Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More local news - economics?

One of the current local controversies here in Las Vegas deals with an instructor at UNLV. That’s University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Last Spring an economics professor was teaching a senior level course in economic theory and was discussing savings patterns.
That seems to be a current US topic, with our valiant president pushing for reform of the social security system with the use of personal savings accounts. Current figures show that the level of savings in the US is the lowest it has been in eighty years, and our government is trying to figure out how to change that.
Well, the economics professor was talking about how different groups of people view savings and retirement plans differently. He was quoting assorted studies and statistics (yes, I know that statistics can be used to promote almost any viewpoint, but that’s not the point of this topic today) that describe the savings patterns of groups. He stated that married people tend to save for the future more than singles, blacks tend to save less than whites, homosexuals tend to save less than heterosexuals, along with several other examples.
One of the students filed a formal complaint with the administration about his portrayal of homosexuals. This was relayed to the professor, and at his next class he said that he was speaking in broad generalizations for groups, and homosexuals tended to save less both because they had no children (usually, as a group) and lived a lifestyle that did not promote saving for the future. He was not specifying individuals.
This led the same student to file another complaint, that the professor did not take his first complaint seriously. The professor in question has been in his post for over twenty years and has tenure with the University. The student did finish his senior studies, and graduated last June.
The complaints were forwarded to an academic committee, and the result is that a letter was placed in the professor’s permanent record, he was docked a week’s pay and he was up for formal censure (whatever that means). The professor felt he did nothing wrong, publicized the process, and the ACLU has taken up his cause, threatening to sue the University unless they apologize and state that the professor did nothing incorrect in his lecture. The University currently has no comment due to pending legal proceedings.
So, by stating that ‘as a group, in general’ some particular portion of the population does something, should a university professor be prevented from presenting statistics if a member of the class is offended? I know that statistics can be selected to present almost any position, but isn’t that the purpose of an education, to present different points of view, and new theories and ideas, so that students can interact and discuss things and learn something they don’t already know? Yes, the current direction of education (and the country, and our TV shows) is towards being non-offensive to anyone or any group, no matter how small or close-minded. This professor wasn’t stating that a particular group was bad, or God condemns them, or they should all be prevented from living. He was stating that they tend, as a group, to spend their money in certain ways. Somehow that would be like saying that I, as part of the group of starting to go gray old farts don’t by baby diapers or teething rings (well, maybe I’ll start up again as I move on to adult Pampers eventually). What’s wrong with that? I used to do those things, but somehow stopped when the kids moved on to training pants.
The complaining student did go on to graduate, but still complains about the lectures. One of his complaints is that the professor did not then lead a classroom discussion onto this topic. The teacher responds that students can always raise their hands and ask questions, and start a discussion themselves. Who is responsible for getting more info, the teacher, who after twenty years of teaching probably had a full lesson plan, or the student, who after a number of years in school (he was a senior) should have asked questions?
When I was in college I did file a complaint about a professor of mine. Not about what he thought, but because he was always drunk. This was an 8am class on writing. Three mornings a week, first class of the day. The teacher was always drunk, rambled on at most times in a voice too low to hear, and usually not making much sense. After four years in the Navy I was used to drunks, but several other students were not. I ignored the teacher most times, but after a few weeks heard somebody behind me discussing how he was scared to be there because he didn’t know what the teacher was going to do. This prompted me to go up to the dean of the general studies school (I knew him from a committee I was on) and talked about the situation. He said there were things happening, and he had heard similar things about this teacher and would do something. The teacher was not replaced, but he did start coming to class in a less drunken state. I don’t know what happened officially, but at least our class was more pleasant, and we did move on to learn something (I got an A in it eventually).
I usually take the position that people should complain about situations they don’t like instead of keeping quiet. But is this the type of thing that should be prevented? If it was a history class and the professor was discussing World War II, about how the Japanese did something to start the war, should a Japanese student in the class be offended? And should the university then censure the instructor for making a student uncomfortable?
Come on, the world is rather diverse. We have too many people complaining about situations. I know we don’t want to go back to wearing hoods and burning crosses on lawns (yes, some parts of the country still do it) because people are different that us. But people are different, and we should be free enough to discuss it. Especially at school. But I am still bothered by my neighbor (as discussed before) wanting to move before THOSE people take over. That’s a little different attitude than a teacher in economics talking about savings patterns of groups, or am I missing something?
OK, too many words. Let’s at least have one picture –
Here is a shot down the street from my house, taken last week when we had snow on the mountains to the north.

And, last week I talked about the balloons at work – here you are –

I think it looks nice. You can see the sea of cubicles, but sorry, the nice blue-gray color isn't evident.

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