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UO’s plan to meet Pernsteiner’s "performance compact" goals?

Figure and explanation sent to me by Architecture Professor Peter Keyes:

My Conclusions from the Data:

There is an undeniable inverse correlation between university names that begin with vowels and average school quality.  (Presence of vowel correlates to lower ranking). 

Of course, causality is not indicated.  Does low quality lead to vowels, or do vowels lead to low quality, or neither?

The question we should ask ourselves:

If the UO wants to increase its quality, should it associate itself with the top schools, the vast majority of which (47 out of the top 50) begin with consonants?  Or with the lower-tier schools, where nearly all the vowels cluster? 

Oregon’s association with this lower-ranked group is particularly irksome;  while all the other vowel-schools have clear etymologies (usually of Native American origin or named after a prominent individual), no one really knows where the name “Oregon” comes from.  But in this fact lies a great opportunity, a way to effortlessly change the perception of our university:  it should be easy for us to change our name, as there are no descendants or vested groups to take umbrage at the change.  (Perhaps we could deflect any possible objections from the alumni by suggesting “University of the Ducks”, or something like.) 

As we strive to increase the (perceived) quality of the university, this proposal has one great advantage:  it does not require  increasing the state appropriation, raising tuition, hiring new faculty, or increasing anyone’s salary.  We can associate ourselves with the highest-ranked universities in the country for a negligible cost. 

And in the brave new world of corporate sponsorship, has anyone ever calculated the possible value of university naming rights?  We should be willing to consider this, as long as there’s a consonant involved.

Peter’s post is a response to this, from Michael Raymer in physics.


  1. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    I get the humor, peter, for which you should be applauded. It is this type of argument that makes universities great.
    That being said, the quick association raymer provided should be considered seriously. We are, if we go forward with unionization, joining a distinctly lower-quality group of schools. The aau will no doubt consider such a move fairly seriously, potentially putting our affiliation in jeopardy. Raymer’s unwillingness to argue for causality is due to his training… we should try respect the scientific approach, not mock it.

    • Peter Keyes 02/27/2012

      Thanks for getting the humor, which apparently some other commenters below haven’t! But I’ve gotten used to having my intended humor misunderstood in vowel states.

      As for your second paragraph, this is where we part company. I just can’t take Michael Raymer’s “quick association” seriously, obviously. And as for your worry about us “joining a distinctly lower-quality group of schools”, I argue that we are ALREADY in a distinctly lower-quality group of schools, the Vowel Schools, and if we are not concerned about this bad company dragging us down, surely we shouldn’t be too concerned about forming another potentially damaging association.

      I haven’t noticed that having a non-unionized faculty is one of the criteria for membership in the AAU, so please post the citation for this rule when you come across it. And perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much that the AAU “will no doubt consider such a move fairly seriously, potentially putting our affiliation in jeopardy”; if you are truly concerned about our loss of AAU affiliation, might I point out that there are a number of substantive evaluative criteria we should REALLY worry about, rather than getting worked up about this red herring?

      But your invocation of the AAU raises another interesting question: why do we look for validation of our academic standing with a group named the Association of American Universities? Three vowels! I would feel better if they changed their name to NSPSSGP, the National Society of Post Secondary Schools with Graduate Programs.

      And as for respecting the scientific approach, I have nothing but respect for it. I think the only way to resolve this conflict is for both Michael Raymer and myself to submit our analyses for peer review – can you suggest a suitable journal we should approach?

    • Anonymous 02/28/2012

      Your analysis is humorous but how much does it really undermine Raymer’s analysis? Not much in my opinion. You’ve basically proven that spurious correlations can exist with the same set of data Raymer used – but that doesn’t prove that Raymer’s correlation is spurious. To demonstrate causality would be very difficult in this case – Raymer did a nice job with the additional data that was not shown in the blog (but can be downloaded). What you’ve done is akin to arguing against the relevance of the correlation between the presence of wings and animal flight by producing a similar correlation with the presence of beaks.

    • Anonymous 02/29/2012

      Dog says

      you have to be damn careful on what you mean by a correlation when the variables
      are highly subjective. My take on this is pretty simple – mediocre Universities,
      as defined by US News reports (and I don’t think they mean very much)
      may have felt the need to become unionized for various reasons. I absolutely do not
      believe that forming a union moves you on the X-axis in either direction.

      And as I a have promised, I will produce, I think, more meaningful plots on this
      issue. It’s just going to take a while because the raw data is scattered.

    • Peter Keyes 03/01/2012

      I don’t think my analysis undermines Raymer’s, I think it parallels it exactly. We’ve both shown correlations, and neither of us has stated causality. You’re calling my correlation spurious, which is incorrect. It’s meaningless, but not spurious. I think Raymer’s is the same. Your bird analogy is the spurious comparison here, as you’re implicitly asserting causality in Raymer’s argument, which he has been careful not to do.

      I don’t agree that the “additional data that was not shown in the blog” shows anything more meaningful than what was shown in the blog. To summarize and respond to those additional pages:

      Page 2. Only three AAU universities have faculty unions.

      Response: Maybe if we were paid like other AAU universities, we wouldn’t be thinking about forming a union. See this summary chart:
      There is additional data on the IR website.

      And this is just for AAU public universities. If the privates were included, I don’t know what it would be. I bet worse. I just checked Harvard’s data – they pay their assistant professors what we pay our full professors! That’s it, no more annual gift from me.

      Page 3. Syracuse and Nebraska got booted out of the AAU.

      Not for forming faculty unions. As I recall, it had to do with their research funding dropping below a certain level.

      Page 4. None of our 8 OUS-designated comparators have unions.

      Cf. 1 above. Here’s the chart for this:
      All we’re asking for is to be average. I’m comfortable with that.

      This is just the “excellence” argument again, which I don’t get. Explain to me how having low average salaries makes us excellent. Explain to me why trying to raise salaries would lower our quality. I see just the opposite. I know a bunch of excellent younger faculty, and I expect many of them to leave. They’re paid pretty well now, compared to other schools, but in ten years they won’t be. If we accept that many good faculty will leave because of salary, how does that increase our ranking?

      This arguments boils down to, there are a bunch of universities out there that are higher ranked (cooler) than we are, and most of them don’t have faculty unions. If we don’t have a union. maybe we can convince everyone that we’re really one of the cool universities too. Maybe they’ll let us sit at their table in the AAU cafeteria, but if we have a faculty union, they might not. I think this whole line of reasoning is based in most faculty having been nerds in high school and never getting to sit at the cool table.

      If we really care about being in the AAU, or our USNWR ranking, or any other measure of our academic reputation, why don’t we focus on changing those substantive factors which contribute to those rankings, such as student/faculty ratios, or salaries, or research funding, or admission standards? Frankly, I think we have been trying to improve some of these factors in recent years, and silly, associational arguments just distract us from that task. We are an underfunded university in a not-rich state, and we’re doing a remarkably good job given our resources. We may not ever be able to rise much higher in the rankings, given how funding levels factor into those rankings, and some recent research on the stickiness of rankings. So why don’t we just do what we do well, and not kid ourselves that if we dress like the cool kids, they’ll let us sit at their table.

    • Peter Keyes 03/01/2012

      I hate to say it, but I think that some of this line of argument comes down to academic vanity. I went to a couple of those schools in the top four, and I can honestly say that the students in my department here are getting a better education than I got in graduate school. Not better in every way, but overall, better. Our applicants have done their research and have figured this out too, and that is why they come here. I really don’t care that my alma mater is ranked 4th and the UO is ranked 101st.

      So if our students are smart enough to figure out that the institutional rankings don’t matter that much, how come some faculty aren’t? The really good students will come because they are smart enough to understand what we offer, and we can fill up the rest of the classrooms with the ones that come for the football games.

    • Anonymous 03/01/2012

      For that matter, vanity is what makes keeping our AAU status such a fetish around here. Don’t get me wrong — AAU status is a nice feather in our cap, it gives us a good benchmark, and it may have some tangible benefits. But our continuous struggle to remain America’s crappiest AAU institution, especially in the absence of enough resources to keep up, is ultimately soul-crushing. It also absolves us of any responsibility to figure out who we *really* are as an institution. We have indeed adopted the psychology of cool-kid wannabes. But it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch for UO, of all places, to embrace the alternative: to become one of those self-sufficient, self-actualized eccentrics we all remember from high school, and whose lives we now envy as we follow them on Facebook.

    • Anonymous 03/01/2012

      “to become one of those self-sufficient, self-actualized eccentrics we all remember from high school, and whose lives we now envy as we follow them on Facebook.”

      I’m not a Facebook stalker so can you translate that into a model University that we should be shooting for?

    • Peter Keyes 03/01/2012

      Thank you for cogently stating what some of us have been wondering for years. As you say, AAU membership may be nice, but as someone who attended two AAU schools, I have to say that I never heard of it until I got here (and then I thought it must be the athletic conference).

      A colleague who has been here for over 30 years once observed that the UO has always been broke, and has always been unjustifiably good. The reason for it has been that despite endless strings of financial crises, the faculty have always cared, always stepped up and done what was needed for the good of the school and the students. He worried that circumstance was changing, as administrators with values and goals formed outside the UO tried to swing the UO more into the mainstream, trying to ape the culture of higher-ranked schools, without having the resources to support that culture. We end up with a school that has lost what makes it unique, while becoming a poor imitation of the cool kids. There seems to be an idea that we can achieve this by fiat – you don’t get any more resources, just achieve more. Someone referred to this as raising the bar for lower rewards.

      We’re seeing a homogenization of schools. The professional accreditation process for our department, which should set minimum standards for all programs, is becoming increasingly prescriptive, and it seems that the schools that do best under such regimes are the ones that just follow the latest rules, not the ones that have a vision for who they are. I agree with you that in general the UO is well-placed to become what we think we should be, if we only have the courage to set our own course.

      There is something unseemly in this constantly comparing ourselves to schools of perceived higher quality, and it doesn’t reflect well on our self-regard. As one of my friends remarked about his college application process, when he interviewed at Yale, they kept trying to compare themselves favorably to Harvard. When he interviewed at Harvard, they didn’t mention Yale.

    • Anonymous 03/01/2012

      A lot of this is pretty vague stuff, but the conclusion is… drop out of the AAU and form a faculty union. Sounds like quite the remedy to our woes…

      And… so we shouldn’t try to be like the cool kids, but we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other universities because Harvard and Yale don’t. I can only imagine what the union meetings are going to look like – should be fun stuff.

    • Peter Keyes 03/02/2012

      I’m not sure anyone whose final rebuttal is “should be fun stuff” should be referring to anyone else as vague.

      And looking over the comments above, I don’t see us calling for dropping out of the AAU, nor stating that Yale doesn’t compare itself to others. I suggest you substitute rational argument for snark.

    • Anonymous 03/02/2012

      Probably there’s some Zen koan advising that the best way to stay in the AAU is to quit trying to stay in the AAU. But look: this is not a choice between “marginal AAU institution” and “unionized state school.” The basic ingredients are already there for a third alternative. First, independence from OUS; they’re holding us back. Second, a clear mission: “a comprehensive research university on a human scale,” to crib some official propaganda that actually makes some sense. Third, a concrete plan to enact that mission. We’ve got an Academic Plan with some clear goals. Also, call me crazy, but I thought the Big Ideas did a nice job of identifying some of our distinctive strengths; fund those better, and fund more of them. Finally, the Senate did a nice visioning retreat before the presidential crisis; I thought it was going to be corny and stupid but it actually generated some good, practical ideas; let’s dust those off and continue the discussion.

    • Peter Keyes 03/02/2012


  2. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    Does the “Keyes-Raymer Effect” – as we might call it – extend down to the individual level? I.e are professors whose names start with a consonant better professors? Can our new faculty union use this simple test to decide who gets merit raises?

    But perhaps voweled professors know their productivity will not be rewarded, or think it will not be, and therefore under-invest in research and teaching effort?

    • Peter Keyes 02/27/2012

      This is a fascinating line of inquiry you propose. I must admit I hadn’t realized the full implications of my more modest investigation. Definitely requires more research, perhaps go for some funding from the NSF? Interdisciplinary team from Psychology, Linguistics and Economics? Although, when we get to the individual faculty level, I think we might run into issues with the Height Effect. So we might need someone from Human Physiology too. Call me.

    • UO Matters 02/27/2012

      Perhaps our new VP for Diversity and Equity will be willing to fund a pilot program to investigate the effects of giving some of those $90,000 UMRP grants to disadvantaged voweled hires?

      It’s no coincidence that the previous Diversity VPs – all from the dominant consonant class – have rejected this proposal.

  3. UO Matters 02/27/2012

    I’m no economist, or psychologist, but read this abstract for another version of the KR Effect:

    What’s in a Surname? The Effects of Surname Initials on Academic Success
    Liran Einav and Leeat Yariv

    In this paper, we focus on the effects of surname initials on professional outcomes in the academic labor market for economists. We begin our analysis with data on faculty in all top 35 U.S. economics departments. Faculty with earlier surname initials are significantly more likely to receive tenure at top ten economics departments, are significantly more likely to become fellows of the Econometric Society, and, to a lesser extent, are more likely to receive the Clark Medal and the Nobel Prize. These statistically significant differences remain the same even after we control for country of origin, ethnicity, religion or departmental fixed effects. As a test, we replicate our analysis for faculty in the top 35 U.S. psychology departments, for which coauthorships are not normatively ordered alphabetically. We find no relationship between alphabetical placement and tenure status in psychology. We suspect the “alphabetical discrimination” reported in this paper is linked to the norm in the economics profession prescribing alphabetical ordering of credits on coauthored publications. We also investigate the extent to which the effects of alphabetical placement are internalized by potential authors in their choices to work with different numbers of coauthors as well as in their willingness to follow the alphabetical ordering norm.

  4. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    Since when is “U” a vowel?? Or does University not count in a University’s name??

    and Berkely should be University of Califonira, Berkeley.
    Virginia could be University of Virigini “U”.

    and of course
    But UC Irvine does start with a vowel?

    Also check out the schools below??
    Davis, UC-Davis??
    Virginia, University of Virginia?
    Washington? University of Washington?

    There is lying with statistics, and lying about statistics. In this case, it seems the latter was done.

    • Anonymous 02/27/2012

      So you are arguing that the correlation goes the other way? Equally interesting!

    • Peter Keyes 02/27/2012

      Your post seems a little confused (and angry). Indeed, “U” is a vowel. However, I chose to not count schools whose names began with “University of…” as vowel schools, as then the distinction would be mainly between “University of….” schools, and “….University” schools. That is, “University of Michigan” would be considered a vowel school, but “Michigan State University” would not. If you look closely, you will notice that I applied this rule consistently. although to save space, I used some abbreviations that did have a “U” at the beginning. (I mainly did this to maintain continuity with how Michael Raymer designated schools in his analysis.) If this confuses you, I can always go back and change those, although I assumed that most people who read this blog would understand the distinction I was making.

      I went with the geographic label that is most commonly used to name a school, although admittedly there are a couple of ambiguities. I grew up on the east coast, where everyone says “Berkeley”, and when I moved to Oregon, I was surprised to hear people refer to “Cal”, although mainly in an athletic context.

      You might argue that people don’t say “Santa Barbara”, but rather say “UCSB”, and therefore it should be considered a vowel school. But I’d argue that people never SAY “University of California at Santa Barbara”, but say “UCSB”, which, if we spell it out, is “You See Ess Bee”, which is therefore a consonant school.

      And finally, I might invoke the New York adage, “If they can’t take a joke….”

    • Anonymous 02/27/2012

      Not angry. Sorry if I came off as such.

      I know people who refer to UCSB as “UCSB” and others who refer to it as “Santa Barbara”.

      I suppose we could redo the entire analysis based on mascots.

      Are we “Oregon” or “Ducks”?

    • Peter Keyes 02/27/2012

      Sorry to take offense – I mistook your further satire for vowel-driven literalism!

      I like the idea of Mascotology Studies. It’s amazing how this one chart is spawning whole fields of academic inquiry. In the immortal words of Paul Simon, I said why don’t we get together / And call ourselves an institute?

      When I was the director of our masters program in Portland, and people didn’t know where we were located, I would just say, We’re the architecture school above the Duck Store. So we’re almost there. Cheers!

    • Peter Keyes 02/27/2012

      And I’ve just received another email about the “University of….” versus the “….University” controversy. In less than 24 hours, an academic schism has broken out. We will probably be able to hold one unified inaugural conference in University Naming Studies, but after that I’m afraid that mutually exclusive theoretical approaches will take over different departments. I don’t even want to speculate about where the University of Chicago will go with this one.

    • Anonymous 03/01/2012

      I humbly suggest we become “D’ohregon!” Alternately, perhaps we can forge our own path, by using a zero instead of an O as our initial character. Fight the alphabetical power! The tyranny of letters must be ended!

  5. Michael Raymer 02/27/2012

    I love it! To paraphrase Frank Zappa, “Is there room for humor in higher education?”

    • Peter Keyes 02/27/2012

      I hope there is Michael, and thanks for your endorsement!

      Your quote is apt, too. Myself, I’m thinking about contacting the Philosophy Department at the University of Woolamaloo to get their opinion.

    • Peter Keyes 02/29/2012

      Nice, Bruce.

  6. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    Dog says

    All in good fun, and the scientific community here does need a reminder of
    its sanctimonious nature at times.

    But dog now would like to see this now famous “RaymerGram” (Raymer’s Diagram)
    where the Y-axis is

    a) PHD production rate or
    b) 4 year graduation rate or
    c) Student to Faculty ratio or
    d) Per capita faculty federal grant funding

    If Dog has some spare time (WTF is that?) I will try to make these plots,
    which I think will be more informative.

    • Anonymous 03/01/2012

      I think we can arrange e) all of the above. PhD production graduation 4-faculty student per capita funding federal rate. Alternately, we can make the Y-axis “number of trees per square furlong” and really clean up. Then we can talk about a Z axis…

    • Peter Keyes 02/27/2012

      Thank you for the referral – I don’t know how I missed this journal before. It does seem to be more exclusive than most of those in my field.

  7. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    It might be wise to give UO a name that begins with two consonants, virtually guaranteeing academic greatness. I suggest simply “Knight University.” Or do two consonants cancel each other out? More research needed.

  8. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    Foward, Nike U!

  9. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    I like starting our new name with Knight and or Nike, but what’s the point of leaving on the U/University at the end?

    • Peter Keyes 02/27/2012

      I believe it is a requirement for membership in the NCAA.

  10. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    While we’re discussing naming and mascots, why not change our university motto? In place of “Mens agitat molem,” let’s adopt the Latin for “An island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.” Any classicists out there can help with the translation?

    • Peter Keyes 02/28/2012

      I’ve always translated “Mens agitat molem” as Mountains out of molehills, which seems appropriate.

  11. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    from Dead Duck: Two quick points, one serious, one not. The serious point is that regardless of your pro- or anti- union views, the following link may be informative. It is a link to a piece written by ron ehrenberg, a major figure in analyzing trends in highered and former vice chancellor at can buy his book too, if you’re into those old-fashioned things called ‘books’

    if the link doesn’t work for you, just ‘google academe and ehrenberg.
    oh the nonsrerious point? can you name all the division 1 schools whos mascot name doesn’t end in an s? just a parlor trick for the sports minded.
    Dead Duck

    • Anonymous 02/28/2012

      Dog on Trivia


      The Crimson Tide immediately comes to mind – Roll Ride
      Notre Dame is obvious
      Syracuse Orangemen
      then there is St. Johns redmen I believe
      Stanford Cardinal?
      oh yeah one of the best, The Green Wave

      let’s see

      what else

      Navy must be midshepmen

      probably a couple of other obscure ones
      Golden Hurricane?

    • Anonymous 02/28/2012

      I think politically correct St. Johns is now the Red Storm,
      as opposed to the politically incorrect North Dakota Fighting Sioux

      and, what – no respect for the Fighting Illini?

      Hofstra Pride (yuk)
      Harvard Crimson

    • Anonymous 02/28/2012

      dog says

      I believe the original trivia was related to Division I schools

      dog used to be with the harvard crimson – definitely not DI

  12. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    Yet more to consider: if you disemvowel OREGON you get RGN, which are the same consonants in the name REAGAN. Reagan, as everyone well remembers, made America great by busting unions. So if we want to approach a vowel-free level of excellence, clearly we need to vote no on the union. QED.

    • Anonymous 03/01/2012

      I would like to salute the brilliance of the word “disemvowel,” which is the best thing I have read all day. That is all.

  13. Anonymous 02/27/2012

    Insula excellentiae mediocritatis in mari

    Is one, fairly literal, possibility

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