Meet Associate Director, Michael Busch

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Meet Michael Busch, Associate Director in the Office of Student Success at the Colin Powell School.

At the heart of our vision for the office of student success lies a vast expansion in the idea of what advisement should be. Narrowly conceived, advisors guide students through the classes they need to graduate. Properly expanded, student success connects young people to the requirements, opportunities and capacities they need to succeed on campus, and after they leave.

Michael Bush, Associate Director of the Office of Student Success, immediately grasped the possibilities inherent in this expanded definition of student success. As a teacher on this campus he’d spent years working with students on research papers, nurtured countless rough ideas into fully formed research papers. But in the world outside the classroom, student papers needed to speak to a broader audience.They needed to refine and struggle with first and second drafts, and to determine more precisely the need to which their work spoke. To prepare students to better shepherd their ideas, Michael devised the concept of the Annual Colin Powell School Undergraduate Student Research Symposium.

As participants in the symposium, now in its third year, students strengthen their intellectual connections with one another, and with their faculty mentors. Drawn from across the different disciplines, but arranged in thematically coherent panels, student research builds a problem centric approach to some of the more pressing problems we face. And that’s consistent with the entire evolution of the Colin Powell School. Michael notes that a key consequence of our transition from a loose grouping of departments to a school has been profoundly stronger connections among the different academic disciplines. The research symposium, with its focus on specific issue areas, provides that same kind of intellectual cross pollination to our students.

And it’s been a hit. Over the past three years, the number and quality of student panels has grown, as have the numbers of students who come to hear their classmates present.  What started as an effort to provide a venue for students to polish their research has hence evolved into a pivotal moment in the construction of a student based intellectual community.

And that’s the kind of work Michael has been doing at the Colin Powell School—and at the Colin Powell Center before it—for years now.  As he describes it, his core motivation, in the classroom and beyond, has been to provoke students toward a more active engagement with their work—initially through a more critical reading of books and articles and more precise writing, but more critically, by undertaking a search to fully develop the ideas that they think are important, and that will guide their work. This semester, while teaching a course on social change, he’s asked his classes to ‘think about why they are thinking the things they do’ and to take their natural passion, their good ideas and their talents into the real world of public policy, social networks and global issues.

A native of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Michael left New York to attend St. John’s College in Annapolis, where he received joint degrees in philosophy and the history of math and science. He returned to the city to teach elementary school and middle school in the South Bronx.  In the midst of his graduate education at CUNY, Michael met Andy Rich, then Associate Director of the Colin Powell Center, and agreed to teach one of the seminars for Colin Powell Students.

As he learned more about the programs housed at the Center—programs that emphasized critical thinking, leadership development and service—he saw a way to build a bridge between academic theory and students’ personal expertise and commitments.  That connection lies at the heart of his approach to working with our students.  A dedicated professor who still teaches classes in political science and international studies, Michael marries classroom work with constant prods to students: that they travel widely as he traveled, that they write about issues that matter to them, and direct that writing to audiences that care.  That they think about education as equipping themselves to move through the world in a meaningful way.

When asked what he’s most passionate about, Michael doesn’t hesitate. “Colleges,” he says, “need to think long and hard about what they need to do in order to produce successful and sustainable futures for our students.”  Finding ways to make an impact at earlier and earlier stages of a student’s life drives his work, and because that’s the case, he’s become one of the central figures in the office of student success—an architect and steward of its animating vision.

 

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Political Battles Over Funding CUNY

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School

I’ve recently discussed the changing pattern of funding for public higher education and the pressures that those shifts have imposed upon tuition-paying students. Despite arguments about tight state budgets and financial crises, that shift is mainly underpinned by a real change in the way public officials view higher education and about who should be responsible for its cost. As I sat to write the next chapter in this series, that dynamic became all the more clear in my mind as we—administrators and higher education professionals—consider Governor Cuomo’s recently announced budget proposal.

In the past decade, crippling financial crises have moved states across the country away from past robust support for public higher education. But these periodic crises merely punctuate the steady decline in state funding for public education over the last 25 years. New York State’s current cuts to CUNY and SUNY are taking place despite a billion-dollar surplus in the past year, contributing to an undesignated reserve fund estimated to reach 2.1 billion dollars by March 2016. Suddenly, most of the funding cuts seem to result from a choice rather than a tough decision driven by financial hardship.

The policy details underpinning that choice recently became more clear: In his recent budget declarations, Governor Cuomo is calling for 30 percent of current state funding to be passed on to New York City, reflecting the 30 percent of the CUNY board members appointed by the city. There’s a kind of logic to that explanation, but it’s not robust: It suggests that the state should allocate funds in proportion to its power to control (even indirectly) the disposition of those funds. The proposal contains a number of truly welcome provisions, such as monies to cover the cost of a new contract and to cover increased expenses due to inflation (both absent from last year’s budget). Both provisions, however, are contingent on the City assuming 30 percent of the public-funding burden.

The contours of the friction between Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo are fairly well known, dating back to their tussles over early childhood education. But the standoff is not, in fact, unique. In the past weeks, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Illinois State’s defunding the University of Illinois systembecause of a similar dispute among state level officials.

The fact is that, in this season of rising populism, it has become much easier for politicians to regard public higher education as a luxury enjoyed by a relatively small share of the voting public at the expense of the broader society. Across the country, the idea that education is an individual benefit that people should pay for individually (either at private schools or via increasingly expensive public universities) has displaced the idea of an educated, prosperous society and a capable workforce as a public good that we all share. Even where elected officials do not openly deride higher education as a luxury, they increasingly approach it in ways that allow the health of our great universities to take a back seat to political considerations—and that leads us back to the tug of war between New York State and the City of New York.

It’s worth considering what the Governor must be thinking as he makes these recommendations. Presiding over a New York that is sharply divided between the conservative and often economically depressed upstate districts and a politically different, more prosperous downstate New York Metropolitan area, the governor is asked to support two university systems, one largely serving the former and the other totally located in the latter. Why should he ask upstate voters to support CUNY when they have their own SUNY campuses, championed by local politicians, in their own areas? Moreover, a democratic governor has fewer incentives to bring a New York City system under his wing—the largely democratic constituents of the city can be counted to support his candidacy far more than the more mixed upstate constituencies. Why not stand with those upstate, and demand that New York City take care of its own?

Over the long term, the idea merits consideration. The financial formula that has sustained CUNY since the late 1970s was occasioned by the crisis of the city at that time, and while state-level funding kept CUNY in business ever since, the university also remained in more or less constant crisis, repeatedly called upon to justify its very existence to a statewide legislature that often verged on indifference. At minimum, moving CUNY to a more New York City-based funding structure would ensure that politicians who are directly responsible to our communities would be allocating the resources necessary to educate them. And if the funding battles are becoming more political than matters of financial necessity, closing the geographic and political space between those who attend our colleges and those who fund them makes sense.

However, acting to implement this change in funding will require discussion and planning, and should not be a matter to be introduced in the brief period between a budget’s proposal and its adoption. Any concern for the health of our public education system demands careful consideration and the time to approach the change without impacting the quality of education on CUNY campuses, or its accessibility to our students. In the current political moment, any consideration of a graceful or measured transition in CUNY’s funding structure has taken a backseat to politics. But the best politics in this case would eschew the brinksmanship of a man-made budget crisis that casts the university in the role of Solomon’s baby. We have three months to make that case before the current proposals—or revised versions of them—find their way into the new budget.

Have you seen A New Light in Harlem?

Our original upload to YouTube got over 600 views in just a matter of days! We had to do a *tiny* bit of clean-up, so we uploaded a new version (click below).

The film features interviews with General Colin Powell, Dean Vince Boudreau, and faculty, students, alumni, and board members, spotlighting the amazing community we have up here on the City College campus.

Do you know a young person who wants to be a leader in public service? Get access to world-class preparatory coursework and field experience without amassing piles of debt?

Are you a scholar, educator, or community organizer looking to break down walls between the Academy and the surrounding community? Who knows that in order to find better answers to pressing questions of the 21st century, we need to hear more voices?

Watch and learn more about the mission of the Colin Powell School—”A New Light in Harlem.”

 

Meet Usha Pitts, Diplomat-in-Residence

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For just over a decade, the City College of New York has held a privileged position among New York-area universities by hosting the Diplomat in Residence (DIR). Sponsored by the Department of State, the DIR spends two years on campus imparting their specific knowledge and experience as foreign service officers to students interested in foreign or civil service jobs, as well as various fellowships and internships through the State Department.

In addition to meeting with students for one-on-one advising and hosting informational sessions in the NY region (CT, NY, NJ, PA), the DIR also teaches a masters level class on foreign diplomacy exclusively through the Colin Powell School’s International Relations program.

Meet Usha Pitts, our incoming DIR. Here she introduces herself to the CCNY community, talks a bit about her foreign service career, and her new role as Diplomat in Residence. Connect with her on Facebook to get updates on scholarship applications, appointment hours, and events in your area.

You’ve lived in many countries in your adult life; where are you from originally?

I grew up in Acton, a middle class town outside of Boston. Even though it was the suburbs, we had enough land to raise chickens and goats. I also had a bunch of parakeets. My parents were an interracial couple, which was unusual in the 1970s, and especially for a town that was 98% white. I never felt uncomfortable in my home town, but I did start traveling at a young age and left high school early; I needed a bigger playground.

How did you come to work in the Foreign Service? Can you talk about your path to becoming the New York Metro Diplomat in Residence at City College?

Even though I look African American, I was named after my Mom’s friend, an Indian woman. I had never met “the real Usha,” so when I was 11, I traveled alone to India to meet her. That was a big trip for a sheltered girl from America’s suburbs: I saw street kids, polio victims with shriveled legs, beggars… I also caught some kind of tropical virus and was sicker (and closer to death) than I have ever been in my life. Well, when you’re 11, experiences like that can be more exciting than scary.

A few years later, when I was 16, I spent the summer building latrines in rural Mexico. And from there, I was hooked. I never stopped traveling. I took the Foreign Service Exam when I was 22, but didn’t pass, so I just kept traveling, working and studying until I eventually got in.

By then I was 28. In fact, most Foreign Service Officers are in their late 20s or early 30s when they join. The age requirement is only 18 years old, but most people need to get some life experience under their belt first. That’s why I always recommend that people join the Peace Corps or spend a few years in a professional career before joining the Foreign Service.

Where has your career with the Foreign Service taken you?

I’ve been a Foreign Service Officer for nearly 18 years, posted to Panama, Russia, Cuba, Italy, Austria, and most recently Brazil. I’ve had a different job in each country, from reporting on human rights abuses to promoting English education to helping Americans get visas for their adopted babies. The Foreign Service is a great career for people with short attention spans, because you change countries (and jobs) every couple of years. On top of it, you have to bumble your way through yet another foreign language.  You are constantly learning, always adjusting–and so is your family.

How do you approach your role as Diplomat in Residence? What most excites you about this role? What priorities are you setting for your time here?

In the past, the Foreign Service was a bastion for privileged, educated, east-coast men.  Even when women started joining the Foreign Service in greater numbers in the 1970s, they still had to resign their jobs if they got married. Things have changed, but we can do more to diversify our ranks.

These days, the State Department has 16 Diplomats in Residence scattered around the country. We work hard to reach people who wouldn’t necessarily consider joining the Foreign Service–Native Americans from the Midwest, Latinos growing up in Miami, Chinese-Americans from the West Coast, first-generation children of immigrants–people who didn’t necessarily grow up with a silver spoon in their mouths. We recognize that a good diplomatic corps has to represent the United States, and we can’t do that if we don’t reflect the diversity that makes our country great.

I cover New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, but I rarely have to leave Manhattan–or even City College–to find the kinds of people we want to attract to the Foreign Service. After so many years abroad in weird situations, I feel very privileged to be here in New York with City College as my new home.

Partly in appreciation of City College, I would like to see one of our seniors or alumni get accepted to the Rangel Fellowship program this year. This fellowship offers $90k for graduate school, plus a five-year stint in the Foreign Service. The application deadline is February 3, so anybody interested in this fellowship should come see me!

What can students gain from working in the Foreign Service? 

There is the very obvious benefit, in that you get paid to see the world. (That’s why I wanted the job.) You also get free housing, good schools for your kids, and a pretty lavish lifestyle, given that an American salary goes a long way when you’re living abroad. As I got older, I also came to better appreciate the intangible benefits–serving my country, promoting American values, bringing attention to important global or local issues, and spending time with interesting and even courageous people. Few careers can offer that kind of fulfillment.

The Crippling Weight of the ‘Last Straw’

Vince Boudreau, Dean

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School

The Office of Student Success was our earliest and most ambitious innovation at the Colin Powell School. It represents our commitment to a goal that we cherish, and must still pursue: to ensure, insofar as possible, that no student falls through the cracks.

In our early imaginings, that office would primarily take on higher-order advisement—guiding students to the right classes, to be sure, but also helping them seek out internship opportunities, manage scholarship and leadership programs, and forge connections between their classroom work and professional and service trajectories. We’re proud of our programs in that direction, and we’ve worked every year to make them stronger and more effective.

But early in this work, we confronted an unsettling realization. The people working in that office were devoting far more time than any of us imagined to helping students solve their administrative problems. As one member of the office recently said: 80 percent of our  time is devoted to serving 20 percent of our students, and those issues are almost all bureaucratic. It’s a telling assessment. As we seek for ways to enhance student success, huge elements of the answer cannot be found in esoteric educational theory, but in working to clear mundane bureaucratic and administrative barriers to student progress and success.

Underlying Barriers

These bureaucratic barriers, however, often lie hidden beneath the surface of a student’s experience of the college, cumulatively eroding their resolve and capacity to cope with other difficulties. In consequence, all of us—students and observers—might be tempted to explain away a student’s breaking point as entirely due to some unforeseen personal crisis, or the grinding pressures of some chronic hardship.

It’s often surprising how thin the last straw may be. A student loan refund that is delayed, a single course taken in error, or the inaccurate evaluation of a transcript: in the end, any of these may knock a precariously situated student off course. In the past several months, I’ve met students at the edge of leaving school because they could not afford books, or could not scrape together the money to see a dentist. We’ve placed newly homeless students in our dormitory, thereby allowing them to continue their studies when they thought they would not. One young man even stopped attending class because he’d lost his laptop’s charging adapter, was not able to replace it, and so couldn’t use the only computer he had access to at home.

Given the stakes (a student entering college in 2010 can expect to earn $450,000 more than a high school graduate over the course of her life) these final crises seem ridiculously small. So small, in fact, that they only make sense as a proximate cause—that final, last straw—piled on top of an underlying systemic problem.

An individual’s hardship may suggest that we seek out individual remedies in each case—that we in fact adopt a case worker’s approach to student hardship. But we can’t address countless numbers of these cases—because students in crisis often just fade away, rather than laying out their hardship. More importantly, embedded in each seemingly idiosyncratic story were places where a systematic regime of stronger student support could have made that crisis not much more than an annoyance.

Outlining Remedies

We need, in fact, three interrelated remedies.

Inarguably, we still need support for students who encounter emergencies. At the Colin Powell School, a generous donation from The Viola Fund allowed us to create the Viola Emergency Fund for Students facing a financial crisis. Students wishing to apply for support through the Viola Fund should secure a letter recommending that support from a faculty member or staff person with knowledge of the situation and then email the director of the Office of Institutional Advancement, Dee Dee Mozeleski, who will arrange a time to meet and discuss options.

Moreover, ample room still exists for our supporters to offer supplemental resources along these same lines. In the past, donors have supplied metro cards to help students travel to campus, funding for student housing, and emergency book funds. The more able we are to steer students through the crisis of the moment, the more easily we will be able to direct their attention to the big picture.

Additionally, students need more information about how to navigate complicated bureaucratic systems. Student advocates in our Office of Student Success are meant to do much of this work, but they find themselves spending most of their time solving problems for students who’ve already been tripped up in some way. A more proactive system equips students with information and strategies that would help them navigate bureaucratic systems. We’ve already made progress along these lines in our online advising resources. But similar progress in other areas of student/college interaction is crucial. We can begin by looking at existing models that have shown success. The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, for instance, made progress in helping students untangle one of the most convoluted but important sets of rules they will face, those surrounding financial aid:Something along these lines might be a very good model for CCNY students, and it’s an area we’re beginning to explore.

Finally, we need to make the search for more manageable and responsive bureaucratic systems a top priority at CCNY. We are an institution that has been in unremitting financial difficulty for decades—in truth, since New York’s fiscal crisis in the late 1970s. Over that span, the easy response to economic hardship has often been to reduce the number of people in key service offices: financial aid, admissions, registrar and bursar. Such reductions often escape the attention of most people. They do not, after all, result in fewer classes, or higher tuition, or program cutbacks. Steadily, however, they have undercut the capacity of students to manage the crucial and often bewildering side of achieving college success: the management of everything that takes place outside of the classroom. We’re only now learning how critical—and critically difficult—those management challenges can be. A genuine commitment to student success requires that we invest in the capacity of these offices as a way to invest in our students.

New York state’s program to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission could work around the world

by Stephen W Nicholas, Columbia University

 

Editor’s Note: For World AIDS Day, we share an article, originally published by The Conversation, by Dr. Stephen W. Nicholas, a professor of pediatrics and public health at Columbia University and leading expert on pediatric AIDS research. In October, we hosted Dr. Nicholas as guest speaker in our breakfast lecture series “Conversations with City.”

 

Last month’s announcement that Cuba is the first nation in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV underscores a curious silence around a more significant triumph far closer to home: elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission in New York state. Inexplicably, there have been no press releases or publicity concerning this.

The term “elimination” as used by public health officials means neither eradication nor zero cases. It means reduction to a level so low that it has become a negligible health threat.

Two years ago, New York state – with a larger population than Cuba’s – became the first state with a high rate of HIV to meet the criteria for elimination when only two HIV-infected babies were born.

New York’s largely unrecognized success is all the more significant given that, in the early 1980s, the state had the dubious distinction of leading all other statesand most places in the world in the number of HIV-afflicted men, women and children.

But New York state went from having the highest rates of mother-to-child transmission in the US and one of the highest in the world to eliminating it by identifying HIV-infected women prenatally or HIV-exposed babies shortly after birth and ensuring that they immediately received AIDS medications. New York state’s elimination of mother-to-child transmission is a blueprint for countries trying to achieve the same thing.

Learning how to prevent mother-to-child transmission

At the height of the epidemic in some pockets of Harlem and the South Bronx, pregnant women had rates of HIV comparable to areas of Sub-Saharan Africa today. And that meant many babies were born with HIV.

An untreated pregnant woman with HIV has a 25%–40% chance of transmitting the virus before birth, during labor and delivery, or after birth through breastfeeding.

In New York state in 1990, nearly 2,000 HIV-infected women gave birth to somewhere between 475 to 760 HIV-infected babies. Mothers and babies with HIV were predominantly found in the city’s impoverished minority neighborhoods.

In those days, before effective AIDS treatment, many of these babies got sick early in life and died before the age of five. In Harlem, where I worked as a pediatric AIDS specialist, AIDS quickly became the leading killer of children. There were times when AIDS babies filled all the cribs in the intensive care unit of Harlem Hospital and half of those on the wards. The days before the advent of the “AIDS cocktail” were characterized by death and dying, profound fear, and unimaginable suffering and hopelessness.

But since 1990, there has been a 99.5% decrease in the number of HIV-infected babies in New York. How did New York state achieve this?

The right treatment can help ensure babies are born free of HIV.
Baby via www.shutterstock.com.

New York state’s plan to reduce mother-to-child transmission

The availability of AIDS drugs changed everything.

With treatment, babies with HIV stopped dying and began aging into childhood, adolescence and adulthood. In 1994 came the dramatic and unexpected results ofa study showing that treatment with AZT, an anti-AIDS drug, during pregnancy and short-term treatment of the newborn could reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission by two-thirds. That translates into dropping the transmission rate to 8%.

In response, New York state implemented clinical guidelines recommending routine prenatal HIV testing for every pregnant woman in the state and AZT treatment for every HIV-infected woman and HIV-exposed newborn. Because infant formula was widely available, mothers with HIV were counseled not to breastfeed.

HIV testing and counseling programs, medication, formula and care programs were provided by government-funded programs at private and municipal hospitals, most of which were in New York City. And programs were put in place to increase the follow-up of mothers and babies.

One of the largest logistical challenges to progress was ensuring that, as part of routine patient care, routine HIV testing occurred. HIV testing rates were initially low, but after years of intense debate about how best to accomplish this, at least 95% of women now know their HIV status before delivery, and all babies are tested for HIV. And the treatment regimen has expanded from one to three anti-HIV drugs, lowering the HIV transmission rate to less than 1%.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has supported approaches similar to those used in New York, and cases have declined by over 90%.

Similar trends have been witnessed in all developed countries. And globally, thanks largely to multiple programs funded by the World Health Organization, theGlobal Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the United States President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the number of HIV-infected babies hasgone down by half since 2009.

This success is due to a number of different, interlinking factors, but successful efforts worldwide share the following: availability of and access to prenatal care and follow-up for mother and baby, HIV testing programs and the availability of AIDS drugs.

New York’s achievements have provided a beacon of hope as well as a road map that has been successfully tailored to the needs of resource-poor settings throughout the world.

Lessons from New York in the Dominican Republic

The Caribbean has the second-highest rate of HIV in the world, but some countries in the region fare much better than others.

Cuba, for instance, has always had the region’s lowest HIV rate, while 80% of infected individuals are found on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Using lessons learned in New York, colleagues and I have worked over the last 15 years to reduce the mother–newborn HIV transmission rate in the Dominican Republic by an estimated 84% and to achieve elimination in one large province.

This was accomplished through the creation of a national AIDS program that provided free HIV testing, prenatal and newborn care, baby formula, free AIDS drugs via the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and use of a three-drug “AIDS cocktail” for treatment.

Similar strides are being made in Africa.

Botswana, with the second-highest HIV rate in the world and where one in three adults is HIV-infected, has reduced the rate of maternal HIV transmission to 4%using a similar approach.

One issue in most low-income countries is that formula-feeding is not an option because of its expense. But even when provided through donation programs, the lack of clean water and means to prepare it hygienically, in tandem with the loss of biological protection that breast milk otherwise provides, led to significantly poorer infant survival and well-being.

Therefore, breastfeeding in many areas of the world is imperative. Treatment regimens for such settings have been developed so that women can safely continue to breastfeed.

Despite the progress, our work is far from over.

A quarter of a million HIV-infected babies are still born annually worldwide. In the US, the epidemic continues to disproportionately affect impoverished minority women. Each year nearly 9,000 HIV-positive women give birth to about 150 infected babies.

As we celebrate global progress, it is time to reopen a dialogue in the United States that reminds us of the work that remains right here at home. Without sufficiently funded ongoing state-of-the-art services tailored to the unique medical and psychosocial needs of these mothers and their babies, the hard-fought gains we have achieved could be reversed.

The Conversation

Stephen W Nicholas, Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health; Public Voices Fellow, Columbia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fall 2016 Overtally Forms

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Students!

Find your overtally forms here:

Anthropology

Economics and Business

International Studies

Latin American and Latino Studies

Political Science

Psychology (*see department advisers)

Sociology

Women’s Studies

 

Get Your Guns: The Negative Network Effect

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by Matthew Nagler, Associate Professor, Department of Economics and Business, Colin Powell School

In the wake of the tragic mass shootings on a college campus in Roseburg, Oregon, President Obama and others have called for stricter gun control laws. Yet others, including many close to where the shootings took place, are saying increasingly that they feel they need to own a gun. (See, for example, the recent front page story in The New York Times, “Common Response After Killings in Oregon: ‘I Want to Have a Gun’.”) The dramatic tension between President Obama’s gun control advocacy and others’ calls for greater access to guns relates to a phenomenon I identified in a 2011 article in the Journal of Industrial Economics entitled, “Negative Externalities, Competition, and Consumer Choice.” I called the phenomenon “negative network effects.”

A network effect exists when an individual’s demand for a product increases with the number of people who currently use the product. Social networks, for example, are successful because so many people are on them. As more people join, the desire of others to be on that same platform increases. Network effects can cause a “bandwagon” to occur—the more people join, the more people want to join. They can also cause the reverse to happen: When some people reject a product for which use by others is critical, others find the product less valuable and they too may reject it. Because of bandwagons, demand for a network good can often be prone to tipping points, at which a critical moment is suddenly reached where the product becomes literally irresistible (or else—just as suddenly—eminently disposable).

A lot has been written about network effects by economists and other social scientists, but most of the writing is about what I refer to as “positive network effects”: situations where a person’s adopting a product increases the perceived benefit to others of using the product. In my article, I discovered the “evil twin” of this phenomenon, in which a person’s adopting a product increases the perceived cost or risk of not using the product: a negative network effect. I identified several examples in my article, but perhaps the most archetypal is SUVs. In “The Strategic Significance of Negative Externalities,” published in the journal Managerial and Decision Economics, I used data to estimate the negative network effect in the SUV market. That is, I measured the rate at which the increased uptake of SUVs caused other people to feel they needed one, too—in this case the desire is related directly to the perceived risk of colliding with someone else’s SUV.

Just like a positive network effect, a negative network effect can eventually result in a bandwagon. And this is exactly what is now being observed in Oregon: the more people have guns, the more other people perceive they are at increased risk if they don’t have a gun. Their reaction is not necessarily driven by actual numbers of people owning guns. Just the mere perception of the ubiquity of guns, fostered by how often shocking stories about gun violence appear in the news, can create the negative network effect. True or not, it was the perception of the Oregonians interviewed in the New York Times article that they would be safer, given how many guns they believe are out there and their increased perception of risk, if they themselves got a gun.

My research on this phenomenon suggests a clear role of public policy: when a bandwagon effect is imminent, we risk reaching a tipping point in which rapid uptake of the bandwagon product—in this case, guns—could occur. What government can do is apply a “nudge.” If it can increase the disincentive to own a gun, interest in gun acquisition might be suppressed just enough to prevent the tipping point from being reached. We might even tip toward a safer, alternate reality in which a lot fewer people have guns—and in which those who do own them hold them for reasons other than the fear of other gun owners.

Dr. Matthew G. Nagler is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and Business at the City College of New York. He also holds an affiliate appointment with the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. He has held positions as an antitrust consultant, a marketing professional, and a staff economist at the Federal Communications Commission. Dr. Nagler is the author of numerous refereed journal articles relating to applied microeconomics, industrial organization, behavioral economics, and social economics. He received his Bachelors Degree in Economics from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

The Public University: Seeing the Whole Picture

Vince Boudreau, Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

What does it mean to be a public university? For decades, there were two distinct definitions—so bound together that when they became estranged, nobody seemed at first to notice.

On the one hand, public education referred to a finance model in which citizens and government officials pledged support for those working in its schools, and so allocated money from public coffers for that purpose. Students in public universities could expect to pay less for their tuition, and people living in states and cities anticipated supporting that education through their tax expenditures.

A second meaning evoked broader and more soaring ambitions and, for generations, the American public understood that the university system was the greatest of equalizers. Universities helped construct just and prosperous societies; they shored up the foundations of democracy; they contributed insight that helped us resolve some of our most pressing social issues. These universities existed at the intersection of our collective need to be smarter, and our egalitarian inclination to seek progress in the aggregate, to rise or fall as one people. Everyone, in this view, had a stake in the vitality of public universities.

But this collective understanding didn’t hold. In discussions about the role of public education, there was soon confusion—not with what public education was for, but with who it was for.

People began approaching public education with suspicion. Misplaced concerns about undeserved individual entitlement began to shoulder aside our original aspirations. We began to equate support for public education as essentially the transfer of resources with individual students—beneficiaries of largess—and began speculating on who among them, as individuals or categories, deserved that support. This is an impoverished and narrowly calculating formula that no longer allows for a deeper sense of social purpose. In essence, places like City College were forced to revisit our most important founding discussion, first broached in 1847: Was a university education for the elite only, or for everyone?

We founded the Colin Powell School after a decade of building out scholarship and fellowship programs that recognized the great potential and outstanding achievements of some of our very best students. As we did so, we hoped both to provide for them in extraordinary ways what others receive as a matter of course, and to suggest the potential of so many outside of these programs. It was good work. But we moved from programming that centered on a collection of leadership programs to a school serving over 2,600 students because those opportunities should not have been extraordinary—but rather the routine provision of a public education institution that functioned as it was originally intended. Building out this capacity is the current and great task of our school.

We must reframe discussions on the costs of the public university. A crucial starting point is that any conception of public that separates beneficiaries from the social whole is inadequate. Cutting financial support for public institutions results in higher social costs of living in a place where opportunities are hoarded and prospects for advancement seem dim and distant. We measure those costs in violence, in hopelessness, in sickness and insecurity. We measure them in the widening spaces between those who are privileged and those who are not—in de facto economic re-segregation, in under-employment, in achievement gaps and school-to-prison pipelines. We measure them, as well, in the horrible certainty that vast stores of talent, generation upon generation, lie wasted.

We are, in fact, in the middle of a great crisis in our ability to think of ourselves as a whole people, and to plan for the prosperity of that whole. Over the past decades, the decay of the middle class has not happened in isolation—it has taken place in direct relationship to the decay of visionary institutions set up to create and nurture the middle class.

As state budgets around the nation are cut, often the first thing that is affected are our schools. The way forward cannot be assembled from so-called merit-based programs, designed to reward individuals over ostensibly less talented or deserving peers. Opportunity should not be a prize or an award, but a basic provision of our systems and institutions.

In blog posts to come, I’ll be exploring the way this mission plays out at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, building on this discussion of why we should care about public education in the first place. We’ll look at what happens within the walls of our school, how and when students begin to make sense of the college setting, and the myriad ways in which they sometimes don’t. We’ll also explore some of the other, broader purposes of the public university, including its capacity to speak in particularly necessary ways on some of the most important questions that confound our nation. We’ll also look at the legacy of public education on our social fabric and the ways that things may have shifted. In the end, I’ll discuss what we’re working to achieve at the Colin Powell School–to maintain the truest vision of public education in an environment grown increasingly hostile to our founding purposes.