactical Police Force–to break them up. I was among dozens of students the TPF chased down Bay State Road; we were faster and escaped them by Kenmore Square. In the spring of 1974, when BU students engaged in their annual protest against the recently-announced tuition increases–back then tuition increases and anti-tuition increase protests were, like robins, harbingers of spring on the BU campus–a TV news reporter asked for Dr. Silber’s reaction. I recall that he said it’s fun and games for young primates. Have I accurately remembered this quotation’s dismissive disdain? The memory is vivid, but it’s also 38 years old. If he didn’t say it exactly like this, if the words I remember are the product of faulty synapses, those who remember Dr. Silber in those years would agree that if he didn’t say it, he could have. It sounds like him.

A decade and a half later Dr. Silber featured in one of the most remarkable meetings of my legal career. Congress Group Ventures, a real estate development company at which I worked as General Counsel, was negotiating a large, complicated real estate venture with Boston University. My boss Dean Stratouly and Dr. Silber had met alone some months earlier to paint the venture’s broad strokes, and now we were trying to fill in the details–which, as the saying goes, is where the Devil resides. A series of meetings between us lawyers had yielded more areas of disagreement than compromise, so we called a meeting of all principals.

Together in our conference room were the present or former leaders of the institutions that had most shaped my almost 20 years in Boston: my bosses Dean Stratouly and his co-owner David Gardner, Boston University President John Silber and his lawyer Bob Popeo, the most powerful partner in Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, the firm I’d left to work at Congress Group, consummate political insider and Silber confidante Kevin White, and former mayor of Boston and then-current professor at Boston University. Present also were other powerful insiders and other lawyers, including me. David Gardner, in a wheelchair due to neurological illness, sat at one end of the table. Dr. Silber, a shortened and cuffed suit-jacket sleeve covering his stump arm, sat at the other end.  The meeting began with a recap of our progress-small–and disputes–significant–and it was not long before Silber and David Gardner, who was Silber’s intellectual equal, were arguing vociferously. Popeo, the combative lawyer political insiders hired when their world turned to dog doo, stepped in to ratchet back the tension and suggest topics for more fruitful discussion. White advanced his perspective on how things should unfold. The collective egos’ magnitude and personalities’ fire-power were enough to blow the windows out of the room.

We never closed that deal. Disagreements remain as to why.

In recent years I ran into Dr. Silber on the BU campus from time to time. I no longer loathed him, but he always reminded me of my shifting relationship with the school. He terminated DGE a few years after I completed the program; its interdisciplinary and counter-cultural ethos was anathema to his brand of intellectual rigor. Terminating DGE killed one of my defining links to Boston University. The University excelled, during the Silber years, at graduating students who left campus and never looked back fondly. From time to time BU sends email to DGE alumni. It comes under the heading of CGS, the College of General Studies–which, as anyone familiar with Boston University knows, is not likely to engender enthusiastic responses from alumni of DGE’s self-described honors program. BU’s low percentage of alumni contributions is a legacy that the University is managing, slowly, to eradicate. I came to the University too late to be among the faculty bruised by Silber’s rough handling over the years, but resentment still runs deep in some circles. He did not remember me, which was a blessing because remembering would involve remembering how he knew me. I know Boston University would not be the vigorous educational and research institution it is today without Dr. Silber’s tenure as president, a simple fact whose truth is reinforced every time I use FitRec, built on the site of the former Commonwealth Armory.

He was frailer physically each time I saw him, and emanated none of the combativeness I experienced in professional meetings two decades ago. In the end he was just a man. A controversial, polarizing, profoundly influential, consequential, memorable man. I’ve heard that he died with dignity, his intellect undiminished, in control until the end. I would expect nothing less.

All the News That’s Fit to Search

The NY Times reports that the Internet Archive–home of The Wayback Machine, the Live Music Archive, and other databases–now includes “every morsel of news produced in the last three years by 20 different channels, encompassing more than 1,000 news series that have generated more than 350,000 separate programs devoted to news.” Want to view every clip during the past three years from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that mentions Mitt Romney? Want total immersion in Fox News? Go to http://archive.org/details/tv and start watching.

The 47%-ers

In a video taken a few months ago at a private fundraiser Mitt Romney stated that “[t]here are 47 percent [of the American people] who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” This 47% number has been circulating since the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center “estimated last year that 46.4 percent of American households would pay no federal income taxes in 2011.”

Is Romney’s premise correct, that these non-income-tax-paying Americans are government-dependent leeches with no affinity for Republican candidates? The Boston Globe reports that the study

did not support Romney’s suggestion that almost half the country is made up of people who do not take responsibility for their own lives and instead rely on government handouts.

Half of the households that pay no federal income taxes earn so little—typically less than $30,000—that standard deductions and personal and dependent exemptions shrink their taxable income to zero.

On a 2012 IRS filing, for instance, a family of four with a household income of $27,100 would have reported no taxable income because of an $11,900 standard deduction for married couples and personal and dependent tax exemptions of $3,800 each.

Among the other half of those whose income is not taxed by the federal government, 44 percent are exempt primarily because they receive tax deductions for the elderly or Social Security benefits that are not taxable because of low incomes, or both. Another 30.4 percent are working households that earn so little that benefits such as the child tax credit and earned income tax credit reduce their tax liabilities to zero.

Other people who could not be called irresponsible—including members of the military deployed in combat zones—do not pay federal income taxes. About 6 percent of nonpaying households are exempt mainly because of education credits, and 1.3 percent pay nothing because of low rates on capital gains and dividends, which, combined with tax credits, erase their federal income tax obligations.

Many in the latter group are wealthy people who derive much of their incomes from investments. The Tax Policy Center estimated that 4,000 households that earned more than $1 million last year paid no federal income taxes.

If you believe that the liberal Boston Globe has cherry-picked the Tax Policy Center report to make Romney look bad, consider the blog post from conservative William Kristol of The Weekly  Standard. Titled “A Note on Romney’s Arrogant and Stupid Remarks” Kristol’s post first criticizes Obama for remarks he made in 2008 about people “in small towns in Pennsylvania” and throughout the Midwest: “[I]t’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

After repeating Romney’s fundraiser remarks Kristol says:

It’s worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes are Romney supporters—especially of course seniors (who might well “believe they are entitled to heath care,” a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they’re not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan. So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.

Kristol still urges his readers to vote for Romney (although he’d prefer a “Ryan and Rubio ticket”), but he notes “that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that Romney’s comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant.”

Stuck in the Old Country

Hanna Rosin’s new book The End of Men–a shorter version of which I read in The Atlantic two years ago–theorizes why women are out-performing men in various economic and employment categories. A recent NYTimes column by David Brooks provides a brief overview of the facts:

In elementary and high school, male academic performance is lagging. Boys earn three-quarters of the D’s and F’s. By college, men are clearly behind. Only 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees go to men, along with 40 percent of master’s degrees.

Thanks to their lower skills, men are dropping out of the labor force. In 1954, 96 percent of the American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today, that number is down to 80 percent.

Why? Here is Brooks’ brief summary of Rosin’s thesis:

Women . . . are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.

This theory has less to do with innate traits and more to do with social position. When there’s big social change, the people who were on the top of the old order are bound to cling to the old ways. The people who were on the bottom are bound to experience a burst of energy. They’re going to explore their new surroundings more enthusiastically.

My unscientific anecdotal experience is that female students constitute about 60-75% of my office visits, send about 60% of the emails I receive with questions about course material, and are more receptive to seeking advice about how to improve their course performance.

By the Numbers

Week 3, 2012 Fall Semester:

  • Number of courses: Six
  • Number of credit hours: 16
    • 3 four-credit courses
    • 1 two-credit course
    • 2 one-credit courses
  • Number of students: 210 (students enrolled in multiple courses are counted twice)
  • Percentage of students who responded to FAQs:
    • LA245 F1: 35%
    • LA245 H1: 34%
    • LA349: 56%
    • SM123: 82%
    • SM223: 58%
    • SM453: 58%
  • Percentage of students in each course with no idea of what the previous entries refer to: 100% less each course’s FAQ response %

Which proves, for the 18th consecutive semester, that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it read the syllabus from cover to cover.

What’s the Purpose of Higher Education?

This post’s title is the subject of next week’s Sophmore Honors Colloquium–and a question every college student should ask daily. Megan McArdle poses a similar question in Newsweek: Is College a Lousy Investment? The answer: yes, sometimes, for some people. In other words, it depends. A few of the article’s highlights:

“Even with these high prices, you’re still finding a high return for individuals who are bright and motivated,” he says. On the other hand, “if you’re not college ready, then the answer is no, it’s not worth it.”

For many students, college is less about providing an education than a credential—a certificate testifying that they are smart enough to get into college, conformist enough to go, and compliant enough to stay there for four years.

“Why does cheating work?” If you were really just in college to learn skills, it would be totally counterproductive. “If you don’t learn the material, then you will have less human capital and the market will punish you—there’s no reason for us to do it.” But since they think the credential matters more than the education, they look for ways to get the credential as painlessly as possible.