EMU makes the Atlantic’s list of “U.S. Colleges and Majors that Are the Biggest Waste of Money”… and it’s total bullshit

A friend in Portland sent me a text this morning. He wanted to let me know that Eastern Michigan University (EMU) had made a list in the Atlantic. Sadly, it’s a list of universities that are the biggest waste of money. Specifically, they claim data exists to show that Art majors graduating from EMU will never make enough to justify the $93,840 cost of their four-year degree. (That, according to their research, is the four-year in-state cost for those not receiving scholarships, etc.)

As I’m not a statistician, and as I haven’t seen the raw data they’re basing their analysis on, I don’t feel up to the task of debating the issue, but, as it seems that their findings are based on self-reported data submitted by way of a website called PayScale.com, my sense is that it’s probably not the most academically rigorous of studies. They don’t, for instance, even say how many graduates of the EMU Art program contributed their earning data, and for how many years post graduation. So, this finding of theirs, as I understand it, could be based on one student who entered his/her earnings for just the first year out of school, which one would assume to be low. And, of course, as entries are anonymous and unverified, it’s conceivable that this is all fiction to begin with. (I can’t even find “Art” listed as one of the majors tracked on the PayScale.com page for EMU.) But, as it was posted on the internet, and is now being shared widely on Facebook, it’s something that we need to at least acknowledge and discuss.

Personally, I think that EMU would have cause to go after PayScale.com, and the Atlantic, for releasing this nonsense as though it’s fact, but, for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s true. Let’s say, as they suggest, that graduates of the EMU undergraduate art program, after 20 years time, are -$118,000 worse off than high school graduates who chose not to attend college, which I believe is their contention… So what?

I object to the whole underlying premise that all academic pursuits should be boiled down to their earning potential. Given the state of today’s economy, I know students need to give some thought as to how they’ll pay their bills after graduation, but I don’t accept the notion that we shouldn’t teach art as it doesn’t make people wealthy. A culture that thinks that way, in my opinion, is doomed… And, perhaps more importantly, an artist who gets into the field to make a lot of cash likely doesn’t have anything very interesting to say with his or her work in the first place.

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update: Colin Blakely, the head of the EMU Art Department, has responded to this article. Here’s his letter to the Atlantic:

I work in a university art department. In the current climate of emphasis on STEM-based education and employment rates upon graduation as a critical metric in determining the effectiveness of University programs, I am used to feeling like my educational values are at odds with the conventional wisdom. So I was not surprised to see that Arts majors were nowhere to be found in The Atlantic’s article “Which College- and Which Major- Will make You Richest?” (nobody goes into the arts to become rich). Nor did I react with anything more than resignation when the companion article “These U.S. Colleges and Majors are the Biggest Waste of Money” prominently featured majors in the Arts. However, I was unprepared for the double shot of seeing the Arts majors at my own institution make the top of the list. A simultaneous attack on both the discipline and the institution that I have come to love and believe in wholeheartedly took some time to get over. It didn’t make sense. Every day I experience first-hand the quality of our programs and the faculty that breathe life into them. I see the perseverance of our students in their ability to become masters of their chosen tools and solve complex problems with an amazing degree of originality. I watch as our graduates go on to successful jobs at prestigious design firms, public education institutions, and blue chip corporations such as IBM or Whole Foods. Many progress quickly out of entry-level positions into managerial ones, or become entrepreneurs. How do I reconcile this day to day experience with an assessment that claims a major in this same department to be not only worthless, but in fact a “waste of money.”

I’ve looked at PayScale’s data collection and reporting methods. It would be easy to take comfort in picking apart this data and declaring it flawed and/or irrelevant. The return on investment calculations used as the foundation for the article are based on the earnings potential of someone who graduated in 1994. I could thus simply assume that our department today is not the same one it was back then. We’ve added a Professional Practices/Capstone class that helps students focus on the tools they need for successful careers. We’ve developed a closer relationship with the Career Development Center. In addition, I suspect that the sample size used to make this calculation (EMU Arts majors graduating in 1994 who responded to the salary survey) is sufficiently small as to create heavily skewed or even irrelevant results. In short, I don’t believe for one second in the validity of our ranking.

However, none of this solves what I see as the bigger problem: the arts are currently under fire in higher education. The number of majors is dropping nation-wide. We are literally the butt of jokes: our own nation’s president has taken a jab at the Art History major by using it as an example of what he sees as the antithesis of a high-paying major. There is a national conversation going on about the importance of teaching employable skills to college students, and the arts are nowhere to be found.

Some of this is our own fault. As educators we take for granted the skills our graduates possess. I’m not talking about the ability to effectively handle paint or mold from clay, but the more transferable skills. For example, a prowess with visual communication (we live in a world where image is everything), creative problem solving, critical thinking, dealing effectively with ambiguity, problem solving through experimentation, inventing new ways to work within existing systems. In short, they possess the ability to take any given situation and look at it not for what it is, but what it could be: an ability to imagine the possibilities. Any employer would put these qualities high on a list of things they look for in an employee, and these are all things that come second-nature to a student in the arts. However, it is less common to find students with the explicit knowledge that they possess these skills. This is where we as educators come in.

We’ve done incredible work in helping our students along, but seem to have fallen short in one critical area: teaching them to imagine the possibilities for themselves. When someone asks me what they can do with an art major, my response is simple: anything you want. This answer is of course both inspiring and infuriating. But then, as I’ve already mentioned, artists are pretty good at dealing with ambiguity.

-Colin Blakely
Professor and Department Head
Art Department
Eastern Michigan University

Posted in Education, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 63 Comments

Snyder tells Michigan’s 300+ married gay couples, I know you’re legally married, but it doesn’t change a god damn thing

While conceding that more than 300 same-sex couples were legally married this past weekend, in the wake of a federal judge’s finding last Friday that the Michigan gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, Governor Rick Snyder told reporters in Lansing earlier today that, pending an appeal filed by Attorney General Bill Schuette, the State would not recognize these marriages, and, as such, these 600+ married individuals would remain ineligible for State benefits associated with marriage.

After saying, “We believe those are legal marriages, and valid marriages,” Snyder added, “The stay being issued the next night made it more complicated.”

I can understand, given that he’s in a tight race for reelection, that he’d want to straddle both sides of the issue, deflecting a majority of the criticism at his Attorney General, who called for the aforementioned stay, but it seems like an untenable position, given that, no matter what side of the issue you stand on, he looks both weak and ineffective. Either he’s the hapless Governor who lacks the strength to stand up to an Attorney General who took it upon himself to fight against the inevitable, or he’s the Governor who doesn’t have the courage to stand up and say what others in his party believe to be true, which is that these “marriages” were the work of activist clerks in a few isolated counties who took the opportunity to open their offices on a weekend in order to sneak in weddings before the stay went into effect, thus creating cases which could, if need be, make it to the Supreme Court.

Instead, though, Snyder is trying to maintain his tenuous position between the two sides, saying that, while these people are legally married, his hands are tied, and leaving us to draw our own conclusions about his true feelings from the little, offhand comments he’s made in the press, like the one at the bottom of this clip from Crain’s, in which Snyder says that Schuette isn’t answering his calls.

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And then there’s this sentence in today’s MLive coverage: “Snyder said he did not advise Schuette to file the appeal and has not been personally involved in the legal battle.”

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the truth… whether Snyder acquiesced when told by the hardliners bankrolling the Michigan Republican Party that they wanted the emergency appeal to be filed, or whether Schuette just ran off and did it on his own, without consulting the administration. And, to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. This whole thing is a fucking mess, and both Schuette and Snyder need to go. Gay marriage, like it or not, is here to stay, and they should have known better than to let things get to this point. When the history books are written, they’ll look as preposterous as George “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” Wallace, standing there in the the University of Alabama doorway, blocking black students from entering.

Here, to give you an idea of the shit-storm brewing, are two responses to Snyder’s statement. The first is from the ACLU of Michigan. And the second is from Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.

ACLU OF MICHIGAN:

We’re pleased that the state has conceded that more than 300 couples were legally married on Saturday after Judge Friedman’s historic ruling. This acknowledgment opens the door for federal recognition of these marriages.

However, it’s simply astonishing that the governor now plans to deny these legally married couples the benefits of marriage that all other legally married couples are entitled to under state law.

As a matter of law and fundamental fairness, the state is obligated to extend all the rights and responsibilities that flow from marriage to the more than 300 couples married this weekend. Doing anything less violates our laws, shamefully treats legally married gay and lesbian couples like second-class citizens, and adds to the confusion and instability these loving families have had to endure.

We will continue to explore legal options on behalf of these couples and encourage those who have been denied the benefits of marriage to contact us.

GRETCHEN WHITMER:

I’m absolutely offended that Governor Snyder would continue to deny these couples the same rights, opportunities and benefits that every other legally married couple is entitled to in our state… His actions are laughable. His excuses are simply disgraceful.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Michigan | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Is Ann Arbor as progressive as it’s billed? And, if not, what can be done about it?

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with the mother of one of Alro’s school friends. As she’s relatively new to Ypsi, I asked how she came to be living here, and she told me her story, which started back in California, when she found out that she’d been accepted into a graduate program at the University of Michigan. Having not spent much time in Ann Arbor, she mentioned the prospect of moving here to a few friends, and she was told that she’d love the town. “It’s the Berkley of the midwest,” she was told. And, as she’d done her undergraduate work at Berkley, she found the prospect appealing. Upon arriving here, though, she found that, much to her surprise, Ann Arbor was a lot more conservative than she’d been led to believe. And, eventually, she and her family found their way to Ypsilanti. As it’s a story we’ve all heard before, I hadn’t intended to share it here… until, just now, I happened across an entry on the Ann Arbor blog Mrs. Jefferies which echoed this woman’s sentiment almost word for word. And, rightly or wrongly, I took it as a sign that it was time to once again contemplate the age old question, “Is Ann Arbor really what it claims to be?”

Here, to kick off what promises to be a rollicking conversation on conservative old hippies and wealthy out-of-state students, is a clip from the previously mentioned Mrs. Jefferies… Enjoy!

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Posted in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

After nearly 40 years of looking, I’ve finally found my fetish!

Posted in Mark's Life, Other | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Having learning nothing from the Gulf disaster, BP allows crude oil to pour into Lake Michigan

BPlakemichi

It looks like our friends at BP are up to their old tricks again. This time, though, the oil being spilled isn’t in the Gulf of Mexico, where the company’s cost-cutting measures in 2010 led to the largest oil spill in recorded history, but in Lake Michigan, the largest repository of fresh water on the surface of the Earth. The spill happened last night at the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, where the company processes crude oil from Canadian tar sands. A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management told reporters that the leak was stopped by 1:00 AM this morning, but it’s still unclear how much crude oil was released into Lake Michigan.

When asked how much oil had been dumped into Lake Michigan, according to the Chicago Tribune, BP spokesman Scott Dean “declined to say.”

I’m not sure how a company can get away with not answering a question like, “How much poison did you pump into the drinking water of 7 million Chicagoans?,” but I guess, when you’re BP, you can do what you want. If we made nothing else clear after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it’s that we don’t hold corporations responsible for their actions, regardless of how egregious they may be.

As of right now, it’s too early to say just how bad this is. It could, I suppose, be relatively minor by oil spill standards. Given that the Whiting refinery processes 405,000 barrels per day, though, it could also be incredibly bad for the health of the Great Lake, and the future of our planet.

Worst of all, this is our doing. We had an opportunity after the Deepwater Horizon disaster to hold BP accountable and push for substantial changes. We, however, chose to take them at their word. And now we’re paying the price.

One last thing… If the Whiting refinery sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve discussed it here before. Here are two clips from those earlier posts.

Paying the environmental price for the fuck-ups of other states:

…I would think that we here in Michigan might have a case against the state of Indiana, which, if you can believe it, just gave BP the go-ahead to dump more ammonia and toxic, heavy metal sludge into Lake Michigan. Here’s a clip from the Chicago Tribune:

“The massive BP oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., is planning to dump significantly more ammonia and industrial sludge into Lake Michigan, running counter to years of efforts to clean up the Great Lakes.

Indiana regulators exempted BP from state environmental laws to clear the way for a $3.8 billion expansion that will allow the company to refine heavier Canadian crude oil. They justified the move in part by noting the project will create 80 new jobs.

Under BP’s new state water permit, the refinery — already one of the largest polluters along the Great Lakes — can release 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more sludge into Lake Michigan each day. Ammonia promotes algae blooms that can kill fish, while sludge is full of concentrated heavy metals.”

Indiana continues to allow BP to dump toxic mercury into Lake Michigan… spelling doom for mankind:

…(I)t’s not hard to see how this happens, given that BP buys politicians… Here, with more on that, is a quote from our friend Juan Cole: “The Indiana legislature passed these laws because of ‘legislative capture.’ That phenomenon occurs when an industry that is supposed to be regulated by a legislature instead pays so much for political campaigns that it captures the members and proves able to write the legislation affecting its interests. Legislative capture explains almost everything that is wrong with America today, from the wars to the difficulty in expanding health care, and from inaction on climate change to the high price of prescription drugs.”

The irony is, at this very moment, the leaders of BP America live their lives without fear while our country devotes its considerable resources to finding Edward Snowden and brining him to justice… I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time that we reevaluate our definition of “treason.”

And, lastly, here’s a little something that I shared on Facebook last summer about the Whiting plant. (For what it’s worth, I wasn’t joking.)

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Posted in Environment, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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