Tag Archives: Op-ed

Does Everyone Want to Attend University?

There was an op-ed in the New York Times the other week that detailed some of the economic inequality in the US. It used academic data to discuss how poorly Americans estimate the level of social mobility. It’s certainly worth reading, but I wanted to highlight one section (and study):

Studies by another author of this article, the University of Illinois psychologist Michael W. Kraus, and his colleague Jacinth J.X. Tan, to be published in next month’s issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found a similar pattern: When asked to estimate how many college students came from families in the bottom 20 percent of income, respondents substantially misjudged, estimating that those from the lowest income bracket attended college at a rate five times greater than the actual one documented by the Current Population Survey.

Now, it’s certainly worth noting how poor Americans are when it comes to estimating social mobility, (they’re certainly just as poor when it comes to estimating wealth inequality), but I’m curious about the desires of those in the bottom quintile. That is, many people espouse the values of higher education (full disclosure: I’m a professor at a higher education institution and I have two master’s degrees!), but what if everyone isn’t meant to go to university? More importantly, what if everyone doesn’t want to go to university?

Higher education is often held up as a mechanism for those in lower income quintiles to move up into a higher quintile (social mobility), but maybe people who come from the bottom quintile don’t want to go to university. I’m not in the bottom quintile nor did I grow up in the bottom quintile, so I have little to no authority to speak about the desires of those who come from the bottom quintile, but I think it’s worth asking what it is that the bottom quintile desires, specifically as it relates to higher education.

In raising this kind of question, it would, of course, be important to raise the issue of culture and how that influences one’s desires. That is, people who come from higher quintiles usually have parents (and friends) who think it natural to make the progression from high school to university. For some, attending post-secondary institutions of learning isn’t a choice — they’re forced to go. For those in the bottom quintile, attending a post-secondary institution of learning isn’t thought about in the same way. For many, it’s not “the thing you do after high school,” but instead, it’s held up as an ideal. It’s held up as a mechanism for transformation from being poor to not being poor.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that people in the bottom quintile shouldn’t attend university or shouldn’t want to attend university, but I think that alongside data discussing that estimates university attendance of different levels of income, there should also be data discussing the desires of those different levels of income.

ResearchBlogging.orgKraus, M., & Tan, J. (2015). Americans overestimate social class mobility Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 58, 101-111 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2015.01.005

How to get your Op-Ed in the New York Times

For as long as I’ve been reading the New York Times, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing an Op-Ed and sending it in. As the Op-Ed’s in the Times that I usually come across are written by people much more well-known than I am, I figured that my chances of getting in were pretty low. As it turns out, this just might not be the case.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an “Op-Ed” from the Op-Ed and Sunday Review Editor, Trish Hall. In it, she details how to get an Op-Ed in the Times:

We get a flood of submissions, but there’s never too much good writing in the world. There is always room for more. So what makes the cut? That’s what people always ask me, so I’ll try to explain the process. Most pieces we publish are between 400 and 1200 words. They can be longer when they arrive, but not so long that they’re traumatizing. Submissions that are reacting to news of the world are of great value to us, especially if they arrive very quickly. Write in your own voice. If you’re funny, be funny. Don’t write the way you think important people write, or the way you think important pieces should sound. And it’s best to focus very specifically on something; if you write about the general problem of prisons in the United States, the odds are that it will seem too familiar. But if you are a prisoner in California and you have just gone on a hunger strike and you want to tell us about it – now, that we would like to read. We are normal humans (relatively speaking). We like to read conversational English that pulls us along. That means that if an article is written with lots of jargon, we probably won’t like it.

Some of what Trish has said should be comforting to folks who were worried about writing something that was high-brow. She specifically asks that you write in your own voice. So, let’s say that you get something together, submit it to the Times, and it’s accepted. Does your Op-Ed get published just like that? Not exactly:

First, you’ll get a contract giving us the right to publish it and laying out some of your responsibilities. The most important ones have to do with originality and truthfulness. You can’t plagiarize yourself, or someone else, and we won’t run something that has appeared in another publication, either print or digital. We request that you disclose anything that might be seen as a conflict of interest, financial or otherwise: Did you invest in a company that you praise in passing? Did you once work with a public official you mention in flattering or critical terms? Could you or an organization or company you represent benefit from the stance you take in an Op-Ed? We need to know. That doesn’t mean we’ll throw out your article on that basis — in most cases it just means disclosing the relationship to the reader. We also need all of the material that supports the facts in your story. That’s the biggest surprise to some people. Yes, we do fact check. Do we do it perfectly? Of course not. Everyone makes mistakes, and when we do we correct them. But the facts in a piece must be supported and validated. You can have any opinion you would like, but you can’t say that a certain battle began on a certain day if it did not.

It’s really great to see that even the Op-Ed’s are fact-checked. I’ve never worked at a newspaper, so I don’t know if this is standard practice. Either way, it does makes sense that if something’s going to be printed in your publication (The New York Times, no less) that you’d want to make sure it was truthful.

I hope after reading this post, the veil of mystique has been raised on how to get your opinion published in the New York Times. More than that, if you were holding back, I hope you’ll now consider writing an opinion and submitting it.

Revisiting “Rebranding the Liberal Arts”: Become a Better Citizen

I recently read an OpEd in the Washington Post about the Liberal Arts and it reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what I perceived as an ‘image’ problem for the Liberal Arts. The Liberal Arts are such an important part of education that I couldn’t imagine someone earning their degree without having had some exposure to the Liberal Arts. You learn such valuable skills that you might not get from other areas of education.

This particular OpEd comes from a Professor at UVA who’s making the case for why someone should major in the Liberal Arts. There are a number of good reasons and I encourage you to read it, but I wanted to revisit the idea that we need to rebrand the “Liberal Arts.” Nothing’s changed in the last two weeks since I wrote about some of the issues with how people perceive the Liberal Arts based on the name (and their schemas around the word).

My initial idea of “General Intellectual Capacities” is a bit of a mouthful and probably wouldn’t fit so well on a degree — ‘I majored in general intellectual capacities.’ I wonder if it might make sense to simply reorganize the way we talk about the Liberal Arts rather than try to change the name. Although, changing the name would certainly facilitate a new conversation about it.

It seems like a herculean task to try to rebrand something as large as the “Liberal Arts.” What if we just thought about rebranding the Liberal Arts at one school? My first thought would be to take one of the colleges of the list of the best Liberal Arts colleges, but I suppose someone on that list might not want to undergo rebranding. They’re at the top of the heap and probably don’t want to shed the label that might be attracting students to their institution.

What if we take a school that has Liberal Arts at it, but that this isn’t the main focus? A school that offers degrees in some of the Liberal Arts (history, political science, philosophy, languages, etc.), but maybe has more of a focus on a different aspect of education. As I just came across a fantastic speech by someone, Georgia Tech comes to mind as a school we might use for this experiment. This university is world-renowned for its engineering program. It consistently scores in the top 5 for engineering in the US.

Georgia Tech has 6 colleges, one of which is called the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. At this college, students can earn degrees in economics, international affairs, history, and public policy. All of these are staples of the Liberal Arts. So, the question then becomes, how do we get these engineers to broaden their horizons and take classes in the Liberal Arts or even minor in the Liberal Arts?

Of course, I’m sure that there’s a “general education” requirement to a degree from Georgia Tech — as there is at every other institution — which will mean that students will have to take some Liberal Arts classes in order to fulfill certain requirements. There may be some students who are already interested in the Liberal Arts and are not dissuaded by the name. We’re not too worried about those students — it’s the ones who’ve heard “bad” things or been “brainwashed” to think that the Liberal Arts won’t help them become better engineers. To those students, explaining that these classes amplify one’s “General Intellectual Capacities” might do the trick. Unfortunately, that’s probably something more suited to ‘marketing copy’ and less suited to what we could rename the college.

If I reflect on what the professor wrote for the OpEd in WaPo, he’s stressing how the Liberal Arts can aid in helping someone to the “Good Life.” That’s where I had the idea about becoming a better citizen. I still don’t know that the College of “Becoming a Good Citizen” is a good name, but I think we’re getting closer to something that might be more appropriate.

I’m going to put this on hold and try revisiting it again in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, do you have any ideas on how we can rebrand Georgia Tech’s College of the Liberal Arts? We’ve got some ideas on what might help: “General Intellectual Capacities,” “Becoming a Good Citizen,” and “the Good Life.”

The Question No One’s Asking in the Debate about Privacy and Terrorism

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t read/watch/consume the news), you’ve probably heard about Edward Snowden and his decision to leak classified documents about a US government agency, the NSA, to the public. I thought I’d raise an issue that I haven’t seen raised or written, yet. In fact, I’m a little surprised that I haven’t seen it raised. There have been plenty of Op-Eds (Brooks, Friedman, Shafer, Cohen, etc.) and columns (Simon, etc.) from many of the common people who write Op-Eds and columns about national security, but no one seems to be taking a step back and re-examining the question.

Most of what I’ve seen has the illusion of taking the step back and saying something to the effect of, ‘remember 9/11? That’s why we need programs like these to spy on those would seek to do us harm. It’s because of terrorism that we need these types of programs.’ Did you catch it? Did you see the underlying question that this line of reasoning assumes away?

Before I spell out exactly the point I’m trying to make, I think another analogy may help. Have you ever been sick? Of course you have, what a silly question. Upon being sick, ill, or injured, you’ve probably had to visit a doctor. When at the doctor, you were probably asked about your symptoms. After a few minutes, the doctor likely gave you a prescription or recommendation for something that would help you take care of your symptoms. As the symptoms were the thing that was bothering you, taking care of them probably seemed like a good idea to you, too.

Unfortunately, treating the symptoms won’t solve the problem of you being sick. It’ll just make the symptoms go away, but leave the underlying issue! Maybe you got sick because you were too stressed out about a big project and so that compromised your immune system, thereby making you more susceptible to being sick. And because your immune system was compromised, not washing your hands after playing with your kids at the local park meant that those germs that remained on the swing from one of the other kids was able to take up residence in your body. So, giving you medicine to make your symptoms go away might be helpful, but it weakens your immune system slightly (as it’s not able to develop antibodies on its own to take care of what’s affecting your system) and you still have that big project to finish.

What’s the tie-in? Terrorism is a symptom. It’s not the cause. The kind of terrorism that’s trying to be prevented isn’t the kind of terrorism that happens on a whim. It’s thought out, it’s well planned, it’s premeditated. Actions like that come with a reason. There’s an underlying cause to that terrorism. What is it that the US has done to provoke “terrorism?” That’s not a facetious or rhetorical question, but I think that’s the missing question from this debate. That’s the question that needs to be debated in Op-Eds and in columns.