Corporate Malfeasance

by WCE

I recently read two articles that made me ponder the role of whistleblowers in revealing corporate malfeasance.

The WSJ article (first) discusses how the medical testing company Theranos used its attorneys to intimidate a young Stanford grad who went to work at Theranos and observed irregularities in its medical testing methodology. I identified with Tyler’s youthful idealism and interest in data. I also thought about our legal system, compared to other “loser pays” systems and thought about its disadvantages. I suspect that pressure to conform to the vision of a startup is not uncommon. The NY Times article (second) describes how Princess Cruise Lines is being fined $40 million for improper waste dumping around the world on many ships from ~2004-2013. The illegal dumping was observed and reported by a new engineer who observed the illegal dumping and promptly reported it to the British authorities and quit his job at the port of Southampton.

Do you think government regulatory bureaucracy can/should do a better job of protecting potential whistleblowers? Do you think boards of directors should do a better job of overseeing internal company practices? Have you pondered the complexities of international environmental regulatory compliance, from both a legal and an engineering point of view? How can governments do a better job of seeking out likely cases of illegal behavior, both to avoid the behavior and to protect ethical competitors? (Volkswagen emissions and Wells Fargo also come to mind.)

Theranos Whistleblower Shook the Company—and His Family

Princess Cruise Lines to Pay $40 Million Fine for Illegal Dumping


118 thoughts on “Corporate Malfeasance

  1. If there are no protections, it would be harder to get people to speak up about what they know is going on. Yet, even though you might be protected formally and at your current job, the fact that you reported can label you as a trouble-maker and make it harder to get promoted and/or get another job.

    If your organization doesn’t condone those types of actions, you could just report it internally and it would get fixed. But, if the organization’s culture is to be a bad actor, its a tough row to hoe no matter what happens.

  2. I just finished the latest Grisham and it involves a big whistle blower situation. I know it is fiction, but I mentioned to my dad that I think it is tough to figure out how to be whistle blower in certain situations without causing a lot of harm to yourself or your family. This was definitely what I saw in financial services. VERy hard to be a whistle blower.

  3. Lauren, do you think the fact that Wall Street/ finance companies are significant sources of campaign financing is a factor in that? As was apparent in Rhett’s article, it isn’t especially difficult to be a whistleblower at a pharamaceutical plant, thanks to the FDA. I wonder how responsive state OSHA offices are to safety concerns- it probably varies by state.

  4. I think when you have a small employer or a small group within the organization, it can be obvious as to who the whistleblower is even when just the investigation is going on. The bigger the employer or work group and the more people who could possibly have seen the violation, the easier it is to report. IMO

  5. As was apparent in Rhett’s article, it isn’t especially difficult to be a whistleblower at a pharamaceutical plant, thanks to the FDA.

    What makes you think that? She was fired and doesn’t appear to have worked a regular job since.

  6. Nobody wants to hire a whistleblower. It’s career suicide in many cases. For this reason, I agree with Rhett about whistleblowers sharing in the fines.

  7. No. It hardly ever reaches that corporate level where people who care about political contributions.

    It’s too hard for the individuals to report problems. There are some anonymous methods, but eventually they will want to interview you and figure it out.

    I’m trying to help someone right now that did investor relations for a boutique firm. She went to her boss and said she wouldn’t we willing to tell investors something that she didn’t agree with in a pitch book. It’s just a talking point in a meeting, so no lawyer or compliance officer reviews the materials. They fired her a week later. No way that she’s telling anyone because she’s under 35 and wants to stay in the industry.

    No one wants to blow up their career unless they can really support themselves in another way. I think and hope people do it in life threatening cases with drugs or medical equipment. I hope.

    Not worth it in a situation like the one I described that happens all of the time.

  8. Lauren, I thought you meant there was no technical process to become a whistleblower.

    I agree with Rhett that in the pharmaceutical or chemical industry, whistleblowing (or even attempted whistle blowing) torpedos your career so you have to switch to an entirely new field. It probably is the same as finance, but I can assure you that most people in pharmaceuticals or chemical plants have the same desire to keep supporting their families that people in finance do.

    My ongoing concern about government-run healthcare stems from my belief that government regulates best when it is regulating corporations, not when it is regulating itself. People in a bureaucracy will behave in their self interest whether it’s a government bureaucracy or a corporate bureaucracy.

  9. She went to her boss and said she wouldn’t we willing to tell investors something that she didn’t agree with in a pitch book.

    I assume it was a big deal if she was willing to get fired over it?

  10. I was told about a situation where the boss is misclassifying people to avoid the FLSA overtime rules. The person who told me said that because he is new to the organization and transferred from a similar one (public sector) that he questioned his classification. He was told it was an exception for small employers. However, being the only one who ever asked or questioned it, if he reports it to the fraud, waste and abuse hotline, his boss will know who reported it – or at least will assume they know. He has only been there a few months, but is already looking for another job. However, as Houston notes, if he did report even after leaving, it would damage his job prospects going forward – if not officially, through the informal networking.

  11. I would never be a whistleblower. Every case I know of, it is a career killer. Better to just get out of the company. The only exception I might think of would be if it is something you could be held liable for legally. Then you are in a very tough spot.

  12. Ms. Eckard made some strong recommendations to her superiors: Stop shipping all products from the plant, suspend manufacturing for two weeks to allow time to resolve the problems, and notify the FDA about the product mix-ups.

    But according to her lawsuit, Ms. Eckard’s recommendations were ignored

    A Glaxo spokeswoman said two of Ms. Eckard’s superiors cited in her lawsuit, who are still with the company, weren’t available to comment.

    Intentionally ignoring something that would later result in Glaxo pleading guilty and paying a $750 million fine doesn’t even get her boss fired?

  13. By mid-2003, Ms. Eckard was terminated in what the company called a “redundancy” related to the merger of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham PLC a couple of years before.

    After she left the company, she continued to try to persuade its compliance department that more needed to be done at Cidra. But she says the company took no action. Finally, in August 2003, she called the FDA’s San Juan office and spent more than two hours detailing her concerns.

    The same thing happened to the whistler blower I know. They kept brining up things the powers that be didn’t want to know and they were fired. The powers that be were then shocked to find the fired employee went to the authorities. Really? What the F did you think was going to happen?

  14. I was reading about the Theranos whistleblower the other day. Maybe WaPo or NYT. Cant remember where. The guy was solidly politically connected but is still floundering. He lost he relationship with his politician g.father who is still on board of Theranos. Either way, Theranos does not any money anymore to pay out fines. So he is s@r@wed all together.

  15. Wow, there is really no simple solution to this. I tend to work for the corporations, and boy, the whistleblowers are treated with kid gloves out of fear of a retaliation complaint — although that’s obviously not always the case.

    I’ve worked on a few whistleblower cases that were of the “well-meaning but didn’t understand” variety. It’s like the blind men describing an elephant — in two separate cases, there was a very complex regulatory program, and reasonable lawyers could differ, but a well-meaning non-lawyer was convinced she was right and the company was evil and blowing her off, and so she went to the FBI and the next thing you know, there’s a criminal prosecution. In the first case, the company didn’t even blow her off — they forwarded her report to legal, who did research and said, hey, the government already approved this same thing at a different site, so we just think she’s wrong.

    In another case, there really was a big problem (the guy who was tasked with setting up the company’s compliance program blew it, so they demoted him and brought my guy in to fix it). But the reg was extremely badly written (so bad that a judge in another case later refused to apply penalties because it was so confusing), so what was required was unclear. My guy gave some advice that was *exactly what I would have said* based on the plain language of the rule; but another employee, who was very well-meaning and sincere but with no legal training, disagreed. When the company didn’t follow her advice, she went to the FBI — hand-in-hand with the guy who screwed up the program in the first place (and who then became the gov’t’s prize witness). And my guy, who was straight as an arrow, church every Sunday, who fixed a huge problem in a matter of months and at great cost to the company, became a criminal target and had his career ruined (even though charges were eventually dropped). I am still burned about that one years later; I have worked with many people who probably deserved to lose their careers over some of the stupid stuff they did, but this guy wasn’t even close to being on that list — he was one of the straightest-arrow compliance guys I have ever worked with. There are just no checks and balances within the government; once the prosecutor has decided who the “bad guy” is, there’s no way to get them to take their damn blinders off.

    And then of course there are the more “bad faith” whistleblowers. I am working on another issue now that has whistleblower overlays that are originating from a huge split amongst the employee population (e.g., different groups vying for control, one seemingly determined to make hay by portraying the company as the Great Satan so they can then promise they will protect the other employees from those evil ways). So the company keeps getting these criminal inquiries that have to this point gone nowhere — again, not saying they are perfect, like everyone else there is stuff to improve, but not even the same planet as the “falsify that report or you’re fired” stuff that seems to make the headlines.

  16. Dell,

    For some reason, I think he naively did what a typical totebag kid might do. An inner city kid is at least going to be aware that snitches get stitches and the authorities aren’t your friend. This guy had more of a affluent white kid’s naive pollyannish view of how the world works.

  17. It’s incredibly complex. WSJ’s reporting on Theranos was pretty amazing. Truly excellent journalism all through the story, and then their article disclosing him as their source was also good.

    To LfB’s point – did y’all see the article Sat about the State Department employee investigated by the FBI? Worth the read. Chilling.

  18. I was fascinated by the Theranos story. Movie is probably in the works. I hate how much blood one has to give for tests and for that reason I wish the pinprick method had worked.i am sure a more established company will follow up on this and make a bundle.

  19. “did y’all see the article Sat about the State Department employee investigated by the FBI? Worth the read. Chilling.”

    Lark, yes. Reminds me of Ray Donovan, Reagan’s Secretary of Labor: (Wiki) In a highly publicized 1987 case, Donovan and six other defendants were indicted by a Bronx County, New York, grand jury for larceny and fraud in connection with a project to construct a new line for the New York City Subway, through a scheme involving a Genovese crime family associate and a minority-owned subcontractor. Schiavone Construction was obligated to subcontract part of the work to a minority-owned enterprise. The essence of the charge was that because the minority owned firm (Jo-Pel Contracting and Trucking Corp) leased equipment from Schiavone, that it was not truly independent of Schiavone.

    On May 25, 1987, Donovan (and all of the other defendants) were acquitted, after which Donovan was famously quoted as asking, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?”

    That’s how I felt about the woman in Saturday’s WSJ article. In her case they said she spent $100k in legal fees and eventually the gov’t decided to drop the whole thing, no indictment, no prosecution, nothing. But her professional reputation severely sullied if no ruined. In these cases, I wish we had a system where her $100k would get reimbursed, since clearly the gov’t did not have enough to get her with (from the article I think she was innocent). Maybe different if a case goes all the way to trial.

    I don’t know how such a system would work. Was the $100k she spent what it took for her lawyers to convince the gov’t to drop it all? If she could not have engaged counsel and paid for it would they have gone forward with a case?

    I think I want to make a donation to the ACLU.

  20. “Was the $100k she spent what it took for her lawyers to convince the gov’t to drop it all? If she could not have engaged counsel and paid for it would they have gone forward with a case?”

    @Fred — I can’t find the specific article (my search terms are too general), but IME, 1. yes; 2. no.

    I’m impressed if she did it for only $100K. I have fairly recently spent @4 years on a case that generated $10-15MM in legal fees (company + multiple individuals) to persuade the government not to file criminal charges against our client for something they self-reported.

    I, too, worry about the people who don’t have that kind of money to burn. There is a process by which individuals can get reimbursed for some fees if there was no basis for a case, but (a) IIRC, the bar is pretty high, and (b) that assumes you can afford to defend yourself adequately first in order to prove there was no basis for the case to justify your recovery.

  21. to persuade the government not to file criminal charges against our client for something they self-reported.

    If you turn yourself in you shouldn’t have to go to jail?

  22. “I would never be a whistleblower. Every case I know of, it is a career killer. Better to just get out of the company.”

    What if you were planning to leave the company/industry/workforce anyway?

  23. I wouldn’t say it was a big deal, but financial services is tricky these days. She is int he tip elf job that requires several licenses. In order to get one of these…could be anything Series 24, 63, 7 etc., you take exams and are expected to follow certain rules as per FINRA and other regulatory agencies.

    I don’t think she ever thought she would be fired when she said she wasn’t going to be the person to state that in a client meeting. I’ve been in these types of situations, and people often suggest who should speak about certain topics. There are plenty of times that I refused to discuss a certain security in a portfolio and I told my manager that he would have to do it. In my case, he said fine and that was it. It wasn’t illegal, but I just didn’t want to discuss it. There is a gray line that people walk everyday in all sorts of jobs.

    You think that something might come back to haunt you. I have printed emails from a colleague that state there is “no way” that anyone could ever lose money on this synthetic CDO. I wrote back as a CYA…i don’t fully understand synthetic CDOs and I don’t think this is something that my team can ever fully monitor once we own the asset.

    Fast forward about 2 years, and I had to explain that security to regulators in two countries and tons of people from the bank. I sort of used my email as a get out of jail free card because I had stated that we can’t monitor these securities , and it seems to good to be true. If you saw The Big Short, you know that synthetic CDOs were doomed.

    Was it fraud? no. Would anyone in Credit listen to me at that time to me? No way. I didn’t make investment decisions, but I had to explain them to investors for years to come, and one of my teams had to monitor this security. There was no need to whistle blow at that time because everyone was buying this garbage. If you saw the movie, I think it was obvious why even people that tried to be heard weren’t able to be heard during this time.

    I think she spoke up as a result of how things have changed over the last ten years in financial services. People are more careful about the gray areas, but there is a lot of gray that doesn’t constitute whistle blowing. It is more of a gut feeling that something isn’t right.

  24. “What if you were planning to leave the company/industry/workforce anyway?”

    That last presumes I would be retiring, in which case, unless I have either a big ax to grind or there’s some cause I really want to stand up for, I undoubtedly have other, more enjoyable, things to do than deal with investigators, lawyers, the press every day where ever I go.

  25. “If you turn yourself in you shouldn’t have to go to jail?” — Well, no, it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it has historically been the practice that if you discover an issue and self-report it and fix it, you may pay big civil fines, but they don’t prosecute you criminally unless there’s really really really bad stuff. There were also extenuating circumstances here that I can’t really get into (e.g., there was an actual really bad guy who duped my client as much as the gov’t).

  26. OK, it’s after 4 ET, so I hope it’s close enough to hijack: need advice on what to recommend to DD for classes next year. The problem is that she has two “advanced” classes that both require doubling up next year: her teachers recommended her for AP Calc AB/CD next year (which counts as two classes); and her engineering program also requires two classes next year (it is 5 classes in 4 years). With the other required classes (English, history, physics), that means that she is down to one elective, and would have to choose between band and Spanish if she wants to go full geek. She is excited about the full geek, but she also loves band and Spanish.

    So what would you recommend? Should she drop band or Spanish (probably Spanish, as band is less work and she seems to enjoy it more)? Or should she just do Calc AB and leave CD for Senior year (if she doubles up on calc next year, Senior year is AP Statistics, which sounds to me like where fun goes to die, but probably more useful than just about anything else). She is set on a scienc-ey career (current theory is biomedical engineering followed by MD) and would happily drop English if she were allowed to. . . .

    I have my preference but would like to hear others’ thoughts before I poison the well.

  27. LfB, how does taking two calc classes in one year work, as opposed to taking the two classes over two years? Are the two classes compressed into one semester each?

    What’s the rationale is for cramming two years of calc into one year? Is it so that she can take calculus-based physics here senior year?

    I would think she can more easily double up a single calc class in a year with AP stats, which at my kids’ school is a one-semester class with a reputation for being pretty easy.

    I’m also wondering what her senior year will look like if she crams so much into her junior year. What will be left for her to take by then?

  28. Maybe this is makes more sense:

    What’s the rationale for cramming two years of calc into one year? Is it so that she can take calculus-based physics her senior year?

  29. Well, my feeling is that Spanish is a lot easier to make up in college. Band is (or can be) a really fun experience with lots of opportunities to bond with the other kids. And who knows? If she’s great maybe she can be in LSJUMB (AKA the Stanford Band.) You even get some exercise by marching around.

    BTW, how is it going with the pay-for-study plan? If it’s going well, then it seems like her proposed plan ought to work, but damn, that seems like a lot of really hard classes and I, personally, would panic and throw in the towel.

  30. I agree with Finn- double up on stat and second year of calc senior year, or wait and take stat in college. Band and Spanish are more important.
    You only need first semester calculus (AB) to start engineering physics with calculus.

  31. @Finn: I honestly don’t know — this is not coming from her, this is how the school has set up the “advanced” track. She will be taking AP Physics next year as well, so maybe they are trying to teach those hand-in-hand so they can work the calculus into the physics curriculum? I assume they will cover AB first semester and CD second semester. But I had exactly the same question as you — why make it so hard now, and WTH will be left for senior year?

    I also don’t get why the math and engineering tracks *both* have to require doubling up the same year — they are forcing her either to opt out of one of the advanced tracks or forsake all fun. It just seems stupid to say hey, we want to encourage you to go into engineering, now please drop out of the advanced math/science track to do so. Or, I guess, give up all non-STEM interests, which some would say is appropriate training for an engineering degree/career, so perhaps that is a self-selection feature and not a bug.

    FWIW, my recommendation is going to be that she just do Calc AB, unless that messes her up with physics. And if they need Calc AB/CD for physics, then maybe we should see if we can swap and do AP chem/bio next year and leave physics for senior year. She is not a candidate for MIT or HYPS, so I see no reason for her to drop everything she enjoys and kill herself for a year just to be able to tell some college that she took the hardest courseload available at her school.

  32. “Band is (or can be) a really fun experience with lots of opportunities to bond with the other kids.”

    It was for me, and since your DD loves it, I would encourage her to continue. HS isn’t just to get into a good college; it should be fun too.

    “If she’s great maybe she can be in LSJUMB (AKA the Stanford Band.) You even get some exercise by marching around.”

    The LSJUMB doesn’t march, or at least not to my knowledge. They just run around into formations, then play (which a buddy who was in it BITD confirmed to me). But the running around looks like it’d be good exercise.

    Oh wait, they don’t just run around and play. They also piss off a lot of people, although I don’t think that’s necessarily what was intended at last year’s Rose Bowl.

  33. “BTW, how is it going with the pay-for-study plan?”

    Measured from the perspective of a 15-yr-old girl, it is horrible and she’s always broke and we don’t pay her nearly enough. Measured from the perspective of having lived with this child for 15+ years, it is freaking awesome. Standard teen kvetching/grousing, but zero fights/”real” upsets about money, as the answer to all complaints is self-evident. Grades continue to fluctuate between A-B territory, but it seems there is less freaking out — she seems to have learned that she has a resource in Khan Academy when she doesn’t get something and voluntarily watches their videos and practices stuff. So the “habit” part seems to be making progress, although as always, slowly and irregularly; she seems to have a little more faith that she can ultimately get it if she keeps at it, even as she resents the work it sometimes involves.

    And she’s making dinner tonight, too. Because she went to the mall with friends yesterday and is again broke. :-)

  34. “although I don’t think that’s necessarily what was intended at last year’s Rose Bowl.”

    C’mon Finn. You know better. Edginess, which by its nature will piss some people off, is the heritage of the Stanford Band. What happened recently wasn’t really news to those in the know.

    …from the land of sky blue waters…(whatever happened to Hamm’s beer anyway?)

  35. “we can swap and do AP chem/bio next year”

    She’s planning to do both her senior year? That’s pretty ambitious; not many of DS’ friends take two sciences simultaneously. Quite a few graduate with more than 4 science classes, but that’s typically because of taking a summer school class.

    If she can maintain her GPA, would suggest that she’ll probably be able to get into some pretty good engineering schools, especially if coupled with good test scores. I don’t see that not doubling up her junior year will keep her out of any schools, especially if she’s not looking at MIT or any similar schools.

  36. LfB – I would do 2 years of calc instead of cramming it all into 1 year – it is too much material IMO to cover in 1.

  37. “Edginess, which by its nature will piss some people off, is the heritage of the Stanford Band.”

    I don’t disagree, but last year things were exacerbated because apparently a lot of people weren’t aware of Stanford’s history and its nickname of “The Farm.”

  38. I don’t know the issue with the cow. Stanford has been referred to as “down on the farm” for years!

  39. “I would do 2 years of calc instead of cramming it all into 1 year – it is too much material IMO to cover in 1.”

    What’s covered in the two years? If it’s about the same as two semesters of college calculus, then it’s definitely doable in 1 year. When I was in college, a lot of the kids from certain schools had taken the first 2 semesters of calculus as HS seniors at local CCs. DW took the first 4 semesters of calc at the local CC during her junior and senior years.

    OTOH, at my kids’ school, it appears that they cover more in one year than the local flagship and CCs cover in a semester.

  40. LfB,

    Depending upon the college she attends, this may be your DD’s last chance to play in a band with her friends. You can study Spanish and even calculus in college, but you can’t always play in the band, especially as an adult with a job. That’s my 2 cents.

  41. I wouldn’t rule out band in college. If she’s good and/or plays an important instrument, there are scholarships for band kids, and I believe many college bands welcome walk-ons.

    Back when there was Hula Bowl, the flagship U music dept would organize the halftime show using a band of local HS students, and took advantage of that to recruit kids for the flagship U marching band.

    “You can study Spanish and even calculus in college”

    I’ve read a couple article advocating against studying languages in college, on the premise that there are many other opportunities to learn languages, often at a lower cost, and opportunities to take college classes are limited, and better spent on other subjects. I think this is especially true at expensive colleges.

  42. @Finn — no, I meant AP Chem OR AP Bio. WRT Calculus, they are both the AP courses, so whatever the AB and BC versions are (I also thought the school said AB/CD, but I guess I have that wrong and it’s AB/BC).

    @Scarlett: I could not agree more — if she insists on doubling up, I’m going to strongly recommend she drop Spanish and keep band. If nothing else, everyone needs at least one class that requires no actual work. :-)

  43. I agree with Scarlett. One class without grade and success pressure.

    If it was for miniature-me, I would say to solve the Spanish learning with money. Pay for a summer immersion-spanish program (not an English-speaking group trip, but some kind of homestay). More Spanish, more free time in school. I don’t know if that’s right for her.

    I’m pretty good with languages and I like learning them, but I found high school classes a waste of time.

  44. DH was at a big company that was engaging in anti-competitive practices. He wasn’t sure it was illegal, didn’t have anyone to ask. Thought about investigating further, but felt even asking questions was an invitation to be fired and blacklisted.

  45. I would not assume upper level foreign language classes will work with an engineering schedule. I dropped German because second year courses were only offered once or twice (say, 10 and 11 AM MWF) and I had mandatory engineering classes that were only offered at both those times. 300 level foreign language classes were even rarer.

  46. Lfb–I’ll just add two things. In most schools, you either take Calc AB or Calc BC–BC covers all the AB material plus more. I’ve never heard of a school that teaches AB and BC as two separate year long classes the same year. So maybe it’s just one class?
    Second, some schools “strongly” recommend 4 years of a foreign language. Also, at Iowa State, you qualify for a much higher automatic merit award if you have four years of foreign language. While I doubt your DD would go there (although they do have a good engineering school!) there are likely other schools with the same policy and you may not want to cut off her chances this early. (DS wanted to drop French 4 but for the potential scholarship. We took to calling French 4 the $10,000 French class).

  47. LfB, I’ll leave the math and science classes to the experts here, but definitely take band over Spanish. She needs something fun in there.

  48. “Pay for a summer immersion-spanish program”

    A kid of a couple we know spent much of last summer in a summer session in Taiwan. I think he got a scholarship and his parents only had to pay for travel expenses.

  49. BenL, what if a kid has taken the 5th year class for a language, but only took 3 years of classes? E.g., tested into 3rd year class based on afterschool language classes in elementary school?

    I’m guessing WCE can comment on ISU’s engineering school. They also offer merit aid to NMF.

  50. I’m sure WCE has a lot to say about Iowa State, Finn, but since you’re pretty quick to jump on me for having out of date info, I will point out that WCE didn’t actually graduate within the last 2-3 years and things may have changed.

  51. Finn–no idea. Wasn’t relevant to DS.
    I believe the engineering school was just ranked somewhere in the 30s in the country, but I don’t remember by whom. (It was a reputable source). And no doubt there are strengths and weaknesses within the engineering school.

  52. Both my kids like having a fun elective. It relaxes them and they tend to do better in their academic classes.
    In addition, I have been converted to DH’s free play philosophy. Both my kids like running around outside. The Stanford band was amusing.

  53. Laura–I’m going to add to what I said above. Band was quite possibly the best part of high school and college for me. So I don’t mean to imply that language over band is the obvious decision. I’m all about informed decisions–if she chooses band, she may cut off some options. But there’s more to life than having the option of top colleges, and you two are the only ones who can weigh that.

  54. I doubt if merit aid at ISU belongs on LfB’s radar. Last week’s alumni newsletter informed me that the undergrad biochemical/chemical engineering department (a possible choice for an aspiring biomedical engineer) is ranked 15th by US News, though the US News article is locked so I may be remembering wrong. The ISU engineering department as a whole is ranked 48th.

    I don’t think US News is a particularly helpful source for undergraduate engineering information. I chose ISU because courses in my department had 50-60 people and were all taught by professors. The department has a very high percentage of professors who get tenure, because they hire a few good people and support them. (RMS, you’re right that I’m not a recent grad, but some of my professors are still teaching.) I think US News is a better source of rankings for grad school and many of the top-ranked schools are less, uh, nurturing of new professors who want to teach undergrads.

    My brothers went to U of I in electrical/mechanical engineering because they wanted the same ~50 person course experience, vs. the 100+ person classes at ISU in those majors.

  55. LfB, did your DD take geometry in 8th grade? For her to be looking at AP Calc, whether AB or BC, as a junior is pretty advanced.

    At my kids’ school, AP Calc BC is recommended if taken with AP Physics C.

    I’m thinking your DD might want to take AP Calc BC next year, but wait until her senior year if she wants to take AP Physics C. My understanding is that AP Physics C requires calculus, although at my kids’ school, it’s usually taken concurrently with AP Calc BC (their honors track puts them in both as seniors). And it’s also possible that there’s a synergy between the two classes, with application of calculus in physics making the calculus more relevant. OTOH, that would suggest that falling behind in one class puts you behind in both. DS is currently taking them concurrently, so I’ll ask him.

    So she could take another science (e.g., AP Chem or AP Bio) next year. What math would she have available to her as a senior if she takes AP Calc next year? Many colleges don’t count AP Stats as a math class, so if she’ll be looking at colleges that require 4 years of math (which IMO she should expect if she’s going to major in engineering), she may need to look into something like a dual enrollment program if her school doesn’t offer a math class beyond AP Calc BC.

    What’s the standard honors track for math and science at your DD’s school?

  56. LfB, if she’s not applying to tippy-top schools, she won’t need 4 years of math if she’s taken any calculus. I don’t know if standardized tests are the get-out-of-jail card they used to be for admission, but it used to be that a moderate (~90th percentile) standardized test score was an “alternative” to high school course requirements at most land grant schools.

  57. Ben Carson grew up in Detroit so now he’s qualified to manage 8000 employees and a budget of 50 billion dollars.

    His qualifications? Ran for President and was poor in Detroit.

  58. “I found high school classes a waste of time.”

    At the risk of offending any high school language teachers who may be reading this thread, this was also our family’s collective experience with high school Spanish classes. Getting a summer job in a fast-food restaurant or on a landscape crew would probably be far more effective, with no homework or tests.

    Having the opportunity to play in a band or orchestra, or sing in a choir, in a high school setting with daily rehearsals and a dedicated director, is a peak experience that is not often not fully appreciated until graduation, when you realize that you can’t just find another group of talented musicians down the hall. Many universities offer terrific performing arts opportunities to their students, but large schools can be very competitive, or restrict their programs to music majors, or have rehearsal times that conflict with other classes/jobs/activities.

  59. Thanks, all. FWIW, as of dinner tonighht, she is set on the double-math-and-physics thing, and I told her if she wanted to drop an elective to keep band, because she needs some class that is fun and requires zero actual work (pretty much a direct quote). I am still going to see if there is a chance to do just one engineering class next year and double up in that senior year. I am worried this is just too damn much and am floored that this is the “standard” GT track.

    I do not know the AB-BC answer. Maybe they divide it up because it “counts” as two classes?

    The standard “advanced” track is college algebra/trig this year, Calc AB-BC jr year, then either AP statistics or multivariable calc senior year. The science track is bio in 9, chem this year, AP physics in 11, and then AP bio or chem senior year (I have the sense that there is a super-secret-probation option that allows a few kids to AP chem in 10th, but I don’t think that is the “normal” advanced track). Her only real problem is that the engineering program officially counts as an elective, so we have to trade off her interest in learning about engineering with the equivalent need to do fluffy fun stuff that may even periodically involve a right brain cell.

  60. Ps – have I mentioned that it kills me that my kid would happily drop English in a heartbeat if they’d let her? 😉

    Re: Spanish: I don’t know how the colleges count, but she’s in Spanish 4 now (they start in MS), so the only question is whether she finishes 5 years or 6. So if it’s 4 years of HS credit, she may be SOL, but if it’s “complete Spanish 4,” she’s good. Whatever. I consider Spanish just a way to sneak a humanities class past her anyway.

  61. LfB, I’m with your DD on English. I hated every minute of my HS English classes.

    Following up on DS and his robotics class, he got a 50 on the re-test. Apparently it’s not just his teacher because he said the other intro to robotics class with a different teacher did pretty poorly on the test as well. He did change his mind and said he’ll stick with the class next semester.

  62. Ok, so here’s the funny thing — here is the “official” school math order — — and yet that is not what we are being told now. I am looking at her proposed registration card, and it specifically says both Calc I (AB) and Calc II (BC). So I don’t know what to tell you.

    Meanwhile, they appear to have changed the science order, so that kids now will take AP Environmental science in 9, AP bio in 10, AP chem in 11, and AP physics in 12. But this postdates DD, so I can’t find the “official” thing that applies to her class.

    Ahhh, bureaucracy.

  63. LfB – I haven’t seen a college that requires more than 3 years of the same foreign language (i.e. complete Spanish 3); might differ for future language majors but I doubt it

  64. DD announced her long-awaited high school choice tonight. She picked DS’ school, which makes all of us happy for various reasons.

  65. LFB, I agree with Benefits Lawyer: “In most schools, you either take Calc AB or Calc BC–BC covers all the AB material plus more. I’ve never heard of a school that teaches AB and BC as two separate year long classes the same year.”

    Not that I’m an expert, but I’ve never heard of a student taking both, especially in the same year. I think your school’s proposed schedule is odd. Actually, both exams are given at the same time, so how would that work out?

  66. DD, happy for all of you. I forgot the details, so if you have a chance could you fill us in again?

  67. “I’ve never heard of a student taking both”

    Actually, I believe a scenario that may not be uncommon would be when a student takes AB because they don’t feel prepared for BC. Then the next year they may take BC because they feel they now have the right foundation.

  68. LfB – won’t some time be required for SAT prep in addition to school work ? It seems a lot to me ! In my house I won’t know how many classes is too much until the squawking begins. The school guidance counselors are supposed to be pretty good.

    DD congrats ! Will she have to pick a concentration like your son did ?

  69. I may have skimmed the posts too quickly and missed where this was addressed, but I’m assuming LFB’s daughter is on block scheduling if the school recommends taking Calc AB and BC in the same year. On block, they take 4 complete classes first semester and 4 second semester. My older kids both took AB and BC in the same year. It wasn’t a problem. One got a 5 on the exams and one got a 2 and actually took calculus over in college (the horrors!) The kid with a 2 finished a STEM major with honors in 4 years. It is not impossible. Everyone needs to chill.

    If I’ve missed something, and LFB’s school expects her to take both AP calculus classes concurrently along with 6 other courses, they are being unreasonable.

  70. With all this discussion about the different math/science courses in HS, I have to ask, did any of you have these classes offered in your high schools? We had an honors math track that ended with Calc senior year and honors science that ended with physics junior year and then there was an option to take either bio 2, chem 2 or physics 2 during your senior year (not required). My parents had very little input/interest other than to make sure I stayed on the honors track and my grades were good. I’m guessing this has to do with being in a small high school, but I feel like I’m going to be in for a shock in a few years when I have to help DD with all of this!

  71. “If I’ve missed something, and LFB’s school expects her to take both AP calculus classes concurrently along with 6 other courses, they are being unreasonable.”

    Nope, you didn’t miss anything. The “regular” all-year classes go every other day (A/B schedule); the “double” classes go every day. So 4 periods in any one day, 8 classes at a time.

    Part of me thinks this is way too much. Then I think about how much time she spends on Netflix and realize that there is plenty of time available in her day. Still, I think I’m going to email the engineering teacher to see what the options are — she’s dead set on the two calc classes, and something’s gotta give.

  72. @DD — congratulations! That’s great news on both fronts (not that any of it excuses what the teacher said, but I’m glad he hasn’t turned your son off of the subject entirely).

    @Nap — my experience — at the very same school DD attends — was like yours. We could only take calc senior year if we doubled up junior year; I refused to drop my electives, so I maxed out at college algebra, but this was back in the ’80s when the lack of HS calc didn’t damn you for life. Science was exactly like you laid out; most people opted out of science senior year, since it was no longer required. I chose Advanced Chem, but even then no one took the AP test — the teacher just pulled maybe 2-3 of us aside in the spring and said, hey, there’s this test, you can get college credit, and we took it on our own.

  73. CoC, DD narrowed it down to the school DS is going to (our designated HS) and one in another district that’s about 15-20 minutes away. Quite a few kids in our neighborhood go there, so we could probably get a carpool going, but it will be so much easier having them at the same school that’s close. She won’t say why she decided on it, but I think at least part of it is that she wants to play softball (even though she hasn’t said if she does or not – that’s her MO, but she wanted to start hitting lessons again), and the other school doesn’t have its own team, they do a joint team with another school that’s another 20 minutes farther away, so I have no idea how we would work that out.

    Nap, my HS was similar as well. We only had one calc class. Honors science was bio, chem, physics, then either AP Bio or AP chem.

  74. Part of me thinks this is way too much.

    That part of you is correct, madam. My friends the now-successful Silicon Valley engineers took the Calc AP AB exam, and I think they could take the BC exam even back then. But only one class in the entire high school, which was on an A/B schedule like yours, had an every day 90-minute block, and that was AP Chemistry. And the kids in that class suffered (well, they complained a lot, anyway.) The idea of several of those classes all at once seems ridiculously brutal.

    And I’m just going to gripe about why it should be necessary. The now-56-year old Captains of Engineering Industry (well, they’re Lieutenants of Industry, anyway) didn’t have to sweat this hard in high school and they’re still plenty bright and seem to easily invent new gadgets to add to the landfill. But they still had time to hang around at lunch and after school to flirt, mope, gossip, recite Monty Python sketches, and just generally be kids with the rest of us.

  75. “And I’m just going to gripe about why it should be necessary.”

    But, gee, Rocky, did you not hear that we’re falling behind in math and science? Again? So clearly the solution is to do the same thing, only more and faster.

  76. LfB – we will make an exception for your DD. The rest of the nation’s teenagers are to stop playing video games on multiple devices (looking at you DS) and bury their noses in their Math and Science books :-).

  77. My HS didn’t have multiple calculus classes – only one, which was also the AP class. I think there were only 6-8 AP classes total in the whole school, counting the languages. No statistics or anything either. For science most of us took earth science, bio, chem, and then either AP chem or physics senior year. (There was no AP bio.) My guidance counselor would only let me take 3 AP classes so I had ‘regular’ physics instead of AP.

  78. Do those of you with older kids have any ideas about helping kids make friends in high school? It’s particularly brutal for boys, because they seem to still be expected to take the initiative with girls. I’ve offered to give my child and a friend a ride in a clean car with my mouth shut, and suggested he start a study group in his hardest class. What else is genuinely helpful?

  79. Am I the only one here who didn’t take calculus in high school? I took it freshman year of college, barely got out with a passing grade, and never took another math again. Same for DH.

  80. Lark – I didn’t take Calculus and I went to a college that had no math requirement. And then I majored in English. Dh and I have done fine!

  81. Lark–I frequently point out to my children that I am living proof that you can lead a happy and successful life without ever having taken calculus or physics. In high school or college.
    And I went to a high school that offered both AP calculus classes, and all three AP sciences. So the opportunity was there.

  82. Laura, my take is that your daughter’s teachers recommend students for classes they think they can handle, based on what they’ve seen of students’ abilities, interest levels, and the work they produce. I’m starting to think that schoolwork is a lot like legislation and sausage. Since you’re leery of this combination, you might want to talk to the teachers who’ve suggested this slate of classes. They might not realize how the class they think she c/should go into will combine with the rest of her schedule. Or maybe they do, and think she can do it. In any event, it is highly unlikely that she is the first student to have that combo of classes. You might want to talk to parents of kids doing it now, or to the teachers for those classes, to see how well it works for kids, and to get strategies of how kids can handle it. If she chooses to keep band and drop Spanish, you could look into a summer class for her, perhaps even in a Spanish-speaking country. But if she is up for it and ready to go full geek, why keep her from the fun?

  83. “But if she is up for it and ready to go full geek, why keep her from the fun?”

    Because, as my Grandma used to say, “Big eyes, little stomach.” And her teachers aren’t the ones who have to live with her through this. :-)

  84. LfB, if the school’s guidance counselors are worth anything (I’m stunned at how much better ‘saac’s are than the ones I experienced), talk to them too, about how students have done with this combo in the past. I really think that talking to people who are there, who might know your kid and who absolutely know the courses, the teachers, and track records of people who have been through it, are a much better bet than talking to people across the country about their situations, which are different than the one your daughter is in. And if your kid wants to own her schedule, that’s awesome!

  85. Do those of you with older kids have any ideas about helping kids make friends in high school?

    I have no idea how to teach social skills. DS seems to be doing fine so far – fortunately he didn’t inherit my geekiness. He mostly hangs out with his friends from middle school but he’s made some new friends as well.

  86. I really think that talking to people who are there, who might know your kid

    The teachers don’t always know our kids the same way we know our kids, though.

  87. LfB, simulpost.
    True that they don’t have to experience the “factory floor” side of this. Why don’t you try being firm about the kvetching that you think is over the acceptable limits for a couple of weeks. If you’ve told her that you don’t like it but have allowed it, then what you’re really saying is that you accept it. Then in a couple weeks, like over winter break, let her know that you will expect and require that lower level of complaint next year on the heavy schedule. If the unpreparedness is what bugs you more than the whining, then you’re talking about supporting her in a different way. I don’t think that’s a bad thing (my kid is in charge of his own school work, with me supporting him emotionally), but it’s definitely something she needs a trial run of before deciding on this schedule with a “new” kind of support. In the end, though, it’s the same thing: if you’re telling her you aren’t going to buy supplies at the last minute/stay up late with her/drive to school extra times but are still doing it, then she is being entirely reasonable in thinking that those are things that you do.

  88. Denver, no, they don’t know our kids like we do, and we don’t know the sides of them their teachers do. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to talk to the teachers who are involved. You can tell them about your kid and home, and might learn something about your kid that you didn’t know. I know I have been surprised at things my son’s teachers tell me about him. (Bragging: my kid’s math teacher told me he helps the girl next to him; when I asked him about it, he said “yeah, she’s that character from every movie who’s really good looking but dumb. I can’t ask her out because that would be taking advantage.” The social recognition there makes me more proud than the math skill)

  89. John Deere –
    My kids went to an all boys school 7-12th. Honestly, I think that helped on the friend-making front. No pressure to ‘take the initiative with girls’. They made friends thru their extracurriculars and that logically extended to friend-of-a-friend.
    Oh, and believe me, there was/is plenty of opportunity to do things with girls, e.g. those from the all-girls school a lot of whom come to home football games, plays where the girls play the female roles, etc.

  90. @SM — I do have messages in at the school. The engineering course is new within the past couple of years; I suspect they viewed that as somewhat “lesser” than the AP-track (in the Big Bang Theory Howard Wolowitz way) and so just assumed that the same kids wouldn’t be doubling up on both calc and engineering in the same year. So it is likely a pretty new issue for them as well.

    In terms of the behavior, the issue we have is similar to what you have with ‘Saac, in that she keeps everything to herself and puts on a good front, until she blows, and there’s a huge meltdown and massive regression. [Who knew my most critical parenting skill would need to be “spot an impending meltdown and figure out how to defuse before it happens”?] At that point, we’re way past discipline or consequences; it’s all about catching her before she totally craters and helping her put herself back together (the old-fashioned phrase “high-strung” comes to mind). She has been getting better and better at managing herself, and so far this year has been awesome on that front, but I worry that overloading her would do more harm than good and cause her to lose her hard-won-but-still-tentative confidence. [I note that this is where she and ‘Saac seem to differ the most — his trigger seems to be when things are too easy and he gets bored; she also doesn’t perform well when she is bored, but her anxiety really kicks in when she feels overwhelmed]

    Honestly, I posted here hoping that folks would say I wasn’t bat-shit crazy for thinking this seemed like too much, and that there is value in taking time to do other things. The world seems to be so much “more is better”; I just felt like I needed a sanity check.

  91. LfB, are you suggesting that my boy performs well when the pressure is on? Wrong! I’d like to pad it to be nice to you, but there is no way that is correct. When he senses a challenge, even one that he “could” surmount, he runs and hides. One day he will figure out that starting early is a way to avoid that, or he will learn to take on the challenge, but he is not there yet. Hard for me to get my head around, because even in recreation, I prefer to “play up” rather than against people at my own level. But most people here seemed to have responded in just the way you were hoping for.

  92. Denver, no, they don’t know our kids like we do, and we don’t know the sides of them their teachers do.</i.

    Very true. Every year, I always say I want to meet the kids we hear about at conferences.

  93. John Deere, if he can find an extracurric with a strong culture of “we all support each other” and inclusiveness that can be good.

  94. Honestly, I posted here hoping that folks would say I wasn’t bat-shit crazy for thinking this seemed like too much, and that there is value in taking time to do other things. The world seems to be so much “more is better”; I just felt like I needed a sanity check.

    I’m 100% in agreement with you. DS is already saying he wants to have a free period next year, and I think that’s perfectly fine.

  95. DD. lol @ your 11:17, and I was a little surprised to learn that there is no study hall at my kid’s school.

  96. LfB, I asked about what other’s high school experiences were because what you are describing seems like so much pressure to put on someone so young. My kids are still a few years away from this so I don’t know what they will experience, but this crazy race to pack so much in seems like it is going to burn them out before they even start their dream college (where they will have even more classes and won’t have time to enjoy the experience and grow up). I had to back myself down when I started stressing over my 2nd grader’s grades. There were several B’s (and the rest A’s). I hope I can help my kids chill out when they get older.

  97. Nap, I think that’s one of the advantages of going to a non-totebaggy HS. There isn’t all that pressure to take 15 AP classes and get straight As and whatnot. Of course, that can go too far the other way, like in the case of Cordelia’s kids’ school.

  98. LfB, my 2 cents is that you should let your DD take the lead, although I’m totally with you in trying to understand her options and discussing them with her to make sure she’s making an informed decision.

    One resource she should use it older friends. Since she’s a soph, she probably has some junior and senior friends who are on the same or similar track that she can talk to.

    But I still don’t understand taking both AP Calc AB and AP Calc BC concurrently. As BenL mentioned earlier, the AB material is a subset of the BC material.

    From the source,

    “What is the difference between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC?

    AP Calculus BC is an extension of AP Calculus AB: the difference between them is scope, not level of difficulty. AP Calculus AB includes techniques and applications of the derivative, the definite integral, and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. It is equivalent to a semester of calculus at most colleges and universities. AP Calculus BC includes all topics in AP Calculus AB, plus others such as parametric, polar, and vector functions, and series. It is equivalent to one year of calculus at most colleges and universities.”

  99. LfB, you might want to read this:

    I’ve found prepscholar to be a pretty informative website. They list taking the two AP calc classes consecutively as an option, which is also shown as a standard path on your school system’s website.

    If you are concerned about whether or not your DD will be overloaded, as well as what she’ll do in her senior year, given that your school system’s website shows BC as the highest math class offered (as mentioned before, many colleges don’t consider AP Stats to be a math class, and at my kids’ school it’s considered much easier than calc, and is only a one semester class), taking AB and BC consecutively might be worth considering.

    If she does wait until senior year to take BC, she might also want to wait until senior year for AP Physics C, the one that requires calculus.

  100. ” my high school’s highest-level math class was pre-calc, which I took.”


    Flagship U’s engineering curriculum is still theoretically possible to complete in 8 semesters even without having taken calculus in HS. Practically, very few kids do it; most of the kids that do graduate in 4 years also have taken some classes in HS and/or during summers.

  101. “John Deere, if he can find an extracurric with a strong culture of “we all support each other” and inclusiveness that can be good”

    I agree.

    My suggestion is to not try so hard to make friends directly, but that he put himself in a position for that to happen organically. E.g., find XC activities that he really enjoys as ends themselves, and he’s likely to find compatible peer groups.

  102. “I think that’s one of the advantages of going to a non-totebaggy HS. There isn’t all that pressure to take 15 AP classes and get straight As and whatnot. ”

    The flip side of that is that non-totebaggy HS often don’t have curriculum to challenge bright kids, or good peer groups for them, as Cordelia can attest.

    You probably want one with the option but not the pressure to take the AP classes.

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