Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A young college student who works in a Texas kolache bakery: Why I know she will succeed in life

 My wife and I recently traveled to Waco, Texas, to attend a dear friend's funeral. Our drive home to Baton Rouge took us through College Station, the home of Texas A & M University.

We had left Waco early in the morning without eating breakfast, and we were hungry. I pulled into a gas station near Texas A &M, which happened to house a kolache bakery.

If you've never eaten a kolache, you should search out a bakery that makes them. Kolaches are a yeast-roll pastry topped with fruit or stuffed with sausage. They originated in Czechoslavakia and came to Texas with the Czech immigrants who settled in central Texas in the nineteenth century. Texans are crazy about the Kolache, which is sometimes called a Texas donut. 

 I walked into the kolache bakery and ordered two cups of coffee and three kolaches stuffed with sausage, cheese, and jalapenos. I was served by an attractive young woman who welcomed me with a smile and a friendly greeting. 

The kolaches were delicious.  They were each topped with a thin slice of jalapeno that had been baked into the yeast roll. That little jalapeno slice was something extra--both a garnish and a message that these particular kolaches were stuffed with hot peppers. 

While we were eating, the young woman began conversing in Spanish with another employee who was diligently mopping the bakery floor.  I imagine they were brother and sister. How quintessentially Texan: a family-owned Hispanic bakery that specializes in Bohemian pastries. 

I noticed then that the woman who served me was wearing a t-shirt bearing the name of Texas A & M's Mays Business School. Undoubtedly, she was a business major at the university or an MBA student.

That woman will make a success of her life. How do I know?

First, she has basic work skills. Although selling pastries is a menial job, she did it cheerfully and professionally. She has the workplace skills that will serve her well, whether she spends her whole life selling kolaches or working for Goldman & Sachs.

Second, she is bilingual.  Texas is now a bilingual state--not at the level of Canadian Quebec, but the Lone Star State is rapidly heading in that direction. This woman's language skills will serve her well throughout her life.

Third, she chose to major in business--a major that will probably lead to a good job. Not for her those vacuous programs in the social sciences, liberal arts, or ethnic studies.  

Finally, this young woman is working while in college and probably has minimal student loans or perhaps no student debt at all.

I wish more college students were like the woman who sold me three kolaches. We would be a stronger nation if young people graduated from college with this woman's work skills, language proficiency, and an academic major that will prepare them for a good job.  

PS: Purists call a sausage-filled Czech pastry a klobasniky, but most Texans refer to both fruit-filled and sausage-filled pastries as kolaches.

Is this a klobasniky or a kolache?

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Will a degree from a fancy, private college improve the quality of your life? Maybe, but maybe not.

 I occasionally see television and print advertisements for weight-loss programs. Invariably, these ads show a slim, young, attractive woman with perfect teeth or a handsome young man with great hair and six-pack abs. We are encouraged to believe that these beautiful people were once fat.

But we know better. We know that no matter what diet plan we go on, we will never be as beautiful as the people in the weight-loss ads.  We'll buy the product and still have crooked teeth and a little flab around our bellies.

America's private colleges are like the weight-loss companies. Enroll at our prestigious institution, study on our cool campus, interact with our brilliant but kindly professors, and you'll be on the road to a fabulously better life.

For example, here is some puffery from Quinnipiac University's website:

From your first day, Quinnipiac’s expansive resources and passionate professors will help you flourish and build a foundation for success. You’ll create your first memories as a Bobcat on this campus, and find supportive resources throughout your journey.

How much will this journey cost you? Only about $70,000 a year in room, board, fees, and tuition.   That's more than a quarter of a million dollars for a bachelor's degree.

But, hey, you'll probably get a scholarship of some kind, and you can take out student loans. And if you need more cash to finance your studies, your parents can take out a Parent Plus loan.

Just remember, no matter where you go to college, you will still be you. And there are probably many people willing to help you reach your dreams who will charge you a lot less than a quarter of a million dollars.

Were these people ever fat?


Monday, June 21, 2021

"Don't just retire. Retire well." What does that mean to millions of Americans drowning in student-loan debt?

 Almost every day, I see a television ad for an investment firm that targets retirees. "Don't just retire," the tv spokesperson says. "Retire well."

Of course, everyone wants to retire well. For most of us, that means retiring with our debts paid and enough income to cover our bills and travel occasionally.

But many Americans aren't going to retire well because they are shackled to crushing student-loan debt. People who took out student loans late in life are especially burdened, along with parents who signed up for Parent PLUS loans to finance their children's college education.

But young people also see their retirement years threatened by oppressive student-loan obligations. According to a CNBC news story, two-thirds of older millennials (ages 33 to 40) are still paying on their student loans, and more than half say their loans "weren't worth it." 

College borrowers in mid-life are reporting that student loans have forced them to put off buying a house, marrying, having children, and saving for retirement.

And the cost of higher education is going up, not down. I had hoped that the COVID pandemic would force colleges to trim their costs, become more efficient, and perhaps lower their tuition rates.

But that didn't happen. Instead, although student enrollments dropped during the pandemic, the federal government sent colleges massive amounts of money that allowed them to continue operating inefficiently.  Indeed, federal COVID money probably shored up some struggling colleges that otherwise would have closed.

And while tuition rates continue to rise, the quality of a college degree goes down at many universities. Hundreds of schools have dropped standardized test scores as an admission requirement--opting for "holistic" admission standards.

The colleges say they have taken this step to attract more minority students and students from low-income families. But in reality, the schools need warm bodies to fill their classrooms--whether those warm bodies are college-ready or not. Inevitably, holistic admission policies will lead to lower teaching standards and grade inflation. 

In short, going to college has become a risky proposition--much like gambling at a Las Vegas casino. Some people will be winners; they will play the slots and hit the jackpot. For these folks, their student loans will give them an education that improves the quality of their lives and allows them "to retire well."

But for millions of Americans, going to college is more like most people's experience when they feed the slots. If they borrow too much to get a college education, they are going to be losers.

You gamble with your future when you take out student loasns

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Student-loan payment relief during COVID crisis ends soon: Will student debtors start making payments again?

 About 40 million student borrowers got some relief last year when the Department of Education allowed student debtors to temporarily skip their loan payments due to the COVID crisis.

Even better, DOE did not charge interest on student loans during the forbearance period. 

But DOE's relief program ends on September 30, and the feds expect all borrowers to resume their loan payments in October. Will borrowers begin writing those monthly checks?

Maybe not. Navient reported in April of last year that 40 percent of federal student-loan borrowers requesting COVID repayment relief held loans that previously had been delinquent or in forbearance.  In other words, millions of student debtors were not making payments on their loans even before the COVID crisis.

Student loans are kind of like overdue library books. They are easy to forget about.

The Department of Education's website lists a host of options for borrowers as the COVID-forbearance plan winds down. If you are a distressed student debtor, you should take a look at that site.

But here's my advice. If you are financially unable to repay your student loans under DOE's standard 10-year repayment program, sign up for the most generous income-based repayment plan  (IBRP) you can find. IBRPs are a terrible option because your loan payments will not be large enough to cover accruing interest. Thus, your loan balance will keep growing in the years to come, even if you make regular monthly payments.  

But your monthly loan payments will be lower under an IBRP and allow you to tread water until some sort of comprehensive relief program is put in place.

As I have said a thousand times, Congress needs to revise the Bankruptcy Code to allow overburdened college borrowers to discharge their student loans in a bankruptcy court. But that may never happen.

Some politicians are calling for wholesale student-loan relief. Just wipe out $1.7 trillion in student debt, they say. But that may never happen either. 

The student-loan catastrophe is enormous and getting bigger with each passing day. If you haven't taken out federal student loans yet, choose a college program that will lead to a job and do everything you can to avoid taking on onerous levels of student debt.  

If you already have a mountain of student-loan debt, get into an IBRP and wait for Congress to clean up the mess. But don't hold your breath.

And one more piece of advice. Don't ask your parents to take out a Parent PLUS loan, and don't take out loans from a private lender.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Will an Ivy League degree make you LESS employable?

 In a recent Wall Street Journal essay, R. R. Reno, Editor of First Things, wrote that he had stopped hiring graduates from elite colleges.  He noted that he had watched a Zoom meeting of students at Haverford College (Reno's alma mater), where students displayed "a stunning combination of thin-skinned narcissism and naked aggression." 

Haverford, like most elite private colleges, is a "progressive hothouse." If students are traumatized by racial insensitivity in that liberal bastion, Reno observed, "they're unlikely to function as effective team members in an organization that has to deal with everyday realities."

Reno acknowledged that not all college students are radical activists. Nevertheless, most have allowed themselves to be intimidated by allegations of racism or some other transgression of the unwoke. "I don't want to hire a person well-practiced in remaining silent when it costs something to speak up."

Reno went so far as to say that some politically conservative students at elite colleges suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. "Others have developed a habit of aggressive counterpunching that is no more appealing in a young employee than the ruthless accusations of the woke."

America's elite colleges charge students more than $25,000 a semester. Do they add value? Reno thinks not. "Dysfunctional kids are coddled and encouraged to nurture grievances, while normal kids are attacked and educationally abused." He doesn't think these snooty schools are teaching students to be courageous adults or good leaders.

I am totally on board with Mr. Reno.  I attended Harvard almost thirty years ago, and it was clear to me even then that I should keep my views and opinions to myself.  I can't say Harvard traumatized me. I had worked as a practicing lawyer in the rough-and-tumble world of rural Alaska.  I knew within a few months that most of my Harvard professors were slinging bullshit--very expensive bullshit.

But I pitied my Harvard classmates who had taken on mountains of student debt and got very little in return.  I have no doubt that some of them are still paying off their college loans.

So if you have an opportunity to attend an Ivy League school or some elite joint like Bowdoin, Amherst, or Swarthmore, you should read R.R. Reno's essay. You don't want to wind up with a diploma from a fancy college that costs you $200,000 and find that you picked up habits and world views that make you unemployable. 

A gathering of the woke

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Road Rage can kill you: Fear, not anger, should guide your actions when you encounter a discourteous driver

Violence is on the rise in Baton Rouge.  Last year's homicide rate--114 killings--set a new record, and we will probably break that record this year. 

Some of these killings occur near my neighborhood--the venerable College Town subdivision, where LSU professors and retired professors live. 

Two days ago, Joseph Tatney, age 40, was shot and killed at Benny's Carwash, where I often go to get my Subaru cleaned.  Jamal Jackson, 19 years old, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

According to one version of events, Jackson was driving on Interstate 10, and Tatney tailgated him in a fit of road rage.  

Jackson pulled into a carwash parking lot, but Tatney followed him.  Words were exchanged, and Tatney punched Jackson twice. Jackson allegedly retrieved a handgun from his car and killed Tatney. 

We live in scary times, probably as dangerous as the mythical Old West. Our highways are especially perilous, with drivers distracted by their cell phones and young people weaving through traffic at 90 miles an hour. Road rage is increasingly common.

I admit that I am occasionally enraged by rude drivers. I get particularly ticked off when I am tailgated by some neanderthal driving a Dodge Ram pickup truck who can see that I can't go faster because I am behind another neanderthal driving 40 miles an hour in the fast lane.

But anger on the highways is the wrong emotion, whether you are an enraged driver or the target of a driver's road rage.

 Poor Mr. Jackson was understandably upset when he got tailgated and assaulted by a stranger. But now Jackson has been charged with murder. The gun he reportedly had in his car did not keep him safe.

As for Mr. Tatney, we don't know what triggered his purported road rage. But whatever it was, it was not worth his life.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Don't say "I quit" unless you really mean it: Munker v. Louisiana State University System

 In 2015, Dr. Reinhold Munker was a tenured professor of medicine at the Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport (LSU), where he conducted research in hematology and oncology.

Apparently, Dr. Munker's work environment was not ideal. After a staff meeting of faculty in the Hematology and Oncology Department, Dr. Munker approached Dr. Glen Mills and Dr. Gary Burton and allegedly accused Burton of not wanting him to do research. 

During this encounter, Dr. Munker said, "Well then, I'll resign, and I'll go to Minnesota or Washington where they appreciate me, and I can do research. I was brought here to do research."

Dr. Mills responded by saying, "I accept your resignation. I'd like a letter at the end of the day giving me your resignation date."

After that, a series of email messages suggested that Dr. Munker's colleagues did not consider Munker's remark to be an official notice of resignation.  

In one message, Dr. Mills said, "I prefer you to stay, but if you wish to leave then we will work out your departure date."

Dr. Jay Marion, Dr. Munker's department chair, also wrote an email message stating that "I wanted to clarify that I have not 'initiated' [Dr. Munker's] job termination or 'removal from tenure' as he suggests."

Nevertheless, three days after the verbal exchange between Dr. Munker and Dr. Mills, Dr. Munker received a hand-delivered letter from the director of human resources notifying him that he was being terminated "effective at the close of business today."

Dr. Munker sued, but a Louisiana trial judge dismissed his case. The judge ruled that Dr. Munker's statement that he intended to resign constituted a resignation:

I do deem his statement, oral statement that he will resign being sufficient and that the University did take him at his word and issued . . . a written acceptance via email that his resignation was accepted and effective on a particular date.

Dr. Munker appealed the trial judge's decision, and a Louisiana appellate court reversed.

"Contrary to [LSU's] argument," the appellate court ruled, "the correspondence indicates that neither [Dr. Munker], Dr. Mills, nor Dr. Marion considered [Dr. Munker's] statement 'I'll just resign[,]' to be an official resignation of employment."

The appellate court sent the case back to the trial judge and assessed costs against LSU.

Apparently, this dispute had a happy ending because Dr. Munker is now a is Professor of Medicine at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where he treats patients and conducts cancer research.

I will say right now that my sympathies are entirely with Dr. Munker. The Louisiana Court of Appeals was correct to rule that the correspondence among the parties shows that neither LSU's employees nor Dr. Munker considered Munker's informal comment to be an official notice of resignation. 

In my view, LSU was wrong to seize on one casual remark as an excuse to terminate a tenured faculty member.  That decision led to three years of unnecessary litigation.

Still, Munker v. Louisiana v. Louisiana State University System is a cautionary tale for anyone who works at an exasperating job--and that is a lot of people. Usually, the best approach is to keep one's frustrations to oneself while quietly looking for a new job.  

In other words, don't say you are resigning unless you really mean it.


Munker v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University System, 255 So.3d 718 (La. Ct. App. 2019).


Friday, June 4, 2021

Is Monday is the new Friday? Let's get back to work

When I was fifteen, I "hoed peanuts" one summer, weeding the peanut fields of Caddo County for one dollar an hour.  Oklahoma summers are brutal, and temperatures were above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks at a time.

Hoeing peanuts is hot, tedious work. If a government agent had offered me $1.25 an hour not to hoe peanuts, I would have accepted that offer.

Thus, I sympathize with American workers who prefer enhanced unemployment benefits to frying burgers for $8 an hour. Who would willingly take a pay cut for the privilege of working a menial job?

Nevertheless, I think it is time for Americans to go back to work. Why?

First, it is well known that the likelihood of getting a good job goes down the longer someone is out of the workforce.  And that is true whether you are a fast-food restaurant employee or a lawyer. 

People lose work skills if they are unemployed for an extended time, and long periods of joblessness are hard to explain to a prospective employer.  A "gap year" is easily explained; a "gap decade," not so much 

Second, the longer you stay away from the workplace, the more likely your employer will discover that it doesn't need you. In fact, I think a lot of employers realized during the pandemic that they were overstaffed.

Finally, unemployed people miss out on the nonmonetary benefits of going to work.  Employed people learn all kinds of skills that are transferable to other jobs. They learn time-management skills, people skills, and various mechanical skills as well. 

Besides, you are more likely to meet Mr. or Ms. Right if you have a job--another nonmonetary benefit of working. Who wants to form a long-term relationship with someone who watches television all day?

You may be saying to yourself that it is easy for me to urge people to get back to work because I am retired.  And that's a good point. 

But I have made my living as a writer, and I still write every day, and I still work as a volunteer editor for a couple of research journals.  I think I am healthier--both physically and mentally--due to having daily work tasks.

Besides, I never took up golf.

Do you want to tell your mom that you are in a serious relationship with Jeff Lebowski?

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

"Spanish is a loving tongue": So white people shouldn't be teaching Spanish?

 "Spanish is a loving tongue," so the song tells us,  "soft as music, light as spray." 

Indeed, Spanish is a lovely language, and I keenly regret not learning to speak it when I was young. I told myself I had no facility for languages, but I realize now that I was merely slothful.  

I was surprised to learn, then, that Jessica Bridges, a doctoral candidate at Oklahoma State University and a woman who taught Spanish for nine years in Kentucky, stated publicly that she stopped teaching Spanish because she is white.

As reported in Post Millenial:

[Bridges] decried the horror that children she taught had to "learn Spanish from a white woman. I wish I could go back and tell my students not to learn power or correctness from this white woman. I would tell them to stand in their own power. "White isn't right," she said.

I am confused. Does Ms. Bridges believe only people of color should teach Spanish? 

If so, I disagree. 

First of all, the people who inhabit the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) are Europeans, and although many Spanish people have a multiracial heritage, they are basically white people.

So how does it promote racism to have white people teaching Spanish?

Secondly, in my opinion, the transmission of knowledge should not be segregated by race, which is what Bridge's decision not to teach Spanish implies.

After all, the English language developed in Great Britain, chiefly inhabited by white folks. Should only white people teach English?

I think we would be a better country--a more inclusive country--if all Americans were bilingual--facile in both English and Spanish. I also believe our universities would advance diversity and equity more effectively if they would require their students to learn Spanish instead of obsessing on critical race theory.

Further, in my view, our universities should teach American history so that all students learn to appreciate the Hispanic contributions to our American heritage.

For example, educated Americans should know that the nation's oldest continuously inhabited town--St. Augustine--was founded by the Spanish.

They should know that the Spanish settled the upper Rio Grande Valley twenty years before the English set foot on Plymouth Rock.

And they should appreciate the fact that many of California's major cities have Spanish names--names given to them in the eighteenth century by Father Junipero Serra, born in Spain.

But to argue that white people shouldn't teach Spanish is--in my opinion--kinda silly.

Hey, buddy, are you teaching Spanish?