A Philosopher's Blog

Full Sail for Profit

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on September 28, 2012
Money

Money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

Across the United States, public education has been under consistent assault. K-20 budgets have been cut, teachers’ unions have been attacked, political agendas have been pushed onto education, and educators have been vilified. One reason for this assault is to open up the education “market” to allow opportunities for profit. As such, the rise of for-profit schools is hardly surprising.

It is important to distinguish between the traditional private school, such as Marietta College, and the for-profit schools. While for-profit schools are privately owned, they are operated rather differently than the traditional private schools. The most obvious difference is that their main focus is profit.

There is, of course, the beloved myth that the profit motivated private sector can out-perform the allegedly inefficient and bloated public sector. However, an examination of the facts shows that when it comes to education, the for-profit schools often stack up poorly against public schools (and traditional private schools).

Thanks to Mitt Romney, one for-profit school, Full Sail University, has become somewhat well known. While Romney praised this Florida school (whose chief executive is a major campaign contributor) while in New Hampshire, a look at the facts will show that the school and other for-profits are not a good choice for students. For example, people who graduated from some Full Sail programs are defaulting on their college loans at a rate of up to 60-75%. The government has pushed for for-profit schools to achieve a graduate loan repayment rate of 35%, which is hardly an onerous requirement. As for why Full Sail graduates have a relatively poor repayment percentage, the average debt of a graduate is 300% to 800% of her income. To be fair to Full Sail, students at public schools are also graduating with significant debt, which provides an excellent reason to be critical of the cost of education in general.

The Obama administration has attempted to set regulations for repayment benchmarks and income-to-debt ratios for for-profit schools. Schools that could not meet these would no longer be eligible for federal funds. However, these regulations were struck down in July of 2012. Interestingly enough, public schools are often being subject to intense scrutiny from state legislatures. For example, Florida public universities have gotten considerable attention from Governor Rick Scott and the legislature. The professed reason is, of course, to ensure that education funds are being well spent. It is, of course, a point of concern that public schools are being subject to intense scrutiny while for-profit schools seem to be held to standards that are rather lower.

One obvious reply is that for-profit schools are privately owned and hence should not be subject to such government regulation. After all, one might argue, the market should decide (via the invisible hand) what education should cost and what jobs should pay. As such, if students have debts that far exceed their income, then that is just how the market works.

While this does have some appeal, the easy and obvious response is that these for-profit schools get over $30 billion a year in taxpayer funds. Interestingly, the 15 publicly traded for-profit college companies get 86% of their revenues from public money. This includes federal financial aid, the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance money. As such, these private companies are mostly public funded. This would certainly serve to justify the right of the state to regulate these schools. After all, they are effectively public funded institutions. This also certainly helps explain the attack on public education—the for-profits are competing with public universities for the same money and every dollar that goes to a public school is a dollar that a for-profit school does not get. Naturally, the for-profit schools also compete with traditional private schools. However, the traditional private schools are far less vulnerable to the machinations of those serving the interests of those who seek a profit focused education system.

There is also a myth that the private sector can provide better services at a lower cost. In the case of the for-profit schools, their B.A. degrees average 19% more than the cost of a B.A. at a top public university. The for-profit schools also compare unfavorably in the area of 2 year degrees—they charge 400% more than public non-profit schools. Given that the cost of public education has increased significantly (in part because of budget cuts to these schools), the for-profit schools are certainly very expensive.

Because of the greater cost, the public money that goes to for-profits yields less return than the same money spent on a public institution. Ironically, while public education has been accused of being costly, it is a far better deal than a for-profit education. Interestingly, if free-market forces were actually operating as they are alleged to operate, the for-profit schools should go out of business, given that they cost considerably more than public education. Of course, the mythical free-market is not operating here.

It might be replied that for-profit schools charge more but that they are providing more for the money relative to public schools. However, a look at how the money going into for-profit schools will reveal that this does not seem to be the case.

Based on a 2009 study of 30 for-profit companies, 22.4% of their income goes to marketing, advertising, recruiting and admission staffing. 19.4% goes to profit, which is rather impressive. In contrast, 17.7% goes to actual instruction. As such, the schools charge a great deal more than public schools and spend a great deal less on actual education. This would certainly indicate that they are not providing students with a good value for their money.

While top public university administrators are well paid (for example, the former president of Florida A&M University made $330,000 a year plus a guaranteed bonus), the CEOs of the for-profit schools have an average salary of $7.3 million, despite the fact that by objective measures they deliver an inferior product at a higher price than public schools.

The above facts show a fundamental problem in the United States. Our education system is under concerted attack with the clear purpose of redistributing public funds from high quality public and private schools to the objectively inferior for-profit schools. It is indeed ironic that Obama was attacked in September, 2012 for his 1998 remarks about redistribution. After all, the for-profit schools are the recipients of a $30 billion dollar redistribution. It is also ironic that Mitt Romney, the man who accused the 47% of Americans who do not pay taxes of being irresponsible dependents of the state has praised the for-profit schools. After all, they are growing fat on public money.

This reality is concealed under deceitful rhetoric that is used to mislead the public and garner support for what is actually an attack on the bedrock of a democratic state, namely an effective system of affordable and accessible public education.

Ironically, the way to counter the problems presented by the for-profit schools is to apply conservative principles to them. To specific, they need to be removed from public welfare, they need to be held responsible, and they need to be forced to compete in a free market (one in which their allies do not use the state to impede their competition). This situation nicely exposes the lie of some conservatives: they are exactly what they profess to hate, only on a much bigger scale.

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When is Religious Freedom Not Religious Freedom?

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 26, 2012
U.S Postage Stamp, 1957

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it is not, of course.

As part of the systematic attack on public education in Florida, Proposition 8 has been put on the ballot. While it is called the “religious freedom amendment” the reality is rather different. After all, religious freedom means the freedom to practice one’s faith without interference by the state and is already guaranteed by both the United States constitution and the Florida state constitution.  What the amendment explicitly does is remove the prohibition against funding sectarian institutions with public money. The exact wording is as follows:

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

If the proposition passes, the Florida constitution (section 3 Article I) will read:

There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

While the proposition is being sold as being a matter of religious freedom, the reality of the matter is clearly revealed by Florida Representative Stephen Precourt. He regards education as a marketplace and contends that “they shouldn’t be telling a group that just because you’re faith-based organization you shouldn’t be participating in the market.”

I am, of course, for religious freedom. However, religious freedom is already adequately protecting by the existing laws and this proposition does nothing to expand religious freedom. Rather, as Precourt indicates, its main purpose seems to be to allow public money to fund private religious schools. Naturally, it also would allow public money to be given to any sectarian institution. On the face of it, this would allow public funds to be used for the construction of a new church, synagogue or mosque.

I am opposed to this on the following grounds.

First, the people of Florida have repeatedly been told that the state budget must be cut because of the lack of funds. For example, the public education system has seen widespread and deep cuts. It would certainly be inconsistent to be cutting the budget in so many areas while proposing what amounts to public funding for sectarian groups. Naturally, the proposition does not specify that money will be provided, but it would allow sectarian groups access to public money that is apparently in such short supply. Given the existing budget cuts, this is hardly something we can afford.

Second, as Precourt has indicated, the actual purpose of the proposition is to allow public money to fund private sectarian schools. It seems reasonable to infer that there are already plans to direct education funds from public schools to these private sectarian schools. If this occurs, this would do additional damage to the already weakened public education system. This would, of course, be detrimental to society. After all, as Jefferson and other founders argued, a public education system is a foundation of democracy.

Third, there is the obvious concern that certain sectarian groups will be able to avail themselves of the opportunity afforded by this proposition while others will not. For example, consider the chances that a Christian school will be funded and then consider the chances that a Islamic school or an atheist school will be funded. As such, there are legitimate concerns that the proposition would result in the state supporting specific sectarian groups at the expense of others, which would certainly be a problem.

Proponents of the proposition contend that it is necessary because sectarian organizations are currently being discriminated against on the basis of their being sectarian rather than secular. I have two responses.

First, sectarian organizations currently receive state funds to support their secular public programs. As such, when sectarian groups are engaged in the secular sector, they are as entitled as any other group to public funding. It hardly seems unjust or discrimination to not fund the specific sectarian operations that are not in the secular and public realm.

Second, sectarian groups do get treated with discrimination. However, it is discrimination in their favor. To be specific, sectarian organizations benefit from being tax exempt, at least in certain areas. This, it could be argued, would counter any alleged discrimination when it comes to public funds. After all, if sectarian organizations are content to not pay taxes in regards to the sectarian aspects of their operations, then they should hardly expect the state to help fund those sectarian operations.

As such, I am voting against proposition 8 and I would recommend that you do so as well. Assuming, of course, you can vote in Florida.

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Losing to the Obama that Isn’t

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 24, 2012
Official photographic portrait of US President...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I wrote in a previous post, politicians and pundits often craft alternative realities that do not correspond to the actual world. Rather than being a few lies or distortions, sweeping fictional narratives have been presented.

One interesting impact of this tale telling is that some people have come to believe in the fictional world they themselves have fabricated. I am not sure if they believed in that world first and then attempted to get everyone else to try the Kool Aid or if they drank too much of their own beverage and came to believe. Either way, the result seems to be the same: a belief in the existence of an Obama that isn’t (nicely illustrated by Clint Eastwood speaking to a “Harvey” Obama that apparently only certain people can see).

One clear indicator of this is the shock and dismay on the part of conservative pundits such as Laura Ingraham. She recently said “if you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party.” Other pundits and spinions have expressed incredulity at Obama’s ability to stay ahead of Romney in the polls. This is understandable. On their narrative, Obama is the worst president in history. He has divided the country, brought socialism to America, destroyed jobs, played the race card against all opponents, gone on a worldwide apology tour, weakened America and might be a secret Muslim who was born outside of the United States. Obviously enough, such a terrible person should be extremely easy to defeat and Americans should be clamoring if not for Romney, then at least to be rid of Obama. As such, it makes sense why the people who accept the alternative reality in which Obama is all these things (or at least most of them) are shocked by what is actually happening.

It also makes sense that they would believe that the Republican Party is to blame for the failure to beat such an easy opponent. To use an analogy, imagine that fans of a team believe that an opposing team is pathetic but as the game is played, the “pathetic” team gets ahead and stays there. Rather than re-assess the other team, the fans are likely to start blaming their team, the coaches and so on for doing so poorly against such a “pathetic” opponent. However, if the opposing team is not as they imagined, then they have the explanation wrong: they are losing because the other team is better.  Put another way, their team is not playing against the team they think they are playing against-the pathetic team is a product of their minds and not an objective assessment of the actual team.

In the case of Obama, the conservatives an Republicans would be rightfully dismayed if they were losing to someone as bad as their idea of Obama. However, they are not running against that alternative Obama. They are running against the actual Obama and he is not as bad as they claim. Hence, it makes sense that they are not doing as well as they think they should be doing.  To be fair, the Democrats also have an Obama narrative that is not an unbiased account of the president.

As might be imagined, while the Republicans have a good reason to try to get people to accept their alternative Obama some of them seem to have come to believe that the alternative is the actual. This has a rather practical impact in that to the degree they believe in this Obama that isn’t, their strategies and tactics will be distorted. After all, when one goes into battle accurate intelligence is vital and distorted information is a major liability. It does seem that some folks have fallen victim to their own distortions and it is actually having a negative impact on Romney’s chances.

Romney might, of course, be able to turn things around. While Obama is doing well, the contest is still very close and one should never underestimate the power of distortion in politics. If Romney can get enough people to accept his narrative, then he can win. If not, the actual Obama will win.

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A Socratic Challenge

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 23, 2012
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Mittens

Posted in Humor by Michael LaBossiere on September 22, 2012
There once was a kitten named Mittens.
Who went around giving people shoves.
When asked to say he was sorry, he made up quite the story:
“I guess I should have worn white gloves.”

Illustration of the kittens with the puddle-du...

“Stay back you 47%!” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Envy & Class Warfare

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 21, 2012

This concise work is aimed at presenting a philosophical look at economic disparity in the United States. Since this is a truly massive topic, this work is focused on specific aspects of this matter and is divided into sections based on these specifics. As might be imagined, I make no pretense of covering all aspects of economic disparity. Rather, I am focusing on matters that have tended to be at the forefront of the political debate in the United States in recent years. My overall objective is to provide a rational and unbiased (at least as far as that is possible) examination of these matters. My main hope is that this work will be of some use to the reader in sorting out some of these matters and in getting an enhanced understanding of the issues. I also hope to help the reader develop a better defense against some of the rhetoric and fallacies that are used all too often in the place of proper arguments.

Being a rational person (well, at least some of the time) and a philosopher I am open to the possibility that I am wrong in my view and in error in my arguments. As such, I invite people to present critical assessments of my work. My commitment is not to any specific agenda or ideology, but rather to the true and the good.

The work itself is divided into distinct sections. The first section, Economic Disparity, is a very brief look at some areas of economic disparity in the United States. The second section, Taxes, examines taxes from a philosophical perspective. The third section focuses on corporations—which might or might not be people. Fourth, I turn to the matters of class and class warfare. Not to worry, the revolution will be televised. Fifth, the state, democracy and the common good will be discussed. The book ends with envy, avarice and rhetoric.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009EFSEFK

47%

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 21, 2012
speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In September of 2012 Mother Jones brought a video of Mitt Romney to the attention of the public. This video, filmed at a $50,000 a plate fundraiser in May, showed Romney making what many regard as inflammatory remarks about the 47% of Americans who do not pay federal income tax. In Romney’s own words:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, 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 — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Romney’s basic claim is correct: 46.4% of Americans paid no federal income tax in 2011. However, it is well worth examining the nature of the 47%.

One point well worth noting is that 2/3 of the 47% do pay payroll taxes. In fact, they pay 15.3% of their income as taxes, which is a larger percentage than Romney’s 13.9%. Naturally, most of the 47% also pay other taxes, such as sales taxes. As such, while they do not pay income tax, they do contribute.

In terms of the income breakdown, over half of the 47% are people who make less than $16,812 per year. 33% of them make between $16,812 and $33,532. 12.8% make between $33,542 and $59, 486. Interestingly, while Romney casts the 47% as being dependent on the state, 78,000 of the 47% had incomes from $211,000 to $533,000. There were also 24,000 households in the $533,000 to $2.2 million income range. Interestingly, there were even 3,000 in the $2.2 million and above range. As such, the narrative of the nature of the 47% does not quite match the facts. There is also the interesting possibility that Romney himself paid no taxes some years—after all, he did not release certain tax forms. This would not prove his claims wrong, but would certainly be a nice piece of irony.

While Romney casts the 47% as irresponsible people who do not have care for their lives, it is well worth considering why they do not pay federal income taxes. The simple answer is that they do the same thing Romney does: they pay taxes based on the tax laws and endeavor to not pay more than they legally owe. As such, his harsh words for them seem to show an inconsistency in his professed views of taxes.

In terms of more specific reasons, 44% of the 47% are seniors who are exempted by tax benefits for senior citizens. Interestingly, the majority of seniors claim to favor Romney over Obama (at least in polls taken before the video was released). 30% of the 47% do not pay because of credits for children and the working poor.  Of the 18.1% of Americans who did not pay federal or payroll taxes, 10.3% were senior citizens and 6.9% were households making less than $20,000 a year (such as low-income families and students).

In response to the release of the video, Romney went into damage control mode. One defense was an ad hominen attack on Mother Jones and Jimmy Carter’s grandson (who acquired the video). While these sources could be seen as biased against Romney, the video is what it is and the attacks on the sources have no logical weight. Naturally, if there was a mere allegation of a damaging video from Mother Jones, then the possibility of bias would be relevant in assessing credibility. However, the video stands on its own.

A second defense has been that while Romney holds to what he said, he did admit he said it inelegantly. A third defense used by some of Romney’s supporters is to launch accusations of class warfare and divisiveness against those who take issue with Romney’s remarks. These are, of course, mere ad hominem attacks and can also be seen as red herrings. Interestingly, it is Romney’s remarks about the 47% that sound like class warfare talk and they were certainly divisive. After all, dismissing 47% of Americans as irresponsible wards of the state is hardly uniting.

A fourth defense is that Romney made mention of a 1998 tape of Obama in which he speaks of redistribution. A snippet from the tape has been making the rounds to support the narrative that Obama supports redistribution of wealth, but in context his words are as follows: “And my suggestion, I guess, would be that the trick — and this is one of the few areas where I think there are technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to just political issues — I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody’s got a shot.”

Interestingly what motivated Obama’s remarks was what he claimed was a propaganda campaign “against the possibility of government action and its efficacy” and his goal was to “try to resuscitate this notion that we’re all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking what are the delivery systems that are effective and meet people where they live.”

While Romney’s narrative is that Obama is aiming at redistributing wealth in general, the best evidence apparently available for this claim is a quote carefully plucked from its surrounding context. This is, of course, a classic rhetorical tactic employed by politicians of all stripes.  In this case, Romney seems to be sticking to the narrative script, which leads to the fourth defense.

Romney’s fifth defense is to present the core narrative of his campaign, namely that Obama aims to create “a society based upon a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role” and “redistributes money.” In contrast, Romney claims that he is for free enterprise and success. In this public narrative, Obama is cast as the villain. In the private narrative at the $50,000 per plate event (coincidentally $50,000 is the median family income in the United States), Obama has a starring role as the villain but has a large supporting cast.

As Romney’s quote indicates, he regards the 47% as loyal Obama’s supporters (although, as noted above, a significant percentage of them are actually Romney supporters). Of course, their loyalty is allegedly based on their belief that the state is responsible for them because they are victims and that they are thus entitled to health care, food, housing and other entitlements. These supporting villains are also cast as being unwilling to take responsibility.

Given the analysis of the 47% given above, this narrative does not seem to be accurate. After all, the majority of the 47% do pay payroll taxes (as noted above, they pay a larger percentage of their income than Romney). There is also a lack of evidence that they regard themselves as victims or entitled to take without contributing. After all, the majority of the seniors in the 47% no doubt worked and earned their retirement. True, there are no doubt some people who regard themselves as victims and see themselves as entitled to state support—however, this seems to be a rather small percentage of Americans. Certainly less than 47%.

Not surprisingly, this clash nicely shows the distinction between two political philosophies. Romney has presented the view endorsed by Ayn Rand’s fictional John Galt, namely that the world is divided between parasites and producers.  Obama, on the other hand, has stuck closer to the traditional liberal view that the state has a significant role to play in securing the common good. While a matter of considerable philosophical interest, this is also a rather personal matter—especially to those in the 47%.

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Migrant Professors

Posted in Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on September 19, 2012
This image was selected as a picture of the we...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many years ago I was running with a friend of mine who is also a professor. We were talking about the fact that university faculty in the Florida state system generally have nine month contracts and hence are effectively unemployed in the summer. We also talked about how the adjunct faculty had it far worse: they tend to work on a course by course basis and have no job security beyond the need to have them teach classes. My friend said that this was somewhat like being migrant workers— working part time and moving from job to job without any security and with terrible pay. Naturally, the migrant professors, as my friend called them, have it somewhat better than migrant laborers who pick crops and do other such backbreaking work for pitiful wages. However, the comparison seemed apt.

At my mother’s suggestion I did try my hand once at picking blueberries for extra money. When she was a kid, this was something commonly done by the Maine kids. But this was apparently before the days of cheap migrant labor and, as we found out, things had changed. My sister, her friend and I gave it a shot, but we did not make it through a full day and ended up in the hole because someone stole our rakes and baskets. It was the worst job I ever tried.

Years later, I started my academic career as an adjunct professor. I taught four classes each semester for $2,000 per class and had no benefits or job security. The next year I was hired as a visiting professor and made $30,000 for the year—plus benefits. After three years of that, I was finally hired into a tenure track line. Though I am a tenured full professor, I certainly have not forgotten those adjunct days. It was not as bad as raking blueberries, but it was a lot of work for very little money and it felt a lot like that blueberry day, although it lasted for an academic year.

During this time, it was common for my university to rely heavily on adjuncts. There was, however, an effort made to hire full time faculty and this met with some success. However, there are still many classes taught by adjuncts and other universities rely very heavily on adjunct instructors who are treated as migrant laborers in the academy.

Like migrant laborers, the migrant professors are poorly paid. Back in 1993 I was paid $2,000 per class, making $16,000 for the eight classes I taught over the school year.  In 2010, the median salary for adjuncts was $2,700 per three credit hour class. The low was $2,235 and the high was $3,400.

Like migrant laborers, the migrant professors generally have no benefits. While there might be some exceptions, adjunct (or part time, although “part time” might actually mean teaching what would be a full time number of classes) faculty typically do not get health coverage from their employers or other benefits. When I was an adjunct, I was fortunate to be young and healthy, but a major medical problem would have ruined me financially. The same is no doubt true of other adjuncts.

Like migrant laborers, the migrant professors typically have to travel from workplace to workplace to make their living. One of my colleagues, who has a doctorate and years of experience, typically teaches at my university, Florida State, and Tallahassee Community College. He has to rush between classes to get from school to school. His situation is not uncommon—other adjuncts I know teach at both universities in Tallahassee, the community college and other colleges in town just to make enough to live on. Some even travel about the county from job to job, literally acting as migrant laborers. While regular faculty have offices, phones and computers, adjuncts sometimes do not. They might, for example, be assigned a room for office hours and have to get the department office manager to open the door for them because they are not given a key.

Unlike migrant laborers, the migrant professors are highly educated professionals who are doing jobs that normally pay full time employees reasonably well. To use an analogy, the situation of adjuncts in higher education is comparable to what it would be like if hospitals employed adjunct doctors. The adjuncts doctors would have their medical doctorates, perform surgery, treat patients and so on. That is, they would be just like the regular doctors except that their pay would be a fraction of what the doctors received and they would have little or no benefits or job security.

As might be imagined, this terrible disparity in pay is rather unjust. After all, the adjuncts are being paid far less for doing the same work and they are generally just as qualified as regular faculty. It would, of course, be another matter if adjuncts were far less educated or did work proportional to their pay. However, this is not the case. As such, the treatment of adjuncts is clearly wrong.

Naturally, those employing adjuncts have a good reason to use them: they do professional work at a fraction of the cost of hiring regular faculty and they can be terminated simply by not re-hiring them next semester. It is also not uncommon for universities to hold off providing an adjunct with a contract until two or more weeks into a semester—that way they can be sure that the class with fill and that the money is available. An adjunct without a contract can typically and unfortunately just be let go. I have seen this happen—people working for two weeks, then being told to not come back for week three. This is unfair as it hardly seems unreasonable to be able to tell a person in advance whether or not they will be teaching that semester. Obviously enough, the failure to pay an adjunct for the time worked would be theft, although this does happen.

One irony of the plight of adjuncts is that the students they are teaching will generally increase their earning potential significantly by getting a college degree. In fact, the college graduates will most likely end up making more per year than the adjuncts who taught them.

One rather obvious question is why adjuncts put up with the terrible conditions rather than simply getting a job elsewhere. While in some cases people do admit that they have been unable to get a job elsewhere, the majority of adjuncts I have spoken with (and I have met many over the years) make it clear that they love teaching and that they are willing to live with horrible salaries to do what they love to do.

Naturally, this claim might be doubted. However, this sort of attitude holds all through teaching, from K through the graduate level. After all, people who have the degrees needed to teach could make much more money working in other professions, yet they choose to remain in academics. While they might have some other reasons, it is most often because they believe in what they are doing and like teaching.

Unfortunately, this love is being unfairly exploited and little is being done to address it. In fact, the current trend in public education has been towards cutting budgets and for educators’ unions to be subject to concerted attacks. As such, it seems likely that the situation in higher education will worsen. This suggests that there will be an increase in the number of adjuncts (some universities are 33-55% adjunct faculty). Oddly enough, education costs continue to increase—but you can be sure that this money is not going to paying adjuncts properly.

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Anti-Abortion as a “Cheap” Moral Position

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 17, 2012
, member of the United States House of Represe...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A moral position comes with a price, or more accurately, prices. After all, the cost of holding a position is one thing and the cost of actually acting upon that position can be quite another.  There is also the matter of the cost of professing a moral position—after all, one might hold a position that is kept secret or profess a position one does not actually hold.

This, of course, assumes that a person can hold a moral position while not acting upon it—something that seems not only intuitively plausible but actually likely in many cases. For example, a person might hold to the view that s/he should help others in need, yet drive past someone in need because it is, for example, raining a bit too hard. It might be objected that a person who does not act upon a moral position does not actually hold that position, but this seems analogous to laws: it is one thing to have a law on the books and quite another to actually enforce it.

The price of a moral position can also vary considerably from person to person depending on the specifics of their situation. For example, the cost of holding and acting on a moral position supporting free speech is very low in the United States and rather higher in China. While the general notion of costs could be discussed at great length, I must now turn to discussing the main concern, namely being anti-abortion as a “cheap” moral position, specifically in the United States.

Obviously enough, the cost of holding to and acting upon an anti-abortion moral position will vary from person to person. In some cases, the cost could be very high indeed. For example, imagine a young girl living in poverty who has been impregnated by rape and is also morally against abortion. For her, the cost of acting upon her position could be very high indeed. In other cases, the cost could be fairly low. For example, a wealthy man who has no children could almost certainly hold and act on the anti-abortion position with far less cost than the girl in the previous example. It is also worth noting that the cost of a moral position can also be a cost inflicted on others. For example, while the man in the second example might pay little personal cost for his position, if he were an influential politician and acted on his position to create laws, then the cost of his position might be high for others. For example, if he saw to it that abortion was outlawed in all cases, then the girls and women affected could pay very high prices indeed for his moral position.

In the United States, there is almost no difference between men and women in regards to their views on the issue of abortion (and most American favor the right to abortion). What is, however, rather interesting is that the politicians and pundits who most actively claim an anti-abortion position are men. For example, Paul Ryan and Todd Akin have gotten considerable attention for their professed views on abortion.  Naturally, it is worth noting that in the United States women are still in the minority when it comes to holding office or being a national pundit.

It is also interesting, but hardly surprising, that those who take the anti-abortion view tend to be social conservatives or religious (or both). For people in these categories, the cost of their position varies considerably.

For example, the Catholic Church takes a strong stance against abortion. However, the Catholic Church pays a price for this position in that Catholic charities provide aid and support to girls and women who seek help from them. As such, the church is clearly willing to bear at least some of the cost of holding and acting on the anti-abortion moral position. To be specific, they are unwilling to push the full cost of their moral position onto others by simply telling them “no abortions, but you and the child are on your own.” Rather they say “no abortions, but we will help you in your need.” Obviously enough, the Catholic Church can still be criticized for its position, but it would be wrong to fault them for their charity. Unfortunately, some people take the anti-abortion position but want to get it on the cheap.

As noted above, many of those who hold to the anti-abortion position are social conservatives. It is thus not surprising that they also tend to be fiscal conservatives and thus typically oppose social programs aimed at helping those in poverty or need. Republican VP pick Paul Ryan, for example, is well known for embracing Ayn Rand’s economic views regarding these sorts of altruistic (or “collectivist”) programs. He did, however, attempt to distance himself from Rand in some philosophical matters. After all, Rand was not known for her theism and was a clear supporter of abortion rights (which are consistent with her other views).

While many women are in the position to have children without undue hardship, there are also many women and girls who are not in such a position. For example, girls in the lower economic classes are generally ill able to bear the cost of pregnancy and raising a child. There is also the matter of the cost of an unwanted pregnancy in terms of a person’s life plans. For example, an unwanted pregnancy can put an end to hopes of an education or career. There is, of course, also the matter of pregnancy inflicted by rape and the potential costs to the victim.

As might be imagined, cutting or eliminating social programs in accord with the conservative ideology would mean that the women and girls in question would bear the costs of the anti-abortion position of those holding to the conservative position on abortion. As such, it would seem that the anti-abortion and anti-social support views of the conservatives would entail that the women and girls would bear the cost of these views rather than those holding to the views.

These views are, of course, generally cheap for the holders in question. After all, people like Ryan and Akin are unlikely to be in a situation in which someone close to them is experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and also lacking in financial support.  As such, they can hold to their view with little chance of having to pay a meaningful or significant price. It is, in effect, a free moral stance for them. However, for the women and girls who experience an unwanted pregnancy and lack adequate means of support, the cost would be rather high indeed if the anti-abortion and anti-social support views became the laws of the land.

One interesting (and ironic) way to characterize the approach of social and fiscal conservatives who are anti-abortion and anti-social support is as engaging in ethical parasitism. That is, they are holding to moral positions while expecting others to pay the cost of these views. A less harsh way to put it is that they are living on ethical subsidies: the costs of their moral views are subsidized by other people who would pay the actual cost, should those views be imposed upon the country. Since I am opposed to such free-loading, I am morally opposed to these moral welfare kings who are unwilling to pay for their own ethics.

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Predictions for Obama’s Second Term

Posted in Humor, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 14, 2012
English: Photograph shows head-and-shoulders p...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while back I saw Chuck Norris’ video in which his wife predicted that re-electing Obama would be a first step towards 1,000 years of darkness. Interestingly, a similar prediction about the election of Johnson was made by Ronald Reagan in a speech supporting Barry Goldwater. Goldwater lost, of course, so if Reagan was right, then re-electing Obama would not be the first step towards 1,000 years of darkness. Rather, it would be at least the second step (there might be others). I am not sure how many steps it takes to reach 1,000 years of darkness. Perhaps it is like the tootsie pop-we will never know how many steps it takes to get there because someone will get sick of walking and drive us into the darkness in a Prius.

While not as extreme as 1,000 years of darkness, some folks have predicted that a re-elected Obama will suddenly act upon a secret anti-gun agenda and impose strict gun control laws. Obama has presumably been brilliantly masking this agenda by actually extending gun rights. He also presumably is so confident of his re-election that he decided to not act on his secret agenda despite having had all those years as president.

I invite people to make predictions about what will happen if Obama is re-elected. Remember, the predictions regarding 1,000 years of darkness and gun control have been taken. Also, no re-using current accusations unless there is some new twist worth mentioning. For example, saying he will “destroy jobs and hate America” is out. Saying “Obama will channel his hatred of America into creating a monster of the id that will rampage across America destroying jobs” would be fine. Also, include a time frame if possible. For example, “the id monster will be rolling hard across the country in August 2013.”

If he gets re-elected, we can come back and check the predictions. I’m thinking about offering copies of my ebooks as prizes for getting predictions right.

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