Reactions to Refugees

Lincoln -- Traveling between Berlin, Washington, and Lincoln provides exposure to three markedly different perspectives on refugees.

In the last post, I noted the demonstration in Berlin in support of refugees and asylum-seekers, most of whom come from Africa and the Middle East. Hundreds of Berliners marched in support of allowing the refugees to remain in their neighborhood in a former school building, and for providing them with papers to allow them to work and remain in Berlin. This is the opposite of NIMBY.

In the Washington area, the Maryland governor assembled a meeting of fifty religious and non-profit groups with experience in handling refugee children. Maryland is working with federal officials to find the right temporary match between communities, service agencies, and the refugee children coming from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

In Lincoln, the Nebraska governor has demanded to know the identity of any individuals or groups who would be taking in refugee children. With glee, other Nebraska federal, state, and local elected officials joined in the condemnation of allowing any of the refugees into the state for however long. Press releases warned of diseased children infecting communities. Nothing about sending them back on the MS St. Louis, but if that ship were still afloat, such a proposal would not have been surprising.

Doubtless sovereign countries have a right and need to control their borders. I think the amnesty provided in the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act was a mistake. But it is striking how different locales react to the challenges presented by refugees, and how people define themselves by their reactions.

A Berlin Demonstration

Berlin -- Walking last Saturday evening from Kreuzberg to Neukölln along my usual route through Heinrich Platz, I ran into a formidable police presence preparing for a potential clash with marching demonstrators. I turned onto Oranienstrasse and was soon caught between a thousand or so marchers and two lines of police. Except for a few marchers who were determined to provoke the police, it was all peaceful. No store-fronts smashed; no right-wing nationalist trouble-makers.

The demonstrators were marching in sympathy with Berlin's small population of asylum-seekers, protesting the conditions they live in and the idea of a "fortress Europe" that looks away from the victims of war and circumstance in Africa and the Middle East. Or they were in search of a good time, a moving festival. It had been a long seven days since the noisy Christopher Street celebration in Kreuzberg. Any storm in a port.

As I was filming the scene with my little camera, a young woman departed the march and came running up to me with a big smile. At first it didn't register with me who she was; suddenly I recognized my daughter! Later in the evening we had dinner together under lindens in deepest Neukölln.

The Inability to Restrain Borrowing

Washington -- Ben Miller's latest offering in The Chronicle of Higher Education should be carefully read at the Department of Education, the White House, and the Congress. Especially this:

"The story of Pell and its inability to meaningfully restrain borrowing exemplify the challenges of unilateral federal financial-aid investments. Without conditions on states and institutions that introduce real requirements about providing an affordable education, federal dollars will keep getting gobbled up by insatiable college budgets and state officials looking for ways to supplant their own education spending."

In other words, no conceivable amount of Pell spending is going to slow down the student debt juggernaut without addressing the responsibilities of states and colleges.

This is not news to some of us. In 1997, I wrote in the Journal of Federalism that federal student financial aid programs that operated in the tradition of cooperative federalism (with some restraints on states and colleges) were more effective than those like the Pell program, which did not. In 2002, I completed an unpublished paper showing that increases in Pell grants were not associated with declines in student debt load for the low-income. Although that paper was written while I was at the National Center for Education Research within the Department of Education, it was unwelcome. The Department was adamant that its researchers were not to do any actual research, but rather administer grants to college researchers, who were unlikely to suggest that Pell grants might not be effective in holding down student debt burdens. That topic has long been verboten.

Two years ago, on an Education Sector panel in Washington, I suggested "re-balancing" federal student grant appropriations by tilting the funding more to programs in the cooperative federalism tradition, to help prevent the raw exploitation of mindlessly appropriated federal dollars that have been such a failure in reining in student loan debt. I think that is still a sound suggestion.

It's a Start, Thank You

Washington -- It is gratifying to see others come to the same views that are expressed occasionally in these pages.

Today the President is using the phone and the pen with his Secretary of Education to deal with the student loan mess. He will be making it easier for borrowers to pay off their loans and will be changing the way the collection industry operates.

This should be followed by more such actions, all under authority of existing law. The Secretary needs to enforce transparency requirements and use his limitation, suspension, and termination powers to root out waste and abuse especially in student loan, proprietary school, and enrollment management enterprises. It is long past time to stop college dream exploitation industries from ruining yet more lives and grievously harming our very society. Hardly a day goes by without major media coverage about what the student loan muddle is doing to hurt the economy, let alone what damage has been done to individuals and families across the country.

Likewise, thanks to Kevin Carey for his report on the sorry state of affairs at the Association of American Universities (AAU), and to Paul Basken for his coverage at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Clearly, I am not the only one who is deeply disappointed in this organization. The AAU is a lobbying organization that asks Congress for federal funds for research. If I were staff on the Hill (which I once was) and the AAU came petitioning to my office, I would ask them to leave until they got their own house in order.

Conflicts of Interests in Academic Research

Lincoln -- Writing in The New Yorker, Rachael Aviv tells an unsettling story of the lengths to which Syngenta, the huge agribusiness company, has gone to try to discredit critics of its product atrazine. Syngenta plots and schemes to undermine researchers who believe atrazine is dangerous, all the while excusing such behavior as normal business practice.

The part of the article that caught my attention was not the back and forth disagreement among academic researchers as to the safety of atrazine, but the citation of a conflict of interest study that showed the relationship between who pays for a study and its outcome. When Syngenta pays, most academic researchers somehow find that atrazine is safe.

While this controvery is playing out, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has hired a new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at a salary well above that of the chancellor, raising many eyebrows as to why such a salary is necessary. The pay is even being substantially augmented by private dollars through the NU Foundation.

To me, the new dean will be worth every penny if he recognizes conflicts of interest and stands tall for academic integrity. The College of Arts and Sciences is not only the academic core of the university, it must also be its conscience, extending across other colleges and departments. On the other hand, if the new dean is another of an increasingly common breed, the academic administrator who equates grant revenue totals with accomplishment of mission and winks at conflicts of interest in research, he won't be worth a salary at any level and should not have been hired.

Nebraska taxpayers also deserve to know if the private money that is augumenting the dean's compensation may pose a conflict of interest itself.

Many of us who favor more taxpayer support for higher education, to recover from the cuts of the last decade, are fearful of what kinds of institutions we will now be supporting. Forced to seek outside funding over the years, how conflicted and corrupted have they become?

Earth Day, Arbor Day

Lincoln -- Last Tuesday was Earth Day; today is Arbor Day, at least in Nebraska, where the schools are closed in observance.

In honor of Earth Day and what it stands for, I planted a "Xerces Pollinator Dry Soil" mix of grasses and forbs into bare patches on our prairie. We raise bees and are concerned about the accelerating loss of pollinators of all kinds. The mix is from Prairie Nursery of Westfield, Wisconsin, which also offered a special customers' incentive on Earth Day; the proceeds are going to the Aldo Leopold Foundation, a worthy cause.

Aldo Leopold is celebrated in Wisconsin and throughout much of the country for his view of nature and specifically his "land ethic." Less appreciated is the fact that his philosophy grew out of Clementsian ecology whose founders, Frederic and Edith Clements, are all but forgotten. Until last year, Frederic Clements' ashes lay unmarked in Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln. Now they are marked, crediting him as "by far the greatest individual creator of the modern science of vegetation."

For Arbor Day, a legacy of the Nebraskan J. Sterling Morton, I am planting twenty red pines as Scots pine replacements. The Scots pines are succumbing to pine wilt and must be removed as soon as they show symptoms.

My friend John Rosenow at the National Arbor Day Foundation is retiring this year after several decades of hugely successful leadership. As a young man, he created the foundation from nothing. Whenever we see each other we remember the day in Washington long ago when together we approached the U.S. Postal Service about a special postal rate for the foundation's mail-order catalog enterprise. The USPS up to then had been adamantly opposed. We both gave our best pitches; the outcome didn't look good. But fortune smiled on us that day when the deciding official told us he was from Nebraska, that as a child he had often been to Morton's home, Arbor Lodge, and he would do anything to help his fellow Nebraskans advance the cause of Arbor Day.

Bob Dole of Kansas

Washington -- Former senator and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole is touring all 105 counties in his home state of Kansas, according to an article in the Washington Post.

Which recalls for me two Bob Dole stories, one about the good Bob Dole and one about the other side of his character. Such are many stories about the man; he was a talented legislator, but he also had a sharp wit and a tongue to match, which put many people off.

For me, the good Bob Dole is what others may think is the bad one. And vice versa.

One year the Senate was working on the federal budget late into the night. Senators had returned to their desks from dinner and drinks. Tempers were short and inhibitions loosened. Up came a question of the budget for veterans; a senator made a speech for the folks back home about how the federal government must not cut any veterans' programs, given what veterans had risked and sacrificed for their country.

Bob Dole took the floor. Serving in the army, he had nearly died in Italy in WWII and was still visably disabled. What would he say? He shocked the Senate by saying he was tired of "professional veterans" who were more interested in protecting their benefits than in getting the nation's budget in order. He had made sacrifices before and he was prepared to make them again. I was never prouder of being a veteran (with a small disability benefit) myself, as that reflected my own view. I resented veterans' organizations claiming to represent me in these matters.

The next morning, I looked in the Congressional Record for the Dole remarks I had witnessed the night before. To me, they were worthy of framing. But they were not there. It is not unusual for the record to be expunged of what actually happens on the Senate floor.

The second Bob Dole story is not so heroic. When I worked for Senator Jim Exon, Democrat of Nebraska, I approached him about putting in a bill to allow states to "trade in" some of their federal categorical grants for less restrictive federal revenue sharing. Jim Exon had often been frustrated as a governor by several federal programs that were well-intentioned but ineffective as administered. He thought he could have run the programs better from the state level if he had had the funds. He liked the idea of states being able to swap among federal approaches, within limits, and told me to work up a bill.

I went to the Senate Legislative Counsel's office; we drafted the language in proper bill form. Jim Exon then sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to several other senators, inviting them to co-sponsor. When Bob Dole got wind of it, however, he liked the idea so much that he wanted his own name on it, not Exon's. He persuaded Leg Counsel to draft a bill lifting language word-for-word from the Exon draft. Staff in the Democratic cloakroom were on to the scheme and called me, advising me to get Senator Exon to the floor immediately to introduce his bill before Senator Dole could beat him to it. Fortunately, he was already on his way there; the bill as introduced thus bore Senator Exon's name and, being sponsored by a former Democratic governor, went on to get bi-partisan support, something that likely never would have happened under a Dole bill that would have been viewed by Democrats as an attempt to kill federal categorical programs. (Eventually the language was amended into another bill as a pilot program, but when federal revenue sharing itself was terminated, the concept died.)

Jim Exon worked well with the other Kansas Republican senator, Nancy Landon Kassebaum. They were good friends. But he was never close to Bob Dole.

This Biography Should Be in English -- Part II

Berlin/Washington -- In the last post, I offered in English an excerpt from the German language biography of Rudi Dutschke written by his American widow, Gretchen Klotz Dutschke. That selection was comic; the following selection is somber.

The scene is set in Aarhus, Denmark, the place to which Gretchen, Rudi, and their two children repaired after being unfairly evicted from England. It is December, 1979. Rudi has suffered epileptic seizures for several years after being shot in an assassination attempt (provoked by the Springer press and perhaps the Stasi). In a few months, Gretchen is expecting their third child. She narrates:

Dead leaves lay on the ground; the darkness of that time of year depressed me. I awakened in the middle of the night covered in sweat and shivered. I shook Rudi, sleeping next to me, because I was so afraid. A nightmare still swirled around in my head in which I went into the bathroom and saw a person who had drowned in the bathwater and lay at the bottom of the tub.

On the twenty-third of December the children and I decorated the apartment for Christmas. We placed pine boughs around, put little figures in them and draped them in cotton snow; bulbs and tinsel hung on the Christmas tree; candles stood everywhere. When the children were finally in bed, I said to Rudi: "Let's light the candles." They transformed the old, somewhat shabby room into a wonder-world of mysterious shadows and sparkling lights. Rudi and I sat together on a chair, held each other in our arms and took in the magic.

On the following afternoon, the day of Christmas Eve, the telephone rang constantly. Mostly they were calls from Germany: Christmas greetings and words about the many tasks that lay ahead in the following week. Günter Berkhahn also called. The conversation began friendly, so I paid no attention. But then I noticed that Rudi's voice was raised markedly. He said he wasn't working on the book right now. He seemed torn and pained. He didn't know how he ought to tell Günther that he couldn't finish their common project. Besides, the Green cause was just too exciting. No, it was not the socialist project that they both had wanted, but it was important. Berkhahn apparently yelled that it was idiotic to waste time with the Greens; he threatened but then became resigned and wounded. It was hard for Rudi to take. He didn't want to disappoint Berkhahn, but he knew that he could not write a book right now. Especially this book. As the telephone conversation came to an end, Rudi was visibly upset. He said to me only, "I can't write that book with Berkhahn just now. Later, perhaps. Günter puts me under too much pressure." It was one of the last things we talked about together.

I began to prepare the goose. We had invited a guest to join us for dinner, Pia, a Dane who had lived for a time in Germany. Pia set the table. Rudi went into the bathroom. As the goose sat in the oven, filled with apples, rice, and spices, I thought that Rudi must soon be finished with his bath. I looked into the bathroom and thought that he's drying himself. But he was dead. The nightmare raced in glaring colors before my eyes. I screamed, and simultaneously pulled him out of the tub and tried to bring him back to life. It was totally ineffective. I was asked later how I could have done it, to lift him out of the bathtub, and I didn't know.

It's unfortunate that the whole book is not available in English. Gretchen Dutschke is not only a fine writer, she is a formidable philosopher and interpreter of the ideologies that drove a generation of Germans to reflect on their past and change their country for the better.

This Biography Should Be in English -- Part I

Berlin/Washington -- Anyone who follows German history of the 1960s and 1970s knows of the remarkable lives of Gretchen and Rudi Dutschke. Unfortunately, the English-speaking world has not had the benefit of reading Gretchen Dutschke's prose. I am no professional translator, but with Gretchen's permission here is my translated excerpt from her book Wir hatten ein barbarisches, schönes Leben: Rudi Dutschke, eine Biographie.

The scene takes place in 1966, when Rudi's father and mother came from East Germany into West Berlin to see how their son was doing with his new American wife, Gretchen, a native of Illinois. The new wife narrates the dreaded first visit of the in-laws.

Vati Dutschke was sixty-five and allowed to travel in the West. Mutti Dutschke was also allowed to travel on account of a health condition that permitted early retirement. They came to see how married life was treating their dear son. We wanted as much as possible to survive these days without friction. So we undertook a new experience together: a frantic housecleaning. We washed all the dishes, swept up the dust, vacuumed, cleaned the windows, scrubbed the floors, did the laundry. The apartment shined as never before. Rudi got a haircut and shaved.

While I waited with a vague foreboding at home, Rudi picked up his parents at the border. When they arrived, we offered them coffee and cake. But just as I was covering the coffee table, Mutti Dutschke started to investigate the apartment. In the kitchen we had terrycloth hand towels. "That's not appropriate," complained Mutti. "In the kitchen the towels must be linen. Only in the bathroom are terrycloth towels allowed." In the living room she asked where the curtains were. I didn't understand. I had sewed curtains, and hung them as curtains are supposed to be hung, or so I thought. "White sheer curtains" she said. "You must have white sheers with the other curtains." The newspapers we put up as wallpaper did not please her at all, to say the least. Rudi offered: "Come, sit down Mutti, coffee is ready." The peace did not last long. As soon as she drank the coffee and ate the cake, she got up and went once again through the apartment. Vati found Rudi's haircut much too long. Rudi protested that he had just been at the barber's, but Vati laughed mockingly and said no one should pay for such an insufficient haircut. When the bickering didn't let up, I was at the end of my nerves. I ran out of the room and slammed the door so hard that the whole apartment shook. I took up my flute and played wildly. But I overheard how Mutti challenged Rudi: "Why do you allow your wife to behave like that? Do something!" Rudi said nothing. Then she scolded him: "You are a wet dishrag."

It is more than an oddity that Gretchen Dutschke's words need translation from the original German into English. She is an American. She should be published in her own country in her own language. She was at the forefront of the changes that shook the world in the 1960s and 1970s. We could learn a lot from her if we had access to her in our own common mother tongue.

The Secretary's LS&T Powers

Washington -- While I wish the best for the Obama Administration's "Gainful Employment" regulations, this effort should not be the only Department of Education attempt to crack down on schools (for-profit or otherwise) that are abusive of their students and of taxpayers. The abuse is well documented.

The Secretary of Education has powers under current law and regulation that are tailor-made to curtail the abuses. They are called the Limitation, Suspension, and Termination (LS&T) powers. An excerpt appears below.

Recently over dinner in Washington I asked a long-time, high-level employee of the department how long it had been since these powers were discussed at the Secretarial level as a remedy for abuse. "About twenty-four years" was the answer. It's not quite that long, but clearly it's not recent. The Secretary may not know he has them.

Title 34: Education
Subpart G—Fine, Limitation, Suspension and Termination Proceedings

§668.93 Limitation.
A limitation may include, as appropriate to the Title IV, HEA program in question—

(a) A limit on the number or percentage of students enrolled in an institution who may receive Title IV, HEA program funds;

(b) A limit, for a stated period of time, on the percentage of an institution's total receipts from tuition and fees derived from Title IV, HEA program funds;
(i) Other conditions as may be determined by the Secretary to be reasonable and appropriate.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1094)