On Private Giving to Public Schools

September 5th, 2013 § 1

Glamorous and lucrative school auctions to support wealthy suburban schools have become a stock feature of popular writing about Silicon Valley. David Kaplan opened his 1999 book, The Silicon Boys, with an account of the over-the-top excesses of the annual charity auction of the Woodside School Foundation.  And George Packer’s recent article in the New Yorker updated the scene:

The Woodside School Foundation now brings in about two million dollars a year for a school with fewer than five hundred children, and every spring it hosts a gala with a live auction. I attended it two years ago, when the theme was RockStar, and one of Google’s first employees sat at my table after performing in a pickup band called Parental Indiscretion. School benefactors, dressed up as Tina Turner or Jimmy Page, and consuming Jump’n Jack Flash hanger steaks, bid thirteen thousand dollars for Pimp My Hog! (“Ride through town in your very own customized 1996 Harley Davidson XLH1200C Sportster”) and twenty thousand for a tour of the Japanese gardens on the estate of Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle and the country’s highest-paid chief executive. The climax arrived when a Mad Men Supper Club dinner for sixteen guests—which promised to transport couples back to a time when local residents lived in two-thousand-square-foot houses—sold for forty-three thousand dollars.

Were Woodside an anomaly, it would be easier to ignore the phenomenal amount of private giving to public schools. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Not Very Giving, I chose the Hillsborough Schools Foundation as an example of the trend. (Its 2012 Live Auction Catalogue is really quite something.) And it would be easy to point to similarly outsized fundraising efforts by local school foundations in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Orinda, and Los Altos. The same is true elsewhere in the country: in pockets of New York City, in Montgomery County outside Washington D.C., and so on.

Kaplan and Packer see the fundraising galas thrown by school foundations as an opportunity to shine a light on the excesses of our current tech titans. In the current overheated Silicon Valley economy, in an age of growing inequality, school auctions only scratch the surface of such opportunities.

But the problem with school foundations goes much deeper than exposing the follies of fundraising galas among the one percent. The problem is that such activity actually exacerbates inequalities in funding between public schools, widening the already large gap between rich and poor.  And it is carried on under the name of, and legal recognition as, charitable activity.

Here is a case where charity does not aid the poor, is not indifferent to the poor, but actually confers additional advantage to the already well-off.  For those who understand charity to mean something about alms-giving and support for the poor, it is surprising how little of the roughly $300 billion given away annually in the United States is directed to the needy. (A few links on this: report from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, Wonkblog post, a 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed by Sheryl Sandberg, and a new, but gated, article I wrote on the topic here.)

In the case of school foundations, I don’t blame well-intended parents.  They are seeking quite naturally to support the education of their own children. Punishing parents by banning or curtailing their support for their children is no answer, but neither is publicly subsidizing behavior that encourages activity which predictably worsens inequalities between the educational opportunities of rich and poor kids.

The problem here is policy, not parents. So the focus should be on public policy, on the basic framework that defines, structures, and governs philanthropy. This is the topic of much of my recent research. What role should philanthropy play in a democratic society? What norms should inform the policies that govern the philanthropic sector?

Such questions are also core to the work of the scholars and practitioners at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and in our magazine, the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  In 2005 I wrote there about the perverse incentives in tax policy that structure charitable giving, A Failure of Philanthropy: American Charity Shortchanges the Poor, and Public Policy is Partly to Blame.  The piece has some data about the extent of private giving to public schools in California and discusses a range of public policy problems and solutions.  Earlier this year, I contributed to a forum in the Boston Review on the topic What Are Foundations For? And I am completing a book, entitled Just Giving, that seeks to provide a full treatment of the role of philanthropy in democracy.

 

 

 

Larissa MacFarquhar at Stanford: Extreme Morality

January 5th, 2013 § 1

There’s no better writer on the lives and ideas of intellectuals than the New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar.  Her profiles, frequently of academics, and often of philosophers, are always good reading.  As someone who opens the New Yorker and thrills to a MacFarquhar profile as most do to an Anthony Lane review, I’m excited that MacFarquhar will be in brief residence at Stanford with the Program on Ethics in Society in mid-January.

In addition to conducting some writing workshops with seniors working on their honors theses and meeting with freshman in the Structured Liberal Education program, she’ll be giving a public talk on January 15, 2013 with material drawn from the book she’s currently writing on Extreme Morality, profiles of people whose moral commitments lead them to extraordinary acts and exceptional lives, often at seeming great cost to themselves and the people they love and who love them.  Details on the poster below.

I think her specialty is capturing the strange beauty of monomania.  If you’ve seen the recent documentary on Bill Cunningham, eccentric fashion photographer for the New York Times, or on Jiro Ono, eccentric genius from Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you will know the kind of monomaniac I have in mind: individuals who cannot do other than passionately devote themselves to a single activity.  MacFarquahar’s profile of Momofuku chef David Chang fits this mold. So does her article on Pat and Paul Churchland, philosophers at UC San Diego who work on the mind-body problem.

My personal favorite is her 2011 piece on Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit, How to Be Good [gated].  Parfit is one of the most important living philosophers.  In addition to nimbly conveying the substance of his views on the objectivity and unity of morality – hardly the stuff of a page-turning New Yorker article – she captures the person behind the ideas.  I have never met Derek Parfit, but I know and admire the type:

He moved into rooms at All Souls and settled into a monk-like existence.  There was usually a woman in his life somewhere, but he spent very little time with her. Almost all his waking hours were spent at his desk. All Souls resembles a monastery.  Its fifteenth century stone arcades surround a vivid lawn that is immaculate because it is seldom used: All Souls has no undergraduates and is not often open to the public – its gates are shut.  All his needs were taken care of by the college: he was housed, fed, and paid, and nothing in the way of emotional output was required of him. This was how his life had been since he went to boarding school, at ten, and it suited him. He had become, he realized, what psychiatrists call institutionalized – a person for whom living in an institution feels more normal than living in a family.

. . .

Other than his trips to Venice and St. Petersburg, the only reason he left All Souls for any length of time was to travel to America, to teach. He had appointments at Harvard, Rutgers, and N.Y.U.: he wanted students, because he found that it was discouragingly difficult to persuade older philosophers to change their minds. He also needed students, because only they would talk philosophy with him for twelve hours at a stretch and then wake up the next day wanting to do it again.  Older philosophers (and his students from past years were now in this category) had children and spouses; they sat on academic committees and barbecued in their backyards.

I am not capable of this kind of devotion, nor would I wish for such a life, were I capable of it. I have a spouse and children. And I both serve on academic committees and barbecue. I am happy, and better off, for all of these. But I admire Parfit’s life and am grateful that our social arrangements make possible such lives. Monomania need not be madness. It can be greatness.

Post-Doctoral Fellowships at the Stanford Center on Ethics in Society

December 5th, 2012 § 0

Stanford’s Center on Ethics in Society has several fellowships for post-doctoral scholars in two areas: scholars working generally on ethics and scholars (including those with social science PhDs) working in some way on questions concerning educational opportunity. Full details here:

The Center for Ethics in Society Post Doctoral Fellowships

For 2013-2014, we seek up to four new post doctoral fellows. We are also expecting to be able to offer an additional three post doctoral fellowships. These three position will play a role in courses tied to the new undergraduate ethics requirement at Stanford.

We welcome candidates with substantial normative research interests from diverse backgrounds including philosophy, the social sciences, and professional schools. We are especially interested in candidates with research interests in inequality, human rights, immigration, and environmental justice, but we welcome all applicants with strong normative interests that have some practical implications. Fellows will be involved in teaching, interact with undergraduates in the Ethics in Society Honors Program and help in developing an inter-disciplinary ethics community across the campus.

The appointment term is September 1, 2013 – August 31, 2014; however, the initial term may be renewed for an additional year. Applicants must have completed all requirements for their PhD by June 30, 2013. Candidates must also be no more than 3 years from the awarding of their degree (i.e., September 2010).

Stanford University is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty. It welcomes applications from women and members of minority groups, as well as others who would bring additional dimensions to the university’s research and teaching missions. Salary is competitive.

For information on how to access the online system to submit your application, visit our website .

Spencer Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowships in Equality of Opportunity and Education at Stanford University

For 2013-2014, we seek up to two post doctoral scholars for a project focused on issues of equality of opportunity and the public provision of education. These fellowships have been created with funding by the Spencer Foundation. The fellows will join the community of post doctoral fellows at the Center but will be selected on the basis of their fit with this multi-year project on Equality of Opportunity and the Public Provision of Education. We seek scholars with a PhD (from disciplines such as philosophy, education or one of the social sciences) or a JD with research interests related to (any of) the following questions:

1. What ideal of equality should govern the public provision of education?

2. What are the implications of this ideal for concrete decisions about school financing, admissions practices, and the national, state, and local distribution of educational responsibility?

3. What are the practical obstacles to achieving this ideal in education?

Fellows will receive training and mentorship; work closely with distinguished faculty related to the project; participate in multi-disciplinary seminars and conferences and meet with leading scholars and policy makers in the field. Fellows may be assigned some teaching responsibilities (at most one course per year), and will be asked to participate in faculty-graduate student workshops, interact with undergraduates in the School of Education and Ethics in Society program and help in developing an inter-disciplinary ethics community across the campus.

The appointment term is September 1, 2013 – August 31, 2014. Applicants must have completed all requirements for their PhD by June 30, 2013. Candidates must also be no more than 3 years from the awarding of their degree (i.e., September 2010).

Stanford University is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty. It welcomes applications from women and members of minority groups, as well as others who would bring additional dimensions to the university’s research and teaching missions. Salary is competitive.

For information on the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, visit our website .

Application deadline is January 10, 2013 5:00pm (Pacific Standard Time). Please submit your application material via Interfolio.

Contact person: Joan Berry at joanberry at stanford dot edu

Post Doc Fellowships at the Center for Ethics in Society, 2012-2013

October 10th, 2011 § 0

The Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University is once again seeking applicants for several post-doc fellowships. There’s a terrific roster of current post-docs available here

Postdoctoral Fellowship Opportunities for 2012-2013

For 2012-2013, The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society seeks up to four new postdoctoral fellows. We welcome candidates with substantial normative research interests from diverse backgrounds including philosophy, the social sciences, and professional schools. We are especially interested in candidates with research interests in inequality, human rights, immigration, and environmental justice, but we welcome all applicants with strong normative interests that have some practical implications. Fellows will teach one class, participate in a Political Theory Workshop, interact with undergraduates in the Ethics in Society Honors Program and help in developing an inter-disciplinary ethics community across the campus.

The appointment term is September 1, 2012 – August 31, 2013; however, the initial term may be renewed for an additional year. Applicants must have completed all requirements for their PhD by June 30, 2012. Candidates must also be no more than 3 years from the awarding of their degree (i.e., September 2009).

Stanford University is an equal opportunity employer and is committed to increasing the diversity of its faculty. It welcomes applications from women and members of minority groups, as well as others who would bring additional dimensions to the university’s research and teaching missions. Salary is competitive.

The application deadline is January 11, 2012 (5:00pm Pacific Standard Time).

To access the online application system, click here.

For more information on the Center and our fellowship program, click here.

For inquiries, please contact Joan Berry at the Center.

Are Stanford Students Just (Really Excellent) Sheep?

March 24th, 2011 § 21

Ten years ago David Brooks wrote a provocative piece, in his trademark comic sociology genre, about the lives of undergraduates at elite universities.  It was called The Organization Kid, and it portrayed the average Princeton/Yale/Harvard/Stanford student as extremely bright and morally earnest but ultimately rather uninspired and herd-like conformists.  Meritocratic hoop-jumpers.

It’s a piece that unfailingly stimulates a good discussion among undergraduates in some of the classes I teach here at Stanford.

Brooks’s article is at heart ambivalent about the undergraduates he describes: they’re lovely, talented, and kind, but also overly deferential and obsessed with resume-building.  More recently, William Deresiewicz published an article in a similar spirit but with a significantly greater negative judgment.  Deresiewicz, now a full-time writer but then an English professor at Yale, wrote in The Disadvantages of an Elite Education that,

Yale students think for themselves, but only because they know we want them to. I’ve had many wonderful students at Yale and Columbia, bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it’s been a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them.

Deresiewicz doesn’t blame the students alone for this.  He also takes the university to task:

When elite universities boast that they teach their students how to think, they mean that they teach them the analytic and rhetorical skills necessary for success in law or medicine or science or business. But a humanistic education is supposed to mean something more than that, as universities still dimly feel. So when students get to college, they hear a couple of speeches telling them to ask the big questions, and when they graduate, they hear a couple more speeches telling them to ask the big questions. And in between, they spend four years taking courses that train them to ask the little questions—specialized courses, taught by specialized professors, aimed at specialized students. Although the notion of breadth is implicit in the very idea of a liberal arts education, the admissions process increasingly selects for kids who have already begun to think of themselves in specialized terms—the junior journalist, the budding astronomer, the language prodigy. We are slouching, even at elite schools, toward a glorified form of vocational training.

The article ends with one of his students asking him, ““So are you saying that we’re all just, like, really excellent sheep?”

When I teach Deresiewicz’s article to Stanford students, they bridle at his description.  But I think they also recognize some of what Deresiewicz describes all around them.  The hoop-jumping mentality.  The instinctive deference to authority.  The idea that every activity they undertake be “a growth experience.”

Deresiewicz has since written a few other articles about elite undergraduate life, Solitude and Leadership and What are You Going to Do With That?

In a new initiative, the seniors in the Stanford Program on Ethics in Society select someone they would like to invite to campus to give a talk.  The seniors in the program this year selected Deresiewicz, and I was grateful when he accepted the invitation to come to campus for a few events.  The public event he’s doing is on April 12, 2011 and is entitled “Are Stanford Students Just (Really Excellent) Sheep?  Flyer below.  RSVP to Andrea Kuduk.

UPDATE: Video of the event available here.

Inside Job at Stanford

March 23rd, 2011 § 2

The Center for Ethics in Society is sponsoring a great event in early April.  We will offer a free screening of the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job.  And then director Charles Ferguson will come to campus the following night to join a panel of Stanford scholars to discuss the issues raised in the film about the financial crisis and, hitting closer to home, the role of industry-supported scholars and experts in the finance industry.

The Academy Award winning documentary Inside Job not only looks at the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, but also raises important questions about the “soft corruption” of academic research. Such questions arise not only with respect to economics, a subject of the film, but also medicine, law, public policy and even art.

Please join us in a showing of the film and a discussion of the ethical issues raised by the film as they relate to research: issues such as the influence of money, conflict of interest, transparency, accountability, and the responsibility of researchers.

Full details below the fold. » Read the rest of this entry «

Wendy Kopp and Teach for America event

January 11th, 2011 § 0

Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of Teach For America, will be visiting campus tomorrow, Wednesday, Jan. 11.   She’ll be delivering a lecture as part of the BASES program on social entrepreneurship.  And she’s doing an event, in conversation with me, at 3pm, co-sponsored by the Program on Ethics in Society and the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.  See below for the flyer.

New Post-Doc Opportunities at Stanford

October 17th, 2010 § 0

The Ethics in Society Center received a major grant from the Spencer Foundation this past summer.  We are excited to announce a call for post-doctoral fellowship applications for visits of 1-2 years at Stanford.  We seek applicants from philosophy, political science, economics, history, sociology, Law or Education.  Deadline to apply is Jan. 12, 2011.Full description below.

» Read the rest of this entry «

2010 Tanner Lectures at Stanford: Mark Danner on Torture and the Forever War

March 17th, 2010 § 0

Stanford University is one of nine universities to host an annual Tanner Lecture. These are named after Obert Clark Tanner, a scholar and industrialist, who endowed the lecture series to stimulate reflection on scholarly and scientific learning related to human values. The list of people who have delivered Tanner Lectures is a who’s who of the most prominent and influential scholars in the English-speaking world. Previous Tanner lecturers at Stanford include: Jared Diamond, Paul Krugman, Avishai Margalit, Harry Frankfurt, Glenn Loury. G.A. Cohen, Stanley Cavell, Nancy Fraser, Stephen J. Gould, Amy Gutmann, and Thomas Nagel.

The 2010 Tanner Lecture is by Mark Danner, a Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. Full details below. These lectures are open to the public.

Spring 2010 Tanner Lectures
Mark Danner (University of California, Berkeley)
Lecture 1: “Imposing the State of Exception: Constitutional Dictatorship, Torture and Us”
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Building 320, Room 105

Lecture 1 Discussion Seminar
Commentators: Eric Posner (Law, University of Chicago) and Colonel Steven Kleinman (Senior Intelligence Officer U.S. Air Force, 1985-present)
Thursday, April 15, 2010
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Landau Economics Building, SIEPR A

Lecture 2: “Naturalizing the State of Exception: Terror, Fear and the War Without End”
Thursday, April 15, 2010
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Building 320, Room 105

Lecture 2 Discussion Seminar
Elaine Scarry (Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value, Harvard)
Stephen Holmes (Law, NYU)
Friday, April 16, 2010
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Landau Economics Building, SIEPR A

Larry Lessig’s 2010 Wesson Lecture at Stanford

January 22nd, 2010 § 0

Professor Larry Lessig, formerly at Stanford and now at Harvard (directing the Center on Ethics there) visited Stanford this past week to give a talk on Institutional Corruption. A well-timed topic, coming as it did just a day before the Citizens United decision.

The talk was a Wesson Lecture, sponsored by the Center on Ethics in Society. You can watch it in full below.

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