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Michael Bérubé runs the numbers on Penn State:

In 1985, the state provided 45 percent of Penn State’s budget; in 2011 it provided 6 percent. In 1985, in-state tuition was just over $2,500; today it is over $16,000. Over the past twenty-five years, the cost of a public college education has increasingly been offloaded onto individual students and their families, as education has been redefined from a public good to a private investment.

And he concludes:

A fully privatized Penn State no longer has any reason to call itself “Penn State.” Indeed, the name would amount almost to false advertising, since there would be nothing “State” about us. And that means a whole new vista would be open to us – and in different ways, to Temple and to Pitt. In two words: naming rights … Let the bidding begin.

My hopes are in the title.


The latest round of Ron Paul excitement reminds me of this blog’s long and rich relationship with the mad doctor. Herewith a holiday selection of oldies.


Cosma Shalizi on turkeys and Pareto optimality. Happy Thanksgiving.

Aaron Bady, aka zunguzungu, has a long post up about the crisis facing the UC.

He argues that:

One of the myths about the UC system crisis is the idea that “Sacramento” is the real villain, and that protesting the UC administration is a waste of time. The legislature is the actual problem, people say, because they‘re the ones who have allocated less money to the University system. Instead of occupying the Office of the President of the UC system, such people argue, students should really be protesting politicians in Sacramento.

This seems to me to be both wrongheaded and misinformed. The president (and the regents who appoint him) are Sacramento, while the university community itself has not only had very little role in the massive top-down restructuring of the university that got under way in July, but they have been quite actively shut out of it, by the Regents and by President Mark Yudof, who are doing the job Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed them to do. Which is to say, when students from the university protest against the regents and the President, they are protesting Sacramento. The legislature in Sacramento may have created the problem by cutting funding for higher education, but it’s the representatives and appointees of our Sacramento-based governor who have turned the problem into an opportunity to privatize higher education in California.

This is an important point, because — and this needs to be emphasized — the scandal of the administration’s conduct is not the fact that they’re cutting services while raising fees, at least not in and of itself. In bad economic times, some kind of response is necessary. The scandal is that Mark Yudof and the regents are using the crisis of the moment to push forward a plan to privatize the UC system that has long been in the works and is geared to be permanent. And they are doing it by assuming “emergency powers” which allow them to arbitrarily overturn the precedents and policy that would otherwise explicitly prevent them from doing so, everything from caps on the amount that student fees can be raised to the contracts they’ve signed with university employees to the “Master Plan” for higher education that the state of California established fifty years ago. So if we want to talk about “Sacramento,” then let’s do so. But we need, then, to talk about two things: first, how the Republicans that run California through the governor’s mansion have been trying to privatize the state’s public education for a very long time, and, second, how the regents and Mark Yudof have been using the rhetoric of “crisis” to push that agenda through, bit by bit and step by step, replacing the UC’s traditional system of shared governance with a system of top-down corporate management.

The whole post is worth your time. So click on over and have a look.

Happy Birthday Sesame Street! And many more! For a wonderful series of posts marking the occasion, see here, here, here, and here. Also, if you’d like to share your favorite Sesame Street moment(s) in the comments, with or without links, that would be lovely. And finally, yes, I know the above clip isn’t exactly celebratory (and that we’ve talked about it here before), but for me it represents the essence of the show. Put another way: it’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.

Alice Cooper tries to convince Kermit to sell his soul in exchange for fame as a rock star. From a list of the ten weirdest moments on the Muppets. Number 6, Alan Arkin on a bunny killing spree, is pretty odd. Also, Peter Sellers! That’s all.

Thanks to B for sending this along and brightening up my day.

Over at her place, B has a thoughtful appreciation of Ted Kennedy.

Also, Erik Loomis asks if Kennedy was the nation’s greatest senator.

[Editor’s note: Our friend Michael Elliot sends along the following request for help. And yes, at some point I really should respond to the Wilentz essay linked below. You know what else I really should do? Post a review of Nixonland.]

Like any self-respecting parent, my main goal is to indoctrinate educate my children so that they can share my own nuanced take on the world. My second goal is to avoid having to read the insipid dreck that passes for children’s literature at bedtime. For these reasons, I’m looking to pick up some books that will shove my five-year-old down the path toward becoming an American historian. (After reading Sean Wilentz, God knows I don’t want him to become a literary scholar.) So, any recommendations on books about U.S. history for the kindergarten set?

For the record, I’ve recently tried out a couple of short picture-books on Lincoln. My son was intrigued, but unfortunately found the assassination “too sad.” As Ari says, “What self-respecting five-year-old wants to be depressed?” Ari mistakes me for a parent who values his kid’s self-respect above his own.

Is this the same Brad DeLong who mocked certain UC professors for muppet-blogging? Yes, yes it is.

Daylight come and we want to go home!
CAI we say CAI we say CAI
We say CAI, we say CAI-AI-AI-OU!
Daylight come and we want to go home!

Caucus all night on a drink of rum!
Daylight come and we want to go home!
Cut the schools till the morning come!
Daylight come and we want to go home!

Come Mr. Schwarzenegger don’t cut our schools.
Daylight come and we want to go home.
Come Mr. Schwarzenegger don’t cut roads and bridges.
Daylight come and we want to go home.

It’s 8 billion, 16 billion, 24 billion hole!
Daylight come and we want to go home.
8 billion, 16 billion, 24 billion hole!
Daylight come and we want to go home.

CAI we say CAI-AI-AI-OU!
Daylight come and we want to go home.
CAI, we say CAI, we say CAI, we say CAI…
Daylight come and we want to go home.

A beautiful state with well-run programs.
Daylight come and we want to go home.
Hides the deadly initiative process.
Daylight come and we want to go home.

It’s 8 billion, 16 billion, 24 billion hole!
Daylight come and we want to go home.
8 billion, 16 billion, 24 billion hole!
Daylight come and we want to go home.

CAI, we say CAI-AI-AI-OU!
Daylight come and we want to go home.
CAI, we say CAI, we say CAI, we say CAI…
Daylight come and we want to go home.

Come Mr. Schwarzenegger don’t veto our budget.
Daylight come and we want to go home.
Come Mr. Schwarzenegger don’t sell off our parks.
Daylight come and we want to go home.

Daylight come and we want to go home.
CAI, we say CAI, we say CAI, we say CAI,
We say CAI, we say CAI-AI-AI-OU!
Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

[Editor’s note: Seth Masket, a good friend from my days at the University of Denver, has a new book out. He also has this post, about California’s budget politics, for us. Thanks, Seth, for doing this.]

During a difficult economic year in which the state faced a severe budget shortfall, California’s Republican governor worked with Democratic leaders in the state legislature to craft a budget that contained a mixture of tax increases and service cuts. The Republican party stood together on the vote, with the exception of one holdout in the Senate.

Sound familiar? Actually, the year was 1967. Many of the story’s details are familiar because they recur from time to time in California. The real difference, though is the fate of the Republican state senator who refused to vote with his party. Instead of being driven out of politics, John Schmitz was renominated by the Republicans and reelected by his Orange County district the following year. Also, all the other Republicans in the state Senate voted for the budget. Schmitz refused go along with the tax increases that the rest of the Republicans in the senate, and Governor Ronald Reagan, found acceptable.

The situation in California is notably different today. The state legislature still requires a two-thirds vote in both houses to pass budgets, but that rubicon has proven steadily more difficult to cross. Virtually all Republicans will oppose any tax increase; any Republican willing to cross party lines and vote for a Democratic tax will find himself out of work before the next election. This happened after the 2003 budget stalemate; four Republican Assemblymen were dispatched to private life because of their votes in favor of Governor Gray Davis’ tax hike. Notably, none were dispatched in the next general election. None made it that far. Most faced difficult primary challenges from their own party and either lost or decided to retire.

The same thing happened earlier this year when Democratic legislative leaders worked with Gov. Schwarzenegger to produce a compromise package of service cuts and tax increases. The Democrats once again found a few Republicans to cross party lines, and once again those Republicans are being purged from the party. The state party has cut off funds for the six apostates, each of whom now faces a recall petition.

The treatment of these lawmakers sends an unmistakable signal to future lawmakers who would consider crossing party lines: the wrong vote will be your last.

One could blame any of California’s political peculiarities — the two-thirds budget rule, initiatives that have placed much of the budget off limits, term limits, etc. — for the budget stalemates, but the fact is that they wouldn’t occur if the parties were less disciplined. Note what has happened in the parties over the past sixty years. The figure below charts the mean DW-NOMINATE score, which is a measure of roll call liberalism/conservatism, for Democrats and Republicans in the state Assembly:

The parties have moved farther apart, with the Republicans becoming more conservative and the Democrats steadily more liberal. Compromise, which is usually necessary when passing a budget by a two-thirds margin, becomes almost impossible in this environment.

Why are the parties moving apart? (Self-promotion coming.) This is something I explore in my new book. Part of it can be explained by national ideological trends. But part of it is a function of who is running the parties.

California’s political parties are run at the most local level by informal networks of activists, donors, and a few key officeholders. These people work together to pick candidates they like and provide those candidates with endorsements, money, and expertise that can put them over the top in the next primary election, and they deny other candidates these same resources. Because these actors are relatively ideologically extreme, so are the candidates they select. If a politician they put in office strays too far from the principles they hold dear, they can deprive that politician of her job by withholding funding, by running a more principled challenger in the next primary, or, in the most extreme cases, by organizing a recall.

This informal style of organizing parties is not unique to California but fits particularly well there because of state rules limiting the formal parties’ participation in politics. As the informal parties have grown more organized, largely since the 1960s, the legislative parties have moved further apart. While there are still plenty of moderate legislative districts in the state, there are almost no state legislators who could accurately be described as moderate; the penalty for moderation is too high.

Should Californians reject Proposition 1A on May 19th, we’ll no doubt see another round of budget negotiations in the legislature. These will be made difficult by the party operatives on the right (who will punish any Republican who votes for a tax increase) and the party operatives on the left (who will punish any Democrat who votes to eviscerate key social programs). Partisanship makes legislative progress much more challenging, particularly during times of divided government. This is the reason the state keeps coming up with short term methods of financing its deficits and kicking them down the field for a few more years rather than actually addressing its budget shortfalls — given the political climate, it has no other choice.

This is certainly not to suggest that parties are the cause of California’s problems. The state more or less tried bipartisanship in the early 20th century. The result? Corruption. But while strong parties can keep a tab on corruption, they carry their own burdens. They aren’t necessarily the problem, but they can make other problems worse.


[Editor’s note: Karl Jacoby’s Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History is a must read. And the website he created to support the book is a model for the future. Below, he shares some thoughts on what that future might look like. Thanks, Karl.]

As the American newspaper industry collapses around us, its economics imploding under pressure from the worldwide web, we can begin to see hints that the book publishing industry is on the cusp of the same downward spiral. History book sales are down. Penguin and other presses have announced layoffs. The once venerable Houghton Mifflin may soon cease to publish trade books altogether.

Such changes ought to be sobering to historians. Ever since history first emerged as an academic profession in the mid-nineteenth century, the basic unit of production has been the book. One needs to publish a book to get tenure and, at most institutions, publish another book to get promoted to full professor. What will happen to this century-old tradition if books become harder to publish and more historical scholarship heads off for the new, untamed frontier of the web?

Like everyone else in publishing and academia, I don’t have a complete answer to this question. But based on my recent experience — publishing a book in the Penguin History of American Life series (Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History) and creating a companion website — I have gathered a few random insights, which I offer below in the hope of beginning a long overdue conversation among historians about the perils and possibilities before us.

Read the rest of this entry »

Eric’s book on the Depression and New Deal is the subject of this week’s book club at TPM café. So if you don’t see enough of him here, or you want to learn how FDR actually caused the Depression, you might want to stop by over there.

Cast off the chains of humorlessness by looking at postbourgie’s series for Black History Month, “Know Your History.” I’m still partial to the post on Franklin:

Franklin N’desi Babatunde, known to the entertainment world simply as Franklin, was a member of the first black family to settle in Springslight, Michigan, the famous home of the Peanuts gang. Franklin’s integration of the school divided the Peanuts gang, pitting Lucy against Charlie Brown, Schroeder against Lucy, and Linus against Sally. After a torrid affair with Peppermint Patty, Franklin moved to New York, where he joined the Nation of Gods and Earths under the name ‘Divine God Father Equality.’

Know Your History.

But your mileage may vary. Regardless, don’t let the man keep you down.

A great injustice is brewing here, as jesus general had the lead when last I looked. So please, go vote for our friends at bitchphd. (Today is the last day to do so.)

Update: B lost. By 30 votes. And it’s all your fault.

Our friends over at Bitch PhD are up for a Weblog Award, which they deserve. So if you’d be so kind, please go here to vote for them. And if I understand the rules correctly, you can vote once every twenty-four hours, so plan on voting early and often. Sorry, no street money this time. It’s a new age.

Update: And speaking of friends of this blog, Eric points out in the comments that while you’re voting for Bitch PhD, you should also click over and cast a ballot for Fafblog in the Best Large Blog category. Just because.

B has a great post up at her place. You want a little taste? Well, the first one’s free:

When people with PhDs (or in graduate programs) talk about doing something other than professing, we always do so in terms of their “leaving” or “quitting” academia. When I left my tenure-track job, I talked abut it in terms not only of leaving a job, but possibly of leaving the profession, though that’s not really what I wanted to do…

But the truth, I think, is that part of what’s so painful about “leaving” academia is that we usually aren’t leaving by choice. More often, academia is leaving us, and all we’re doing is having to slowly come to the point of acknowledging that we’ve been left alone in this big apartment full of books, maybe with a cat or two, and a big pile of bills on the counter. Academia, that bastard; he just up and walked one day, and it took us a while to realize he wasn’t going to come back.

Oh, you know, maybe we could maintain the fiction that the relationship isn’t over. We could seek him out, hang around in the background picking up a few scraps of part-time attention when he needs someone to fill a gap in his schedule and hoping that at some point he’ll realize/remember how great we are and we’ll get back together on a full-time basis. Maybe he’ll even propose someday, and we’ll say yes–of course! does anyone ever say no?–and it’ll turn into a lifetime commitment.

The whole post is a useful reminder of what an absurd crapshoot a career in the academy is. I mean, I feel incredibly lucky to have my job. But that’s just it: I feel lucky. Because I am. How many scholars out there are every bit as smart as I am, work just as hard as I do, have CVs that are identical to mine? And how many of them have jobs they hate? Or don’t have jobs at all? What a weird profession.

You’re probably already reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog: but if you aren’t, you should be.  And if you haven’t read his memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, you must.

Most of the reviews I’ve seen have outlined Coates’s remarkable story. But what strikes me most is his voice. I have about as little exposure to the language of black America as is possible for an American. At points in the book, the unfamiliar slang knots up beyond my guessing. And obviously I have no way to know how close it is to the world he’s remembering, West Baltimore in the 1980s and onward. Yet throughout I hear Coates’s ownership of this voice — his fusion of diverse vocabularies, registers, traditions into a personal creole, faithful to all its origins in pandering to none. A passage of direct narration (116-7):

Plus I was not alone. We would start off only five or six deep, trooping down Tioga, down Gwynne Falls, and then up the grass hill. But all of us had boys from other districts, and as we traveled you would see a homeboy from summer camp or elementary, whose clique would be assimilated, and in this way we would expand until, atop Dukeland hill, dap was exchanged, and we were many deep. We’d front at the top of the concrete steps, talking shit, cultivating rage until we were ice grilled, until our movements were warning flares and bared teeth.

Then I was alone again, because initially none of my crew was gifted and talented. I soloed into the next level of the Marshall Team — 8-16, fewer boys this time, and that meant trouble. Our army was smaller now and could not tolerate pacifists. I remembered who I’d been just a year earlier, spaced out and ready to run, and wanted no part of it. I thought of walking in, smacking the first fool I saw, and taking a suspension like a badge. But that was just the voice of my intelligent armor. I was still a dreamer, if now repressed, was still cupcakes and comic books at the core. 

Take a minor precise detail: “gifted and talented” — the grammatical incongruity tells us the phrase is in quotes, from the bureaucratese of school. Or the chiming of “dap” and “deep”, both used repeatedly elsewhere.

The closest analogy in my own reading (an idiosyncratic association, implausible as influence) is Iain Sinclair’s nonfiction, say Lights Out for the Territory. But enough about me — go read.

The Modesto Kid has drawn my attention to a new blog, It Is Time For History. With his characteristic, er, modesty, he neglected to emphasize that he himself is a contributor (see here). The prevailing tone is sarcastic, unreliable, amusing. Plus: history!

Well, not really. But she does have a new advice column over at Inside Higher Ed. Go say hi. And ask her about that persistent rash you have. She’ll know what to do.

This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."