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A student on one of my recent Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions on Bored@Baker requested my thoughts on a Malcolm Gladwell podcast called Food Fight, part of his Revisionist History Series:
In it, and my summary isn’t reductionist at all, Gladwell compares noble Vassar — with its lousy dining hall food and high levels of financial aid for Pell Grand students — with hedonistic, unfeeling Bowdoin — which has, as he put it, almost one-star-Michelin Guide cafeteria food and relatively parsimonious financial aid. He sees schools like Bowdoin as using frills to compete unfairly for full-boat students, a competition that they will win at the cost of impoverishing schools like Vassar, which are focused on a social justice mission.
We’ve heard this kind of argument in the past concerning athletics. Well meaning faculty members off and on express the desire to cut the football team or even all of varsity sports in order to increase funding for academic pursuits.
Of course, longtime readers will see where this line of reasoning is going. If the only two or three items in a school’s budget were sports, food and professors, the point would be a good one. But they are not (recreation and varsity athletics at Division 1 Dartmouth are only 3-4% of the total budget; the faculty is about 10% of the budget), and so Gladwell is guilty of being penny wise and pound foolish — just as if you advised your financially troubled Uncle Charlie to turn off his house lights at night to cut down on his power bills, without saying anything about his ruinous gambling habit.
Nowhere in his presentation does Gladwell cite any financial figures, other than the fact that Bowdoin has fewer undergrads (1,805) than Vassar (2,450). He certainly does not tell us how much more money Bowdoin spends on palatable dining hall food than Vassar (whose food he treats with disdain).
Bowdoin’s total expenses in 2015 were $154,280,000 ($85,473 per student) and Vassar’s were $171,634.000 ($70,054 per student). (Note: neither school had more than a couple of million dollars of government grants. If you abstract away Dartmouth’s high research revenue, the College expenses/student totaled $111,702/student).
Bowdoin charged $63,500 for tuition, room and board and fees this year; Vassar’s sticker price was $65,490. But after discounts for financial aid, Bowdoin took in $73,265,000 ($40,590/student) and Vassar pocketed $87,064,000 ($35,536 /student).
So what about dining hall expenses? The two schools financial statements don’t break out the cost of dining, and Malcolm did not ask for any figures. The closest one can get from published sources are the line item in each schools acconts for “Auxiliary enterprises”:
Auxiliary enterprises include a variety of services that enhance the quality of student life on campus. Revenue are displayed in two sections. Fees for housing and dining services are displayed along with tuition and fees net of scholarship aid to arrive at net tuition, fees, room, and board. Other auxiliary service enterprise revenue, which include college retail operations, cash dining, catering, intercollegiate athletics, and graphic arts, are displayed separately. Expenses associates with auxiliary enterprise activities are reported as a single total and include an allocated portion of the cost of operating and maintaining college plant assets, interest, and depreciation expense.[Emphasis added]
So where does that get us? There are so many cost categories hidden away in the “Auxiliary enterprises” cost line that we aren’t really comparing like with like. And has Gladwell looked at the cost of staff? Not that he says. Nor does he take into account that Bowdoin pays its full professors $6,102 per year more than Vassar pays its top faculty members ($137,304 vs. $131,202). Full professors will constitute the large majority of faculty pay in the colleges’ budgets — far more than the cost of food. Associate professors earn more money at Bowdoin, too, though assistant professors have higher incomes at Vassar. That said, money goes a lot farther in Brunswick than in Poughkeepsie.
To boot, Bowdoin’s endowment ($1.393 billion) far outstrips Vassar’s ($983 million) both in absolute terms and especially on a per student basis. Why shouldn’t students share in the bounty of Bowdoin’s wealth? What could the dining hall spend on that good food each year? An extra million or two?
Gladwell had better engage a cost accountant before he accuses Bowdoin of wasting money on frills.
Addendum: Without having delved into the question, we can be sure that both schools have seen their staff of academic administrators balloon over the past twenty years.
When you do your work well, the media will praise you — without the need for a lumbering PR machine (23 staffers). Phil, take note.
Tuck has long has the courage to be different. As I have observed, it is in many ways the Yale Law School of MBA programs. Like any good entrepreneur, the school has had the independence of mind to find a hole in the market, as Poets & Quants reports:
As the Yale Daily News described a few years go, the percentage of alumni who give money each year to Tuck far surpasses the participation rate at all other B-schools.
Alexi Pappas ‘12, who ran for Greece in the 10,000 meters at the Rio Olympics (and already has a movie to her credit), published a warm-hearted piece in the Times yesterday about her freshman-year friendship with Cubbie Kyle Hendricks ‘12. But more than that, she wrote about Dartmouth and good students and dorm life at a wonderful school:
If only Phil could understand that nurturing a fine research college is a valid goal. Dartmouth is great despite his administration.
Addendum: An essay like Alexi’s in the Times is worth more than all of the work done by the Office of Communications.
Kyle Hendricks ‘12 pitched seven and a third innings, giving up only two hits, as the Cubs beat the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw 5-0 in Chicago to win the pennant. Kyle and reliever Aroldis Chapman faced the minimum of 27 batters as the only Dodgers to get on base (three men: two on singles and one on an error) were retired on double plays and a pickoff. No team has faced the minimum number of batters since Don Larsen pitched his perfect game for the Yankees sixty years ago. All in all, a moving night. Sigh.
Or should I say, Cy.
A few years ago we flew from Lebanon to Boston at the peak of autumn on one of Cape Air’s puddlejumpers. From 5-6,000 feet the colors of the fall foliage were painfully intense, almost like looking into a blazing fire. The reds and yellows seemed to saturate the eyes to the point that a viewer could not focus on the scene below. I imagine that the same would be true this year. After a summer drought, one could not hope to have greater beauty in the maples, birches and oaks, offset as they are in the Upper Valley by a range of contrasting conifers.
Even on a day beset by rain and fog, luminescent and multi-colored leaves seem to shine as if in the sun.
Addendum: The camera in my iPhone 7 does not do justice to the colors here. Though, perhaps, its user has a thing or two to learn.
With the Cubs up 3-2 in their divisional series against the Dodgers, Kyle Hendricks ‘12 takes the mound again tonight at Wrigley Field against Clayton Kershaw. A win would put the Cubs in their first World Series since 1945 (the team last won the Series in 1908).
Time Magazine has a laudatory profile of Kyle: How the Chicago Cubs Built an Unlikely Ace.
Plus ça change, plus ça reste le même:
Good for Phil for taking the time:
From: “Kristi L. Clemens”
To: All Undergraduates, Thayer Students, Arts and Sciences Faculty, Thayer Faculty, College Staff, Thayer Staff
Subject: Memorial Service for Christopher Vale ‘18
A memorial service celebrating the life of Christopher Vale ‘18 will be held this Sunday, October 23rd at 4:30pm at the DOC House on Occom Pond. Students have requested that attendees dress colorfully and casually as a nod to their friend’s laid back spirit. President Hanlon and Chris’s friends will make remarks at a brief service, followed by a reception with light refreshments.
At least Phil has a sense of humor — or an unvarnished estimation of his past three and a half years — click forward to 8:40:
Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one of a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:
Meir Kohn is a Professor of Economics at the College, where he has taught for 37 years. As a researcher, he has a background in mathematics and an interest in history, but is perhaps best known on campus for his star turn as the long time teacher of an essential class on the financial markets.
Kohn sometimes tells his students that his journey was much like that of Forrest Gump, with twists and turns that eventually landed him in Hanover. Born in the Czech Republic, Kohn moved as a baby to the U.K. He graduated high school a year early, then moved to Israel and took up life on a kibbutz, a commune-like settlement (a fact that somewhat belies his eventual stance as a libertarian). Kohn attended Hebrew University with the intention of studying biology, but he lost interest in that subject and switched to agricultural economics.
After obtaining Bachelors and Masters degrees at Hebrew University, Kohn came to the U.S. for the first time to earn his Ph.D. at MIT. He planned to get his degree in operations research, a quantitative application of advanced analytical methods. Instead, he focused on economic theory. He returned to Israel to teach for six years. While there, he helped develop the “cash-in-advance” theory to explain why consumers need to hold on to money.
In 1979 Kohn joined the faculty at Dartmouth, where he continued his work on economic and monetary theory. But by the mid-nineties he was dissatisfied with what he calls the “sterile” environment of economics research that seemed to him little more than a mathematics branch of philosophy, creating and analyzing imaginary models of the world. Kohn began to look instead at what lessons could be drawn from economy history.
His main focus since then has been learning from pre-industrial Europe and deciphering why economic progress happens in some places rather than others, a theme he has explored in multiple papers. Rather than see economics as no more than production and the trade between producers, Kohn created a model from the historical data that has three parts: production (the actual physical creation), commerce (buying and selling what others produce), and finally, predation (where a person or group takes by force what others produce). The interaction of these three activities — and specifically the combination of production and commerce while preventing predation — is what leads to economic progress. Governments in this model are often necessary at the local level, but they are a hindrance as societies scale.
This framework, which Kohn has since tested further on data from pre-industrial China, is codified in his upcoming book, The Origins of Western Economic Success. You can read his work-in-progress manuscript in its entirety here (Kohn is continuing to revise and edit it), or take in the (somewhat) shorter version of his analysis here.
Meanwhile Kohn has become a star in the Economics department with the course he teaches four times a year: Econ 26, The Economics of Financial Intermediaries and Markets. In 2000 his notes for this class were turned into a textbook, Financial Institutions and Markets. After the book’s publication, Kohn realized he could dispense with formal lectures that both he and his students found redundant, and he completely switched the course format over to the Socratic Method.
Econ 26 is now a beloved and feared rite of passage for economics majors with dreams of working on Wall Street. Students participating in corporate recruiting trade stories with their alumni recruiters about the rapid-fire conversational method Kohn employs, keeping students on their toes. Twenty percent of each student’s grade is based on class participation, and Kohn sees himself more as a coach running training drills than as a teacher pushing information at passive students.
In a memorable 2007 opinion column in The Dartmouth, Peter Gray wrote about his experience in the class, saying, “Kohn is the first professor at Dartmouth I have encountered who is perfectly comfortable telling me that I’m wrong, and no less of a feat, in front of the rest of the class.” In 2012, the Alumni Magazine profiled Econ 26. And in this video, Kohn discusses his methods:
Kohn is also one of the founders of the Political Economy Project, which we discussed in our profile of Professor Doug Irwin. Kohn looks forward to re-starting his economic reading group this winter with a group of 10-15 students meeting once a week for an hour to discuss a single book over the course of the term.
Reader question time! A Dartblog fan recently wrote in to request that I compare the drinking habits of German college students with those of their American counterparts. Keeping in mind that anecdotal evidence and personal experience can only be so valuable, allow me to paint with a broad brush.
I would maintain that binge drinking as it is commonly understood — consuming too much alcohol within a certain timeframe — is significantly less common at German universities than at American ones. At the very least, drinking to excess is not the celebrated part of the student culture here that it is in the United States; over-intoxication is for the most part frowned upon in the Vaterland. While there are certainly opportunities to get blind drunk for those so inclined, alcohol is generally used as a social lubricant and not as a means of competition. Simply put, things are a bit more low-key, which is perhaps the reason why the entire nation of Germany is more or less open-container; it is not unusual to see professionals in suits sipping a bottle of beer on the sidewalk or the train ride home.
Statistics comparing the prevalence of binge drinking across student populations in different countries are very difficult to find, but results from a 2014 World Health Organization study show that Germany has a slightly lower incidence of “heavy episodic drinking,” which can be thought of as consuming the equivalent of five 12 oz. beers or 5 oz. glasses of wine on one occasion at least once a month. The difference between the German (12.5%) and American (16.9%) rates is not particularly significant, but the UK (28%) and Ireland (39%) stand out as more severely afflicted.
The statistics cited from the WHO report refer to the entire population over the age of 15, not just college students, so take from it what you will. Additionally, “scientific” definitions of binge drinking are notoriously finicky. While it shouldn’t become a habit, drinking five cans of beer over the course of a few hours will probably not, for an average-sized adult male, lead to the sort of dangerous intoxication or vomiting that people tend to use as a mental barometer for binge drinking. Studies with such low definitional thresholds may therefore paint an inaccurate picture of how often people are truly drinking to excess. Anecdotally, I can say that although many German students may meet the WHO’s standard for a binge on a semi-regular basis, they seem to be much less likely to, for example, gulp down and then throw up ten beers in a single evening than your typical American frat bro.
At the very least, the WHO study demonstrates how the (tired) argument that the United States’ high drinking age leads to an unsafe relationship with alcohol is probably barking up the wrong tree. The UK and Ireland, which as mentioned above enjoy a greater general prevalence of heavy episodic drinking, have a legal drinking age of 18, as do Lithuania (36.6%) and Finland (36.5%). For university students at the very least, more reasonable explanations for dangerous behavior can be found elsewhere.
When comparing the U.S. to Germany (where the drinking age for beer and wine is 16), it’s particularly instructive to look at the respective settings in which socializing over alcohol normally occurs. Because German universities don’t have the types of residential campuses and Greek houses that are ubiquitous in the American system, there are fewer (if any) centralized clearinghouses for alcohol consumption. Instead, drinking generally occurs in public establishments or smaller private gatherings, where familiar, watchful eyes and a lack of anonymity tend to discourage more reckless activity.
Beer, moreover, which is about as important to Germany as baguettes are to France, is the drink of choice; hard liquor does not enjoy quite the following here that it does among American college students. Because it’s considerably easier to overdose on shots of vodka than on Augustiner, German students may end up pacing themselves a bit more reasonably. That being said, not all Germans are always on their best behavior. The vomit on the sidewalks of Berlin has to come from somewhere.
Addendum: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has published a factsheet on drinking by college students.
The truest sign of mediocrity is when we do things (like having an Executive Committee on Inclusive Excellence) that are so hackneyed and clichéd that they have already been mocked in the popular culture. Have a look at this Simpsons clip on the first annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence:
Phil is looking (and acting) more like Homer Simpson with a mustache every day.
Addendum: A close observer of the College writes in:
I await the announcement of the “George Wallace Institute for Diversity at Dartmouth Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Inclusiveness.”
Addendum: There is no truth to the rumor that Phil is encouraging Vladimir Putin to have the Russian government endow a new Dartmouth Institute for the Study of Democratic Government.”
Dartmouth students, not atypically, might take an Econ course in the same term in which they take classes in Art History and Biology. That’s the liberal arts at its finest. But beyond the diverse subject matter, think of the gear-changing effort required to confront the varied ways of thinking and writing in these three disciplines. A few years ago I wrote a post about the range of competences required of someone running a start-up; now the Times has written about studies by LinkedIn and other researchers on the broad base of experiences that typically mark a big-company CEO: How to Become a C.E.O.? The Quickest Path Is a Winding One:
How does a person get to be the boss? What does it take for an ambitious young person starting a career to reach upper rungs of the corporate world — the C.E.O.’s office, or other jobs that come with words like “chief” or “vice president” on the office door?
The answer has always included hard work, brains, leadership ability and luck. But in the 21st century, another, less understood attribute seems to be particularly important.
To get a job as a top executive, new evidence shows, it helps greatly to have experience in as many of a business’s functional areas as possible. A person who burrows down for years in, say, the finance department stands less of a chance of reaching a top executive job than a corporate finance specialist who has also spent time in, say, marketing. Or engineering. Or both of those, plus others…
… this early evidence suggests that success in the business world isn’t just about brainpower or climbing a linear path to the top, but about accumulating diverse skills and showing an ability to learn about fields outside one’s comfort zone…
Marc Andreessen, the prominent venture capitalist, has gone so far as to call this the “secret formula to becoming a C.E.O.” The most successful corporate leaders, he wrote, “are almost never the best product visionaries, or the best salespeople, or the best marketing people, or the best finance people, or even the best managers, but they are top 25 percent in some set of those skills, and then all of a sudden they’re qualified to actually run something important.”…
“The common theme that we see in the jobs that are the fastest-growing and have the highest value for employers and job seekers is this set of jobs that require a mix of skills that don’t tend to ride together in nature,” said Matthew Sigelman, the chief executive of Burning Glass. [a firm that scours millions of job listings to detect labor market trends]…
There are some parallels with programs that the biggest companies have long operated to deliberately rotate promising young executives across different divisions, to ensure that as they hit midcareer they have broad experience. The challenge can be to replicate that kind of experience even in a world where few people sign on with a single large employer for decades.
To be a C.E.O. or other top executive, said Guy Berger, an economist at LinkedIn, “you need to understand how the different parts of a company work and how they interact with each other and understand how other people do their job, even if it’s something you don’t know well enough to do yourself.”
However, there is a larger point to be made than the one stated in the Times piece. Taking a tour of different corporate jobs as part of a management rotation, or doing the usual run of courses in an undergraduate business program (marketing, finance, production, accounting, organizational behavior, etc.) is a sight different from addressing these topics in a fundamental and intellectual way. One learns first principles in deeper form in a course in the Art of the Renaissance, Microeconomics, Historiography, English, etc., all of which probe more thoughtfully into human nature and methods for discerning it. These principles then animate thinkers when they face more practical problems. The results are clear.
Addendum: Even the Wall Street Journal is singing the praises of the liberal arts: Good News Liberal-Arts Majors: Your Peers Probably Won’t Outearn You Forever. Of special relevance to Dartmouth students:
Even more striking, however, are earnings trends for ultrahigh achievers across all majors.
Using Census Bureau data, the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project analyzed lifetime earnings for each discipline’s top 10% of moneymakers. It found that computer science’s stars rang up lifetime earnings of at least $3.2 million. Nice work, but not as impressive as philosophy majors’ $3.46 million or history majors’ $3.75 million…
“College shouldn’t prepare you for your first job, but for the rest of your life,” says John Kroger, president of Reed College in Oregon, the liberal-arts school that famously served as a starting point for Steve Jobs…
When asked to define the résumé traits that matter most, however, the NACE [National Association of Colleges and Employers]-surveyed employers rated technical skills 10th. Four of the top five traits were hallmarks of a traditional liberal-arts education: teamwork, clear writing, problem-solving aptitude and strong oral communications. Mindful of those longer-term needs, some employers end up hiring humanities and social-sciences graduates, even if such majors aren’t explicitly singled out when recruiting.
“It’s easier to hire people who can write—and teach them how to read financial statements—rather than hire accountants in hopes of teaching them to be strong writers,” says Liz Kirschner, head of talent acquisition at Morningstar Inc., a Chicago investment-research firm. Since its founding in 1986, Morningstar has hired an unusually large number of humanities and social-sciences majors.
Addendum: If all else fails, classical learning does have other advantages:
Addendum: If, for example, you take too many math courses as an undergrad, you might end up the president of a college, but you could also wind up with very poor social, writing and speaking skills; an inability to think on your feet; an erratic moral compass that has you defending egregious conflicts of interest; and be a plodding teacher to boot.
This really is beyond tiresome. The administration’s most senior muckymucks can’t grovel fast enough after the ideological fashion of the day — safe spaces and the myriad injustices of the modern world — but meanwhile we drew $$69,768,000 more from our endowment last year than Brown did (that’s Brown University in Providence, the school with 42% more students than we have and 32% more full-time professors), yet we have to charge more than Brown (Brown’s tuition, room and board and fees in 2016/2017 were $64,566; Dartmouth’s: $66,174 — a difference of $1,608). What are our top dogs doing about that?
“Walk the labyrinth”? WTF? [Erratum: An alumnus writes in: “Hope all is well. Wanted to clarify the “Labyrinth” concept. A prayer labyrinth is a maze laid out on the floor designed to facilitate prayer and meditation. Rollins Chapel has had one for years. I don’t think it’s widely used (I never did), but it was there as early as 09F.” The nature and function of a labyrinth is explained on the Rollins website, which notes: “This labyrinth is not a maze and there are no dead ends - simply follow the path with confidence that you will reach the end. As is true of our life journey, as humans we all take a similar journey full of twists, turns, and unknowns.”]
Addendum: That’s thirteen variations on “inclusion” and two “diversities” in one e-mail. Do these people know how silly they sound? Or are they so sealed up in their little echo chamber that they take this stuff seriously?
Addendum: Rollins Chapel has a special place in Dartmouth history as a location to which students could repair with their belles when the dorms were closed to visiting beauties due to parietal rules. You see, Rollins used to be open 24 hours each day, right up until John Sloan Dickey limited its hours with the dry remark that, “I am led to understand that more souls have been conceived in Rollins Chapel than saved there.”
The Bored@Baker website, now calling itself BoardAT, is not as popular is it used to be: today a dozen users on-line at any given time is an achievement; in pre-YikYak days upwards of forty people might participate simultaneously. But the numbers are growing. Over the last 24 hours 95 unique user logged in. Of course, some B@B posts are silly and/or vulgar, but the site is a place for the occasional interesting exchange:
I liked the above dialogue (there were many other student comments concerning the question, too) because I was able to bring a question that was heavy on jargon and vague terms back down to brass tacks.
Addendum: I never did find out who disagreed and why.
August 14, 2013
Breaking: Of Crips and Bloods and Memories of Ghetto Parties
History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, or sometimes it just repeats itself. From the New York Times on November 30, 1998: At Dartmouth College, white students at a ”ghetto party” dressed…
June 25, 2013
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s War on Students Part (2/2)
Part 1, Part 2 Today’s post again recounts the events that befell the Freshman. However, the content of the Hanover Police department report reproduced in this space yesterday is supplemented by information from my own…
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
- The Dartmouth College Case
- 2007 Trustee Election
- Dartmouth Constitution
- Sunday Morning Sinatra
- The Indian Wars
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