04 October 2017

NFL Protests: Good and Bad Reasons to Allow Them

Stephen Kershnar
NFL Protests: Good Reasons and Bad Reasons
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 2, 2017

            There are good and bad reasons for allowing kneeling during the national anthem. The NFL players gave bad ones and are embarrassing themselves.

            In 2009, the NFL required players to be on the field for the anthem. The justification for playing it and requiring players to be on the field is two-fold. First, it honors the United States. Second, the anthem honors veterans, especially combat veterans and veterans killed in action.  

            Last year, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other kneeled during the anthem. Kaepernick felt that the U.S. oppresses black people and allows police to disproportionately kill unarmed black men. Last month, Donald Trump suggested that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem because they disrespect U.S. heritage. Two weeks ago, in response to his comments, over 200 mostly black players in the NFL sat or kneeled during the national anthem. Other players linked arms with their teammates or raised fists. Three teams stayed in the locker room. The players gave three reasons for doing so. They wanted to (1) support freedom of speech, (2) express their disapproval of Trump’s criticism of the black players who had been protesting, and (3) oppose Trump’s intimidation.  

The free-speech concern is mistaken. The NFL is not a state actor. As a result, it may, and often does, interfere with players’ and teams’ speech. The concern for Trump’s criticism of Kaepernick et al. begs the question because it assumes that the original protests were plausible and respectful. This is precisely what Trump denies. Criticism of Trump for intimidation is also off base because he didn’t threaten anyone.   

The concern over police killing unarmed black men is mistaken. Consider data from The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery, while blacks commit roughly half of all murders, assaults, and robberies, they were only 24% of those killed by police. Philosopher Philippe Lemoine points out that the likelihood of unarmed black men being killed by the police (16 in 2016) is roughly the rate of their being struck by lightning. Similarly, a widely cited 2016 study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer found that blacks were not more likely to be shot by police. They were more likely to be subject to police violence (for example, touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground, or pepper-sprayed) even after controlling for where, when and how they encounter the police, but that’s a different issue.

The reason the NFL, leagues, and schools should allow the kneeling, sitting, and raised fists during the anthem is that we want people’s expression of patriotism or support for veterans to be voluntary. Requiring people to salute the flag in order to play football is about as voluntary as making workers pay union dues as a condition of employment.  

The notion that people at sports events should stand for the flag to celebrate veterans is yet another error. First, veterans have not contributed more to America than have other groups such as farmers and intellectuals. As a result, they should not be singled out for special recognition or gratitude. Without farmers, most Americans would have starved long ago. It is simply not true that the well-being of U.S. citizens depends more on veterans than farmers. Without intellectuals, the U.S. would not have existed. Nor would it have been free or had the technology to effectively fight wars, cure and treat disease, or grow large amounts of food.

Rare is the individual veteran who made a big difference in the war effort. Those who did, for example, General Patton or Admiral Nimitz, were few and far between and contributed as leaders rather than as soldiers or sailors.  

Being in the military is more dangerous than most jobs, although it is likely safer than being a logger or fisherman. In any case, focusing on the danger of a profession misses the point of why we shouldn’t be more grateful to veterans than to other workers who keep us alive, free, well-fed, and educated. A job carries with it a package of costs and benefits. Different packages are attractive to different people. Members of the military do not deserve special recognition or gratitude if they picked a job package they most preferred.

Being in the military has some significant costs. These include the chance of being killed or severely injured and lengthy time away from one’s family. It also includes the chance of being morally compromised by being asked to fight in useless wars (consider, for example, World War I) or in unconstitutional ones that require soldiers violate their enlistment oath (consider, for example, Clinton’s war on Serbia and Obama’s war on Libya). The benefit includes being part of a band of brothers, valuable training, opportunity for leadership, high pay (consider early retirement), travel, adventure, getting in shape, and so on. Whether it is better to be a soldier or factory worker depends on an individual’s preference. If some people opt for the military package over the factory package because they prefer it, this is not something for which we should be grateful.

The notion that people should stand not for veterans or combat veterans, but only for those who were killed, is at odds with much that is said and done during the national anthem. In any case, we shouldn’t be grateful to veterans who were injured or killed. To see why this is mistaken, consider people who win a lottery. The lottery is fair if it was reasonable to both parties when the ticket was purchased. If it was reasonable to both, then neither party need be grateful to the other. Next consider a reverse lottery. Here players get a good sum of money in return for taking a small risk of death or severe injury. Again, if reasonable, no gratitude is owed. Military service is like a reverse lottery.

             A defender of standing during the anthem might argue that the above discussion misses the point because many young men were made to fight via the draft and hence we should be grateful to them. This is different from being grateful to veterans who were killed. In any case, let’s assume that draftees were made to fight against their will. If this is correct, then we should not be grateful to them any more than we should be grateful to slaves. We should be sorry for what we did to them and both compensate and apologize to them, but we should not be grateful. In any case, few people who put forth this view denounce Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, and Johnson for enslaving young men. This suggests that this is not what justifies standing at the anthem.  

            The reason the NFL should allow people to kneel, sit, or raise their fist during the national anthem is that we want expressions of support for the military and patriotism to be voluntary rather than just another job requirement.

22 September 2017

Following Charlottesville, an undue focus on racism

Stephen Kershnar
Racism and America
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 15, 2017

            Following the Charlottesville debacle, there has been a constant discussion of racism as a major cause of the problems of the black community. It is worth considering whether this is so.  

            Princeton University sociologists Devah Pager and Hana Shepherd report that Blacks (and Hispanics) see racism as handicapping them. A 2001 survey found that more than a third of blacks report they had been passed over a job or promotion because of their race. A dated poll (1997) found that roughly half of blacks reported having been discriminated against in the past month. 

            The argument against racism being the main explanation of the black-white gaps in money and well-being is that the gaps correlate with population differences in behavior and, likely, attitudes that cause the different behavior. These behavioral differences likely cause some of the differences in money and well-being. To the extent that individuals are morally responsible for such behaviors and the attitudes that cause them, the gaps result from factors for which individuals are morally responsible.

            Consider poverty. The Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins argues that statistically if American adults do four things they have a 75% chance of joining the middle class and only a 2% chance of being poor. The four things are: graduate from high school, do not have children until you are married, wait until 21 to get married, and have a full-time job. If people are morally responsible for their actions, this is not too much to ask. Yet more than seven out of ten black children are born out of wedlock. This is also true for one out of two Hispanic children.

Haskin further points out that children in female-headed families are four or more times likely as children from married-couple families to live in poverty. Poverty is associated with a number of problematic outcomes including criminality, divorce, dropping out of school, health problems, longevity, out-of-wedlock births, poor grades, substance abuse, being a victim of violence, and, importantly, happiness.  

            Consider next saving and investment. Using 2013 numbers, a Federal Reserve study found that the average white family has twelve times the wealth of the average black family ($134,008 versus $11,184).  While Whites have roughly a third of their assets invested in financial and business assets (median ranking), blacks have less than one in ten. The gap in financial health is noticeable even if we compare white and black families who are middle aged and have advanced degrees. The same is true even if we control for age or education. The fewer assets and lesser investment suggest a behavioral difference rather than discrimination.

            One objection is that racism and individual responsibility are compatible. In the same way that the tax code can shape behavior and religion can shape attitudes without undermining responsibility, racism can shape behavior and attitudes without undermining the responsibility. As a philosophical matter, this is unclear. To the extent that external forces explain why people think and act in certain ways, it is plausible to think that they crowd out responsibility. By analogy, consider genetics. If genetics makes men disposed to be more aggressive than women, this makes them less blameworthy for aggressive behavior than women, even if it does not eliminate responsibility altogether. Childhood environmental influences are sometimes on par with genetic conditioning in that they are, at least in part, outside of people’s control.

            Pager and Shepherd argue that discrimination affects blacks’ opportunities and that it has a cumulative effect on their social and economic condition. If racism affects minorities, it does so unevenly. For example, according to the Pew Research Center, more than four-in-ten Jews and three-in-ten Hindus live in households with household incomes of more than $100,000. Jews also cash in at the high end. They are one in four of the 400 wealthiest Americans (2011 number). Asian American men are the highest earning racial group. They earn 17% more than their white counterparts. Still, this is consistent with the possibility of discrimination being blunted by social, economic, or genetic capital.

            Even if Pager and Shepherd are correct, it does not follow that the discrimination is wrong, bad, or that society should focus on it. The reason it might not be wrong or bad is that it might be rational. If certain groups have worse values or behave in a more destructive manner, there is good reason to avoid them. One study using federal government numbers found that controlling for population size, a black person was far more likely to attack a white person than vice versa. In 2013, for example, a black person was fourteen times more likely to kill a non-black person than vice versa. The concern about inner city behavior (for example, violence, downplaying school, and loud music) is frequently articulated even in the black community. It is unclear whether it is reasonable to demand people ignore purported differences even if racism caused the differences. The greater out-of-wedlock birth rate and criminality of Hispanics when compared to Asians might solely be due to racism and discrimination, but this is consistent with preferring, other things being equal, to have the latter as neighbors.  

            Even if much of discrimination were wrong or bad, it might not be the best place to focus efforts. No one seriously thinks that it is better to focus black high school girls on racism rather than making them aware of contraception (for example, the birth control shot at Planned Parenthood) or getting them up to speed in math. The left’s focus on white nationalists and discrimination and silence on broken inner city public schools, over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and single-parent families shows that it cares more about politics than improving black people’s lives.

               There is an undue focus on discrimination. It is unclear the degree to which it produces racial gaps, the extent to which it is wrong and bad, and whether it is worth the attention it receives. 

Adjunct Faculty: Sympathy and Social Justice

Stephen Kershnar
Sympathy for Adjunct Faculty
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 23, 2017

            Adjunct faculty are professors who do not have tenure and are not in line to get it. They can be full- or part-time. There is a powerful social-justice movement to sympathize with their plight and improve their lives by making more adjunct positions full-time.

            According to the U.S. Department of Education from 2013-2015, universities hired roughly equal numbers of adjunct and tenure-track faculty. Tenure-track faculty, however, get paid more and have greater job security. At Fredonia, for example, professors, associate professors, and assistant professors (assistants are tenure-track but not tenured) average $90,000, $68,000, and $59,000 respectively ($71,000 average for all tenure-track faculty). Full-time adjuncts average a mere $45,000 and part-time adjuncts earn $3,000-$4,000 a class. Many adjunct professors receive full medical insurance, so their total compensation package is higher.

At research universities, the difference is larger. For example, at SUNY-Buffalo, the three tenure-track ranks average $139,000, $95,000, and $83,000 respectively ($103,000 average for all tenure-track faculty). Full-time adjuncts average $64,000.

            Georgetown philosophy professor Jason Brennan caused a furor when he argued that in most cases, adjunct faculty are not owed sympathy. He gives two arguments for his conclusion. First, he argues, adjunct faculty are talented. They have lucrative alternatives to being an adjunct professor and, thus, are nothing like minimum wage workers. For example, they could go back to school and become accountants, lawyers, physicians, or teachers. Alternatively, they could go into the business world.
Second, Brennan argues that in most cases adjunct faculty know (and knew) that there is a glut of professors and, thus, the chance of landing a tenure-track job is not great. Sticking with being a professor after one fails to get a tenure-track job is a poor bet. Brennan draws an analogy between the average adjunct faculty and a formerly rich person who understands gambling statistics, but still bets the house in Vegas. People who pass up on good alternatives and do so knowing the odds, Brenan reasons, don’t deserve our sympathy. 

On a side note, if people getting a PhD didn’t know about the bleak market, they should have known about it. For example, the Fredonia State philosophy department received roughly 175 applications the last time it hired a tenure-track faculty, including many excellent candidates from top schools. This is not uncommon.

Brennan further argues that if the social justice program were implemented and more adjunct positions were converted into full-time positions with reasonable features, most current adjunct faculty would lose their jobs. A reasonable position might include a salary of at least $50,000, full benefits, a teaching load of three classes a semester, and no research requirement. This is because there were be less need for part-time adjuncts. On one estimate by George Mason historian Phil Magness and Brennan, two thirds of current adjuncts lose their jobs.  

Also, younger and better candidates for the tenure-track positions would likely get the lion’s share of these newly created positions squeezing out many adjuncts. This would be made worse if the higher pay were to induce higher quality candidates to enter the field or stay in it. This is similar to how gentrification changes a neighborhood’s composition. Brennan concludes that the plan to create full-time jobs with reasonable features would end up harming adjuncts because the harm from job loss would outweigh the benefit to those lucky enough to get the new positions.

One objection is that the system is unfair because current tenure-track faculty were not better than adjunct faculty, merely luckier. A related objection is that the former are not lucky, but instead favored because they come from fancier schools and benefitted from the privilege such schools bestow on their students. Even if one of these things is correct, becoming a professor is still a bad bet. The role of luck and class is hardly new and one can make himself less vulnerable to them if he chooses a field, such as accounting, medicine, or teaching that is less flooded. Also, the proposed remedy (more full-time jobs) would likely worsen the lives of current adjuncts for the reason mentioned above.  

Magness and Brennan estimate the cost of more full-time jobs at $15-$50 billion. Consider, for example, the Service Employee’s International Union’s call for adjuncts to be paid $15,000 per class (including benefits). It is not clear, they argue, that as a matter of justice the money is better spent on adjuncts rather than reducing tuition or providing scholarships to poor students. This is especially true if, as I suspect, many adjunct faculty do not come from the worse conditions than poor students.  

A second objection is that adjunct faculty really love their field and should be able to make a dignified living doing what they love, especially given that they do it well. However, merely because someone loves what he does and does it well does not result in anyone else having a duty to pay him to do it, let alone pay him a respectable wage. Plenty of actors love acting and are damn good at it. Yet, there simply are not enough customer dollars for many to make a living as an actor. Rather, actors often supplement their acting with other jobs (for example, waiter, taxi driver, and bartender) while trying to catch a break. This is neither unfair nor unjust. The same is true for adjuncts.   

A third objection is that the schools have had such an explosion in administration and staff that there is plenty of money to pay adjuncts more if only the schools didn’t have armies of associate directors, directors, associate deans, deans, vice presidents, and various staffers who suck up much of a university’s payroll (consider diversity officers, legislative liaisons, and the like). This objection might be an argument for cutting out layers of fat from the university, but it is hard to see why the money saved should go to adjuncts rather than to reducing skyrocketing costs of a university education or the spigot of money from taxpayers to universities.  

29 June 2017

The Emoluments Clause Does Not Apply to the President: Frivolous Democratic Suits

Stephen Kershnar
The Left Sues Trump Over the Emoluments Clause
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
June 18, 2017

Various leftist groups and politicians have recently sued Donald Trump over the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. An emolument can take the form of a gift or compensation. The Article I Section 9 Emoluments Clause prohibits the receipt of an emolument. It states, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States; and no person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatsoever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”  The issue is whether the Clause applies to the President.

There is no judicial precedent interpreting the clause. Nor has the Supreme Court addressed it. The clause differs from the ban on bribery because the Emolument Clause only concerns gifts from foreign governments rather than from public or private parties in general. The Emoluments Clause also differs from the legal ban on conflicts of interest because that ban explicitly exempts the President.
The three lawsuits were brought by a left-wing activist group, two Democratic attorneys general from the District of Columbia and Maryland, and nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress. The members of Congress asked the court to declare that Trump would violate the Constitution were he to accept a benefit banned by the clause. They also asked that the court order Trump not to take any gifts or compensation from a foreign government without Congress’ approval.

            Sadly for the Democrats, the Emoluments Clause does not apply to the President. Law professor Seth Tillman provides three arguments for this assumption. First, he argues that “office” in the Emoluments Clause does not include the President. Rather, he notes, it refers to commissioned rather than elected officials. When a provision applies to elected officials, he points out, it explicitly names them. Consider, for example, the Impeachment Clause.

            Second, Tillman argues that in understanding the Constitution special consideration is due to the precedent set by George Washington’s administration, especially with regard to presidential powers. Washington accepted gifts from the French government without any Congressional consent or even a record of congressmen criticizing his doing so. If the generation that wrote and ratified the Constitution didn’t think the Emolument Clause applied to the President, it probably doesn’t apply to him.

            Third, during the Washington administration, Tillman points out, the Senate ordered the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to list people who held office under the United States and their salaries. Hamilton’s list did not include elected officials, such as the President.

University of Chicago law professor Will Baude argues that Tillman’s interpretation of “office” also makes sense of the Constitution’s structure and text. Under Article II, Baude argues, the President is required to “Commission all Officers of the United States.” This would make little sense if he were an officer. Baude also argues that there are two other emolument clauses in the Constitution that limit salary increases for the President and members of Congress. Both clauses mention these positions by name rather than including them via the words “office” or “officer.”

Even if the Emolument Clause were to apply to the President, it does not provide a remedy. The Clause does not make accepting an emolument a crime. Even if it made it a crime, the President is probably not subject to the federal criminal law because he is the boss of the Justice Department and Attorney General. It is unclear whether they could charge him without his permission. It is unlikely that he would give permission. Even if he were to give permission for them to charge him and, as a result, he were convicted of a crime, he could still pardon himself. Even if he permitted prosecutors to convict him and did not pardon himself, it is unclear whether he would be imprisoned given that he is the boss of the federal prison system. The Justice Department agrees with this. It claims that a sitting President cannot be indicted for a crime.

            The President is also not subject to Emoluments Clause because no one has standing to sue under it. To have standing, you have to have a concrete and particular injury. It is doubtful that a private citizen could meet this condition.

If the Emolument Clause had a remedy, it would be the President not being reelected or being impeached and convicted. Impeachment, though, requires serious corruption or abuse of power, criminal activity, or violating federal law in such a way as to trespass onto Congressional power. Atrocious behavior can meet these conditions regardless of whether it violates the Emolument Clause. Consider, for example, President Bill Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice.  

            The Emoluments Clause is also painfully vague. On a common interpretation, an emolument for a businessperson can take the form of payment for more than fair market value. There is an issue as to whether this would be met when a foreign government gives a gift or compensation to a President’s corporation, foundation, or adult children. Similarly, there is an issue as to whether the condition is met were the gift or compensation given by a private corporation partly owned by a foreign government or private citizen with close ties to a government. These are the conditions under which the clause would need to be applied.

In short, the Emoluments Clause does not apply to the President and would be irrelevant if it did. President Trump’s far-reaching businesses and his refusal to put them in a blind trust thus do not violate either Emoluments Clause or law banning conflicts of interest.

The Democratic lawsuits are thus frivolous and should be thrown out. Still, there is something funny about watching Democratic members of Congress get upset over the Emolument Clause when they couldn’t care less about the Constitution and were silent over Obama administration’s rampant lawbreaking (for example, the IRS’s abusing taxpayer groups, blatantly unconstitutional amnesties for illegal aliens, and war on Libya). 

14 June 2017

Yellow Fever and Anti-Racist Hysteria: A Theoretical Problem

Stephen Kershnar
Yellow Fever and Racism
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
June 8, 2017

            Recently, students forcibly took over Evergreen State College claiming that it was awash in racism. Students at University of California at Berkeley, Middlebury College, and Claremont McKenna College prevented public intellectuals Milo Yiannopoulis, Charles Murray, and Heather Mac Donald from speaking because of their alleged racism. A couple of years ago, Yale was torn by protests over racial and ethnic appropriation of Halloween costumes and anti-racist protesters at the University of Missouri pressured the chancellor and president into resigning. At Dartmouth, Black Lives Matter protesters stormed the library and aggressively confronted white students who were quietly studying.

            Structuring the racial issues in this country solely in terms of black and white misses subtle ways in which responses to race are complex and, in some cases, rational. Once instance of such a complex case it that of racial preferences in sex and dating. One example of this is the purported preference some black men have for white women.

Another such case, and the one I focus on here, is yellow fever. This is the preference among some men for sex, dating, and marriage for Asians, in particular for Asian women. This preference gives Asian women a competitive advantage in dating and marriage. It disadvantages competitors, especially, black and Hispanic women. This advantage can be in a study by Cardiff University’s Michael Lewis that found that Asian women are seen as more attractive than women of other races. The preference is reinforced by the stereotype of Asians as having a strong work ethic, being family-oriented, and valuing education. These preferences give Asian women a competitive advantage.

            The problem for the anti-racists is that yellow fever appears to benefit one group over another and yet is unobjectionable. In support of this claim, philosopher Raja Halwani argues that there is nothing wrong (or bad) about normal heterosexual preferences (consider, for example, preference for women who are thin, feminine, and of normal height) and these preferences are arbitrary. Preference for Asian women is no different than these other preferences. Hence, there is nothing wrong about preferring Asian women. 

            Feminists reject the idea that it is wrong (or bad) to have normal sexual preferences. They argue that preference of thinness (as opposed to fatness) or femininity (as opposed masculinity) in women oppresses them because it judges them on feminine beauty rather than intellect and ability. Even if this were true, it is not clear that an individual or even a population can control their sexual preferences and it is not wrong to think a certain way if you can’t avoid it. This is especially true if some preferences (for example, for femininity) are deeply embedded in the culture or genetically linked. Also, it is unclear whether the preferences that would replace those for thin and feminine women would make women better off. It is unclear whether women would be better off if men preferred chubby women.
            Yale University’s Robin Zheng argues that unlike normal heterosexual preference for women who are thin, feminine, and of normal height, preference for Asian women is objectionable because it harms Asian women. It harms them, she argues, because they must spend time and energy considering whether men like them for who they are or their exotic features. It also reinforces racial stereotypes, specifically that Asian women are hyper-sexual and submissive, and these stereotypes are problematic.

            Zheng’s argument is odd. Normally, people want to be preferred. Women go through great lengths to be sexy, in shape, and educated in order to get an advantage in dating and marriage markets. If it is a competitive advantage to be preferred because of one’s race, then it is hard to see why the preference would be bad for the preferred group. By analogy, thin women enjoy the significant advantage in dating that being thin provides.

Also, by analogy, if women in the Ivy League had Hebrew fever (preference for Jewish men) and, as a result, Jewish men got more and better dates than they would otherwise get, they would, and should, welcome this preference. Zheng doesn’t focus on the degree to which yellow fever disadvantages Asian women’s competitors, especially black and Hispanic women. This, if anything, is what is troubling about it.

            Contrary to the widespread perception, though, it is not clear that that yellow fever is widespread. A study by Boston University’s Raymond Fisman and his colleagues found that Asian women discriminate against black and Hispanic men, but did not discriminate between Asian and white men. On his study, white men didn’t prefer Asian women. If this study captures the more general pattern, and it is only one study, then it is Asian women’s preferences that account for the frequency of white male and Asian women couples.

            The problem is that if preferences in dating and marriage markets are neither wrong nor bad, it is hard to see why the same is not true of the economic and friendship markets. That is, if people prefer to be around some groups rather than others, whether at work or play, it is hard to see why that’s wrong. Nor does it become wrong if it rests on a view of who’s sexy or would make a good spouse. 

In particular, there is some reason to believe that women of every race prefer to stick to their own kind (see Anita in West Side Story) with the exception of Asian women. This sort of preference is likely to have a noticeable effect on people’s lives. It shapes whom they are friends with, date, marry, and work with. Women’s in-group preferences don’t intuitively seem wrong or bad. This is a problem for the anti-racist crowd in that it suggests that race-based preferences might be neutral, despite its tendency to segregate people and produce racial disparities. This finding does not fit cleanly into the mindless race-focused rage that is roaring through campuses.

31 May 2017

Do doctors deserve to get paid so much?

Stephen Kershnar
Are Doctors Overpaid?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 30, 2017

            With the ongoing death spiral of Obamacare, there is discussion of how to shift the insurance costs for people with pre-existing conditions onto others, contain drug costs, and force insurance companies to let parents keep their adult children on their insurance. There is surprisingly little discussion of physician compensation. This is surprising given that, as Catherine Rampell writing in The New York Times points out, such compensation constitutes 20% of total healthcare costs.

            Physicians are well compensated (compensation includes salary, bonus, and profit-sharing). According to a 2016 Medscape study, male primary care physicians, on average make $225,000 and specialists $324,000. I focus on males because 25% of female physicians only work part-time. Using 2009 figures, over their lifetime, primary care physicians (men and women) earn $6.5 million and specialists earn $10 million (this is after and deductible business expenses and taxes, except income taxes,). Writing in The Atlantic, James Hamblin notes that, on average, a number of specialties make $400,000 or more (cardiologist, dermatologist, radiation oncologist, and various types of surgeons: radiologist, neurosurgeon, orthopedic surgeon, plastic surgeon, thoracic surgeon, and vascular surgeon).

            Writing in Forbes, Chris Conover points out that physician compensation is 78% higher than that of other industrialized countries, although this might be more like 35% for specialists once we control for relevant factors.

            These high salaries are the result of restricted supply of doctors rather than the free market. Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt raises the idea that many more people want to become doctors than are admitted into medical schools. This is done by limiting medical school places and residency slots. The result is to limit the number of doctors and thereby raise their prices. 
Writing in Reason, Shikha Dalmia argues that the American Medical Association convinced Congress to limit the number of residencies, thereby restricting the number of physicians. She further notes that even foreign doctors with years of experience in their home country have to redo their residencies. Again, this limits the number of doctors. These things have produced an acute doctor shortage in the U.S.

            The return on investment in medical training is high. Physicians invest a lot of money in order to be able to practice. They go into pay a lot for and go into debt to pay for medical school (on average, $170-$200,000 debt), forego income while in medical school, and get reduced pay during residency. Still, one study showed that only four professions had a higher return on investment than medical specialists (for example, pharmacists and chemical/petroleum/nuclear engineers) and primary care physicians did nearly as well. Another study by Berkeley economist Nicholas Roth found a high rate of return on medical training, well above that of stocks and treasury bonds.

            One objection raised by the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, is that doctors are very important to our health, a crucial aspect of how well our lives go. We trust them with our lives. To ensure that only the most talented and trustworthy people go into medicine, doctors need to be highly compensated.
            The problem with this objection is that even if ratcheting up their compensation and prestige produces better physicians, doing so by limiting their numbers results in fewer physicians and less access to them. Fewer people get healthcare because of the increased cost caused by a shortage of doctors. Increasingly, care is given by healthcare workers who do most, but not all, of what a physician does at lower salaries: nurse-practitioners and physician’s assistants. It is not clear that the American people are better off with fewer but better physicians.  

            Writing in USA Today, Kevin Pho points that the talent pool that produces doctors also produces other high earners, such as business executives, lawyers, and corporate executives. A second objection is that some of these other professions get more money (or, at least, get similar money with far less investment in education and training) and it is necessary to pay doctors well in order to attract top talent away from these other fields and into medicine.

            The difficulty with this objection is that it is unclear whether it is efficient to have the best and brightest go into medicine rather than being investors or business executives. This is not the sort of thing that can be determined by legislators, bureaucrats, or gatekeeper to the medical field. Rather it is best determined by the market. The market can compare the cost and benefit of funneling the best and brightest in one field rather than another by seeing the profits generated by paying for the very best as opposed to those who are merely very good. The idea that physicians need to be as good as investors needs support, not emotion.

In addition, people who do most of what doctors do (nurse-practitioners and physician’s assistants) and physicians who lack a MD (specifically, DOs) are increasingly common in medicine. The former group have less training than MDs and the latter have noticeably lower medical board scores. This suggest that the market does not think all medical personnel need such talent.

            A third objection is that physicians are among the best and brightest in our country and so should receive a lot of money for what they do. They have high IQs, go through demanding and lengthy training, pay astronomical sums to medical schools, and are among the most trusted professions (ranking only below nurses and pharmacists). They’re impressive.

            This objection is bizarre. Just because physicians are talented, sacrifice a lot, and are trusted does not mean that they should make so much more money than others, especially when this amount would not be paid out by the free market. Farmers keep us alive, loggers and fishermen have dangerous jobs, physicists are incredibly bright, and investors (for example, hedge fund managers) direct large amounts of resources toward their most efficient use. It doesn’t follow from these facts that they should get rich. The same is true for physicians. 

A debate over eliminating the Fredonia philosophy department

TO:                  Virginia Horvath, President, Terry Brown, Provost, Andy Karafa, Dean, Carmen
                        Rivera, Associate Dean, Tracy Horth, Secretary
FROM:            Stephen Kershnar, Chair, Ray Belliotti, Neil Feit, and Dale Tuggy
RE:                 Elimination of the Philosophy Department
DATE:            April 4, 2017

Part One: Opposition to Elimination

            In his recent Right Serving Right Sizing memorandum, Dean Karafa wrote as follows about the Department of Philosophy.

[A] reorganization of CLAS is worth exploring. For example, as noted above, Philosophy’s enrollment has steadily declined and is now at 10 primary majors. (There are 9 secondary majors.) The work of the faculty has done to further streamline an already structurally simple program and revise its schedule to meet student demand is commendable. Unfortunately, it is likely not enough to stem the decline. (Declining enrollment is common across the country.) An examination of merging this department with another within CLAS is worth consideration.            

The philosophy department strongly opposes its elimination, which would be the result of the sort of merger Dean Karafa describes. Below are our reasons against elimination.
            It is worth noting that some members of the department were told about the plan to dissolve it (and move the faculty into the English Department) well before Right Serving Right Sizing. If this information was accurate, then it seems that this plan is not a response to the Right Serving Right Sizing study. We do not know if this was done for financial reasons, to get back at faculty that have opposed administration initiatives, or another reason.[1] If there was a discussion of this merger, we do not know why the philosophy faculty were not included in the discussion.   

Part Two: Reasons against Elimination

Reason #1: Minimal Savings and Substantial Costs
The savings generated by eliminating the philosophy department are small. The savings amount to the cost of three additional classes annually (assuming a philosophy professor does not serve as an associate chair), yearly chair stipend, and in the long term, an addition to the previous chair’s base. In the short term, this is roughly $13,000 per year (= [($3,000/class) x 3 classes] + $4,000 stipend). These savings are not great. When compared to the negative statewide attention that the campus will receive for eliminating the department, the negative national attention and protests on philosophical/academic blogs and related venues, and the risk of damaging a cheap and efficient academic department, even these expected costs of elimination far exceed the benefits.

On Sunday, April 2, we sent an informational email to philosophy department chairpersons in the SUNY system regarding Dean Karafa’s suggestion. We are waiting for more responses, but as we finalize this memo just two days later, we have already received support – including a willingness to write public letters protesting our elimination – from six of our SUNY comprehensive peer departments. Other departments have the issue on upcoming agendas.

Note that every one of Fredonia’s SUNY competitors has an independent philosophy department. See the comprehensive colleges (Brockport, Buffalo State, Cortland, Geneseo, New Paltz, Oneonta, Oswego, Plattsburgh, Potsdam, Purchase) and the university centers (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook). If President Horvath and Provost Brown decide to eliminate the department, this will expose Fredonia as conspicuously imprudent, in a way that is inconsistent with our stated vision as a “premier public university.” A public university without a philosophy department is a lower-tier institution that does not take the liberal arts seriously.

Moreover, the department is cheap and efficient. The Data Notebook data indicate that the department’s direct instructional cost per SCH is $224, which is below the institution average of $244. We suspect that since Ray Belliotti was on a half-year sabbatical in Fall 2014 (with full pay while contingent faculty staffed courses) the numbers for the department are even better in a typical year. The department’s student-faculty ratio (FTE students taught/FTE faculty) of 19.3 also compares favorably with the institutional average, 14.1.

The philosophy department’s efficiency is noticeably better than the campus and, often, better than the national average. Please see Appendix #1. This is particularly impressive given that our small faculty needs to offer a substantial number of upper level courses for majors and minors. The same is true with enrollment. The philosophy department performs better than the institution and, importantly, already meets the enrollment-ratio goal. Please see Appendix #2. Dean Karafa’s focus on majors (especially primary majors), while not unimportant, is pernicious in the absence of attention to these other, relevant, data.

One way to see how cheap the department is by noting that the university spends considerably more money per administrator, business professor, and higher level police officer than per philosophy professor.[2] Please see Appendix #3.

Another cost has to do with the philosophy department’s unique focus and culture. Our department focuses on providing a rigorous, deep, and balanced education in philosophy. It also has a strong history of research excellence. (Consider the noteworthy research done by such extraordinary professors as Ray Belliotti, Randy Dipert, and Tibor Machan.) The department also has a friendly, positive culture. The concern is that this unique focus and culture will be lost if the department is eliminated by being merged into another department. This is especially true if the philosophy subsumed into a larger department. The concern is still greater if the department is plagued with internal strife (see, for example, English).

Reason #2: Program Performance
The department has fewer majors than normal, but previously it had an impressive number of majors per tenure-track faculty. Here is the recent history. The number of majors is down considerably, but there is little reason to believe that it will remain down. To roughly the extent that the administration is optimistic about reversing the decline in overall enrollment, it should be optimistic about the number of philosophy majors.

Table 1. Majors
Number Majors
33 majors per year

The lower recent numbers should take into account (a) the 24% decrease in the number of students at the university, (b) the decrease in humanities and other departments more generally, and (c) the elimination by the administration of the large section of our introductory class that was our best recruiting tool.[3]

Our placement is excellent. A significant number of graduates over the past four years are now attending (or have recently finished) top notch law schools and philosophy programs. Two of these students are at Ph.D. programs at Indiana and Syracuse (ranked in the top 25 and 40 in the nation, respectively) on free rides. Others are at Minnesota law, Arizona Law, Wake Forest Law (on free rides), and others are at Brooklyn and Albany Law, and four others are at philosophy or other MA programs. In the past decade or so, our students have attended the following excellent law schools and MBA programs (Penn, Duke, William & Mary, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Rutgers, Ohio State, Wake Forest, Case Western, Brooklyn, Syracuse, and SUNY-Buffalo) and strong graduate programs (Duke, Indiana, Syracuse, University of Missouri, Northern Illinois University, Ohio University, University of Victoria, and University of Miami).    

Reason #3: National Climate
            The dean made the following argument with regard to a few interdisciplinary majors.

Other majors and minors have less-than-obvious homes. The majors Women’s and Gender Studies and American Studies and minor Ethnic Studies are good examples of this. … Given the national climate; our students need the content. Unfortunately, few are getting it, at least not from the curriculum. Many are impacted by the outreach (e.g., national speakers) made possible by the area’s budget.

While we are not entirely clear what “national climate” refers to, it seems that whatever argument can be made for students needing these interdisciplinary majors applies to philosophy as well. What students need now is the sort of critical thinking about regional, national, and global affairs that is the primary focus of a philosophy course or program. Eliminating the philosophy department will diminish its ability to provide greatly needed content and skills to students.

Part Three: Conclusion
            In summary, the philosophy department does not think that its elimination is good for students or the university. It endangers the unique focus and culture, the savings are minimal, and the department has over the last decade done a good job of generating majors and graduates, as well as contributing significantly to general education in the humanities and western civilization.

Appendix #1: Efficiency

Table 2. Efficiency
(percentage compared to institution)
National Average
% Undergraduate SCH taught be tenure-track faculty
55% (106%)
This is impressive given that the tenure-track faculty have to teach the higher-level classes that typically have fewer students than the introductory classes.
SCH per faculty FTE (all categories)
289 (140%)
This speaks for itself.
Direct instructional expenditure per FTE Student
(6% better)
This is true even though the department has only four tenure-track professors, all of whom are senior professors.
Direct instructional cost (Expenditure) per SCH
(8% better)
See above.
Direct instructional cost (Expenditure) per FTE SCH (without FB)
(7% better)
See above.

Appendix #2: Enrollment
Table 3. Enrollment
(Fall 2013-Spring 2016 Avg.)
[Percentage compared to institution]
Enrollment Ratio
[3.5% better]

Balanced Course Ratio
[31% better]
This is a very favorable comparison.
Enrollment Cap
(Fall 2011-Spring 2016)
[31% better]
See above.
Average Enrollment
(Fall 2011-Spring 2016)
[40% better]
See above

Appendix #3: Salaries

Table 4. Sample Salaries*
Arnavut, Ziya
Prof, CS
Belliotti, Raymond
DTP, Philosophy
Boisjoly, Russell
Dean, Business
$161, 362
Burns, Ann
Police Chief
Cornell, Charles
$78, 593
Daley, Michael
HR Director
Feit, Neil
DTP, Philosophy
Givner, Christine
Dean, Education
Hall, Linda
Prof., Business
Horowitz, Judith
Assoc. Provost
Horvath, Virginia
$215, 739
Huang, Lei
Asst. Prof, Business
Hunter, Lisa
Assoc. Provost
Kearns, Kevin
Academic Engagement
Kershnar, Stephen
DTP, Philosophy
Martin, Scott
Police, Fredonia
McNamara, Susan
Asst. Prof, Business
Miller, Benjamin
Police, Fredonia
Mohammed, Shazad
Assoc. Prof, Business
Prechtl, Greg
Athletic Dir., Fredonia
Robinson, Richard
Prof., Fredonia
Studley, Brian
Police, Fredonia
Tuggy, Dale
Prof., Philosophy
$77, 969
Walters, Lisa
Assoc. Prof, Business
Wheeler, Clifton
Police, Fredonia
Yi, Taihyeup
Assoc. Prof, Business

*This appears to include extra pay (for example, summer classes, overtime, and stipends).

Appendix #4: Graduation
Table 5. Graduates
Graduates per year
Number of graduates
11 students/year
32 students
(projected 43 over 4 years)
10 students/year
50 students
4.6 students/year
23 students
3.2 students/year
16 students
2.2 students/year

[1] A previous dean told the philosophy department that the administration was aware of their pattern of questioning the administration and that it made them very unhappy with the department. The questioning was well within the appropriate range of academic discussion and governance. Here is what the unhappiness likely rested on.
·         Administrative Review. Dale Tuggy and Steve Kershnar tried to allow the university senate access to reviews of the administrative divisions. It had long been a right of senators, but was eliminated by senate chair and English Department chair Bruce Simon.
·         General Education Program. Ray Belliotti, Neil Feit, and Kershnar led the opposition to the new general education program. The senate voted down the first two versions.
·         Enhanced Presidential Ceremonies. Belliotti was a leading commentator on the greatly enhanced ceremonies welcoming the appointment of the new president: Virginia Horvath. The ceremonies were far more than what had been done for previous presidents.
·         Faculty Voting. Feit and Kershnar were part of the effort to retain faculty voting on new hires and chairs (it has been in effect eliminated in the case of hires and there was an attempt to eliminate it in the case of chair selection). The administration does appear to have stealthily eliminated the faculty right to vote on new hires, although this does not appear to be consistent throughout the college. At least two deans opposed faculty voting on the chair and tried to implement a right of the administration to vet chair candidates before the faculty were allowed to vote on them.
·         Free Speech. Kershnar was denied a promotion by President Hefner and Vice President Horvath. There was then attempt to negotiate a prior-restraint requirement on his public writings. The negotiation broke down. Eventually, this was reversed but only after the college received a lot of bad publicity.
·         Associate Provost. Neil Feit was among a group of senators to move to recommend against hiring two Associate Provosts in Academic Affairs, and later (after two were hired) he pressed Associate Provost Horowitz on the decision to hire a grants development specialist to fill the line left vacant by Maggie Bryan-Peterson’s departure.
·         Senior Lectureship. The department’s request for a full-time position for its long-term contingent faculty (Chris Pacyga) has consistently been denied, despite the fact that similar requests were granted for many other departments.
·         UUP Matter. In a case involving President Hefner’s denying an award to a faculty member who was chosen by relevant committee, Belliotti and Kershnar pointed out that leading administrators were saying contradictory things to Hefner and the union. Hefner appeared to be none too pleased. The next year the faculty member received the award.

[2] In contrast to the attempt to save $13,000, consider over the last few years, the administration has found the money to fund a new division (including a new vice president who earned $175,000 last year) and an additional associate provost. It also hired an administrative team that is almost entirely external to the university. The last point can be seen in that none of the following came from the faculty: music director, four deans, two associate provosts, provost, and president. This adds cost to the university because the people are not temporarily removed from the faculty salary rolls. Instead, they are added onto the rolls on top of the faculty.

[3] It is worth noting that we received inconsistent explanations of why the class was eliminated. On one version, given from Dean Roger Byrne allegedly on behalf of President Horvath, the class was simply too large. On a second version, explicitly given by Provost Brown, the class was not too large, but the course release for teaching it was intolerable. Regardless of which was the administrative position, a significant recruiting opportunity has been eliminated.