Friday, December 28, 2018

Teachers Quit Jobs at Highest Rate on Record by the Wall Street Journal

Small raises, budget frustration and opportunities elsewhere persuade teachers and other public-education workers to move on

“Teachers and other public education employees, such as community-college faculty, school psychologists and janitors, are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate on record, government data shows.

“A tight labor market with historically low unemployment has encouraged Americans in a variety of occupations to quit their jobs at elevated rates, with the expectation they can find something better. But quitting among public educators stands out because the field is one where stability is viewed as a key perk and longevity often rewarded.

“The educators may be finding new jobs at other schools, or leaving education altogether: The departures come alongside protests this year in six states where teachers in some cases shut down schools over tight budgets, small raises and poor conditions.

“In the first 10 months of 2018, public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 a month, according to the Labor Department. While that is still well below the rate for American workers overall—231 voluntary departures per 10,000 workers in 2018—it is the highest rate for public educators since such records began in 2001…” (“Teachers Quit Jobs at Highest Rate on Record,” Wall Street Journal).

Commentary (from MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2011)

An Implicit Goal of Some Illinois Legislators Is to Ultimately Destroy the Teachers’ Pension and the Teaching Profession:

Teachers were stunned last spring when Senate Bill 1946 passed in less than 12 hours. “It is estimated that [the Teachers’ Retirement System’s new] Tier-Two benefits will be 30 percent less than benefits for Tier-One teachers, if the final average salary and creditable service time for both are equal” (Illinois Education Association, IEA).

Furthermore, teachers retiring with “10 years of service credits under [the] Tier Two [plan] would actually earn more benefits from Social Security” (IEA). Besides other egregious changes to the teachers’ pension, with the creation of a Second-Tier, teachers hired after January 2011 cannot receive their pension benefits until they are 67 years old: this would be the highest retirement age in the nation!

What could be the effects if Senate Bill 105 proposed by Senator Chris Lauzen, et. al. and HB 149 proposed by Representative Tom Cross, and other pension bills are passed in the future? Even without discussing the third incongruous part of this fire-breathing Chimera, which also includes a Tier-Three Defined-Contribution option, presumably, many young teachers will not continue to work in Illinois or lose their desire to teach.

Students across Illinois will be deprived of receiving an excellent education from the best teachers available, and they will become the unintended victims of this legislative charade. Teachers in the Tier One pension plan will also lose an essential financial resource needed for pension sustainability -- perhaps the unstated objective for those legislators who want to challenge the Pension Protection Clause. What's more, the “best and brightest” teacher candidates will not major in education. These young aspirants will find other professions that value their passion and competency.

There will be a teachers' shortage in Illinois (and elsewhere) if attacks on teachers' pensions and their profession continue. The teaching profession, as we know it, will be in jeopardy in the future.  

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Blogger’s Choice 2018

Thank you for reading my blog. 
I chose one post from each month.
Click on any of the following "Titles":

-Glen Brown

Meister Eckhart, a 14th-century Dominican friar famous for his popular sermons on the direct experience of God, is finding popular appeal by Joel Harrington

A sculpture of Meister Eckhart in Germany. Lothar Spurzem, CC BY-SA

The percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religious tradition continues to rise annually. Not all of them, however, are atheists or agnostics. Many of these people believe in a higher power, if not organized religion, and their numbers too are steadily increasing.

The history of organized religion is full of schisms, heresies and other breakaways. What is different at this time is a seemingly indiscriminate mixing of diverse religious traditions to form a personalized spirituality, often referred to as “cafeteria spirituality.” This involves picking and choosing the religious ideas one likes best. 

At the heart of this trend is the general conviction that all world religions share a fundamental, common basis, a belief known as “perennialism.” And this is where the unlikely figure of Meister Eckhart, a 14th-century Dominican friar famous for his popular sermons on the direct experience of God, is finding popular appeal.

Who was Meister Eckhart?

I have studied Meister Eckhart and his ideas of mysticism. The creative power that people address as “God,” he explained, is already present within each individual and is best understood as the very force that infuses all living things. He believed this divinity to be genderless and completely “other” from humans, accessible not through images or words but through a direct encounter within each person. 
The method of direct access to the divine, according to Eckhart, depended on an individual letting go of all desires and images of God and becoming aware of the “divine spark” present within.
Seven centuries ago, Eckhart embraced meditation and what is now called mindfulness. Although he never questioned any of the doctrines of the Catholic Church, Eckhart’s preaching eventually resulted in an official investigation and papal condemnation

Significantly, it was not Eckhart’s overall approach to experiencing God that his superiors criticized, but rather his decision to teach his wisdom. His inquisitors believed the “unlearned and simple people” were likely to misunderstand him. Eckhart, on the other hand, insisted that the proper role of a preacher was to preach. He died before his trial was complete, but his writings were subsequently censured by a papal decree. 

The modern rediscovery of Eckhart:

Meister Eckhart thereafter remained relatively little known until his rediscovery by German romantics in the 19th century. Since then, he has attracted many religious and non-religious admirers. Among the latter were the 20th-century philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, who were inspired by Eckhart’s beliefs about the self as the sole basis for action. More recently, Pope John Paul II and the current Dalai Lama have expressed admiration for Eckhart’s portrayal of the intimate relationship between God and the individual soul.

During the second half of the 20th century, the overlap of his teachings to many Asian practices played an important role in making him popular with Western spiritual seekersThomas Merton, a monk from the Trappist monastic order, for example, who began an exploration of Zen Buddhism later in his life, discovered much of the same wisdom in his own Catholic tradition embodied in Eckhart. He called Eckhart “my life raft,” for opening up the wisdom about developing one’s inner life.

Richard Rohr, a friar from the Franciscan order and a contemporary spirituality writer, views Eckhart’s teachings as part of a long and ancient Christian contemplative tradition. Many in the past, not just monks and nuns have sought the internal experience of the divine through contemplation. Among them, as Rohr notes were the apostle Paul, the fifth-century theologian Augustine, and the 12th-century Benedictine abbess and composer Hildegard of Bingen.

In the tradition of Eckhart, Rohr has popularized the teaching that Jesus’ death and resurrection represents an individual’s movement from a “false self” to a “true self.” In other words, after stripping away all of the constructed ego, Eckhart guides individuals in finding the divine spark, which is their true identity

Eckhart and contemporary perennials:

This subjective approach to experiencing the divine was also embraced by Aldous Huxley, best known for his 1932 dystopia, “Brave New World,” and for his later embrace of LSD as a path to self-awareness. Meister Eckhart is frequently cited in Huxley’s best-selling 1945 spiritual compendium, “The Perennialist Philosophy.” 

More recently, the mega-best-selling New Age celebrity Eckhart Tolle, born Ulrich Tolle in 1948 in Germany and now based in Vancouver, has taken the perennial movement to a much larger audience. Tolle’s books, drawing from an eclectic mix of Western and Eastern philosophical and religious traditions, have sold millions. His teachings encapsulate the insights of his adopted namesake Meister Eckhart. 

While many Christian evangelicals are wary of Eckhart Tolle’s non-religious and unchurched approach, the teachings of the medieval mystic Eckhart have nonetheless found support among many contemporary Catholics and Protestants, both in North America and Europe. 

Fully understanding a new spiritual icon:

The cautionary note, however, is in too simplistic an understanding of Eckhart’s message. Eckhart, for instance, did not preach an individualistic, isolated kind of personal enlightenment, nor did he reject as much of his own faith tradition as many modern spiritual but not religious are wont to do. 
The truly enlightened person, Eckhart argued, naturally lives an active life of neighborly love, not isolation – an important social dimension sometimes lost today. Meister Eckhart has some important lessons for those of us trapped amid today’s materialism and selfishness, but understanding any spiritual guide –
especially one as obscure as Eckhart – requires a deeper understanding of the context.

Joel Harrington is the Centennial Professor of History, Vanderbilt University.
First published in The ConversationIncluded in Vox Populi with permission.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Demand Illinois Lawmakers Protect the Teachers' Profession

IEA members and all supporters of public education are asked to sign this petition to reverse a harmful piece of legislation that was inserted in the budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly [nearly seven months ago].
Without warning or discussion of the damage it would do to students and schools, Illinois lawmakers imposed a 3 percent threshold on final average earnings salary increases for any education employees participating in the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) or State Universities Retirement System (SURS).
Please sign this petition to encourage lawmakers to reverse this terrible piece of legislation and show educators that their work is valued and that teachers and professors deserve respect.
Tell them to rescind the 3 percent threshold.

In the final 48 hours of the 2018 legislative session, Illinois’s four legislative leaders sneaked into the budget implementation bill a measure making school districts or universities financially liable for any contribution to those employees’ larger than a 3 percent increase in the final 10 years of their careers. Because educators qualify for a pension after five years and can leave at any time, districts and Higher Ed institutions would likely institute a 3 percent threshold across the entire contract.


As a result of this legislation, teachers would likely be denied extra compensation for after-school work that benefits students, such as coaching, directing plays, tutoring in the evenings, taking classes toward master’s degrees and, therefore, devaluing the continuing education of our educators and ultimately harming students. In addition:
·         Reducing benefits to educators will make the already serious Illinois teacher shortage even worse.
·         At a time when committees are being formed to try to figure out how to keep graduating seniors from fleeing the state and choosing instead to stay at Illinois higher education institutions, this action will drive professors away from the profession.
·         This would financially harm the teachers of this state who devote their careers to teaching the next generation of students, impacting their salaries now and in the future, by limiting salary growth to no more than 3 percent, when rates of inflation hover around 2.5 to 3 percent each year.

Please sign this petition to encourage lawmakers to reverse this terrible piece of legislation and show educators that their work is valued and that teachers and professors deserve respect.
Tell them to rescind the 3 percent threshold.

To Sign the Petition, Click Here. 

Commentary (from my June 8, 2018 post entitled "The Illinois Legislature's 3% Cap on Retiring Teachers' Pensionable Salaries Is a Violation of the Pension Protection Clause"):

Can the State of Illinois do indirectly what the Pension Protection Clause prohibits it from doing directly?  Isn’t the State’s obvious intent and effect of shifting certain pension costs to school districts a de facto cap on increases in pensionable salaries? So what will the IEA and IFT do about this attempt to reduce TRS members’ pensions by limiting pensionable salaries?

This is from an earlier blog post. It was written by the Chicago law firm Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC:

“…As the Illinois Supreme Court has explained, ‘once an individual begins work and becomes a member of a public retirement system, any subsequent changes to the Pension Code that would diminish the benefits conferred by membership in the retirement system cannot be applied to that individual.’ In re Pension Reform Litigation (Heaton v. Quinn), 2015 IL 118585, ¶ 46; see also Kanerva v. Weems, 2014 IL 115811, ¶ 38; Jones v. Municipal Employees’ Annuity & Benefit Fund of Chicago, 2016 IL 119618, ¶¶ 36-47. 

“Applying this constitutional rule, our courts have repeatedly invalidated amendments to the Illinois Pension Code that would change the calculation of a pension system member’s pensionable salary so as to diminish that member’s pension benefits. In Heaton, the Illinois Supreme Court invalidated legislation which, among other things, ‘cap[ped] the maximum salary that may be considered when calculating the amount of a member’s retirement annuity.’ Heaton, 2015 IL 118585, ¶ 27 (describing P.A. 98-0599). 

“Likewise, in Felt v. Board of Trustees of Judges Retirement System, our Supreme Court invalidated legislation that changed a judge’s pensionable salary from the ‘salary of the judge on the last day of judicial service’ to ‘the average salary for the final year of service as a judge.’ See Felt, 107 Ill. 2d 158, 161-63 (1985). 

“Likewise, in Kraus v. Board of Trustees of Police Pension Fund of Village of Niles, the Illinois Appellate Court held that a police officer on disability could not constitutionally be denied his right under the Pension Code to ‘receive a pension of one half the salary attached to his rank for the year preceding his retirement on regular pension.’ While the Pension Code had been amended so as to change that formula, that Pension Code amendment could not be applied to the officer because it was enacted after he joined the pension system. See Kraus, 72 Ill. App. 3d 833, 843-51 (1979). In other words, it is clear that variables in the pension formula that are tied to a pension system member’s salary cannot be changed to that member’s detriment after he or she has joined the pension system…

“Under existing law, pension system members’ salary increases are factored into the formula that is used to calculate their pension annuities. By way of example, under section 16-121 of the Pension Code, a TRS member’s salary is defined as the ‘actual compensation received by a teacher during any school year and recognized by the system in accordance with rules of the board.’ That ‘actual compensation’ will incorporate any salary increases a teacher has earned over the course of his career, and that teacher’s ‘salary’ will be a variable in the formula used to determine his pension annuity…

“[A] pensionable salary freeze does not stand on any different footing from the pensionable salary changes that were held unconstitutional in Heaton, Felt and Kraus. The principle is simple: One’s pensionable salary is a key variable in the pension formula. A pension system member currently enjoys the right to have any future salary increases factored into his or her pensionable salary. The Cullerton proposal would change that statutory formula so as to freeze pensionable salaries as of a date certain and thereby reduce pensions. That is a violation of the Pension Protection Clause of the Illinois Constitution.

“Of course, public sector employers generally may simply decide not to give their employees a raise. But that is beside the point… Changing the law to provide that future salary increases will not count towards one’s pensionable salary constitutes a diminishment of one’s constitutionally protected pension rights. Such a change would suffer the same fate as other changes to the Pension Code’s formulation of one’s pensionable salary…

“[M]embers of Illinois public sector pension systems have an existing legal right for any salary increases that they may earn between now and their retirement to be factored into their pensionable salary…” 

About the authors: Gino L. DiVito and John M. Fitzgerald are partners at the Chicago law firm Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC. Mr. DiVito is a retired justice of the Illinois Appellate Court. 

For the original article. entitled "Lawyer and Lobbyist Eric M. Madiar Believes Cullerton's Senate Bill Is Permissible/Lawyers Gino L. DiVito and John M. Fitzgerald Disagree," click here.

Fred Klonsky's 2018 Outstanding, Pictorial Social and Political Commentaries

To take a look at Fred Klonsky's outstanding, pictorial social and political commentaries:  Click Here.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Telling Lies about the Humanities by Aaron Hanlon

“If you participate long enough in public discussions about the role of the humanities both within higher education and in broader civil society, it becomes apparent that quite a lot of people have opinions about what scholarship and teaching in humanistic fields entail, but few demonstrate even rudimentary knowledge of either.

“Charlie Kirk — founder and leader of Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit that targets what it sees as left-wing bias in higher education — falsely claims that Marx and Engels’s The Communist Manifesto is the most assigned book in college. Think pieces abound alleging liberal indoctrination in humanities classrooms, despite substantial counterevidence.

“You’d think, therefore, that when someone with knowledge and experience in a humanistic field offers corrective facts or testimony, such knowledge and experience would count for something. I haven’t (yet) walked into a corporate boardroom and insisted they run their third-quarter marketing strategy like an 18th-century pamphleteering campaign, so it’s odd when people act like they know better than I do about my classroom or my research field.
“Part of what’s happening is that we’re being discounted by those who hold prejudicial views of our disciplines. While the public is quick to defer to experts in fields like medical science, it’s resistant to the very possibility that expertise exists in fields like literature (‘you just read books and give your opinion’) or philosophy (‘navel-gazing’). Given that baseline, it’s no wonder that public portrayals of humanistic research and teaching are flooded with sketchy clichés, sweeping falsehoods, and invented evils.
“For the past few years I’ve engaged in countless public discussions about the benefits, challenges, and public image of my discipline, English, and of humanistic disciplines more broadly. I’ve written essays in popular media, spoken on panels and podcasts, mentored besieged students, and participated in more social-media exchanges than is good for my personal health and well-being. I’ve encountered lots of bad theories about the humanities, which I’ve grouped into four categories.
The humanities are ‘non-cognitive.’

“Today, it’s common — even considered innocuous — to describe the skills regularly associated with humanistic study as ‘soft.’ Well-meaning social scientists have taken to describing ‘oral and written communication skills’ — core humanistic skills — as ‘non-cognitive,’ juxtaposing them with ‘problem solving’ and ‘analytical’ skills, a characterization that’s both unscientific and patronizing, and that portrays writing as non-analytical and divorced from problem solving.
“In such descriptions we hear echoes of antiquated — often sexist — ideas about who is and isn’t capable of reason, which forms of cognition we’re willing to acknowledge, and whose work we’ll countenance as serious, scholarly, and worth learning about.
“Humanists frequently blame abstractions like ‘neoliberalism’ for the marginalization of fields like English, history, philosophy, and classics, but this overlooks a much simpler and more immediate explanation: disciplinary prejudice based in ignorance. After all, even ‘neoliberal’ organizations like the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Economic Policy Institute, the World Bank, and Forbes Magazine use the term ‘non-cognitive skills’ while advocating for educational policy and curricular shifts that would further the teaching and learning of those skills.
“Even when ‘non-cognitive’ isn’t explicitly linked with ‘the humanities’ as such, it’s hard to read descriptions like ‘social’ skills, ‘communication’ skills, and ‘non-STEM’ skills as anything but ‘humanistic’ skills in the contexts of educational policy and curriculum choice. This is not a ‘neoliberal’ conspiracy against the humanities, but a collection of people trying to advocate for certain forms of humanistic teaching and learning who simply haven’t thought through the implications of describing activities like communication, public speaking, and collaboration as ‘non-cognitive.’
“The tendency to confidently utter falsehoods about humanities research, classrooms, faculty, and students, and about the skills and knowledge developed within humanistic disciplines, is a consequence of what the philosopher Miranda Fricker calls testimonial injustice, discounting someone as a knower. In the case of education policy concerning ‘non-cognitive skills,’ such testimonial injustice reflects a belief that humanistic study requires less intelligence, cognitive ability, and analytical acumen than STEM work, or that ‘knowing’ in fields like English, history, philosophy, and classics is not really brainwork. And in the case of the wider moral panic over what Jordan Peterson calls activist disciplines and the ‘Sokal Squared’ hoaxers call grievance studies, it’s the belief that knowledge in these fields is made up anyway, so it’s fine to make up knowledge for and about them.
The humanities and social sciences are overrun by ideology.

More or less half the time someone is complaining about the humanities, they’re really talking about the social sciences, specifically a set of interdisciplinary social-science fields that study gender and race. They just don’t understand the difference between humanistic and social-scientific work. Sociology, for example, has been maligned as an ‘ideological’ discipline whose conclusions are driven less by rigor than by progressive political orientation.
“Sociology journals were among the main targets of the recent hoax perpetrated by Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay, and Peter Boghossian, who included it among the fields they dismissively call grievance studies. The sociology journals they submitted sham papers to — at least the journals sociologists would claim as their own — accepted none of the papers, which is to say sociology held up well in that sense. 
“Among the journals that did fall prey to the hoax was Sex Roles, which — ranked 11 out of 52 in total citations within Springer’s social-psychology index, and with an editorial board packed with sociologists, psychologists, and social-work scholars — looks a lot more like a ‘sociology’ or social-sciences journal than a ‘humanities’ journal.
“Another hoaxed journal, Sexuality & Culture, is edited by a psychology scholar, has an editorial board half-filled with social scientists, is indexed in sociology and psychology databases, and is associated by Springer with psychology and social sciences as ‘related subjects.’ Similarly, Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, is ranked 29 of 42 in ‘social work’ citations, 24 of 42 in ‘women’s studies’ citations, and is indexed almost exclusively in social-science and social-work databases.
“The point here is that ‘the humanities’ bear the brunt of this hoax, despite their relative invulnerability to the hoaxers. Nevertheless, the hoaxers opened their description of the hoax by claiming that ‘Something has gone wrong in the university — especially in certain fields within the humanities,’ then proceeded to use ‘humanities’ and ‘social sciences’ interchangeably throughout the article.
“When hoaxers like Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian use ‘humanities’ and ‘social sciences’ interchangeably, they’re not doing it to recognize the history of academic divisions within the modern university, nor to challenge the epistemological basis of such divisions, but to segregate a broad set of disciplines they deem too ideological or too susceptible to ideology, even as peer-review and study-replication problems in the sciences are at least as extensive as those of the handful of women’s-studies journals by whom they slipped (heavily revised) sham papers after initial rejections. As the sociologist Musa al-Gharbi observes, the hoaxers’ ‘purported empirical studies (with fake data) were more than twice as likely to be accepted for publication as their non-empirical papers.’ 
“Writing off humanistic work because of fraudulent or failed social-scientific work is a category error. Though the hoaxers claim that social-justice ideology is what undermines evaluative rigor in the journals they targeted, al-Gharbi’s observation about their results suggests that fraud — not hoaxing with ideological bait — was the most effective way of getting sham papers through peer review. As it turns out, fraud is also a pretty good way of fooling journals in such activist disciplines as cardiology, in which more than 30 papers by Piero Anversa, formerly of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, were recently recommended for retraction due to fabricated results.
“The heuristic distinction between humanities and social sciences matters for this charge that all too often ideology, not truth or rigor, guides humanistic research. Whereas branches of social science have access to research methods, living humans, and extant government systems with which to design experiments and test hypotheses, humanistic work often means being as precise and accurate as possible about something whose nature is such that it can’t be falsified. I wish I could solicit 18th-century readers for controlled experiments, but alas the invention of the time machine is not within our sights.
“This distinction is of course a generalization with plenty of exceptions: Things like primary historical sources and formal logic can meet a relatively high bar of certainty, even if the application and synthesis of such knowledge introduces the need for interpretation and value judgment. But often when people are speaking against the humanities, they’re accusing scholars of trying to supersede scientific fact with unfalsifiable theory.
“A routine complaint I field from armchair epistemologists is ‘humanities research isn’t falsifiable,’ to which the appropriate reply is: Many of the most important questions we face as a species aren’t falsifiable. Can there be just warfare? Is the death penalty moral? Did the president behave ethically? Should we fund art museums or malaria-fighting mosquito nets, and in what proportions? Is Don Quixote a madman because he expects the world around him to look more like chivalric romance, or a visionary for trying to reshape the world around him into a more just world?
“To the extent that scientific fact can contribute to, but not resolve, problems like these, the claim that mainstream humanities work is an attempt to contravene scientific fact for ideological purposes falls flat on its face. What empirical scientific test would definitively answer these questions? Even a historically and empirically verifiable claim like ‘cultural notions of femininity explain why pink pens and razors are marketed to women in ways that biology can’t wholly account for" is not an attempt to invalidate what biology can account for.
“What would you call it if someone were willing to ignore clear evidence that there are some things in the world better explained by analyzing social, cultural, structural, and institutional developments than by analyzing the genome or broadly extrapolating from evolutionary psychology? I’d call it an ideological attempt to shrink the sphere of human knowledge, rather than to expand it, for the purpose of aggrandizing a small number of fields and a handful of self-interested scholars. Activist scholarship, if you will.
Humanities professors push left-wing ideas on students.

“The political orientations of professors across disciplines — even in the natural sciences — tend to be left of the general population. According to a recent study on faculty party registration in different academic departments, history boasts 33 Democrats for every one Republican. In psychology, a discipline whose most prominent public figures — Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson, and Lee Jussim, to name a few — have been critical of political bias in humanities fields, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 17 to 1, hardly a balance. Given that the imbalance is often much steeper for humanistic disciplines, there’s understandable concern that the humanities classroom is a space of left-wing political indoctrination.
“This accusation is assumed far more often than it’s examined. But the findings are clear: Professors don’t impose their political views on students. One of the leading researchers on this topic, my Colby College colleague Neil Gross, finds that, contrary to popular belief, attending college does not make college students more liberal. The Acadia University political scientist Jeffrey Sachs has rounded up a collection of studies on this topic as well, showing that faculty contact makes students more moderate (not more liberal); that college graduates tend to have identical political ideologies to their siblings who haven’t matriculated college; and that students consistently rate their professors as being more moderate than they actually are (which, Sachs explains, means ‘the more extreme the professor, the greater pains he or she takes to disguise bias’).
The humanities are ornamental.

“When the comparative-literature scholar Moira Weigel wrote a highly critical review of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s new book The Coddling of the American Mind, the social psychologist Lee Jussim took to Twitter to defend Haidt and Lukianoff’s book. Jussim had a fair point to make: Weigel doesn’t have the relevant experience to adjudicate Haidt and Lukianoff’s main points, many of which come from the field of psychology. But Jussim’s language was telling: ‘Weigel has a Ph.D. in, wait for it … Comparative Literature … she has no relevant expertise, except perhaps regarding the quality of the prose. …’
“This is a common rhetorical move meant to quarantine fields like comparative literature to the realm of the ornamental. Jussim wants to suggest that there’s nothing in a book about culture wars and cognitive behavioral therapy, written for a wide, mainstream audience, that Weigel’s training in comparative literature could possibly qualify her to evaluate besides its prose quality.
“Reducing the study of literature to purely ornamental terms — how ‘good’ is the writing — is like reducing the field of psychology to making determinations about your Myers-Briggs personality type. Whatever you think of Weigel’s review, much of it focuses on rhetorical and framing similarities between Coddling and prior culture-wars books like Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals and Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education, as well as what Weigel calls Coddling’s participation in a ‘contemporary liberal style’ that ‘wants above all to be reasonable,’ that is filled with ‘elaborate syntactic balancing acts,’ and that ‘signal[s] the distance between the authors and the partisans of identity who are too emotional to think clearly.’ All of this is well within the purview of the comparative-literature scholar, and a perfectly legitimate area of focus instead of or in addition to Haidt and Lukianoff’s social-psychology claims.
“The most amusing bit of hate mail I’ve ever received was from a man who sent me a cartoon of himself having an argument with me, and winning it handily. I loved this, not only because I’m not used to seeing myself (or a much heftier version of myself) in cartoon form, but also because the cartoon unintentionally illustrated a fact of our culture wars today: People who disagree with you would like nothing more than to script not just their side of the argument, but yours as well.
“It’s a lot easier to make yourself look smart and others look wayward if you get to write their words in the dialogue bubble, to speak for them with the weakest or most absurd version of their position. This is, I think, the perfect metaphor for how humanistic fields are publicly portrayed lately. People make stuff up about us — ‘they’re indoctrinating your children!’; ‘they’re postmodern neo-Marxists!’; ‘they think biology isn’t real!’; ‘they’re all overrun by ‘critical theory’!’ — and wage war on scarecrows.
“It would be one thing if the problem were merely a knowledge gap, a matter of more people like me going out into the public and setting the record straight. But it’s not. It’s also a problem of people — some of whom are our colleagues — actively distorting and maligning our work. I don’t know how to solve this problem other than to encourage colleagues from across the disciplines, as well as the journalists who cover us and give us platforms, to cease tolerating misrepresentation. And if you think the stakes of correcting the misrepresentation of humanistic work are simply about preening academics or ivory-tower musing, think instead about the students interested in literature, history, philosophy, and language. When you malign and misrepresent what scholars do, you’re punishing students” (Lies about the Humanities and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Aaron Hanlon). 
Aaron Hanlon is an assistant professor of English at Colby College.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

"A tax policy expert says he fundamentally disagrees with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that Illinois lawmakers must amend the state’s constitution to address the city’s looming pension crisis"


While it may be the only way to eliminate automatic annual 3 percent increases in what pension payouts, Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability says the plan is misguided.
“Why we disagree: Why take away the constitutional protection for workers when legislatively, you can create a Tier II, Tier III, Tier IV that has a different cost of living adjustment, COLA, for workers going forward?” he told WBEZ’s Morning Shift.
The constitutional amendment is the first of four "sequential steps" Emanuel laid out in a speech to the City Council Wednesday to address the additional $1.1 billion a year Chicago will need to pay into its pension system by 2023.
The second step is pension obligation bonds. By issuing POBs, the city could realize significant savings as long as the effective interest rate on those bonds is lower than the interest rate on the city’s pension liabilities, which the mayor says is currently between 7 and 7.5 percent. 
Mayor Emanuel likened that move to “refinancing your mortgage at a lower rate.” Martire, who supports the idea, said it’s like trading a more expensive form of debt — the debt owed on past-due pension payments — for a less expensive form of debt — the debt owed to bondholders. Issuing POBs does not increase the city’s overall debt burden.
The mayor also called for legalizing recreational marijuana and establishing a Chicago casino as ways to raise revenue.
So, are the mayor’s ideas the best solutions? Morning Shift explores the city’s pension woes and some possible fixes.
Tony Sarabia: We’re about to reach a pension ramp, meaning the city is on the hook for about $1 billion towards pensions a year right now, but by 2023, that will ramp up to more than $2 billion dollars. How did we get here?
Ralph Martire: Well, historically, the state had a funding formula for its pension system that ignored the actuarially required contribution, and what that is, in lay terms, is that actuaries look out 30 years forward and say that based on your current number of employees and actuarial tables for longevity, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, here’s what you ought be putting in today to have sufficient assets to pay the benefits when these people retire over the course of the next 30 years. That was never funded. That would be a problem. And it created a significant mismatch between the amount of money going into the system and what the system actually needed to pay for future benefits.
Sarabia: What were some of those reasons why we didn’t do this?
Martire: The main reason is Illinois has historically been a relatively low-tax state. That’s number one. And elected officials don’t like to explain to taxpayers that you have to put some money in up front. And they don’t like us to raise taxes to cover long-term obligations. In fact, because pensions are long-term obligations, they are really hard to deal with appropriately in a political process if you think about it. A political process is very concerned with this budget year, this election cycle. Pension problems arise way down the road when you are out of office. That’s a good time for the problem to arise. So under funding it today doesn’t necessarily create political consequences for the people making the decisions to underfund it.
Sarabia: So, the current mayor is leaving office, but when it comes to this issue, what has he done to address it since he’s been in office?             
Martire: Well, actually, he’s been very fiscally responsible when it comes to dealing with this. He did pass that very significant property tax increase just a couple of years ago, and it was needed and it was the right thing to do. I mean, there are only so many revenue tools in the kit available to municipalities, and sadly, you know, property tax is the key one available. And I say sadly because in Illinois while we’re overall a pretty moderate-tax-burden state if you compare total tax burden in Illinois to all other states as a percentage of income we’re about 27th, below the halfway point. That said, if you isolate the property tax, we’re very high. And the reason for that is that the state has underfunded K-12 education for generations.
Sarabia: One of the things that the mayor does want to do...he wants to do away with the automatic annual 3 percent increase in how much pensioners receive. Those are known as COLAs, or cost of living adjustments. And, of course, doing that would require this amendment to the constitution. Do you agree with the mayor that this is a necessary step?
Martire: Not only don’t we agree with the mayor that this is a necessary step, it’s not constitutional to do it. And, so if you get your constitutional amendment that says alright, benefits are no longer guaranteed, that only works going forward. It doesn’t impact any employee who is in the system prior to the change to your constitution.
Sarabia: Didn’t the Supreme Court when they blocked the state [in 2015], was it for ‘going forward’ or what was the state trying to do, because this seems like a big roadblock…
Martire: You cannot reduce a benefit that was a pension benefit that was promised to an employee in the state of Illinois that’s a public sector worker as of the date of their employment. That is their benefit for their tenure. Period. End of story. Ironclad. If you change the constitution, that only changes the protection for the employees after you change the constitution. So all of the accumulated costs associated with this 3 percent compounding COLA that are accruing now and will be accruing for workers that are still getting it, can’t be taken away even if you change the constitution. So, why we disagree: Why take away the constitutional protection for workers when legislatively, you can create a Tier II, Tier III, Tier IV that has a different cost of living adjustment, COLA, for workers going forward? You accomplish the same thing in much less time, because passing a piece of legislation through Springfield is a much quicker process than getting a constitutional amendment.
Sarabia: The mayor will also propose legalizing recreational marijuana, allowing a Chicago casino. What do you make of those proposals?
Martire: Well, it just shows you how limited the revenue options are to a municipality. It’s far more limited than say what the state of Illinois has. And so, Mayor Emanuel already went after the property tax relatively significantly, raised a lot of money to help cover the growth in the pension payment under the ramp in the last four years, and now he’s frankly just looking for revenue alternatives to cover the growth in that ramp over the next four years, and you know, these are kind of speculative, right? First we have to pass the law, and then we have to establish, and there are some issues with them as revenue sources, so you know, casino money, just number one, as a revenue source, over time, tends not to grow with the economy, so it doesn’t grow with inflation over time. Over time it creates a little bit of a structural imbalance that will have to be back-filled with a new revenue source.
Sarabia: And it takes a while for that revenue to be realized. You’re talking about creating the casino facility, maybe from the ground up, all of that stuff, and then realizing the revenue…
Martire: Yeah, so there is a time delay. And it certainly is a regressive way to tax. I mean, it’s not the Pritzker family going out and betting the monthly rent on lucky number 7 at the casino. It tends to be low-to-middle income families, so it’s a relatively regressive way to raise money. And you know, if you look at it overall, it’s an inefficient way to raise tax revenue because for every $8 or $9 gambled, you get $1 of revenue, so a direct tax would be a lower cost on the taxpayer overall. The problem is the city doesn’t have many direct taxes available to go after, and the small fees they charge, the plastic bag fee, the this fee, the that fee, people feel nickel and dimed, so even if it’s not a significant cost, they generate a lot of animus among the voting public, which makes the environment more difficult to raise revenue.       
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click play on this link to hear the full conversation: Tax Policy Expert Disagrees with Key Piece of Mayor’s Pension Plan (Daniel Tucker), December 12,2018, WBEZ