Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our New President

As a land-grant college, Cornell was founded to be co-educational, a place "where any person can find instruction in any study." Despite this auspicious beginning, it is actually the sixth of the seven Ivy League universities to hire a woman to lead it. Harvard hired Drew Gilpin Faust in 2007. U Penn has had three women in a row: Claire Fagin (interim) from 1993-94, Judith Seitz Rodin from 1994-2004, and Amy Gutmann ever since. Ruth Simmons ruled Brown from 2001 to 2012. Shirley Tilghman ruled Princeton from 2001 to 2013. Hanna Holborn Gray was acting president at Yale for a year in 1977. Only Dartmouth is a holdout, and they at least broke the white male barrier when they hired Jim Young Kim in 2009.

So the hiring of Elizabeth Garrett is a big deal here. She has bounced around the country much as David Skorton did, although where he went from West to Midwest to East, she went from Oklahoma to UVA to UofC to USC and back east again. Her specialties include the federal budget process and direct democracy, which has made her the go-to gal for many political oversight committees and panels. In addition to her primary appointment in the law school and as provost at USC, she has secondary appointments in the business school and school of public policy as well as a "courtesy appointment" in the Annenberg School.

She is, in other words, hot stuff. She attended law school with a friend of Paul's, so we await the dish from that. Apparently she won't take over until July of 2015, because Skorton would like to preside over the sesquicentenniel. Then he leaves to make $795,000 at the Smithsonian.

O's questions were: "Will she lower tuition? Will she give me a job? How can I be president?" I said, "No, maybe, and check out her bio." Impressive.

Friday, September 26, 2014

When Is Reform Not Reform?

When it's self-serving, for one.

The history of redistricting in NYS goes back a hundred years and more and is rife with lawsuits. The rules are simple: Every ten years, the state may look at the census and revise its legislative districts based on population shifts. The reasons are simple: No one part of the state should have significant sway over any other parts of the state. If population is essentially similar from district to district, that should eliminate power plays. The reality, of course, is far from simple. This is New York!

Like most of the nation, New York has a bizarrely high return of incumbents to office, one that simple statistics would suggest is practically impossible. There are a handful of reasons for this, including name recognition and ability to raise funds, but certainly one reason is the drawing of district lines to favor certain parties. In a state with a clear upstate-downstate divide, that becomes a litigious issue when one party feels that the other is unfairly favored.

The state legislature has always had the power to establish districts. In the past, it has established an advisory commission but has retained the power to thumbs-up or thumbs-down any suggestions from that body. Former NYC Mayor Koch led the charge for independent redistricting via his NY UPrising group. He asked legislators to sign a pledge vowing that they would support such an initiative, and the results may be seen here. Being Ed Koch, he called the refuseniks "Enemies of Reform." It's an interesting list!

Fast forward to the current ballot proposal. It passed the Assembly and the Senate, and now it is in the hands of the voters, because such a change must be an amendment to the state constitution. It reads as follows (the word "independent" has been removed, as it clearly is not independent in any sense of that word). I did the boldfacing:

The proposed amendment to sections 4 and 5 and addition of new section 5-b to Article 3 of the State Constitution revises the redistricting procedure for state legislative and congressional districts. The proposed amendment establishes a redistricting commission every 10 years beginning in 2020, with two members appointed by each of the four legislative leaders and two members selected by the eight legislative appointees; prohibits legislators and other elected officials from serving as commissioners; establishes principles to be used in creating districts; requires the commission to hold public hearings on proposed redistricting plans; subjects the commission’s redistricting plan to legislative enactment; provides that the legislature may only amend the redistricting plan according to the established principles if the commission’s plan is rejected twice by the legislature; provides for expedited court review of a challenged redistricting plan; and provides for funding and bipartisan staff to work for the commission. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

The folks who are urging us to vote "yes" include the League of Women Voters and Citizens Union. They've gotten rid of their original language that claimed the amendment was "not perfect" and are going whole-hog for redistricting.

But the plan clearly violates at least part of Common Cause's redistricting principles, the part about "disclosure of potential conflicts of interest," because if the committee is established by the legislative leaders and appointees, bias is already built in. Yes, we can no longer assign Nozzolio (R) and McEneny (D) to be part of the commission, but is that the reform that really matters? I would posit that the current plan again allows legislators to choose their voters, and that like so many good ideas in NYS, it has been edited and manipulated to maintain the status quo while looking all pretty and new.

For the best overall history of redistricting in NY, including an explanation of the role of prisons, see Ballotpedia.

People urging "yes" say that Proposition 1 is a step in the right direction. I think it is a step in the same direction. We still have time to do this right. Vote no.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

At Last, Someone Who Can Read

I wrote earlier about the idiocy of calling proposed redistricting "independent" when it was clearly manipulated by the powers that be. Now comes State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McGrath, who rules that
"the Commission cannot be described as 'independent' when eight out of ten members are the handpicked appointees of the legislative leaders, and the two additional members are essentially political appointees by proxy."
It's still on the ballot, but "independent" is out. Hallelujah!

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Cornell's sesquicentennial year, which was begun with a bang involving the red-and-white lighting up of the Empire State Building, has led me to ponder this uncomfortable truth: Olivia's class of '18 is as distant in time from my class of '76 as my class was from the class of 1934. Suck on that for a while.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Zephyr-Andrew Map

We'd been a little worried that Tompkins would be an outlier in voting for Teachout. Well, the numbers don't entirely tell the story. I thought I'd like to see this graphically, so I did a little map, showing where Zephyr won (dark blue) vs. where Andrew won (light blue). I leave it up to others to draw conclusions. Click on the map to see more detail.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What Zephyr's Done for NY

I'm not calling the game, because I am the worst predictor of all time. But seeing Cuomo pretend not to see Teachout at the Labor Day Parade today, seeing the thugs who always surround him push her aside, reminded me again of what Zephyr has done for NY, win or lose.

1. She verified the irrelevance of the Working Families Party. I haven't found them interesting in a long, long time, but their decision to dump her in favor of a deal with Cuomo—a deal that I guarantee he had every intention of carrying out before they made that deal—proved their small-mindedness and gave her the opportunity to connect with people who would never have taken a third-party candidate seriously. WFP's dumping of her was a gift to us all.

2. She reminded Democrats of our roots. Instead of capping property taxes and worrying about gridlock, she talked about corruption, the environment, and dignity for all.

3. She suggested that NYers don't have to settle. Until she decided to run, everyone I knew was resigned to another Cuomo term. We spoke about the governor's race dully, if we spoke about it at all. Even the most gung-ho Dems I know could only pick on social policy as a plus for the Cuomo regime, and that starts to pale in significance when you start to look at the map. I mean, we were seventh, not first, when it comes to marriage equality. New Hampshire and Iowa beat us, and they aren't exactly bastions of liberalism. Is it a radical, profound position or just part of a trend?

4. She made politics fun again. With sparkling energy and unaffected enthusiasm, she lit up small rooms and open spaces and often seemed larger than life. Someone said to me early on, "All people have to do is meet her, and they'll vote for her." I thought it was hyperbole until I met her.

5. She brought up some critical issues. Her attempt to sue the State Committee for paying for and sending out Cuomo mailers failed thus far, because that sort of unsavory party-as-an-arm-of-the-governor's-office was more-or-less legalized in 2006, but the lawsuit reminded us how wrong that relationship is. She showed us once again how deeply corrupt our institutions are and how insensitive to corruption we have become. She shone a light on the dark corners of the Cuomo administration, pointing out its failure to connect at any genuine level to the people of the state.

6. She unmasked the governor and revealed him as the mean-spirited bully everyone had always said he was. He had countless opportunities to refute this impression, but he failed at every turn, becoming more and more himself with every passing week—insular, angry, cowardly, and rude—up to today's grotesque behavior at the Labor Day Parade. If nothing else, she punctured the test balloon for his anointing as presidential candidate down the road. And she did it all not with the bombastic ire one would expect when confronted with the dreadful, tangled, nasty political mire that is the State of New York and the people who run it—but with a smile. We owe her, seriously, our eternal gratitude.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Math. Still Hard.

Okay, so it turns out that 94 percent of teachers outside NYC were rated "effective" or "highly effective" via the new APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review). Twenty percent of that assessment is to be based on growth on state assessments (or a comparable measure using Student Learning Objectives for those subjects not tested on state assessments). In many districts right in our area, no teachers at all were found to be ineffective. Yet, as we know, the growth on state assessments was negligible.

Which brings up a couple of questions. 1: What were the unions so worried about? and 2: Does the way we're measuring teacher effectiveness make any sense at all?

I have no doubt at all that effective teaching correlates to student achievement. This introduction to a 2005 book explains why teacher evaluation can nevertheless be so difficult to do with any validity. NYS is applying multiple modes to their teacher assessments, as the authors would recommend, but the results simply defy logic.