Hath not a half Korean eyes? Part V: Principled meritocracy (updated)

Prof. John Stackhouse sitting atop his endowed perch as Regent College’s Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology, wrote:

You certainly make it clear when dialogue is a waste of time. Your rage and bitterness simply render conversation impossible. I’m frankly glad you’re not in the academy where you can influence people. I hope you’re good at making people money as the “righteous investor” you advertise yourself to be, but I think we’re done listening to you on this subject.

Well, now that I know that I am not welcome in North America to teach, once again, I asked Dr. Daniel Kambou if he would have me at the francophone graduate school that he is planning to found in Burkina Faso.  He accepted my services without first asking me to get professional counseling for my rage and bitterness.  Since Kambou lives next door, I think he knows me better than Stackhouse.

In any case, Stackhouse’s pronouncement will not result in a global ban of my teaching services.  I often think about how academics and economics can be harmed by reverting to rewards systems other than meritocracy.  I’ve expounded seriously upon the failure of affirmative action but here are some other reward systems that are available both here and in other countries:

(1) Nepotism:  Students told me in Africa that they could take an aptitude test for a foreign scholarship and do well, but the president will send his nephew in the place of the high performing student.  It should be noted that nepotism in a privately held business is usually not unethical–but it can still frustrate other employees.  But in public companies, churches, universities, and public service, nepotism is extremely dubious and usually unethical.

(2) Sleeping one’s way to the top:  When, e.g., a woman sleeps her way to better grades.  One manifestation of this is the exploitation by male professors of women, but it can sometimes be ruthless women who use their sexuality for advancement.

(3) Old boys’ club:  To get into Harvard, e.g., it is helpful to be a child of a graduate of Harvard university.  Or in business, if you have the right connections, you can get the jobs.

(4) Affirmative action: This seeks to redress perceived historical injustices by preferring certain aggrieved groups in the decision making.  The problem is that it most often leads to a quota system and to a watering down of quality.

(5) Tribalism:  All the best jobs go to a single tribe or coalition of tribes; this usually leads to jealousy and resentment and sometimes to war and genocide.

(6) Plagiarism:  If not punished when caught, plagiarism allows unqualified students and professionals (e.g., journalists) to move up the ranks.

(7) Quotas:  This leads to the limiting of the number of qualified people of an identifiable group from attaining admission in schools or from being hired for jobs.  It was widely used in the 20th century to limit the number of Jewish people accepted into certain universities and is likely being used today to limit the enrollment of Asians.  The idea is that if a group is only 5% or so of the population, it is necessary to limit their numbers to something proportionate to their percentage in the general population.   Affirmative action often becomes a quota system in practice.

(8) Blacklists:  An individual may be temporarily or permanently banned because of bad behavior, but not always:  it could be because of a personal vendetta or an attempt at censorship.  Blacklisting may be accomplished by attacking the character of the person, such as by saying without justification that they are angry and therefore not suitable for a job.  Blacklists are usually not published, and the blacklisting of a person could in some circumstances be illegal in Canada under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).  The fear of being blacklisted discourages whistle-blowers.

(9) Corruption and bribery:  The wealthy and powerful have the means of buying themselves and their friends jobs and offices and this will not depend on their actual ability to perform the function.  This may take the form of a quid pro quo.  For example, if you help the Chinese government by divulging state secrets while you are president, they will pay you a million dollars to give a speech or two once you are out of office.

All such systems clash with a principled meritocracy that rewards talent, ability, hard work and results.

To ameliorate past injustices, such as apartheid or segregation, or a lack of qualified leaders in a diverse group, it may be necessary to promote education among certain groups more than others.  So, for example, we started a scholarship program for evangelical francophone Africans to help promote theological seminaries in that region.   But then this isn’t necessarily inconsistent with meritocracy.  I have no problem saying that Dr Daniel Kambou is more qualified to teach in Burkina Faso than say, Prof. John Stackhouse–he was actually more qualified from day one with only a Master’s degree–this is by virtue of his ability in French and his intimate knowledge of African culture, he is much more qualified to teach in that region than the most prestigious of North American born and trained scholars.

But one of the major failures of affirmative action is that it has largely passed privilege from white men to white women.  That does very little to correct past injustices.  So imagine that you decided that you would correct the injustice of apartheid.  You would just simply give white women the jobs that are held by white men?  How does that help?  Didn’t the white women also benefit from apartheid, or was it only white men?  As an Asian man, I am unimpressed with affirmative action’s correction of past wrongs because it is still mostly white folks that have jobs, it’s just that more of them are women today.  And this gets to the heart of the unfairness.  If you are going to try to correct past wrongs using the above systems, you will likely create new wrongs.  Meritocracy is therefore superior to all the other reward systems listed above.

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Plagiarism: An international education bubble

Prof. John Stackhouse writes about plagiarism on his blog.  He writes:

Plagiarism is a vital problem in academic work, since the academy is a culture of both honour and honesty. (Don’t get me started on how dishonorable or dishonest the academy can be—I’m talking about ideals here.) Without honour and honesty, we can’t do our work since so much of it depends on trusting each other to tell the truth, including truth about our sources.

In my time as prof (both in Africa and Canada), I have given what I think is a disproportionate number of “F’s” for plagiarism, not because I was too hard but because too many of my students were ill-prepared for their studies at the undergraduate or master’s level.  Generally I found that my academic deans were halfheartedly supportive, for it was disruptive of the process of higher education for one of the professors to mark students so hard.  I am of the opinion that some cases of plagiarism merit immediate dismissal; other students should be sternly warned and should fail the paper or class without remediation.  But in every case, I was advised to wield a lighter hand and to allow the students second and even third chances.

In my opinion, there is an international education bubble.  We have too many schools and too many people who graduate from the schools whose diplomas don’t indicate any real competence.  I know that I’ve passed a few students who had no business being in school.  I even had one case where a student repeatedly failed remediation in a course with me, a course which was necessary for his undergraduate degree; and yet the dean still allowed him to enter into a Master’s program and to defend his thesis while never having passed my course!  He is in Congo-Brazzaville now– I heard he became a professor in a faculty of theology there.

Barack Obama: An Intellectual Fraud and Liar?

Plagiarism is a form of academic cheating which is universally condemned but nevertheless widespread because of growing dependence on electronic sources.  There are other forms of academic cheating:  (1) Having someone else write a paper for you; (2) Having someone else take an exam for you.  These academic crimes are serious attempts at intellectual misrepresentation; the person who commits them is trying to represent himself as smarter than he really is.  Academic cheating should result in the immediate expulsion of the student.

At the American Thinker, Jack Cashill has written a series of convincing articles showing that Bill Ayers is actually the ghost author of Dreams of my Father. This is based on a strong argument of literary criticism finding numerous and uncanny parallels between Obama’s Dreams and Ayer’s own memoir. Based upon their reading of Dreams, many have claimed that Barack Obama is a towering intellect, much smarter than George W. Bush.  If Bill Ayers, the domestic terrorist, wrote Dreams of my Father then (1) Obama is an intellectual fraud, because he has represented this book as his own work; (2) Obama has also lied about his palling around with Bill Ayers–remember that Sarah Palin accused Obama of palling around with terrorists, and he denied that they were close; if Ayers wrote Dreams, or even had a significant role of any kind, then Obama has lied about their relationship.

Today, Jack Cashill has exposed the smoking gun, lines in a new book by Christopher Anderson, Barack and Michelle:  Portrait of an American Marriage:

In his new book, “Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage,” Best-selling celebrity journalist, Christopher Andersen, has blown a huge hole in the Obama genius myth without intending to do so.

Relying on inside sources, quite possibly Michelle Obama herself, Andersen describes how Dreams came to be published — just as I had envisioned it in my articles on the authorship of Dreams. With the deadline pressing, Michelle recommended that Barack seek advice from “his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers.”

To flesh out his family history, Obama had taped interviews with various family members. Andersen writes, “These oral histories, along with a partial manuscript and a truckload of notes, were given to Ayers.” Andersen quotes a Hyde Park neighbor, “Everyone knew they were friends and that they worked on various projects together. It was no secret. Why would it be? People liked them both.”

Andersen continues, “In the end, Ayers’s contribution to Barack’s Dreams From My Father would be significant–so much so that the book’s language, oddly specific references, literary devices, and themes would bear a jarring similarity to Ayers’s own writing.”

I cannot recommend Thomas Lifson’s American Thinker enough.  It is one of the best sites on the WWW; it is the best source of conservative thought and reporting on contemporary events that I know.

Update:  Ron Radosh has caused me to attenuate the tone of this post considerably, since he suggests that Christopher Anderson may not be completely reliable:

Now Andersen gives no sources or names; the Obamas did not cooperate with him. Skeptics will argue that we have no way of knowing whether his claims can be verified, and we have no way of knowing the veracity of those he interviewed. Who, for example, was the Hyde Park neighbor he spoke with? Some might even argue that he reached his conclusion after reading Cashill’s original blog, without citing it. Andersen faces the same credibility problem Bob Woodward faces, since he is often charged with making outrageous charges in some of his books without offering any proof that conversations he could not have been privy to took place. But Woodward’s use of such a technique never has hurt his reputation. After all, he is Bob Woodward. Reviewers of Andersen’s book have had no compunction in labeling much of what he writes as pure “gossip.”

Update 2:  I have taught in both Canada and Africa, and I have encountered dozens examples of academic cheating.  I am absolutely appalled by it, because at the graduate level, and even the undergraduate level, plagiarism is the sure sign that the student should never have matriculated.  In every case, the administrators of the school wished to take a more lenient stance than I.  I was in every case forced to give in against my better judgment (and against the policy of the school which was not being enforced).  For example, in most cases the plagiarizing student was allowed to redo the assignment.  What kind of punishment is that?  There is no deterrent if the student will just be allowed to redo the paper.   Now we have a US president who has committed academic fraud.  It will only be when he has made a complete disaster of the greatest nation in the world that we will see that plagiarism is a serious crime.

I found it humiliating once to have been reprimanded by an academic dean for giving an African my musings on plagiarism (written months beforehand) in which I said that as any monkey can imitate human gesture, so also any poor student can copy words from books and represent them as his own.  The student felt that I had written these words as a personal attack of him, and of course, for Africans, being compared to monkeys is a example of racism.  So I was made to apologize to the student who had committed academic fraud.  As I become older, I am becoming less tolerant of fraud and less worried about what such administrators think of me.