Friday, June 22, 2012

On universities and climate change deniers; mortgages, immigration, and policy-on-the-fly

A few things for today. First, I noticed Michael Coren whining last night about an OSU prof named Nicholas Drapela, who was allegedly fired for denying climate change!!!!!

Nonsense. Drapela's webpage (which is still up as of this writing; see here) lists his academic appointments as follows:
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Whitman College 1998-99
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Colorado College 1999-2000
  • Assistant Professor, St. Martin's College, 2000-02
  • Instructor, Oregon State University, 2002-
And his BS and PhD are both from OSU.

Here's how you read this, for the non-academics out there. Drapela got his PhD from OSU and went out into the wilds of the academic job market. He lucked out, and landed a few VAP jobs. A VAP is a long-term contract position. It's term-limited, and there's usually a ceiling on the number of times they will renew the contract. It is quite rare to be hired to a full-time gig -- so, tenure-track, i.e., a straight Assistant Prof -- at the same place where you're doing your VAP. Usually, you have to leave for a bit and come back.

So, after his two VAP's, he lucked out again, and got an Assistant Prof job at St. Martin's College. Which lasted 2 years. Eep. That's not good. Unless this was another limited-term appointment like the VAPs and just had an inflated title, then leaving after 2 years means either he was shitcanned or he failed his tenure review. (Two years is a short time for a tenure review, at least in philosophy, but the timelines may be more truncated in chemistry.) Either way, he was shown the door. I suppose he could have quit, but in this market, no one who wants to be an academic quits a tenure-track gig.

Worth noting, incidentally, that both Whitman and St. Martin's are in WA state, so he didn't really travel far from OSU, except for that Colorado gig. Not usually a good sign; usually, in order to succeed as an academic, you have to be willing to move around quite a bit before you hit that TT job.

Consequently, he winds up as a contract instructor -- which means that the contracts are short-term and course-by-course -- at his alma mater. Probably, he called them up and asked for help, and was given something as a favour. And either it didn't work out particularly well, or (more likely) they didn't have an additional course to give him for next term, so he didn't get another contract. There may be seniority rules in play here -- more senior OSU instructors get first dibs, so nothing was left to give to him -- or there may be some sort of internal thing going on -- e.g., a new TT hire has a trailing spouse (i.e., one academic is hired to the tenure-track, but is married to another academic, and negotiates for contract jobs for his/her spouse). Or they just don't feel like helping him out any more; he may have burned a bridge or two.
The guy wasn't fired, for his views on climate change or anything. He didn't get another contract. Contract work is tenuous -- the (not funny but true) joke is that it's the "tenuous-track" in academia. You may not get hired back. It may be because of something you did or didn't do; it may also be because of broader factors which are not within your control. For anyone to claim there's some sort of conspiracy to get climate change denialists is laughable anyway; to use this sort of case as an example moves the bar from laughable to utterly hysterical. (In both senses of the term "hysterical".)

Anyway. Second point. Deficit Jim tells us that he needs to adjust the mortgage rules to cool off the housing market. And Jason "No Funny Nickname" Kenney tells us that there's hordes of foreign, probably brown, criminals that need to be hurried out of Canada before they blow us up or burn down our churches, and they can't possibly have any sort of appeal or opportunity to explain themselves, dontcha know.

What is with this government and making up policy on cocktail napkins at 2 o'clock in the morning? I'm not even going to say that these are necessarily bad ideas, but there are big, gaping, obvious objections to them. Just off the top of my head, for the mortgage thing:
  1. How does this help those who cannot afford homes due to income not keeping pace with prices?
  2. What impact will this have on those who were hoping to downsize when retiring?
  3. What impact will this have on homes currently on the market?
And for the immigration thing:
  1. What if you plead guilty to a crime because, under the old rules, that would keep you from being deported but, under the new rules, the sentence is enough to get you deported?
  2. What about families where the children are born here, but one (or both) parents is not a citizen and convicted of something?
  3. How many foreign criminals are there in Canada, really, and are they all so bad they need to be removed from the country without any appeal whatsoever?

It's the omnibus budget bill all over again. Everyone jumped up and down as if that, that were the worst example of how Il Duce Harper and his minions run this country. But it never was any such thing; it's typical of the way these guys make policy. They don't think about consequences. They don't consider alternative points of view. They come up with an idea, ram it through the legal channels, and leave everyone else to live in the mess they've made.

2015 can't come soon enough.


Catelli said...

As one economist explained, this was a good move by the gov't because the option of increasing interest rates as tool of cooling a housing market on the bubble (or near enough) was not available.

Long term mortgages (it was the Conservatives that introduced the 40 year mortgage to Canada) drive up prices under the illusion of affordability. But the majority of people (and hell the banks too) are ill-equipped to judge the risk of such a long-term loan. (I know that the amortization period is not a contract obligation. But it is a perpetual renewal trap for the homeowner.)

This should cool prices as it pushes the people more willing to risk large long-term loans out of the market. I believe long-term loans increase speculation, driving up prices, making a bad situation worse. It isn't a cure-all as prices are already too high, but I'm not quite sure what a gov't could legally do to force prices down.

ADHR said...

That's not the only change they've introduced, though. They've also changed the rules on which mortgages CMHC will insure, and increased the down payment on properties worth more than $1 million. At best, that's a partial defense.

I'm also not sure about the idea of an illusion of affordability. Given that there's always a limit on how much someone can pay for housing in a month, removing one tool for reducing that monthly payment -- increasing the amortization -- seems to me to force the wrong people out of the housing market. (That is, in trying to push out the speculators, this change ends up pushing out people who just can't handle a 25- or 30-year period.)

Maybe prices will drop and that'll solve some problems -- it doesn't solve the problem of people who wanted to use their properties as retirement or other income -- but I'm not sure that the real issue is that there's something wrong with prices. (After all, what is the "right" price for a house? Beyond "what the market will bear", I'm not sure how to calculate that.)

The issue, to my mind, is that incomes haven't kept pace with housing prices. So, it's a problem with people not having enough income, not a problem with houses being mispriced. And that the government could solve, in a number of ways.

(Not to mention that, legally, there's nothing stopping a Westminster Parliament from simply price-fixing, but that has all sorts of other problems.)