Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Alfred Wegener is one of my heroes. He first postulated the theory of continental drift, now known as plate tectonics. For this he was ridiculed, scorned, and abused during his lifetime, which ended tragically. He never relented, however. The wikipedia article does not give precise dates, but it took until the 1960s before the theory of continental drift was widely accepted. Someone remarked once that all the old scientists who were opposed to the new, correct theory had to die off before it could be accepted. That's how science progresses sometimes, by the death of the intolerant.

Here's the "Gedenktafel" (commemorative or memorial plaque) on the wall of the gymnasium (think high school if you're American) he attended in Berlin. Gotta love "Kontinentalverschiebungstheorie" for continental drift theory. An mp3 of the pronunciation is at

"The polar researcher Prof. Dr. Alfred Wegener b. 1880 in Berlin, d. 1930 in the midst of the Greenland ice sheet. He was a student of the former Cologne Gymnasium, earned his PhD in 1905 from the University of Berlin, and in 1912 laid the groundwork for the modern theory of continental drift."

As one can read in the wikipedia article linked to above, Wegener perished on the ice in Greenland in late 1930. One can only imagine how brutal the weather conditions must have been. His body was buried with care by a 23-yr old name Rasmus Villumsen, who marked the site with a pair of skis that Wegener had used. Villumsen continued on and is presumed to have perished. His body was never found.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why college tuition has outstripped inflation, in one graph

The American Association of University Professors has published an interesting graph [pdf]. I would embed it here, but that's not easy with blogger, since it's a pdf. The graph shows the percentage change in the number of employees in higher education institutions, by category of employee, from 75-76 to 2011. The graph is figure 1 in their annual salary report.

To get to the point, it's the administrators. The "Full-time Nonfaculty Professional" category has increased by 369% in the last 35 years. During the same time period, faculty positions have increased a measly 23%. There are now 3.7 times as many administrators bloating the payrolls of our universities as there were 30-some years ago. So that's why college tuition has grown by about 1200% in three decades. We're paying twelve times as much for tuition to finance a bunch of bullshit jobs.

It doesn't have to be like this. As Rebecca Schuman has noted in a post, there is one (one!) university in the USA that has been hiring more faculty and getting rid of bloated salaries on the administration payroll. That school is Iowa State University. What is their secret? ISU provides an existence proof that sanity can be restored. This one school is increasing faculty, while others are eliminating majors.

How do we fix this problem? I suppose the state legislators could do it. They approve the university budgets, right? The professors could go on strike. Eventually, this bubble will burst. This is some kind of deep irony, or a very cruel joke on college students, who are graduating in droves with debt that will take decades to pay off and lousy job prospects.

The TL;DR on this topic is Thomas Frank's post at