Archive for the ‘fabio’ Category
This guest post is by Raj Ghoshal, an assistant professor of sociology at Goucher College. Previously we discussed presidents and collective memory in these two posts: Warren G. Harding is awesome & popular presidents kill people.
Presidents’ Day had me thinking about presidential rankings and collective memory. We commonly learn that a certain set of our presidents were great, while others were not – and for presidencies we (or our parents) didn’t personally live through, history textbooks and teachers are often the messengers. But how do presidential historians determine greatness? Are there sociological patterns worth noticing?
I looked at Wikipedia’s aggregation of U.S. presidential rankings by historians. A few patterns jumped out:
- Era matters greatly. Presidents who held office during broad periods of prosperity or national success are more likely to be considered great. Of course, presidents influence a country’s well-being, but the size of the era effects suggests historians are like the rest of us: they give individual presidents more credit or blame than they deserve. The first seven presidents, associated with the country’s birth and rise, are all ranked positively—this should be only 0.8% probable, if ratings are independent of era effects. The twelfth through twenty-first are all rated negatively, with the striking exception of Lincoln. (Perhaps Lincoln was genuinely greater, perhaps others could have been equally successful in leading through the Civil War, and/or perhaps his star dims the lights for those who came around him.) Presidents leading up to the Great Depression are rated poorly (#s 29-31), those in the era coming out of the Depression are rated positively (#s 32 to 36), and the mixed economic and social trends of the last five decades have yielded mainly average presidential ratings. Across these periods, the clustering is clear enough that individual differences between presidents are unlikely to be the sole cause.
- Presidential historians’ collective memory is stable, as the surveys show great consensus over time (this doesn’t mean that individual historians agree, since each data point is a survey). The only two cases out of all 43 where there’s even moderate evidence of changes in historians’ opinions after a president leaving office are Reagan and perhaps Nixon, and those changes are small, even though their supposed rehabilitations were widely discussed in the press (G.W. Bush’s standing among historians fell, but the drop came while he was still in office). While memory projects or changing norms can alter historical figures’ standing, this doesn’t seem to be very common with American presidents. More broadly, studying change is often interesting and revealing, but we should remember that change is usually the exception rather than the rule.
- For the five presidents where there’s data, future ratings closely follow the ratings a president had while in office. These five cases also suggest that historians tend to evaluate currently-in-office presidents fairly positively, at least at first. It’s impossible to disentangle this from era effects without more data, though.
- I didn’t look at how closely historians’ opinion follows public opinion, economic news, wars, or success in getting one’s agenda enacted, but those all probably matter too.
Feel free to use the comments.
I have often been a critic of the higher education system. My critique, roughly, is that the costs of college are often disconnected from the market value of the degree. Students are often left with substantial debt that may take a decade or more to pay off. Some, without proper counseling, take on the debt normally associated with buying a home. It is no longer the case that college finances are a matter of saving up some money for a few years or working it off over a few summers. Now, students can carry debt into their forties, or later, if they aren’t careful. This debt can displace other, possibly more important, forms of wealth building such as purchasing a home, financing a business, or simply saving the money.
Today, there is an effort to organize college loan debtors in an attempt to roll back this trend. The Debt Collective, an activist group, announced today that a group of fifteen volunteers will go on a debt strike. These former students all have debt acquired from their time in various for-profit colleges. I applaud this movement. But I think it needs to go farther. Why stop at for-profit colleges? It is the case that some for-profits have acted dishonestly in promising much higher wages and encouraging students to maximize loans. But many students from more traditional colleges leave with very debt loads as well and often with degrees that don’t correspond to better jobs. An excellent start and I hope to see more.
Hyperallergic reports that a very valuable Mexican manuscript, the Codex Mendoza, is now available free online. In addition to using the Codex Mendoza’s website, you can download the iPhone app for viewing. Recommended for pre-Columbian culture junkies.
“there’s no rankings problem that money can’t solve” – the tale of how northeastern gamed the college rankings
There’s a September 2014 Boston.com article on Northeastern University and how it broke the top-100 in the US News & World Report of colleges and universities. The summary goes something like this: Northeastern’s former president, Richard Freeland, inherited a school that was a poorly endowed commuter school. In the modern environment, that leads you to a death spiral. A low profile leads to low enrollments, which leads to low income, which leads to an even lower profile.
The solution? Crack the code to the US News college rankings. He hired statisticians to learn the correlations between inputs and rankings. He visited the US News office to see how they built their system and bug them about what he thought was unfair. Then, he “legally” (i.e., he didn’t cheat or lie) did things to boost the rank. For example, he moved Northeastern from commuter to residential school by building more dorms. He also admitted a different profile of student that wouldn’t the depress the mean SAT score and shifted student to programs that were not counted in the US News ranking (e.g., some students are admitted in Spring admissions and do not count in the US News score).
Comments: 1. In a way, this is admirable. If the audience for higher education buys into the rankings and you do what the rankings demand, aren’t you giving people what they want? 2. The quote in the title of the post is from Michael Bastedo, a higher ed guru at Michigan, who is pointing out that rankings essentially reflect money. If you buy fancier professors and better facilities, you get better students. The rank improves. 3. Still, this shows how hard it is to move. A nearly billion dollar drive moves you from a so-so rank of about 150 to a so-so rank of about 100-ish. Enough to be “above” the fold, but not enough to challenge the traditional leaders of higher ed.