Monday, June 30, 2008

Tech Board Expected to Name President Finalist

Board of Regents
Special Called Teleconference Meeting
Lubbock, Texas
July 2, 2008

Abbreviated Agenda with Approximate Times

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

2:00 p.m. Call to Order Meeting of the Board.
Location: Board Room, Second Floor, Room 201, Administration Building

2:00 p.m Executive Session
Location: Board Room, Second Floor, Room 201, Administration Building

3:30 p.m. Following Executive Session, convene into Open Session, and Meeting of the Committee of the Whole and the Board
Location: Board Room, Second Floor, Room 201, Administration Building

3:30 p.m. Adjournment

From the full agenda, which was e-mailed, but from which I cannot copy and paste because it has Acrobat security enabled, the purpose of the executive session is:

Personnel matters: Consideration and discussion of candidates for the position of President of Texas Tech University -- Section 551.074

If you do any searching of the selection of university presidents, you will find that the exclusive practice is this naming of a single finalist. Thus, it is the de facto procedure in Texas. I am of the opinion that multiple finalists should be publicly named.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Secret Finalists Hurt Open Government

The first university presidential search that I was ever aware of was during the 1994-1995 academic year at New Mexico State. Although I was far from involved, I was aware that finalists were being invited to campus. As I recall, forums with each candidate were broadcast on the campus PBS affiliate, KRWG-TV.

According to a LexisNexis search that retrieved an April 7, 1995, article from the Albuquerque Journal, there were four finalists: Joseph Charles Jennett, Herman D. Lujan, William C. Merwin, and J. Michael Orenduff.

The board of regents selected Dr. Orenduff, a man I would come to know and admire during my term as editor of the NMSU student newspaper, the Round Up.

After Dr. Orenduff left NMSU, the executive vice president served first as interim president, and by the time the next search was under way, I was leaving Las Cruces.

Many years would intervene before I seriously thought about a presidential search again. Even when Indiana University selected a new president while I was a doctoral student there, I was too busy to give it much thought.

Then, earlier this year, the revolving door of NMSU presidents began to swing again. Then NMSU-president Michael V. Martin appeared to be on the way out. According to a May 2008 NMSU news release, "NMSU President Michael V. Martin has accepted an invitation to be the sole finalist in Louisiana State University’s search for chancellor."

As an alumnus, I hated to see yet another president cycle through NMSU. However, the idea of a sole finalist bugged me. At the time, I thought that it seemed to be putting an awful lot of marbles in a single basket. Perhaps due to naivete, this "sole finalist" business seemed to be a one-time occurrence.

Not surprisingly, LSU hired the sole finalist Martin.

In February, our president, Jon Whitmore, had resigned. While Martin was a candidate for chancellor at LSU, Whitmore was a finalist for the presidency at San José State University.

Importantly, however, Whitmore was not a sole finalist or a secret finalist. He was competing for the job against Northern Arizona University Provost Elizabeth Grobsmith and Sonoma State Provost Eduardo Ochoa.

There was no secrecy and much transparency. As I had witnessed in 1995, all three of the finalists came to campus. They met with various constituencies, and stakeholders had the opportunity for feedback. The student newspaper, the Spartan Daily, did an excellent job chronicling the search. Thanks to their excellent advisor, Mack Lundstrom, they turned out some of the best on-deadline student journalism that I have ever seen.

However, Whitmore going to SJSU meant that Texas Tech needed a new president. As a faculty member, this is a time of some anxiety because Whitmore was a faculty-friendly president.

But I'm busy, and I haven't thought much about it.

Until the other day when I read, "Finalists for Tech president down to three" in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. OK, who are these people?

Here is the problem. You cannot know who they are. Their names are kept secret. There is no transparency. There will be no public forum for multiple candidates. There will be no input for the average taxpayer. Instead, Chancellor Kent Hance "will interview the candidates and hopes to recommend a president to the university system board of regents by the end of July," according to the A-J.

When I read this, I was in disbelief. Shocked. Turns, out that Texas law allows sole finalists. In the state of Texas, this process is as allowable and as legal as anyone could want. They are doing nothing wrong.

Except it's not right. I'm a free press guy. The most valuable thing I learned as an undergraduate was the First Amendment. I believe in the Fourth Estate. I believe that the other branches of government need to be watched. The public has a right to know.

Texas (and maybe Louisiana) should change this law. This kind of secrecy should erode public confidence, and it goes against the idea of open government upon which this country was founded.

Secret finalists will tell you that they like it this way better. They don't sully their names if they apply for a lot of jobs. They don't risk their reputations at their current institution. These are hollow arguments, and, to me, they do not pass the balancing act where one weighs efficient searches against open government. Only transparent government protects the citizenry.

And the protection goes both ways. No matter how diligent and earnest the search committee and the chancellor are, the sole finalist procedure will always have some resemblance to a back room deal.

A sole finalist is not a finalist. She or he is a president designate. I just cannot imagine that this is how Texas taxpayers want their money invested. The next Tech president will in all likelihood make more than a quarter of a million dollars a year. Shouldn't alumni, students, faculty, and staff have some say in that decision beyond a single delegate on a search committee?

As the law stands, the procedure is legal, acceptable, and probably even customary. Thus, my complaint is not with current committee or chancellor, as they are doing exactly what is expected. My complaint is with whatever governing body originally thought that this was a good idea.

This is a law/statute/code/or executive ruling that should be changed.

Transparency will not ensure a better president. I'm sure that this process selected Whitmore, and he was an excellent president. Furthermore, NMSU has open searches and seems to hire a new president every three years. I am sure that the regents will ultimately select an excellent president for Tech, and this university will continue the great progress that it has made.

However, I think that open government always makes for a better process.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

A Game Theoretic View of Politics

First, allow me to premise this by saying that I don't care what you believe, and I have no interest in telling you whether you are wrong or right.

Now that that's out of the way, here's something that I have been thinking about.

Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, you likely believe what you believe. That is, you likely think that you are correct and the other side is wrong.

Further, you may sit around and wonder -- if you are so right -- why other people don't just come around to your point of view. You're right, after all.

So you might be perplexed that the latest Gallup poll shows a dead heat between John McCain and Barack Obama at 44% each. Surely one side is the best, so how can we be so completely divided?

Let's put that question on the shelf and talk about something completely different. Let's talk about the prisoner's dilemma -- a tool of game theory.

The basic idea is so familiar to television crime dramas that I won't spend much time describing it. Two people are caught by the police, accused of a crime, and separated. Each person is offered a deal if they rat out the other one. The best possible overall outcome is for both partners to stay silent. If either one of them takes the deal, called defecting in terms of the game, the one who defects goes free and the other is severely punished. If they both defect, then they both get much longer sentences than if they had both stayed silent, or cooperated in terms of the game.

So what do you do? Cooperation is the best, on average, solution. However you can try to help yourself at another's expense by defecting. Unless your partner defects.

A single trial of prisoner's dilemma is not very interesting. Instead, human nature begins to reveal itself with iterated prisoner's dilemma. That is, two partners (opponents?) play the game over and over again. After each trial, each partner is given a sentence commiserate with who defected and who cooperated. You keep adding them up, and, as with golf, the player with the lowest score wins.

Although you may find it difficult to believe, there are actually contests centered around the iterated prisoner's dilemma. People program complex strategies into a computer to compete, because in the reiterated prisoner's dilemma, you know what your partner did on the last trial (and those that came before). You could program the "golden rule," for example, but I venute that you would lose a lot.

And it turns out that the best long-term strategy appears to be elegantly simple. They call it tit-for-tat. You cooperate on the first trial, and then you do whatever your opponent did on the last trial. The best long-term average is repeated cooperation, and if both partners cooperate until the end of the game, they are both assured the lowest possible long-term solution.

Actually, the algorithm is improved with the addition of occasional forgiveness so that you do not get stuck in an endless loop of defections.

However, in a population of computers (or people) practicing tit-for-tat, there develops an opportunity for a small proportion of the population to exploit their neighbors. I shan't bore you with the particular details -- and I cannot even remember where I read this -- but Wikipedia suggests that perhaps it was Richard Dawkins' brilliant book The Selfish Gene.

The idea is that with an entire population playing by one set of rules, an opportunity develops to exploit that system by playing by different rules. In the case of tit-for-tat; however, only a few rogue individuals can buck the system.

Returning to politics, it occurred to me that this relative homeostasis over time of political parties owes to some sort of equilibrium due to principles of game theory (admittedly not a novel idea).

That is, if the entire population was conservative (in the classical theoretical sense), for instance, there would be much hierarchy, tradition, and rule-governed behavior. This would create an opportunity for agents to exploit those rules. In such a society, agents that most valued sovereignty of the individual (i.e., classical liberalism) would be able to profit disproportionately.

The converse should be true, too. Look at Soviet Russia for example. When all wealth was to be shared equally, most people had no choice but to share. But for those that could establish a hierarchy and amass wealth (i.e., the politicians), they had wealth beyond compare.

In a parliamentary system, there are multiple constituencies that must form collaborations in order to achieve a majority or plurality. In our two-party system, we do something similar by courting certain sections of the population into the various parties (i.e., the bases).

Earlier this decade, "soccer moms" were all the rage and were expected to decide elections. There will be another key constituency this year.

If you look at the history of this country, neither political camp has dominated for too long. It seems to me that this is based in game theory. As the pendulum begins to swing one way, it creates a vacuum behind it. This vacuum then is an opportunity for some (likely) disenfranchised constituency. As they rush in to fill the vacuum, balance is restored. Several people have made a similar argument in Republicans' aggressive adoption of the evangelical community, for example.

Surely this idea is not new. It was new to me, and it seems at least plausible. Even if it implausible, it was fun to think about for a couple of hours.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lapdog Journalism Wholly Unacceptable

It's been several years since I earned my paycheck as a working journalist; however, I remember a thing or two about how it is supposed to be done.

Rule 1, it seems, it not to take a single source at face value. Check. Double check. Dig. Ask the other side. Ask a follow-up question. At any rate, here is what should not happen:

Anchor: There seems to be some controversy out at city hall.

Mayor: There is no controversy. Everything is great. We asked some people, and they, too, said it is great.

Anchor: Great. Now let's take a look at the weather.

I hope you see the problem. This is lapdog journalism. If this is the only service to be offered by journalists, then there is little need for the First Amendment.

Journalists should be watchdogs. They should ask the questions that the public cannot. They should hold public officials accountable. They should not, however, simply roll over.

Yet I've seen too egregious instances of lapdog journalism this week alone in Lubbock.


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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Texas Education: Do Funds Equal Productivity?

In a recent post, I compared the number of programs in Texas and California public institutions of higher education that were ranked nationally in terms of faculty productivity by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

According to the Chronicle, the University of Texas at Austin has 28 ranked programs, and Texas A&M University has 14 ranked programs. For those of you scoring at home, that is a ratio of exactly 2:1.

Upon seeing those figures, my colleague wondered aloud whether that ratio was a result of the state's Permanent University Fund, which funnels royalties from oil deposits to the state's two largest university systems (apparently that was a change in 1984; before that, money went only to the two flagship schools).

However, the money is not divided equally. UT gets 2/3 of the money. That means that UT gets $2 for every $1 that A&M gets (Texas Tech gets none despite much of the oil reserves being in West Texas).

Again, the ratio is 2:1, exactly the same as the number of ranked programs.

As my colleague did, one cannot help but speculate (but it is just that -- speculation) whether these two ratios are causally linked.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Comparing California, Texas Higher Ed

Updated: 9:53 p.m., June 24, 2008 (see below)

A former mentor and colleague pointed me to these faculty productivity rankings by the Chronicle for Higher Education.

The same former mentor also talked about how Texas (population 23,507,783) higher education compares to California (population 36,457,549) higher education. That is, how do the two most populous states stack up?

As an imperfect measure of university quality, let's look at the institutions listed by the Chronicle. How many public programs are nationally ranked in terms of top faculty productivity? There is a problem of apples and oranges, as Texas has separate listings for medical schools, and California does not. In the interest of fairness, I will include all Texas public institutions including the medical schools.

University of Texas, Austin -- 28
Texas A&M University -- 14
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston -- 6
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas -- 3
Texas Tech University -- 3
University of Houston -- 2
University of Texas Medical Branch -- 2
Sam Houston State University -- 1
Texas A&M, Kingsville -- 1
University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth -- 1
UTEP -- 1
(Private school Rice has 6 ranked programs)

That gives Texas a grand total of 62 ranked programs at public universities including medical schools. How does California stack up? With 50% more population, California should have about 93 ranked programs if the two states are equal.

University of California, Berkeley -- 59
UCLA -- 41
University of California, Davis -- 21
University of California, San Diego -- 19
University of California, San Francisco -- 16
University of California, Santa Barbara -- 11
University of California, Irvine -- 8
University of California, Riverside -- 6
San Diego State University -- 5
University of California, Santa Cruz -- 1

It turns out that California has 187 ranked programs -- more than three times the state of Texas. Fifty percent greater population translates into 300 percent more ranked programs.

The top two Texas programs have 42 ranked programs. The top two California programs have 100. The top two Texas programs have 96,236 students, according to Wikipedia. The two top California institutions have just 71,564 students, also thanks to Wikipedia. More than double the ranked programs spread among 14,000 fewer students.

I make no inferences here, but rather I leave them to you, the reader. In terms of objective productivity, my California compatriots far outpace me and my Texas colleagues.

(Meant to be humorous) It brings to mind the current California Dairy Board advertising campaign: "Great milk comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California."

Update: This page is getting a good deal of traffic from a blog by the Texas Faculty Association. Although I am all for a good crusade, this was not the crusade that I had intended. The quip about California cows was meant to be a throwaway at the end. Instead it can quite logically be read as me saying Texas faculty are unhappy.

This may be the case; however, it is at best a hypothesis. There is clearly a cause for the disparity outlined in these data, but it assuredly boils down to something more complex than faculty satisfaction. I have zero data concerning the relative happiness of the respective faculties.

With the current economy and the price of oil, one could make a not-so-bold prediction that Texas universities will soon make up much ground on their California counterparts. Texas' budget future looks far more rosy than that of California. When you combine Texas' oil and gas revenues with how long California took to come out of the last recession, it's a great time to be in Texas.

As a resident of Texas -- and a faculty member in Texas -- I found these data to be interesting. However, I did not intend to slight the state of Texas. Trust me. I live here, and I know better.

It is worth understanding why this disparity exists. But a throwaway quip should not be interpreted for my estimate of the answer. It remains an empirical question.

* Population estimates for 2006 courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau here and here.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In-Game Advertising Not So Bad


IGA: Most Gamers Cool With In-Game Ads

Ads pack more wallop for brands than ads appearing in traditional media

June 17, 2008
By Mike Shields

The vast majority of gamers are fine with seeing ads placed within video games, and those ads pack more wallop for brands than ads appearing in traditional media, according to comprehensive new study released by top vendor IGA Worldwide.

IGA, which works with game publishers such as EA and Activision to insert both permanent and rotation ads within video games played via an Internet connection, last year tapped Nielsen BASES and Nielsen Games to conduct a in-depth six month examination of the impact of in-game advertising using traditional brand effectiveness measures such as awareness and recall.

The report, Consumers’ Experience with In-Game Content & Brand Impact of In-Game Advertising Study, includes responses from nearly 1,300 gamers surveyed using IGA’s proprietary software while playing games in their homes, with participation from the advertisers Taco Bell, Jeep and Wrigley.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

What Me Worry? 400% Inflation in 10 Years reports that Saudi Arabia is concerned high oil prices will eventually dampen the world's appetite for oil.
Really? No kidding.

Although the move by Saudi Arabia may provide some short-term savings -- especially since much of this price increase is based upon rampant barely fact-based speculation -- a small dip in prices will not deter the march toward alternative sources of energy.

In other news: Honda rolls out fuel cell car.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day, Dad

A photo from Bloomington, Ind., in May 2005. Where does the time go?

Wish we could be with you today!


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Do Social Interactions Make Us Happier

The other night, I was laying with my 4-year-old just after reading a goodnight story.

I thought about the day she would have the next day. She'd wake up when she wanted, eat breakfast, play, eat lunch, play, eat dinner, play, watch some TV, have dad read to her, go to bed.

It's a pretty nice life. It will get hectic in a few years when she has crushes, enemies, etc.

But it made me wonder? Do these kinds of social interactions (i.e., finding friends) actually make out lives better?


Saturday, June 07, 2008

From ICA, Moving into Theses Phase

From ICA in Canada to moving and summer teaching ... now to master's theses.

Three of my students are defending this month. First was Nikki Siegrist (right) on Friday.

Her thesis was titled The effects of dialect on the cognitive processing of print advertisements.

Congratulations, Nikki!

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