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Outrageous

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 23, 2015 in Unsolicited Commentary

From the News & Observer:

Spellings’ salary near the top for public university leaders

By Lynn Bonner | lbonner@newsobserver.com

Margaret Spellings will be one of the highest paid public university administrators in the nation when she takes over the UNC system in March.

With a starting base salary of $775,000, she will make more than outgoing UNC System President Tom Ross, who earns $600,000 a year.

Spellings will have the opportunity to earn money on top of her salary by meeting performance goals she and the Board of Governors agree to. She will also be eligible for salary increases with each annual job evaluation.

For comparison:

  • When Molly Broad retired as President of the UNC system in 2006 she was making $312K.

  • The Board of Governors then hired Erskine Bowles at $425K, but he donated $125K of it to a scholarship fund (since the guy was already wealthy).

  • After Erskine retired in 2010, despite the intervening recession, Tom Ross was brought in at $500K — then given a 1-year boost to $600K when the BOG decided to fire him last year.

And now we have Spellings at $775K.

From a nearly-all-Republican, ostensibly “conservative” Board.

Appointed by a Republican-controlled, ostensibly “conservative” General Assembly.

Now I’m not that great at math,1 but by my count that’s a 148% increase in less than a decade. In-state tuition at NC State has gone up 72% in that same time frame ($4,783 to $8,206.16).

Meanwhile, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina families’ average annual wages have only gone up just 20% over that same period: from $37,439 to $44,973. And that’s not adjusted for inflation or increases in the cost of living.

Something is seriously wrong here y’all…

  1. I’m a lawyer for a reason 😉 []

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A conservative’s [brief] case for higher education funding

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 9, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary

After more than 2 years of writing here at law:/dev/null, I’ve done a reasonably decent job of keeping the “real world” politics to a minimum1 — not because I’m averse to talking about those sorts of issues, but because law school is enough of a headache without me going into AN ALL-CAPS RAGE2 about the latest controversy du jour.

Even so, every now and then I feel a slight urge to rant ;)

Earlier tonight I took a break from drowning in homework to visit Chapel Hill for “An Evening with Five Presidents”, an event put together by the¬†UNC Board of Governors featuring a panel discussion with the 5 folks who have led the consolidated University of North Carolina since it was established in 1972. Former BOG members were asked to attend as “special friends” of the University — and since I’m more likely to find a job lead from one of these folks than anything my GPA will get me, I figured making the academic sacrifice was a rational choice :beatup:

Anyhow, the wide-ranging discussion included more-than-a-few remarks about the proper way to fund the University and the totally absurd tuition increases being discussed behind closed doors (e.g. $4K+ increase at UNCCH for in-state undergrads over the next couple years :crack: ). Unfortunately those are the kinds of conversations that happen when newly-Republican-led state legislatures gore the higher education system and nuke $1 of every $7 overnight.3

It’s obvious from the General Assembly’s actions that legislators have a dim view of the university system, I’m just thoroughly flummoxed as to why. It’s always made intuitive sense to me that the education sector is one of the few options that are a sensible and eminently capitalist choice for investing taxpayers’ money.

Yes, I just said “eminently capitalist.” Maybe I’m biased because of the modest upbringing and former dropout status, but consider two brief reasons:4

The Social Network Effect:
Folks who’ve spent time in a computer science class have probably already heard of the “Metcalfe Effect”, named after Ethernet founder Robert Metcalfe. He argued that a critical mass of users was necessary to create any value in any particular network; for example, one person having a telephone is worthless, but as more people get telephones all current telephone users benefit.5 Economists refer to this as a positive network externality.

The Metcalfe Effect in computer science: for a network of (n) nodes, the total number of possible connections is (n * (n - 1)) / 2

You can see a visual depiction in the photo on the right. The Metcalfe Effect can actually be expressed as a mathematical formula — (n * (n-1)) / 2 — indicating the total number of possible connections between n nodes in a network. 2 nodes: 1 connection. 5 nodes: 10 connections. 12 nodes: 66 connections. And so on.

Universities are essentially big incubators for a human-centric Metcalfe Effect, creating what I’d describe as a Social Network Effect. Thousands of people voluntarily choose to come into a given geographic area, sharing a common institutional affiliation for 4 years at a stretch, and in the process inevitably form connections (their social network) with those around them.

Now is every one of N.C. State‘s 33,000+ students going to connect with the other 32,299+? Of course not. But in the aggregate, more connections are formed than would be otherwise.

I’ve seen this Social Network Effect get routinely derided by conservative pundits for years — “We’re supposed to be teaching kids to get jobs! Not to have fun!” blah blah blah rabble rabble rabble.

But the criticisms overlook basic realities of how economics works: information asymmetry is an impediment to maximum economic efficiency, and our personal networks help to distribute information and reduce that asymmetry as a result. This is the reason why the extent and quality of your personal network influences the resources you can obtain.

To make a long story short (these kinds of debates can get √ľber-long), basically with the Social Network Effect at universities you get more people forging more numerous and economically higher-quality connections with more¬†other people, producing a greater quantity and quality of economic interaction — better matches between employers and employees, producers and consumers, new business ventures, and so on.

The Foundational Knowledge Effect:
I couldn’t come up with a cool-sounding name for this one :beatup:

One of my minors at N.C. State was in economics, and to get there we had to read a lot of different books / essays / writings / etc. Out of everything economics-related that I’ve read, economist William Easterly’s The Elusive Quest for Growth ranks among my Top 2 favorites.6

A former economist with the World Bank, Easterly’s book discusses the various “panaceas” touted by the developed world for trying to improve third-world countries (things like debt forgiveness, building schools, and the like) and why most of them simply don’t work.¬†While the book overall is excellent, what particularly jumped out to me in reading it was Easterly’s thorough exploration of the role of knowledge in the economy.

In a nutshell: knowledge is cumulative and builds off of itself.

This is why, if you look at the economic growth rates of various countries over the last century, countries tend to hit a certain point where their per capita GDP¬†accelerates¬†exponentially rather than just linearly — the “core” level of knowledge among the populace hits a threshold point where it can then take greater advantage of new advances and discoveries, accelerating growth further and leading to even more such discoveries.

As an example, you couldn’t simply teleport back to California in 1900, give someone the laptop you brought with you, and expect Silicon Valley to spring up decades ahead of time when the country hasn’t seen a radio or TV yet. Easterly discusses this reality in the context of African tribes cut off from the outside world, suddenly immersed in modern tech innovations when approached by missionaries: they pick up on it eventually, it just takes a long time when that foundational knowledge doesn’t exist.

Just like universities are great voluntary creches for nurturing social networks, so too are they among the most-effective means for building “core” knowledge in the populace. The widespread ubiquity of technology, access to the latest research, the exposure to knowledge that comes from building a social network in itself — all of this contributes to everyone’s foundation of knowledge, enabling a higher degree of economic growth at a faster pace than we’d have otherwise simply from mere exposure to it (and even more if it’s retained).

***

I have to cut this entry here because WordPress says I’ve already hit 1,300 words, but my main point is this: the Social Network Effect and the Foundational Knowledge Effect, taken together, lead to a situation where the economic loss that comes from taxing away private money and diverting it to a public purpose is recouped and then outweighed by the economic gain from reducing information asymmetry and increasing the scope and speed of innovation in the marketplace.

In other words, just looking at the economics alone and ignoring any other incidental benefits, funding the University of North Carolina is a net benefit for the State and its taxpayers.

The conservatives in the North Carolina General Assembly should take notice and give embodiment to the words written in Article IX, Section 9 of the State’s Constitution: “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”

And I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d guess cutting 15% of the University’s budget and prompting 4-figure tuition increases don’t really mesh with that.7 ;)

Have a good night y’all! :D

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From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:

  1. A mere 2.5% of our 467 entries. Even less when you consider 5 of the 12 Unsolicited Commentary posts are exclusively law school-related, and another 2 of 12 are predominantly law-oriented. []
  2. Hat tip to Ray William Johnson for the phrase :) []
  3. A hair’s breadth under $2,000,000.00 at NCCU Law completely gone. :crack: []
  4. I concede at the outset I haven’t gone searching for empirical studies to back up my arguments here; I’m sure they exist and I could found them if I felt like spending the time to do so, but I don’t need empirical confirmation to know when something basic makes sense ;) []
  5. Or, for the younger generation of folks reading this entry: the more people who join Facebook, the more each individual Facebook user benefits :P []
  6. The other, read during the time I had dropped out of school, is Henry H. Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson — hands down the greatest economics tome I’ve ever read, and one I strongly encourage everyone to read from cover-to-cover regardless of your political philosophy :D []
  7. That’s not to say I think all tuition increases are per se bad. I firmly believe students should be expected to fund a portion of their education (and even take out loans :eek: ) so they have some “skin in the game” as it were, and universities should have flexibility to deal with inflation and other cost issues. But I’ve also advocated for years that any tuition increases need to be predictable and capped. Better to have a 6.5% increase every year like clockwork than no increase one year and a 40%+ increase out of the blue the year after. []

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Vindication

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 18, 2010 in Student Government

It’s been a good day :)

Things started off well when I made it to Legal Research & Persuasion on time. A minor success to be sure, but with our new schedule this semester I miss 2 days’ worth of LRP every time there’s a UNC Board of Governors meeting — so this is the first lab I’ve been to since the semester started :beatup:

It got even better when we got grades back for the quiz I mentioned yesterday. The grade itself wasn’t a surprise (BlueBook/citation stuff is one of the things I did professionally back when I was a paralegal) but it means I don’t have to go to class tomorrow. And since Professor Ks cancelled that class too, it also means I get to sleep in extra late since those are the only 2 classes we have on Friday mornings :D

But the main joy came from reading the student newspaper at my alma mater.

Some quick background: ¬†I briefly¬†mentioned last month that the statewide UNC Association of Student Governments had already gathered 15,000+ student signatures on a tuition petition calling on state legislators to scrap a mandated tuition increase (with $$ raised going to the state’s General Fund) and replace it with a smaller tuition increase set by the Board of Governors (with $$ raised staying on each respective campus).

Back when we were prepping the campaign, back before the first signature was signed, we got a lot of hostile carping from a lot of different folks — and as the guy in charge, most of it was directed at me.

One well-connected person told me to “hold off.” Another more tersely insisted “your plan is not going to be helpful” (though he was kind enough to preface it with “with all due respect”). ¬†And then there was N.C. State’s Technician, which was kind enough to editorialize here that the Tuition Petition was a “futile gesture designed to improve the image of student leaders”… yet another condemnatory editorial in a span stretching back to the start of my 1st term :roll:

But then by the time¬†last week’s BOG meeting started, the number of signatures had grown from 0 to over 20,000 — over 90% of our 21,500 goal, with 3 weeks left to go.

It was a point I made sure to mention in a speech from the podium, flanked by over a dozen Student Body Presidents and other student leaders from over half the institutions in the University system, with thick stacks of signed petitions in their hands :angel:

After the meeting, the very same gentleman who just a month earlier said the petition campaign wouldn’t be helpful came up and thanked us for doing it, noting how helpful it would be when budget deliberations take place this summer.

Then today, as I’m in the FishBowl reading for Torts, I discover the Technician wrote a fresh editorial… now citing what they call the “great” work UNCASG is doing with the petition.

I almost fell out of the chair :beatup:

Now I’m not the obnoxious type to demand someone say point-blank they were wrong, but I’m more than willing to infer it from their subsequent words/actions ;)

So yeah, it’s been a good day :D We’ll see how tomorrow turns out :)

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Things TDot Likes: Men’s Wearhouse

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 12, 2010 in Things TDot Likes

“You’re going to like the way you look. ¬†I guarantee it.”

That’s the corporate tagline for¬†Men’s Wearhouse, the clothing store where I’ve gotten most of my professional attire over the past few years. But when I pulled my BlackBerry from its holster this morning, I got a message that could work almost as well:

“U have to have big [cojones] to wear a pink tie and a pocket square lol.”

A little color never killed anyone :D

That was from one of my colleagues during today’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors, where we adopted tuition/fee rates for the 2010-11 academic year. ¬†Those rates included a long-sought fee to fund a football team for UNC Charlotte, as well as a fee to finally build a new student center at N.C. State

…but the topic of discussion for several Board members kept shifting back to my hot pink tie and matching pocket silk :beatup:

I actually started the draft for this post a couple weeks ago after a not-quite-but-somewhat similar occurrence. A fellow 1L from the N.C. Central University School of Law stopped by to hang out for a bit, saw me putting my tie racks in order, and remarked about how much I’d “grown up” compared to my earlier wardrobe.

Now I’ve never been a fan of the stereotypical “corporate” look — black or navy suit, white or light blue shirts, earth tone ties, no pocket silks, etc. But I confess it’s what I used to wear back when I wasn’t in school, since it’s what everyone else wore too.

Then one day I went into a local S&K Menswear1 looking for a French blue pocket silk. The staff looked at me like I was crazy, and one of them even tried to talk me into getting a navy blue silk instead (a color I already had, and didn’t need even if I hadn’t). I left disappointed and figured I’d try the Men’s Wearhouse shop next door.

I not only found the French blue silk I was looking for, the ties/silks area was like a color pinwheel with all sorts of vibrant choices. Not sure what the salesperson was pulling down in commission, but I happily parted with a tidy sum of $$ to get a few ties, matching silks, and shirts.

It was love :lovestruck:

I’ve been shopping there ever since. Suits, shirts, ties, silks, even the occasional tuxedo rental. They’ve even helped me put together a slightly-exotic outfit every now and then, like when I had to find a suitable shirt / tie / silk combo to match these colors for UNCSA.

So if you’re a guy looking to add a little visual pizazz to your attire, Men’s Wearhouse just might be the place for you ;)

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I’m taking the weekend off from blogging to (hopefully) get caught up in CivPro and Legal Research. See y’all on Monday, have a great night! :D

  1. Later acquired by Men’s Wearhouse, ironically enough []

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Spellcheck FTL

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 11, 2010 in Randomness

I mentioned back on Monday that the February meeting for the UNC Board of Governors was/is today and tomorrow.

Beware of the Statues. The Gerneral ones. :beatup:

After today’s meeting, a handful of Student Body Presidents and I went down to the N.C. General Assembly to meet with a few legislators on the 8% tuition increase we’re trying to get replaced with more student-friendly rates.

Saw the picture on the right as we were leaving.

I can ignore the errant, comma. I can Ignore the Arbitrary capitalization.

But after misspleling tiwce I’d argue taking $$ away from education is the very last thing the General Assembly needs to be doing.

Added irony: these signs are right next to the Legislative Complex, for the bus loading zone at… the Museum of History and the Museum of Natural History, both frequent field trip preferences for schools :beatup:

Spellcheck is your friend…

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TDot’s Tips #8: Don’t burn your bridges

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 8, 2010 in TDot's Tips

I’ll confess: I was notoriously arrogant when I first got to N.C. State back in 1998.

I know that comes as a shock to all of about -0- of you :P

In hindsight I’m not entirely sure why I acted the way I did. I was only a slightly-above-average student, paired with well-above-average acne and well-below-average athleticism :beatup: But you wouldn’t believe it from how I carried myself and interacted with other folks.

Until I met QuietStorm.

We both were freshman appointees to¬†the single most distinguished student deliberative assembly ever conceived in the State of North Carolina, and both of us got assigned to the same committee. I jumped into the policy debates in person and over the listserv from Day 1, and didn’t hesitate to employ a little vitriol in condemning proposals I considered ridiculous.

In response to one of those emails a few days after our appointment, I got a polite response from QuietStorm — our first interaction with each other — essentially telling me to STFU. My response was far less refined, including at least one reference to me “actively mock[ing]” people with her political beliefs.

She shot back minutes later informing me that I didn’t know her well enough to know her political beliefs, she was only trying to be help me avoid alienating people, and a closing admonishment: “Don’t burn your bridges. You never know when you’re going to need one.”

I realized she was right — over the next few months I learned that she was not only more politically conservative than me, but that we also made a phenomenal team. So I dialed back the pretentiousness over the next semester and adopted a policy of trying to be courteous and respectful to everybody.1

I’m sure there are plenty of folks in the world who don’t like me, but hopefully their distaste isn’t from anything I did to them :)

Days like today remind me it was a good choice.

It started this morning in response to my quote in this article for the Raleigh News & Observer. I sound like a fool, but got a Facebook message from someone who graduated in 3 years, read the story and wanted to wish me well in law school. ¬†The name looked familiar but I wasn’t 100% sure why. A quick Google search confirmed my hunch — QuietStorm and I both worked with him in the Student Senate way back in 1999.

Then after CivPro I drove down to Raleigh to get my car repaired (again). I was talking with one of my colleagues from western NC about the tuition/fee vote at this week’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors, and after I hung up a guy standing near the door goes “Hey are you Greg?” After my initial impulse to go “who wants to know?” subsided, I found out he was a student at UNC Pembroke (about 1.5 hours south of Raleigh) who I had met for a few minutes almost a year earlier as part of our UNCASG Listening Tour.

Here in the span of a few hours were two folks, interaction with the former separated by time and the latter by geography, who I never expected to cross paths with again. Imagine how either of those conversations would have turned out had I still been an asshole! :beatup:

And as if Life wanted to underscore the point, just before writing this post I got a terse email from a guy working for an organization I’ll leave nameless, demanding a favor from me in my capacity as President of UNCASG — the largest student advocacy organization in North Carolina, and thus a preferred audience for his group. The guy in question? One of the folks responsible for deploying various crude insults about me2) back during my first campaign for Student Senate President.

Needless to say I declined his request :angel:

As many a 2L, 3L and post-L will tell you, the folks we’re working with in law school are going to end up being our friends and colleagues for years down the road. It’s probably a good idea to treat them well so they’ve got a favorable impression of you in the future, because whether it’s in a courtroom or a car repair shop you never know when you’ll cross paths with someone again :)

Have a great night everybody! :D

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Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. Albeit only as a “no first strike” policy: folks who were rude/mean to me or friends were exempt :angel: []
  2. Mispronouncing my last name sounds similar to a feminine hygiene product, which was apparently the height of civic discourse for the campaign. It’s part of why I felt no sympathy when¬†this poster started appearing ; []

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CrimLaw looks like fun

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 12, 2010 in The 1L Life

Just got my CrimLaw book today courtesy of a friend-of-a-friend who happened to be a 2L selling hers for dirt cheap1, and started thumbing through it right before bed. ¬†Looks like interesting stuff, I’m hoping this course will be fun :D

Sorry that’s the extent of today’s musings, gotta head to bed — meeting in Kannapolis @ 9am to hear the Governor talk about education stuff :) ¬†Good night folks!

  1. Note to pre-Ls: find 2Ls early in your academic career and make them your friends. Trust me. []

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Getting [K]O’d

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 8, 2009 in Fail

Ugh.

Had my Ks midterm at 8:30 this morning (that’s “Contracts” for my non-law readers who’ve been trying to understand my Facebook status ;))… ¬†I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and finals.

It’s not that I didn’t know the material, I just didn’t know it well enough to be comfortable. And since law professors like to ask tricky questions, not being comfortable meant I started second-guessing myself and overanalyzing them.

For a 50-minute midterm, we’re “strongly recommended” to spend no more than 25 minutes on the set of multiple choice questions and then the rest on the essay. ¬†The multiples took me 40 minutes. And my essay response had more holes than Swiss cheese because I didn’t have enough time to finish typing even though I knew the issues inside and out.

A word of advice: do the essay first if you know that material better :beatup:

I'm flattered, but I don't see the resemblance... >_<

I'm flattered, but I don't see the resemblance... >_<

And study more…

On a totally non-law-related note, after exams I headed to Chapel Hill for the monthly UNC Board of Governors meeting and got compared to Jason Statham in The Transporter. I had no clue who he was and had never seen the movie (or apparently any of his other films). ¬†When I wiki’d him once I got home, I confess I can’t see the resemblance — maybe they were referring to the thinning hair? ¬†You be the judge.

Heading back to Torts and Property outlines, have the last two midterms tomorrow.  Good night everybody! :D

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