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December 2003

Alex Tabarrok thinks professors may well be obsolete. (Interesting further discussion here.)

I think Alex's argument is spot on and the follow-up comment by Roger Meiners that the large state schools are the ones most likely to undergo significant change is also correct. It seems to me that technology offers an excellent substitute, at much lower cost, to large, or even medium-sized, lecture courses.

Another follow-up comment suggests an important function of large lecture classes, maybe even universities as a whole, is to help students find mates. This is interesting. I don't know that he wrote it down, but I heard Armen Alchian say in class that it was very hard to ascertain how the enormous tuitions at Ivy League-type schools were justifed by education, alone. He stated that he thought most of the value was from helping talented and motivated students find other talented and motivated people to marry.

More on education: a brief summary of intense discussions among the Harvard faculty about reform of the undergraduate curriculum is here. Among a lot of dopey platitudes, there are a few nuggets, such as this:

Mallinckrodt professor of physics Howard George, himself a House master (Leverett), extolled Harvard as a place where students can learn from each other and from the broad faculty and other resources, and pleaded that its strengths not be damaged in curriculum reform. Given the students' strengths, he said, echoing Charles Rosenberg, they "are worth trusting" in their curricular choices. The Core, he said, served most students well, but only annoyed the best ones; better for them to take a serious minor in a field far apart from their concentration.

Amen. (What's with all this agreement? Is the Door going mainstream [shudder]?)

A book you might not need, but if you do need it you probably really need it: How To Shit in the Woods. A steal at $7.95, the updated edition includes:

- reviews on newly available portable potties
- a new chapter specifically for the solo trekker
- the growing array of travelers' field water disinfecting systems
- a fresh batch of "worst experience" stories
- more wise t.p.-less techniques form the Old World for the purist
- and more all peppered with irreverent musings

Some thoughts on graduate econ study by a UC Davis student. (Link via Chris Silvey.) Interesting claim:

That means some of your classmates will be married. This came as a shock to me as I wasn’t friends with anyone at LC that was married. You soon learn, however, that the married people are just like the single people, only more cynical.

Also on the economics beat, a list of seniors honors theses done at Lewis & Clark College going back to 1963(!). ("The Determinants of Poverty in Rural Albania: A Case Study": holy cow.)