Meta-Commentary

Anemone Fish

Posted in politics, work by Adrian Arroyo on October 1, 2013

Speaker Boehner sells himself as a kind of anemone fish: only he can survive among the stinging tentacles of his party. Today, he shares the fish’s pigment and its epithet.

(David Foster Wallace circled words in his dictionary. I’m using each of them in a sentence, moving alphabetically from “Ablative Absolute” to “witenagemot.”)

Androsterone

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on September 1, 2013

Rejected Movie Pitches–Two Nazis and 4,500 Gallons of Distilled Male Urine: the Androsterone Story.

(David Foster Wallace circled words in his dictionary. I’m using each of them in a sentence, moving alphabetically from “Ablative Absolute” to “witenagemot.”)

Anecdotage

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on August 31, 2013

Data is a young man’s game. The older we get, the more we rely on our anecdotage.

(David Foster Wallace circled words in his dictionary. I’m using each of them in a sentence, moving alphabetically from “Ablative Absolute” to “witenagemot.”)

Unintended

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on September 6, 2012

(Disclaimer: this post is so “first world problems” that the disclaimer itself seems faintly ridiculous. I’m posting it now because bidding hasn’t closed yet, and I don’t want it to come off as whining about not getting the courses I want.)

The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) uses a bidding system to allocate scarce seats in high-demand courses. Depending on program and year, each student receives an allocation of points. They assign these points as they see fit, and after a given period of time the market “clears” at a price determined by number of seats and the maximum bids entered by students. Assuming the baseline allocations are determined thoughtfully, the system puts scarce resources in the hands of those willing to pay more for them.

However, within the larger ecosystem of HKS the bidding system has some interesting and unintended consequences.

Inside the MPP program graduation requirements differ from concentration to concentration. International and Global Affairs (IGA)–the catchall for security/foreign policy/global governance–requires students to complete 6 of their 9.5 elective credits within the concentration, double that of most other concentrations.

In addition, courses taught by IGA faculty are much in demand beyond the MPP program. MPAs and mid-career students from security and foreign policy backgrounds are drawn to the classes run by big wheels like Graham Allison, former Amb. Nicholas Burns, Joe Nye and former Dep. National Security Adviser Meghan O’Sullivan. This cross-program appeal, in combination with the deeper initial pool of points afforded MPAs and mid-careers, tends to fill those classes and drive up the clearing price.

The net effect of these pressures is a further increase in the opportunity costs incurred by IGA concentrators. As they are priced out of the market for their preferred courses, the lofty requirements of the concentration limit their fallback options. In short, in order to graduate they must take courses within the concentration even if those courses have little relation to their career goals and are of less interest to them than other courses outside the IGA concentration.

As a result, savvy students with an interest in IGA (otherwise known as “scabs” or “Pickering Fellows*”) to select a different concentration to ensure that if they can’t get into their preferred IGA courses they’ll have a wider menu of options to choose from. Given that the IGA fact sheet asserts (p.5) that students will receive “comprehensive and rigorous training” with an eye toward creating a pool of distinguished alumni, the fact that the interaction between the degree requirements and the bidding system ends up chasing students out of the concentration seems perverse. If you apply the sort of systems-level analysis and awareness of collective action problems that the IGA concentration inculcates to the concentration itself, you could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that it might be wiser to pitch your tent elsewhere.

There are a couple of ways to address the problem. On the supply side, you could ask the faculty to offer more classes. However, the realities of life in academia dictate otherwise. For tenure-track faculty, the incentives are all wrong. For practitioners, the need to manage a career outside the university puts limits on the amount they can teach. On the demand side, things are a little more promising. The school could implement a two-tiered bidding system for IGA courses, where a certain number of seats are set aside for IGA concentrators. Those seats go to bidding and clear before the general bidding starts, ensuring that IGA students are competing among themselves and not with the HKS community at large.

In all honesty, this isn’t a big problem. It affects a tiny minority of students at Harvard, which is itself a tiny minority of students generally. The world will soldier on whether or not a solution ever arrives. However, if the IGA concentration wants to make good on its goal of training future nuclear negotiators, grand strategists and ambassadors, it might behoove them to ensure those folks don’t get bumped from the relevant courses while they’re in graduate school.

*I say this with love, guys.

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Ament

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on July 30, 2012

Legislators use amendments to court aments within the chamber as well as without.

(David Foster Wallace circled words in his dictionary. I’m using each of them in a sentence, moving alphabetically from “Ablative Absolute” to “witenagemot.”)

Alpestrine

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on July 24, 2012

Accustomed to a form of alpestrine commentary that sees smoke but no fire, we’re now content to ignore the particularities of our situation and speculate on the particulates.

(David Foster Wallace circled words in his dictionary. I’m using each of them in a sentence, moving alphabetically from “Ablative Absolute” to “witenagemot.”)

Algolagnia

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on August 15, 2011

Whatever their reasons for sampling it, both groups soon discovered that fried butter was less a food and more a form of gustatory algolagnia.

(The twelfth part of an ongoing series in which I attempt to use a word circled in David Foster Wallace’s American Heritage Dictionary appropriately.)

Alfresco

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on August 15, 2011

At the Iowa State Fair, fried butter alfresco proved surprisingly popular among reporters and candidates alike–the former drawn to its novelty, the latter to its authenticity.

(The eleventh part of an ongoing series in which I attempt to use a word circled in David Foster Wallace’s American Heritage Dictionary appropriately.)

Aleatory

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on August 4, 2011

The audacity of hope turned out to be a surprisingly aleatory proposition.

(The tenth part of an ongoing series in which I attempt to use a word circled in David Foster Wallace’s American Heritage Dictionary appropriately.)

Ailanthus

Posted in work by Adrian Arroyo on August 4, 2011

Drained of their metaphorical significance, Williamsburg’s Ailanthus trees linger on.

(The ninth part of an ongoing series in which I attempt to use a word circled in David Foster Wallace’s American Heritage Dictionary appropriately.)