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Jacob Vigdor
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Five years ago I wrote a series of blog posts reflecting on my time as a member of Duke's committee on Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure. This committee drew a collection of senior scholars from across campus to review tenure and promotion dossiers for both internal and external candidates in almost every corner of the university. These posts included some thoughts on the institution of tenure itself, some advice for assistant professors, some advice for newly tenured professors, and some advice for scholars playing the role of an external letter writer. This fifth entry in the series is inspired by the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 4, 2018 at The Perfect and the Free
Graduate student employees at the University of Washington are on strike today. Represented by the United Auto Workers local 4121, the students have formed a picket line not far from my office window. I can hear cars honking their horns in support, each honk arousing a cheer from the strikers. I've written before about the quirky nature of accounting in graduate education. There's another quirk that pertains to their employment. Suppose I, as a University faculty member, wish to hire a graduate student for research assistant work. This happens all the time, and RA work is a key component of... Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2018 at The Perfect and the Free
[This post originally appeared on May 11th, 2018 when Seattle's City Council was considering levying an Employee Hours Tax to fund services and housing for the homeless. Since then, the Council approved that tax unanimously and subsequently voted to repeal it before it took effect, in the face of a petition campaign that threatened to overturn the tax by ballot initiative.] It’s very hard, as a public finance economist, to sit and watch elected officials complain about the regressivity of Washington’s tax regime out of one side of their mouth and propose to levy yet another regressive tax out of... Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2018 at The Perfect and the Free
Once there was a wealthy miser who lived outside a crowded town. Many of the townspeople worked for the miser -- more and more of them, in fact. The miser angered the townspeople. The miser collected money from far and wide, most of it from people who lived in distant lands far from the town. The townspeople who worked for the miser were handsomely paid, and their wages in turn were spent in boutiques and taverns their neighbors owned, keeping many of them fed, clothed, and sheltered. But the miser also kept much of the money he collected to himself.... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2018 at The Perfect and the Free
Think about the sales tax for a moment and I suspect you'll agree with the following two statements: The sales tax is regressive, meaning that lower-income families devote the highest share of their income to paying the tax. The root cause being that low-income families spend almost all of what they earn on taxable goods and services, while higher-income families save quite a bit. When you buy something, you pay the tax. These two statements imply a third. If you believe them, you also believe this: The person who "pays" a tax is not necessarily the person who hands the... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2018 at The Perfect and the Free
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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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