Any person.
Any study.
Any Cornelliana.

An alumni
blog about Ezra's
University. (more)


Suggestions? Tips?




[+] Cornell News

[+] Higher Ed News

[+] Campus Pubs

[+] Alumni Interest

[+] Diversions

[+] Blogs

[+] Sports

[+] Other Places


[+] By Month

[+] By Author

The Stabbing and Power-Law Distributions

It occurred to me, in thinking about Cornell's stabbing incident, that there might be a better model with which to analyze and discuss the alleged racist violence. I've argued that the problem is one of bad apples, rather than a rotten orchard with deep-seated roots; mainstream campus opinion (or, more accurately, vocal campus opinion) holds that the stabbing was merely a symptom of broad-based, systemic racism.

Where else to turn in such dilemmas but our friend Malcolm Gladwell? One of his latest articles explores "power-law distributions," which explain everything from automobile emissions and police brutality to homelessness. Power-law distributions are situations in which the majority of a given phenomenon can be explained by a small minority of outliers at the extreme. Example: most harmful car exhaust comes from just a relative few offenders. Similarly, LAPD corruption could be traced to just a few bad apples who racked up the vast majority of bad behavior logged by the department.

The problem is, such explanations don't satisfy the "systemic" crowd: those who want to see a massive expansion of the welfare state to feed the homeless; those who want deep structural overhauls in police departments; those who want to rearrange the foundations of academia to eradicate its racist core. That's because the problem isn't the system itself but those relatively few people who don't follow the rules of that system. It becomes a problem of compliance rather than policy.

And that's what I see in the case of Cornell. Instead of passing Student Assembly resolutions or requiring superfluous courses on racism, this paradigm suggests that there needs to be harsher penalties for violent and/or hateful behavior on campus. This presumes, of course, that Cornell's judicial structure is fair, and that the student is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law -- something which has not yet happened.

My question is: Should the University intervene in cases where the local police and judicial system are already involved?

(Crossposted: the guess pulpit)

Andy Guess | Posted on March 06, 2006 (#)


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Other Recent Posts

-- WSJ: Cornell Wins NYC Tech Campus Bid (EBilmes)

-- Barrier Update: City Approves Nets (DJost)

-- Big Red Cymbal Guy (Nagowski)

-- New York Times Survey on Campus Recruiting is Flawed (KScott)

-- Barrier Update: Legal precedent suggests City of Ithaca will not be held liable for gorge suicide (DJost)

-- Despite MSG Loss, Big Potential for Big Red Hockey (EBilmes)

-- City Council Will Vote on Suicide Nets (DJost)

-- An Encounter on the Upper East Side (Nagowski)

-- Showing Off Your School Spirit (Nagowski)

-- Chipotle Ithaca? (KScott)

-- Cornell at the ING NYC Marathon (KScott)

-- Crossing Over a Fine Line: Commercial Activity on Campus (KScott)

-- Milstein's Downfall (Nagowski)

-- Can any Cornell-associated organization really be independent of the University? (Nagowski)

-- Slope Media Revisited (EBilmes)

-- Slope Media Group Approved for Byline Funding (KScott)

-- Occupy AEM? (KScott)

-- New campus pub to be good for both Greeks and non-Greeks (Nagowski)

-- Gagging the Election (Nagowski)

-- The Changing Structure of Rush Week (Nagowski)

-- Ivy League Humility in the Midwest (EBilmes)

-- Of Median Grades and Economics Minors (Nagowski)

-- Homecoming Recap (Nagowski)

-- My Cornell Bookshelf (Nagowski)

-- The Sun's Opinion Section Has Suddenly Gotten Good (Nagowski)

-- Remembering the 11th (Nagowski)

-- Cornellian Tapped as Top Economic Advisor (Nagowski)

-- Cutting Pledging, and the Good Which Comes With It (EBilmes)

-- Why Cornell Should Not Close Fall Creek Gorge (Nagowski)

-- Welcome to the Class of 2015 (Nagowski)