Monthly Archives: January 2007

TV History of US Supreme Court

PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) will broadcast a TV program (on US television channels)  on the history of the US Supreme court. Twohour-long episodes will air on January 31, 2007, and two on February 07, 2007.

 A companion book by Jeffrey Rosen entitled “The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America” has also been published. A web site with more information can be accessed here: http://historyofsupremecourt.org

Recent changes in bench composition and a new chief justice will have a very significant impact on American legal and social systems. This TV program should be useful to people who are interested in assessing what changes are likely to come about.

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Talk on Indo-Pak Peace Process at George Mason U

The South and East Asia Working Group
at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Presents a talk by
Senator Mushahid Hussain, 
Chairman of the 
Pakistan Senate Foreign Relations Committee
On “The India-Pakistan Peace Process”   

On Friday January 26, 2007 at 4:00 p.m
In Room 329, Arlington Original Building,
George Mason University, 
Arlington Campus   

Refreshments will be served 

For more information please contact Saira Yamin at syamin1@gmu.edu or Maneshka Eliatamby at deliatama@gmu.edu.

(Announcement received from the Embassy of Pakistan)

Higher Ed in Pakistan, More Money – No Relief

There is a report in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) about an increase in spending on higher education in Pakistan. There are plans to start nine engineering universities, five law schools and several medical schools. An effort to attract Pakistani academics located abroad and foreign faculty members by providing research grants and salaries of up to $4,000 per month (about 30% higher than the maximum pay for local faculty) has drawn 350 expatriates and about 300 foreign scholars. Over the last four years the percentage of college-age students (enrolled in colleges and universities has gone up from 2.9% to 3.8%.

All of this should be good news. However according to critics although the higher education budget of the Government of Pakistan has increase sevenfold over the last four years to $449 million (still only 0.5% of GDP), that expenditure is not producing enough bang for all those bucks.

There is a litany of complaints but they can be boiled down to saying that the money is not being spent in a well-thought out fashion. One example is the expenditure that has gone towards establishing PhD programs, awarding scholarships for doctoral study abroad, and hiring foreign professors. Despite this focus on graduate study, the quality of the programs is poor. Local programs are understaffed and the staff is not always well-qualified.

The foreign faculty that has been hired often comes from Eastern Europe or former Soviet States and the professors cannot speak English well (and probably speak no Urdu) and are not strong researchers. Many of the new hires are returning Pakistanis but they do not have sufficient distinction in their academic areas. While students are encouraged to join PhD programs, admission standards are weak and the increase in the number of doctoral students has swamped the number of faculty members available to supervise them.

In a bid to increase productivity faculty members have been offered cash incentives to publish papers (Rs. 5,000-10,000 per paper – about $112-224) and take on doctoral students (Rs. 5,000 per student). While this has led to an increase in the number of papers published, it has also lead to fraud and plagiarism.

Another problem is that the development money is being spent on the 57 public universities in the country with the 700 or so undergraduate colleges receiving little support.

These and other points constitute valid criticisms. The Chronicle article quotes several Pakistani academics and education industry consultants voicing these concerns but it does not report any constructive suggestions on how to avoid or fix these types of problems. Perhaps that is simply an artifact of poor reporting or perhaps the critics really do not have anything constructive to offer. I know from my own experience that bringing organizational change and staffing any major effort is a very difficult task. Multiply this difficulty several-fold by attempting change on the scale of a country within a relatively short period of a few years and it is not surprising that all sorts of problems are being encountered.

Maybe the chairman of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission Dr. Atta-ur Rahman (who heads the development program) could have hired more capable assistants or used a more collaborative process to drive change. However a more fundamental question is why there is so much expenditure on graduate education and practically none on undergraduate education. Is it really worthwhile to produce PhDs when a larger need within industry or business is for graduates with Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees? Pakistani industry hardly has the research infrastructure to utilize PhDs and it is debatable whether university research labs will be able to produce spin-offs that would be effectively assimilated by local companies.

It would be more cost-effective to send students abroad to obtain their doctorates and focus within the country on undergraduate education. Well-educated undergraduates working in their thousands in industry, business, and government would probably have a more immediate impact on raising the economic productivity of the country than producing several hundred PhDs at this time. The development of a strong economic foundation will ultimately create a demand for PhD-level engineers, scientists, and even humanists.

If PhDs are really needed, an alternate approach would be (horrors!) to encourage immigration to Pakistan. Provide some economic incentives for PhD-holders to move to Pakistan and do whatever it is they are supposed to do. Of course, if they want to setup a company or business and need qualified local worker bees, that talent had better be available …

Chomsky and Kagan as Archetypes

In a recent article Pierre Guerlain talks about Noam Chomsky and Robert Kagan as the archetypical representatives of two modes in which intellectuals relate to the notion of the state and its power. (Robert Kagan and Noam Chomsky: Two ways of being a political intellectual, Comparative American Studies, Vol 4, No. 4, pp. 446–458, 2006).

Chomsky represents the scholar who may step outside the narrow confines of his discipline to bring his intellectual training to bear on issues that affect the public at large; such an individual directly addresses the citizenry. In contrast, Kagan represents the expert who addresses the holders of power rather than those over whom power is exercised.

Guerlain describes Kagan as an elitist who feels that an elite group must direct the masses while Chomsky attempts to expose the elites as manipulators. Furthermore, Kagan is a nationalist whereas Chomsky tends to have an internationalist outlook.

Thus, according to Guerlain, intellectuals relate to the holders of power by either advising them on how to exercise it or by seeking to expose the exercise of that power so that citizens can stop its misapplication.

If we accept Guerlain’s categorization then it is not surprising that advisors to the power holders tend to be nationalistic. After all strengthening the nation state is a way of concentrating power and enhancing the value of advisors. Alternatively, exposing the manipulations of power may not necessarily lead to an internationalist outlook but it is not inconsistent with a libertarian outlook that does not privilege the state.

Diversity, Oui ou Non!

Interesting and conflicting developments are occurring on the affirmative action/diversity front in the US.

 

The American Bar Association accredits law schools in the US as part of its activities. It recently adopted a policy requiring law schools seeking accreditation to demonstrate the steps they take to ensure diversity amongst their students, faculty, and staff. However the US department of Education has raised concerns that such a requirement could force law schools to break the law in four states that ban the use of affirmative action. The Department of Education could potentially refuse to recognize the American Bar Association’s authority to accredit law schools.  People in the legal education arena are not of one voice on the issue of increasing diversity in law schools by linking it to accreditation. It still remains to be seen how this issue will be resolved.

Meanwhile economists are wrestling with their own approach to accommodating diversity and merit. For the last couple of decades the American Economic Association (AEA) has banned advertising in its jobs newsletter that discriminates “on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, sexual preference, or physical handicap.” In the last several years it has enforced this restriction strictly, for example even banning phrases that encourage applications from specific underrepresented groups. However some of the Association members were quite unhappy with this rigidness contending that it prevented increasing the proportion of underrepresented groups amongst economists. They mounted a protest and succeeded in getting the advertising policy loosened so that job advertisements may now contain language encouraging people from federally-recognized underrepresented groups to apply.

However the most intriguing piece in the American Economic Association’s story concerns how to deal with religious educational institutions. Such institutions are legally permitted to discriminate on the basis of religion. So advertisements from religious educational institutions legally could require belonging to a particular religion as a condition of application. However the AEA has decided that consistent with its new approach to treating race, gender, etc., it will publish job advertisements that encourage applications from people belonging to particular religious groupings but will not allow advertisements that make such religious affiliation a requirement of the job. Some people contend that such finessing is silly since there is no point in not informing people that a discriminatory, albeit legal, criterion will be applied to candidates.

Clearly, there is more disagreement about diversity and affirmative action curently than there used to be a few years ago or perhaps those opposed to affirmative action and increasing diversity are simply more vocal and effective now. The issue of balancing social concerns with competitive selection is something that will not go away till inequality of opportunity at the systemic level has been removed. This may take a while since politicians and the public seem to have little interest in bearing the cost of making structural adjustments to the economy and society that would result in the systematic opening of equality of opportunity to everyone depending on the progress they make through their lives right from birth.

(Some of the material in this post draws upon reports published in The Chronicle of Higher Education).

Slap the Block

In case you have wondered what the green and white icon in the sidebar to the right is all about, here is its story. About a year ago A Danish newspaper published some cartoons about the Prophet. (Only one of the prophets is frequently referred to simply as The Prophet – as a bright and culturally-sensitive individual you can already identify him so I shall continue without adding further detail). This led to much furor and froth in many Muslim communities.

The cartoons were also posted on many websites. In Pakistan a couple of highly incensed individuals filed petitions, one to block these websites and another one to register cases of blasphemy. The Supreme Court of Pakistan heard these petitions and directed the government to block websites displaying the cartoons. After this point the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) issued a letter to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) instructing them to block 12 particular websites (a barely-legible image of the letter is available on this BBC site). One of these sites was hosted on the blogspot.com domain. Why these specific websites, and only 12, were selected is not quite clear; surely there must have been many more sites than twelve displaying the cartoons.

Whatever the case, in implementing PTA’s directive the ISPs managed to block out the entire blogspot domain instead of the one specific blog listed in the directive. I do not know whether the domains carrying the other websites noted in PTA’s directive were blocked in their entirety or not. However since Blogger (blogspot.com) hosts a very large number of blogs and all of those became inaccessible in Pakistan, that blockage achieved considerable notoriety. Of course bloggers and blog readers have found workarounds such as the re-directing service provided by pkblogs.com, which is accessed via the green and white icon in the sidebar.

Based on what I have read it seems that the Government of Pakistan did not really initiate the blockage of blogs. A member of the Pakistani public petitioned the court which directed the Government to block websites displaying the offending cartoons. The responsible government agency (PTA) picked twelve sites and asked ISPs to block those. Then through laziness, technical incompetence, overzealousness, or fear, the ISPs blocked an entire domain instead of a specific blog hosted in that domain.

Movements protesting the blockage want to pressure the Government of Pakistan to lift the blockage. But if the Government is complying with a Supreme Court order, can it unilaterally lift the blockage in defiance of that court? I suspect not. Either the court would have to overturn its own order or Parliament would have to pass some law to enable the blockage to be lifted.

Additionally, it is not clear why ISPs are blocking the entire Blogger domain (and possibly other domains) instead of just the twelve sites required by PTA’s directive. I am sure that there are enough technically savvy people in Pakistan that some would volunteer to isolate just the twelve sites instead of entire domains if the ISPs found it difficult to do that on their own. Could it be that the ISPs fear being targeted by extremist groups? If such is not the case, perhaps blockage protestors could succeed in having the domain blockage lifted by applying commercial pressure to the ISPs.

Then there is the entire issue of free speech. Is the concept of freedom of expression even recognized in the constitution of Pakistan or its legal system (originally inherited from the British)?

These are all serious questions that need to be researched and discussed. Perhaps some approach other than protesting to the Government of Pakistan is needed to bring about change. In the meantime, if you are located in Pakistan, slap the block on blogspot.com blogs by clicking on the green and white icon in the sidebar to access those blogs.

Urdu Talk Radio

A group of young Pakistanis have started a talk radio show on a Chicago radiostation (1590 AM). The show is also available as a live audiostream on the ‘Net. Archived programs can be downloaded as MP3 files. The website of this collective known as the Asian Broadcasting Network is available here: http://www.abnchicago.org/