Sunday, February 22, 2009

Students Feel Entitled to High Grades

The New York Times recently reported on a study completed at the University of California-Irvine, which found that students feel entitled to high grades if they work hard, regardless of how well they performed on exams and assigned work. According to the study, "a third of students surveyed said that they expected B’s just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading." Also, two-thirds of students thought that if they explained to a professor that they tried real hard, the professor should take that into account when assigning their grade.

I have encountered students like this before. Just last month I had two students come and tell me they were going to appeal their grade. When I asked them why, they said they studied real hard and thought they deserved a higher grade as a result. That was the entire basis of their appeal. Before reading this article, I thought that these students were a minority. To think that they might be a majority (assuming results at UC-Irvine are generalizable to all students), is shocking. If this is how grades should be assigned, then why not have every test be a single question, "how hard did you work?," and let students assign their own grade.

The possible reasons for this sense of entitlement, according to the report, are parental pressure, competition among peers, and achievement anxiety. Political Science Professor Chris Blattman provides another explanation on his blog:

I have a different theory why students have such expectations: because it's true. Most professors do give them a B just for showing up.

I think grade inflation is all a bit ridiculous, but this is not a war an untenured faculty member is wise to wage.

Besides, you think this is bad, you should see what top schools let the PhD students get away with...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

GM's Restructuring: Why are they Keeping GMC?

General Motors announced some of their restructuring plans this week. Currently, GM has eight separate brands: Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Saturn, Hummer, Saab, and Cadillac. The plans now are to cut that back to four brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick. Saturn will be gone. Pontiac will still be a brand on some vehicles, but not a separate division, and Hummer and Saab will be sold (if they can find a buyer).

The oddest part of this plan, to me, is that they are keeping GMC. As I mentioned before, GMC makes a bunch of vehicles that are almost identical to Chevy vehicles. Look, for instance, at the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra (pictured above). So, why is GMC needed? The only reason to keep a brand, is if it has an image that consumers can easily identify. Hummer definitely has a brand image, for instance. But can any consumer identify what makes a Buick, or a GMC, distinctive? Other car companies have done well with just two brands--a mass brand and a luxury brand. Some examples are Nissan/Infiniti, Toyota/Lexus, and Kia/Hyundai. So why not have just two brands for GM--a mass brand (Chevy), and a luxury brand (Cadillac)?

Before Congress approves any more loans for GM, it should send GM execs back to the drawing board. I don't think they have gone far enough to make the company competitive in the future.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Senate Passes Stimulus Bill

In my predictions for 2009, I said, "Olympia Snowe will break with Republicans to enable Obama to pass a major piece of his legislative agenda." It didn't take long to get that one right. Since I was wrong about Blagojevich, I am now 1 for 2 in my predictions.

Besides Snowe, Susan Collins (ME) and Arlen Specter (PA) were the only other Republicans to vote for the bill.

In the next step, a conference committee will be formed of members from both houses, both parties. Their job will be to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. Since the Senate vote was more narrow than in the House, I predict that the final bill will be closer to the Senate's version than the House's.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Change vs Bipartisanship on SNL

Saturday Night Live also picked up on the theme of change versus bipartisanship in the stimulus bill for its opening skit last night. In the skit, Speaker Pelosi is depicted as being disappointed in the Senate and Obama for eliminating some of the Democratic Party priorities in the bill. According to Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, this is essentially correct. At the House Democratic Caucus retreat, Pelosi told Obama, "“I don’t mind you driving the bus over me, but I don’t appreciate your backing it up and running over me again and again.”

Saturday, February 7, 2009

New Poll: Should Congress pass the stimulus bill?

In January's poll, 77% of respondents thought that the economy will be better by the end of 2009, while 22% thought it would be worse.

For February's poll, tell me what you think about the stimulus bill. Should Congress pass it?

What is Purpose of the 2009 Stimulus Bill? Seven Distinct Goals can be Identified in the Stimulus Bill

"Looking at the spending and tax cut proposals in the 2009 economic stimulus bill passed by the US House on January 28, 2009, eight different goals can be identified."

To read the rest, go to

Change vs Bipartisanship and the Stimulus Bill

In a previous post, I pointed out that change and bipartisanship were two themes of the Obama campaign, yet they rarely go together. One party rule, or what political scientists sometimes refer to as "party government," presents the best opportunity to bring big, broad changes to government. So which of these campaign themes will dominate the Obama presidency?

In the current debate over the stimulus bill, President Obama's competing goals of change and bipartisanship have come into conflict. He can support a bipartisan effort, with more modest change, or, he can support large-scale change with little Republican support. These competing views can also be seen in two separate editorials in yesterday's New York Times.

Presenting the argument for change, and against bipartisanship, is Princeton economist Paul Krugman. Krugman encourages Obama to not seek Republican support for the bill. It was Republican policies that got us into this mess in the first place, he argues. Obama's efforts at bipartisanship were a mistake; because, he "ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh."

Presenting the argument for bipartisanship is columnist David Brooks. Brooks sees the stimulus bill as Obama's opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise to transcend partisanship, and put the divisive politics of the past behind us. He encourages Obama to back the effort of the Senate moderates, led by Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NE). He says, "But there’s no way that Obama, who spent two years campaigning on postpartisan politics, can reject the single biggest manifestation of postpartisanship in the country today. If he does that, his credibility will be shot." The type of change that Brooks can believe in is centrist, bipartisan, and modest.

Obama finds himself at a crossroads. Brooks is correct when he notes that Obama's choice could set the tone for his presidency. So, which path should he take?