Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

What’s Wrong with UVa, and What’s Not

Photo credit: Washington Post

There is something wrong with a university that sits on an endowment of $8.6 billion while raising the cost of an undergraduate tuition to $63,000 a year for out-of-state students and $32,000 a year for in-state students, writes Brendan Novak, opinion editor for the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia student newspaper.

Novak goes on to make some very good points and some very misguided ones. Both are worthy of discussion.

First, Novak decries the idea of UVa as a “Public Ivy.”

The label “Public Ivy” reeks of a desperation for prestige that is increasingly characteristic of schools like the University. Traditional Ivy League schools have known for centuries that wealth confers status and status confers wealth, and now that public schools like the University have caught on, they seem committed to emulating this model. From a self-serving perspective, this might appear to be a positive development — one could reasonably expect students to celebrate the University’s pursuit of prestige. It’s true, the University’s growing prominence only serves to better the opportunities available to students — and yet it’s hard to not find this obsession with cultural eminence fundamentally troubling. The University is first and foremost a public institution, and its pursuit of elite status detracts from its primary responsibility — to serve the Commonwealth.

Outside of the career schools, higher education in the United States is a non-profit endeavor. Colleges and universities are not profit-maximizing institutions. Rather, they are prestige-maximizing institutions. Elite institutions such as UVa are engaged in a never-ending prestige “arms race” to increase prestige — measured by student SAT scores, the volume of research, faculty distinction, and the like — even while the Harvards, Yales, MITs, and Stanfords seek to preserve or improve their own rankings. There is no limit to institutions’ creativity in devising costly new ways to recruit star students and star faculty; hence there is no upward limit on how much they crave in tuition revenue and endowment size.

So, Novak is quite correct: Insofar as UVa is obsessed with achieving parity with the most prestigious nationally ranked universities in the country, it is detracting from its primary responsibility to serve the Commonwealth.

But then he goes astray. He faults UVa for its under-representation of underprivileged Virginians.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1-in-10 residents live below the federal poverty line. … At the University on the other hand, almost the same proportion of undergraduate students come from the top 1 percent of wealth. Further, two-thirds of students come from the top 20 percent, while less than 3 percent come from the bottom 20. In an ideal world, public schools like the University would be powerhouses of economic mobility, granting underprivileged students a state-subsidized ticket to the middle class. …

Whether it’s a problem of outreach, financials or community development, it is clear that the University could be doing much more to make meaningful inroads into low-income communities.

If the University of Virginia were the only public university in Virginia, Novak might have a point. But UVa is only one of fifteen public four-year institutions in the Virginia higher education system. The system, not UVa, has an obligation to provide “under-privileged students a state-subsidized ticket to the middle class.”

There is nothing wrong with having institutions that are elite by Virginia standards. As Virginia’s flagship university, UVa sets the highest merit-based admission standards and provides the most rigorous academic education (with the possible exception of the College of William & Mary). Given the powerful correlation between socio-economic status and academic achievement in high school, it is inevitable that the UVa student body will be compromised disproportionately of students from higher-income households. The university provides generous financial assistance to the small number of students from lower-income households who defy the odds and become high academic achievers. No one is turned away for an inability to pay the tuition. The barrier to having more lower-income students at UVa isn’t insufficient financial aid, it’s the lack of lower-income students who meet the admissions qualifications. That is the fault of failing K-12 institutions, or perhaps society at large, not UVa.

Practically speaking, the only way to achieve Novak’s goal of greater socioeconomic diversity is to lower admissions qualifications. Does anyone want UVa to relax standards — especially when considering that there are numerous other institutions in Virginia that are well equipped to educate students with less-rarefied credentials?

Speaking as a Virginia citizen and a UVa alumnus, I want to see UVa continue to strive for excellence, but not at the expense of displacing more Virginia students or making the cost of attendance more financially burdensome for qualifying middle-class students. There is a proper balance, and UVa hasn’t achieved it. But adopting Novak’s critique would push university priorities even further off kilter. The solution would be worse than the cure.

The Virtues of an Ancestral Diet

Elicer Tribz explains how to make cinnamon spice from the bark of the cinnamon tree.

On the hillside above the Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize, six gardeners tend to a three-and-a-half-acre organic garden that supplies the hotel’s three restaurants with delectable vegetables, fruits, beans, and herbs.

As a prelude to a communal dinner at the hotel’s Garden restaurant, Elicer Tribz takes lodge guests on a tour of the garden. He proudly describes how he and his fellow gardeners nurture the soil and tend to the lettuces (10 varieties), the cherry and Roma tomatoes, the squash, zucchini, carrots and celery, and innumerable herb bushes and fruit trees. He explains how the gardeners create a natural fungicide using microorganisms found in the rain forest, and how they man the garden literally around the clock when fending off attacks of woolly caterpillars.

Throughout the tour, Tribz pinches off leaves for the guests to smell and taste. The vegetables are not only free of pesticides and herbicides, thus safe to eat off the vine without washing, they are very flavorful. The fresh food at Blancaneaux puts to shame the grocery store vegetables that I normally eat, genetically engineered as they are to survive lengthy spells as agricultural inventory. At Blancaneaux guests enter a world of more intense taste.

I can also vouch that after three days of hiking like a mountain goat and eating healthy meals, I felt great. This was life in the blue zone — the recipe for living a longer, healthier life.

Eating organic food was not an experience my wife and I had been looking for when planning our vacation. It was an unexpected bonus. As total coincidence would have it, on the airline flight to Belize I plowed through “The Dental Diet,” which touted the virtues of organic and free-range foods. Combining the theory from that book with the experience of eating organic food at Blancaneaux set into motion a train of thought about the relationship between health, the “ancestral diet” (as author Steven Lin calls it), economic disruption, food deserts, and economic inequality.

Let me advance three nested propositions. First, many of the chronic diseases in 21st century society — not just the biggies like heart disease, obesity and diabetes but a host of auto-immune diseases — originate from our modern diet. To prevent those diseases rather than merely treat them, North Americans, Europeans, and anyone else embracing a conventional “western” diet” must radically change their eating patterns — most notably by consuming fewer processed sugars and carbohydrates, more grass-fed cattle and poultry, and more fresh fruits, beans and vegetables. Second, a dietary revolution by necessity will require a wrenching agricultural and food-processing revolution. And third, the transition from industrial agriculture to free range/organics will accentuate the divide between those who can afford good food and the health benefits that accrue from it and those who can’t.

Lin looks at health and diet issues through the prism of his discipline: dentistry and oral health. Our mouths host an extensive biome that interacts with our bloodstream (especially if we have gum disease) and our gut biome (every time we swallow saliva). Lin’s exploration of this interaction, which medical science is only beginning to understand, led him to several intriguing perspectives and insights.

Lin argues that dental disease was almost non-existent among early homo sapiens. Likewise, crooked teeth, which we moderns think of as the unlucky outcome of the genetic lottery, were equally rare. The absence of dental maladies among pre-agricultural humans is all the more remarkable when one considers that they did not avail themselves of tooth brushes, tooth paste, dental picks, braces, and orthodontics! How could that be possible? Lin’s answer: The ancestral diet of meat, grains, fruit, and, later, dairy — not processed carbohydrates — allowed the mouth biome to remain in balance, reducing acidity, and for the upper and lower jaws to grow larger and stronger with room to accommodate more teeth. With plenty of space in the jaw, teeth in early homo sapiens, like those of pre-agricultural societies documented within living memory, grew in straight and even.

Cavities, bleeding gums and crooked teeth are only the most visible of the health disorders set into motion by the agricultural revolution, with its widespread adoption of carbohydrate-laden wheat, rice, and maize, and then the industrial revolution, with its widespread adoption of processed sugars. The positive accomplishment of the agricultural and industrial revolutions is that they fed billions of people. The downside is that industrially produced food afflicts mankind with a host of chronic diseases.

Animal products, says Lin, should be sourced from pasture-raised and free-range livestock, not from grain-fed livestock pumped up with antibiotics. Likewise, seafood should be caught from natural waters, not farmed. Fruits and vegetables should not be sprayed with pesticides and antibiotics, which alter the microbiome of the soil as well as that of their own genes. We should purge sugar, white flour, vegetable oils from our diets. In their place we should consume more fiber, probiotics and prebiotics. Throw your Captain Crunch into the trashcan, and eat your Brussel sprouts.

To my mind, the virtue of Lin’s book is not the nutritional guidelines — they will be familiar to many readers following other dietary regimens — as much as the persuasive, science-based justification he offers for them. For purposes of argument, let us accept that widespread adoption of a organic/free-range diet is necessary to restore the health of America’s population with its many chronic medical conditions. Now let us confront the implications of adopting those guidelines on a massive scale.

We know that vegetables, beans and fruits can be raised free of herbicides, pesticides and antiobiotics on a fairly large scale. Blancaneaux shows how it can be done, as do innumerable other organic farms such as Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The question is at what cost. Organic produce is more expensive, mainly because the gardening is more labor intensive. Grass-fed beef and free-range chicken also are more expensive, mainly because they require more land.

Organic and free-range foods are niche products, accounting for 4% of total U.S. food sales, and they have little impact on agricultural land and labor markets. But increase organics’ market share to 50% — never mind 100% — and farms will experience massive labor shortages and land scarcity. As these key inputs of organic food increase in cost, the price of organic food will rise as well. While organic and free-range food command, say, a 30% price premium in grocery stores today — I base that guesstimate on the price differential I see at Kroger — I conjecture that the premium could well triple or quadruple.

America’s educational divide will accentuate the differential impact on different segments of the population. Those most motivated to alter their diets — not any easy task — are those with the education, income and inclination to read books like “The Dental Diet” and the agency to believe that they have the power to change their lives for the better. Lower-income Americans, who tend to be more fatalistic about their lot in life, will be less likely to change.

If America has a problem now with food deserts — unequal access to healthy food — the disparity will increase dramatically if the price of organic/free-range food doubles. The nutritional divide will become more marked, and so will the ensuing health divide.

How do we offset such a pessimistic outcome? The default response would be to give poor people more fresh food. But giving them healthier food provides no guarantee that they will eat it. Far better would it be to involve the poor in raising their own food, whether cooperatively in communal urban farms, individually in back-yard gardens, or perhaps as employees in multi-storied urban greenhouses. People place far greater value in a thing that they earn through their own sweat and toil.

Whatever the long-term solution to the problem of food inequality, the scientific case is growing for the argument that we are what we eat. I’m ready to do what it takes to stay healthy and active, even if it means eating more cauliflower and fewer french fries. Hopefully, other Americans will find a way to do so, too.

Howler Monkey Spotting

Finally – a howler monkey spotting!

It took some doing. We rode by skiff to Monkey River Village, a Belizean village down the coast where the population made its living fishing, lobstering, and escorting tourists up the Monkey River to see the howler monkeys. There, we picked up a guide, Brian, who took us upstream a couple of miles. The whole trip, he treated us to an entertaining account in barely understandable English about the flora and fauna of the rain forest and how his grandparents used the palm fronds, and bark and what-not to build their dwellings and cure their ailments. Brian belongs to one of Belize’s more colorful ethnic groups, the Garifuna, descendants of native Indians and castaway African slaves who have their own distinctive culture and language.

At length, thanks to Brian’s sharp eye, we spotted some monkeys. There they were, feeding off the leaves of a tree by the river, hanging by their prehensile tails, uttering the occasional bark (but no full-throated howls) and otherwise loafing around. It’s not a hard business being a howler monkey. Predators can’t get you high up in the trees. You don’t have to worry about humans — you’re a protected species, and an entire village of 350 or so souls makes its livelihood showing you to people. Even the tourists are no bother. They’re stuck on boats in the middle of a crocodile-infested river. For howler monkeys, life is sweet.

Amazing Vines

If I have good karma and come back as an elevated life form, I hope to return as an evolutionary biologist. Upon ascending to something close to Buddhahood, I would like to be E.O. Wilson (whose most recent book I mentioned in my previous post). As it is, I am who I am, and I’m endowed with far more curiosity than knowledge.

That curiosity was sparked two days ago by my visit to Barton’s Cave in Belize, a cave used by the ancient Maya for ceremonial religious purposes including human sacrifice. Steep limestone cliffs flank the entrance, and from those cliffs hang remarkable vines related to the ficus family.

These vines originally took root in the nooks and crannies of the rock formation, extracting whatever water and nutrients they could from their barren perch. Nothing terribly unusual about that. All manner of scrubby plants find precarious rocky footholds. But these vines do something more — they grow a vine-like root that, over the process of years — our guide said decades — descends twenty-five to thirty feet until they reach the water below. Just think about that — for years those useless appendages dangle to little effect. But eventually they reach the water, and there they become transformed.

The vines sprout roots in the water. And over time, the roots trap sediment from the current, creating their own ball of nutrient-bearing soil. Over time, the vines grow thicker and stronger, yet they descend no deeper than a than a few inches. They have what they need, and they go no farther. I have seen tropical vines in other locales drop from trees and implant roots into the ground, but never have I spotted such a thing as this. I find it astonishing.

If Charles Darwin and E.O. Wilson were the godheads in the great chain of being, I would rank somewhere between a fruit fly and an anopheles mosquito. I have traveled relatively little, and what I have seen I have viewed through an ignorant eye. But I do look at the world of nature with a sense of wonder, and that is its own reward.

Still Searching for Howler Monkeys

View from my hammock at the Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize.

We’re having a fine time at the Blancaneaux Lodge here in Belize. Got in some great hiking yesterday, and took a canoe trip this morning into a cave where the ancient Mayans once performed human sacrifices. Have learned many things, both mundane and astonishing.  If I have time, I will report back on the industriousness of the local ants, the remarkable properties of the vines hanging from limestone cliffs, the old-order Mennonite settlers, and the political economy of Belize.

Still no howler monkeys, though.

Tax the Country Clubs Like You’d Tax Anyone Else

Prime real estate: the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington

As if the General Assembly didn’t have enough image problems, our august representatives are pushing legislation that would provide property tax relief for two Arlington County country clubs, reports the Associated Press. The bill has passed the House with bipartisan support and made it through the Senate Finance Committee.

The combined property bills of the Washington Golf and Country Club and the Army Navy Country Club amount to $870,000 a year — equal to the 11 next highest-taxed country clubs in Northern Virginia. The clubs have spent years in unsuccessful negotiations with Arlington County to lower the tab, so they have turned to the General Assembly.

“What we have here is a question of equity,” says Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville. “It comes back to basic fairness.”

But opponents of the bill say the clubs can afford it. Writes the AP:

Both clubs have long and storied histories and count many of Washington’s elite as members, including past presidents. Top staff at both clubs are paid handsomely, federal tax records show. The general manager at the Army Navy club makes about $400,000 a year, while the tennis director at Washington Golf and Country Club makes about $300,000 a year.

The Army Navy Country Club allows active-duty military officers to join for free and offers other discounts to veterans, while civilians must pay $72,000 to join the club. The Washington Golf and Country Club did not respond to a request for information about its fees, but Washingtonian magazine reported a decade ago that the fee then was $70,000. …

“The bill is a tax cut for wealthy country club owners, including those outside of Virginia, in favor of raising taxes or cutting services for the residents of Arlington,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez, a Democrat who represents Arlington.

OK, nobody feels sorry for the rich, snooty swells who belong to the club. Reverse snobbery always plays well in certain quarters. Screw ’em, they’ve got plenty of money. Let them pay more.

I don’t have much sympathy for the stick-it-to-the-rich argument. But I do have sympathy for a different argument. County board member John Vihstadt said the tax bills for the golf clubs are so high because the property values are so high. Arlington is a dense urban county right next to Washington D.C.

What is the highest and best use of the land? Golf courses for the well-to-do? Or development that provides housing, retail, and office space in the core of the Washington metropolitan area, which is suffering from a shortage of developable land? From an economic perspective, it’s not even close. The land would be worth more if converted to mixed-use development.

Property owners have rights, of course, and no one should compel the country clubs to relinquish their golf courses. No one is talking about exercising eminent domain to take over the land, but I would certainly oppose any effort to do so should anyone propose it. On the other hand, the clubs have no more right to favorable tax treatment than other property owners. The General Assembly needs to butt out and let Arlington make its own land use decisions.

Tax Credits for Virginia Coal Mining?

Underground coal mining is a capital-intensive business. Do state tax credits really make a difference?

The House of Delegates has passed a bill sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, in the House and Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell, that would provide state tax credits for the production of metallurgical coal.

The legislation, which would offer $200,000 in tax credits next year and about $500,000 the year after, is more modest than previous efforts, which would have cost the state some $7.3 million in coal tax credits. But former Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed those bills, and Kilgore is hoping that the scaled-back version will pass muster with Governor Ralph Northam.

“At some point and time, you’ve got to figure out how to move forward, and this is how we move forward this year,” Kilgore said, as reported by the Roanoke TimesReinstating the credits would help protect the remaining coal jobs in Southwest Virginia’s struggling coalfields region, he added. 

Bacon’s bottom line: Coal production and coal employment have plummeted in Southwest Virginia over the past three decades, and the mountainous region has not found an industry to replace it. I’m not persuaded, however, that $200,000 or even $500,000 a year will make much difference. Virginia has been mining coal for more than a century, and the most accessible coal seams are played out. The remaining coal lies in seams that are either very thin and expensive to mine or deep underground and expensive to mine.

The state is blessed by one thing, however: the high quality of the coal. Virginia coal tends to have the characteristics that make it appropriate for conversion into coke, which is used in making steel. Metallurgical coal, which is currently enjoying an export boom, accounts for 60% to 70% of the coal coming from Southwest Virginia. Deep underground mines cost tens of millions of dollars to develop, and the big coal companies don’t make that kind of commitment unless they have long-term contracts that lock in the price. Compared to the cost of developing a new mine or keeping an existing one open, a half million dollar tax credit sounds like a drop in the bucket. I would like to see the evidence that the tax credit will encourage additional production.

Rather than doubling down on an inevitably declining coal industry — when the coal is gone, it’s gone and nothing can bring it back — I would urge Southwest Virginia’s legislators to consider applying their energy and creativity to diversifying the economy.

I know of two technologies being developed at Virginia Tech that could bring economic benefits to the region. One is a laser sensor that can be deployed in underground mines to detect methane, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide for the purpose of averting explosions like the one that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in 2010. That technology, if deployed, could create a significant business opportunity for a Southwest Virginia engineering firm.

Another technology would process gob piles — the mountains of waste resulting from the separation of coal from mineral rock. Gob piles contain considerable coal fines. Another Virginia Tech technology would capture those fines along with other potentially valuable minerals. That innovation holds out the potential for extracting wealth from the massive gob piles dotting the coalfields in Virginia, the Appalachian coalfields, and even the rest of the world.

Then there’s the idea of rebuilding the regional economy in part around outdoor tourism. A half million dollars a year arguably would do a lot more to jump-start positive change in that direction than it would to rejuvenate coal mining. The Bacon family is planning a vacation this fall to New England, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing if the small mountain towns of the People’s Republic of Vermont are bucking the trend of rural decline. I would be delighted if Mr. Kilgore and Mr. Chafin should decide to join us in looking for alternate models of economic development!

Hey, You, Get Onto My Cloud!

Early this month  an obscure Virginia-based company, REAN Cloud, announced a nearly $1 billion deal to provide cloud computing services for the Defense Department, reports the NextGov website. REAN doesn’t build the data centers — it helps customers migrate to commercial cloud environments. Which cloud environments? Amazon Web Services’s cloud environments.

There’s likely to be more business where that came from, as the Defense Department migrates applications, services and data to the commercial cloud. Writes NextGov:

Led by the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, which acts as a liaison between the Pentagon and industry, the Defense Department is targeting non-traditional suppliers to rapidly provide cutting-edge commercial technologies that address national security and military challenges.

And unlike traditional purchases under the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which can take months or often years to award, [Other Transaction Authorities, OTAs] can be issued in a matter of weeks.

“What we’re seeing is a strong shift in the pendulum of those who’d like to replace regular contracting processes with OTAs,” said Andrew Phillip Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Right now REAN is working most closely with Amazon, although it is building relationships with Microsoft, Google, Oracle, IBM, General Dynamics and other major players in the cloud. To get this business, cloud providers have to play by the rules that the federal government establishes for procurement. And if they want that business, as a practical matter, they have to maintain presence in the Washington metropolitan area where they can interact with the Pentagon’s procurement administrators — and perhaps influence the making of the rules.

The federal government is potentially the biggest customer in the world for cloud services, and now it is opening up to private competition. Every cloud provider who wants to compete for that business will have to beef up their presence in the Washington region. Serving the Pentagon will require a lot more than building data centers, most of which will end up in Northern Virginia, but developing a lot of back-end programs — perhaps the kind of work that would be performed at Amazon’s HQ2. It doesn’t make sense to serve the federal cloud market in Boston, Denver, Austin, Toronto or other locales frequently mentioned as potential Amazon favorites. It has to be done in the Washington metro — the closer to the Pentagon and other Defense Department markets, the better.

Knowing Amazon’s voracious appetite for subsidies and other kinds of special treatment, I don’t know whether to treat Amazon’s second headquarters as a blessing or a curse. And I’m not venturing any predictions — I’m sure Amazon has many other considerations than the ones described here. But I wouldn’t be be one bit surprised if the company lands in Northern Virginia.

Working Longer Versus Saving More

One of the big decisions Americans must make as they plant their retirement is when to start collecting Social Security benefits. The popular wisdom is that each year you delay collecting Social Security translates into an 8% increase in annual benefits. The Social Security Administration can afford to goose the payout because (1) it pays you one year less than it would have otherwise, and (2) it collects the interest on the money.

Now comes Sita N. Slavov, a George Mason University economics professor, and four colleagues with a paper, “The Power of Working Longer,” that compares the monetary rewards of working longer versus saving. The bottom line:

Delaying retirement by 3-6 months has the same impact on the retirement standard of living as saving an additional one-percentage point of labor earnings for 30 years.

I’m not smart enough to follow their methodology, so I’ll just assume that they’re right. But they’re making one critical assumption — that Social Security payouts remain the same, even though the Social Security Trust Fund is scheduled to run out in 2033. At that point, payroll taxes will cover only 75% of promised payouts.

For readers of Bacon’s Rebellion, who from my observation are more affluent than the average American, the news gets worse. When the Social Security Trust Fund runs out of money — as seems inevitable, given the bipartisan refusal of presidents and Congress since George W. Bush to touch the issue — you won’t even get 75% of what you were promised. Too many senior Americans rely upon Social Security as their sole source of income, and a cut of 25% would prove devastating. Inevitably, Congress will tweak the program to soften the blow. Thanks to the chronic budget deficits and the massive national debt that will prevail 15 years from now, the United States will be in no position to bail out the program entirely through borrowing.

There is no way to know what a future Congress will do, but I expect it will resort to some combination of borrowing, higher payroll taxes, and redistribution of Social Security benefits from higher-income Americans to lower-income Americans. There’s no way around it: The middle-class will get hosed.

I’ll qualify for Social Security benefits next year. Even though I plan to continue working and earning income, I’m going to start cashing in on the program while I’m still entitled to 100% of my benefits. I fully expect the Trust Fund to run out by the time I’m 80, and I’m arranging my financial affairs to accommodate a 25% to 30% cut in my Social Security benefits by then. In the meantime, I’m making sure I get what I’ve been promised.

I’m also telling my Millennial kids both to start saving now and to plan to work well into their late 60s. Hopefully, modern medicine will help them remain healthy, active and vigorous a bit longer than our generation, so a few extra years of work won’t prove too burdensome.

Nobody should trust the American political class to live up to its promises — especially when the consequences are 15 years down the road.

Is the “Bias” at UVa Worth All the Attention It Gets?

The University of Virginia promotes an “inclusive and welcoming environment for all.” It encourages students to promptly report bias-related incidents so the administration can evaluate them to determine if university policies have been violated. The university also collects data on “bias” incidents reported by students.

The incidents include verbal, written or physical threats, harassment or intimidation, and it covers a wide range of protected groups based on age, color, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status, marital status or — get this — family medical or genetic information. You can find the report for the 2016-17 academic year here.

The UVa administration divides bias reports into four categories. Category 1 consists of actual threats or harassment. Category 2 describes conduct directed not at individuals but protected groups generally. Category 3 includes incidents that do not appear to involve any bias-motivated conduct, and Category 4 covers allegations lacking sufficient detail to evaluate. Categories 1 and 2 are the only ones worth worrying about, so I will exclude the other two from this discussion.

Now, in a 24,000-student university ruled by identity politics, how many Category 1 and Category 2 bias incidents would you expect to be reported over the course of the year? 100? 500? 1,000?

None of the above. Depending on exactly what you’re counting, the number is more like 40 to 45.

Most of the allegations involved verbal or online harassment. Only one incident rose to the level of someone making a threat. One entailed vandalism, and one involved property damage. Not one physical altercation was reported.

And remember, these are allegations — before UVa has investigated the truth behind the charges. UVa does not reveal the results of its investigations, but it would be interesting to know how many cases were verified as real, and how many had mitigating circumstances. For example, how many incidents arose during an argument of escalating rhetoric and insults? How many consisted of “micro-aggressions” made unwittingly?

Conversely, it is likely that some bias incidents were never reported. Still, the numbers — roughly one report filed for every 530 students — strikes me as astonishingly low given the hyper-sensitivity on college campuses these days.

The hopeful message from this data is that the vast majority of UVa students of all races, ethnicities, and religions mix easily with one another. There may be the occasional incident like that one I noted yesterday about pro-Palestinian protesters busting up an event sponsored by Jewish groups, but that is a rarity.

The low number of incidents also tells me that the campus obsession with identity politics is misplaced. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to get along, and in fact they do. The right-wing and left-wing political extremists who stoke racial and gender grievances represent the biggest problem. If UVa categorized the students who filed complaints by their level of political consciousness, who knows what else we might find?