My Career as a Graduate Student at Maryland

 

I returned to the University of Maryland in 2004 to take a PhD. My initial objective was to work in the field of education. I had been teaching school since 1999.

The university had changed radically since I attended Reed College and got a degree in math from the University of California. I had read how important political correctness had become. I had no idea until I got there. I had read that feminism dominated campus intellectual life. Again, I had no idea how true this was. The Academy should be a place where ideas are openly discussed and unpopular ideas are defended. I found out how incredibly untrue this is of American university life.  I had seen it indirectly through my children's high school and college educations; my own experience as a teacher; and my friends' accounts.  But still I was shocked.

Let me provide as background a couple of paragraphs of my life history and then return to the subject.

Adam Smith wrote that in the world of commerce, people and events move as if directed by an invisible hand. People migrate to where their talents can be put to the most remunerative use.

America has experimented with more visible approaches. The visible hand of tax incentives, special enterprise zones, accelerated depreciation schedules and the like. These policies have demonstrably affected the movements of money and the allocation of capital.

Our government has extended social policy to moving people as well as money. We began, in the Nixon and Johnson administrations, to favor so-called disadvantaged minorities. Blacks were the first minority to be targeted.  To overcome decades of discrimination they were to be temporarily given preference in hiring and promotion to "level the playing field."  Policymakers soon discovered other groups that had historically been subject to discrimination: Hispanics, Asians, and women. If you add that up, it is everybody but white men.

When everybody in society is favored except white men, that itself is discrimination. I first noticed it at IBM in the late 1970s. IBM, by virtue of its monopoly position in computers, was fat, sloppy, and inefficient. They felt they could do the right thing by promoting minorities. They were careful, however, not to do anything that would jeopardize the business. Promotions within the ranks of sales people were generally done on the basis of merit. The company culture never valued technical people as much as the salespeople that they supported. As a technician, I observed blacks and women being promoted all around us as me and my white peers marked time. That was my invisible hand. I left.  I spent one year at Booz Allen Hamilton and then started a career as an independent consultant.

An independent consultant is not conflicted.  It is liberating to have only to please the client and not to worry about a boss.  If you can do the work it does not matter what color you are. I became a founding member of the Washington Independent computer consultants Association and about 1984 became its third president. Washington is a diverse place and we of course had black, Asian and female members. The uniting factor was that they were all competent. Whereas you had to question the motives of an employer who hired or promoted minorities, there was no doubt why they would engage a minority consultant. He could get the job done -- no more, no less. My hand-picked successor was Maurice Goode, a gay black guy who was a very talented consultant.  Now let us again retreat from the real world back into academia.

My first semester back in the university was quite an eye-opener. I took four courses, 12 units. I learned later that this is a considerable load in graduate school.  The courses were "No Child Left Behind" taught by a very gifted lecturer, William Galston. By some curious quirk I had read his most recent book and was the first to post a review of it on Amazon. Fortunately it was favorable. I do not remember the name of my second course, but it was in the area of international education and was taught by a member of the "Critical Left," Stephen Klees.  Despite the fact that we disagreed radically we got along quite well. I cannot say the same for the students in his class. There were some groupies, real Kool-Aid drinkers, who could not stand my guts. High school friend Dan Bryant recommended two very enlightening books, Theory's Empire and Literature Lost to help explain what I was witnessing.  My third class was beginning statistics, and my fourth was the application of statistics to education.

I got A's in the first three classes. As I say, Doctor Klees and I may not have agreed on much, but he was comfortable enough in his position and sufficiently generous in spirit to recognize that I did good work. It was only in the application of statistics to an education that I had a problem. That was taught by Dr. Perna, a young feminist who went out of her way to discourage my career in education. I simply could not turn in any piece of work that did not come back running with red ink. I went out of my way to ask her advice in advance, to attempt to work with her on assignments, and basically to do everything they tell as student to do to achieve a good grade. It was all to no avail. I was a man. I was an older man. I was a man who had his own opinions... not one of the white mice castrati who were permitted to exist in this feminist domain.  That was my first semester: I resolved to flee into statistics, where the sane people were. 

It took a semester to change, and I took one last course in the Education Policy and Leadership department the following semester.  I had heard Jennifer King, the professor, speak and concluded she wasn't dumb.  She was married with four boys how bad could it be?  Bad, actually.  In grad school everybody gets A's and Bs.  I think they have to explain up to some level just short of the chancellor if they give you a C.  Anyhow, nothing I could do would move Dr. King to give me more than a low B.  Here is a B-/C+ paper I enjoyed researching and writing.  To hell with her.

The statistics department at Maryland is called Educational Statistics, Measurement and Evaluation.  EDMS.  Putting it in the college of education is a matter of convenience. The mathematicians do not want it -- statistics smack of something useful. Stat is used primarily in the social sciences, and education is the biggest such college on campus. Evaluation, the third specialty in EDMS, is for the most part specific to education.

In any case, the statisticians are small department of smart and for the most part self-effacing people situated within a very large department of dumb and aggressive polemicists. They do the prudent thing: keep their heads down. It is a good department. They publish quite a bit and have a fair amount of national recognition. I was fortunate to get the star of the department, Bob Mislevy, as an advisor. I greatly enjoyed the course I took from him, and enjoyed working with him fairly extensively on a project for the National Science Foundation.

I completed my coursework in statistics in 2006 and missed two opportunities to take the comprehensive examinations for a master's degree. It would have taken some concentrated studying, but that was not the decisive factor. I could not embark on the next step without knowing what I would do with a degree in statistics. I had always been curious about statistics and now I know quite a bit. Among other things, I know the kinds of work that statisticians do in the real world. They are fairly well compensated, but all in all I would rather teach.  If I want to use statistics I can serve my interests better by making stock market models.  Here are some models I created to illustrate statistical concepts.

Four of the most enjoyable to courses I took had little to do with either education or statistics. I took to study abroad courses in anthropology in South America. The professors were both Jewish ladies of six or seven decades, intelligent and good instructors. They certainly did not know what to make of a student like myself, of their own age and quite worldly but with world view very different from that of academia. Let me say that they have shown zero enthusiasm in keeping up contacts after the courses were over, but we got along fine in the student-teacher relationship. In addition, I took a course in second language acquisition which is quite apropos of what I am doing now, and I took a course in the theory of teaching mathematics. Lovely professors, and what I conclude is that nobody really knows how the teaching process works. The more honest professors, like professors Kira Gor and Anna Graebel of these courses, are quite happy to teach all of the conflicting points of view and let you make up your own mind.

I dropped out of Professor Graebel's class in November 2006 when I moved out of home, and that was the last of my university career. I bought some Russian discs the following March and was in Kiev to pursue it seriously in September.