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Jacob Vigdor
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For about a decade, beginning in high school, I played bass in a string of rock bands. It was in this context that I learned much about being creative in a group setting. The debates and conversations in rehearsal spaces -- garages, basements, even a musty attic -- over how to make a song sound better presaged conversations in offices and seminar rooms about how to make research more convincing. I also learned quite a bit about rhythm guitar. The lead guitarist is like the vocalist, flashy, attention-grabbing. The rhythm guitarist holds everything together. A bandmate once counseled me to... Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2017 at The Perfect and the Free
A few years ago, I was assigned the task of directing a Ph.D. program. Working with doctoral students was fantastic. Working with the bureaucracy assigned to oversee graduate training was... interesting. Once a year I'd have a meeting in the office of the Dean of the Graduate School, to go over what was essentially a profit/loss statement for the program I directed. It would be just as accurate to call it more simply a loss statement, as doctoral training is a money-losing proposition. Students typically don't pay tuition, and they receive stipends (typically in exchange for work as research assistants... Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2017 at The Perfect and the Free
This is going to be one of the dullest posts ever, but if you have ever been faced with the need to archive hundreds or thousands of emails on a short time schedule you'll want to read on. I'm an employee of the State of Washington. As such, my communications with students, colleagues, and others are subject to public records requests under state law (RCW 42.56). It's recently come to my attention that many of my colleagues at the University of Washington have struggled to compile records in response to public records requests. Given that most communication takes place by... Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2017 at The Perfect and the Free
Here is the scene. The American administration, having wound down a military entanglement in a distant part of the world, hopes to head off a humanitarian crisis by admitting refugees. The governor of a large state, who happens to represent the opposing political party, has expressed opposition to the plan. The domestic economy is on shaky ground; the governor's sentiments are echoed by Senators and activists affiliated with the same party. Among other things, opponents of the refugees worry that they pose a threat to Americans and will not assimilate into society. This scene played out in 1975. The refugees... Continue reading
Posted Dec 14, 2015 at The Perfect and the Free
What's the right tool to ensure that an expensive city can be home to at least some low-to-moderate income families? Could it be ... public housing? Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2015 at The Perfect and the Free
Demographics, not changes in policy, explain why students have more nonwhite classmates. Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2014 at The Perfect and the Free
Immigration expands the American economy, preserving and creating jobs. Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2014 at The Perfect and the Free
When it comes to grading students, would failure by any other name smell sweeter? Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2014 at The Perfect and the Free
As originally conceived, race-based preferences in college admissions were seen as a means of redressing past wrongs. Conceived in this manner, affirmative action was bound to lead to a debate regarding whether wrongs had been addressed "enough." This debate was bound to be rancorous for two basic reasons. First, there is no way to objectively determine whether past wrongs have been addressed "enough." Second, while the parties to the argument might appeal to universal principles the plain fact is that they also have a self-interest in the outcome. You might bring nothing to the debate but principle, but you can't... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2014 at The Perfect and the Free
True or false: business owners are too dumb to figure out that they can earn more profits by paying higher wages. Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2014 at The Perfect and the Free
Even assuming no effect of the minimum wage on employment, the Earned Income Tax Credit helps society's vulnerable households more efficiently and more progressively. Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2014 at The Perfect and the Free
NC Governor Pat McCrory, along with leaders of the NC General Assembly, announced this morning that they intend to raise the state minimum teacher salary from $30,800 to $35,000 over the next two years. This announcement comes in response to a chorus of calls to increase teacher compensation in North Carolina, which has languished in the years since the 2008 recession. Many of these calls make reference to average teacher compensation, and any AP statistics student should be able to tell you that there's more than one way to raise the average. You could take the $200 million the General... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2014 at The Perfect and the Free
Applying the lessons of Hiroshima, New Orleans, and Port-au-Prince to the Phillipine typhoon disaster. Continue reading
Posted Nov 13, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
They're thinking about raising the train tracks in downtown Durham, NC, and putting fill dirt underneath. What if we tinkered with part of that plan? Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
What differentiates a good tenure letter from a bad tenure letter? Hint: it's not whether the letter is positive or negative. Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
Where's a good unprincipled politician when you need one? Probably out playing Survivor. Continue reading
Posted Oct 1, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
Reflecting on the infilled fate of Eastgate Lane, Bloomington, Indiana. Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
Why would that guy in the exit row want to give up his seat? Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
Tenured faculty can't complain, but sometimes they still do. Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
Advice for junior faculty (or grad students, or postdocs) in almost any field, at almost any research university. Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
Hi Mattia: That's true. Tenure protects the professor who wants to make an unpopular public statement or speak out against the university's leadership. And there are some faculty who do that, it's one of the risks that tenure encourages you to take. But for most faculty, in my experience, "risk" means making arguments that contradict the big shots in your field, or embarking on a project that won't bear fruit for 10 years, and might not bear fruit at all.
What do Universities gain by offering lifetime employment contracts to their faculty? A fair amount, as it turns out. Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
Up until this year, public schoolteachers in North Carolina have been entitled to a 10% increase in salary upon receipt of a Master's degree. Recently enacted legislation has done away with that, but let's return to this in a minute. Suppose you were an unscrupulous person. You know that any teacher should be willing to fork over money for an MA credential, since it instantly puts a few extra thousand dollars in their pocket each year for the remainder of their career. Of course, to get into the MA-granting business you've got to do things like offer courses, but your... Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
The presumption of innocence makes a big difference when the facts of a case are unknowable. Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free
If you own a home, immigration has made you a wealthier person. Find out why and check out the impact of immigration in the county where you live. Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2013 at The Perfect and the Free