John Cage, on Being a Harvard Professor.

The one time that I saw him up close, he was delivering the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, at Harvard. Eminences of the faculty had gathered in Memorial Hall, possibly laboring under the illusion that in such august company Cage would finally drop his games and explain himself. Unease rippled through the room as Cage began reciting a string of mesostics—acrostics in which the organizing word runs down the middle instead of the side:

Much of our
of borEdom
Toward talks in
it misled Him
diplOmatic skill to
place to place but Does it look
at present Most
fivE Iranian fishermen
cuTbacks would not

It went on like that, for six lectures, the verbal material generated randomly from Thoreau, Wittgenstein, and the Times, among other sources. Later, when Cage was asked what he thought of being a Harvard professor, he commented that it was “not much different from not being a Harvard professor.”

Plus side:

More time to work on his mousse treatment.

Headline of the Day, from The Onion.

CS50 Updates Course Policies, Asks Students To Go To Class

Okay, not the Onion. But Onion-worthy, no?

Look at this last part of the article, where one of the professor’s teaching assistants praises his experimental, innovative, problem-solving approach to teaching:

For at least one former CS50 staffer, the changes to the course signal [David] Malan’s willingness to solve problems through experimentation.

“Seems like he’s continuing to experiment and learn as I think he should and does relatively well,” said former CS50 teaching fellow Mark D. Grozen-Smith ’15. “I’m glad that we have innovation alive in such an impactful, high-demand class.”

Asking students to attend your course! Why didn’t I think of that?

Why Professors Tend to Be Bad Escapees.

They tend to be unable to stop doing stuff, saying stuff, creating keepsakes of their itinerary, as they – in principle – try to put more and more distance between themselves and the police. The Northwestern University microbiologist who seems to have stabbed a guy to death is on the lam; but while on the lam he has made an apology video (intended for his family, but now, one presumes, in the hands of the authorities), and has stopped by a library in Wisconsin to make a donation in the name of the guy he allegedly killed. I’m gonna guess that his next move will be suicide.

A non-academic would have made a beeline for a trailer park in upper Temagami and hunkered down there silently smoking and drinking until everyone forgot about him. He wouldn’t have made everything such a production already!


UPDATE: Both suspects have surrendered in San Francisco.

Primate Behavior at the University of Washington

[The] associate director for research in the Regional Primate Research Center [at the University of Washington] … created a hostile work environment for a woman under his direct supervision because he “persistently, and for an extended period of time, made unwanted sexual comments and jokes,” and reminded her often that he could fire her. The investigator also found that [he] had a sexual relationship with another woman under his direct supervision, and that he viewed pornography on his work computer even when he was warned not to. … [He also] asked employees to solicit a prostitute for him…

The university had received complaints about [his] behavior on six separate occasions, as far back as 2006


UD thanks Seelye.


And if you want to know absolutely everything the big adorable lunkhead did, go here.


It’s rare that a university professor kills; when he does (it’s almost always he), it’s almost always a husband or boyfriend killing a wife or girlfriend in a rage.

This much-covered case of a Northwestern University professor allegedly stabbing a young man to death in the professor’s apartment sounds like something similar, although this might have been a gay relationship.

To the newsworthiness of a professor killing (and a professor from a major university), we can add the fact that the guy specialized in the plague!

Oxford College Treasurer and
Black Death Professor
Sought in US-Wide Murder Manhunt

Here’s hoping he didn’t arm himself with a few bacilli on his way out of town.


He’s on the run. Maybe I saw him last Wednesday.

I was on the metro, the red line, from Bethesda into the city to have lunch with a friend, and across from me on the train sat a guy who looked somewhat like the description and photo the police provided. He was probably in his forties, athletic, on the tall side, and what really struck me was the t-shirt he had on: It said VASSAR on it, and the guy graduated from Vassar.

He had a lot of luggage, but lots of people on the DC metro carry lots of luggage.

And – yeah, I hear you – would a smart guy like this one wear a shirt that had Vassar emblazoned on it?


All well-provisioned universities need access to an Emergency Title Reserve, a list of names they can immediately slap on a professor with a named chair when the original name on the professor’s chair suddenly becomes… well…

Take Mary Waters, the socially conscious Zukerman Professor of Sociology at Harvard until it turned out Zukerman had stolen around fifty million dollars from the United States government. When it looked likely Zukerman would go to prison (that is in fact his current primary residence), Harvard was able to scrounge around in its ETR and come up with the name of some schmuck willing to sit there until he or she was needed (Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do or die).

Zukerman stole from the poor to give to the rich, as did the fascinating Esformes family, long one of the filthiest nursing home operators in Chicago, but now, in the person of Philip Esformes, “charged … in what has been touted as the nation’s biggest Medicare fraud case.” These named chair donors don’t think small – if you’re going to steal from America’s struggling taxpayer, steal tens – hundreds? – of millions! Then spread it around among the deserving rich so you can get your name emblazoned in some hoitsy-toitsy joint like Harvard, the University of Chicago…

Nothing says whitewashing like a university chair. If Bernie hadn’t suffered a reversal, hands down there’d have been a Madoff chair at Yeshiva University.

So Nir Uriel, once touted as the Esformes Chair in Medicine at Chicago, has been re-named the Block Professor.

UD of course has nothing against universities scrambling to dump crooks and replace them with saints. She has only two comments to make about this.

1. Better make sure the second-in-command is pure as the driven snow. It would be positively Rube Goldberg to have to keep giving their professors new names.

2. Instead of just quietly doing it, UD thinks universities should announce the change. Disclosure matters, and there’s a way of writing this sort of news release that makes it honest and unembarrassing.

For many years the University of Chicago has been pleased to be the recipient of financial generosity from the Esformes family, which endowed a professorship in our medical school. We have, however, now removed the Esformes name from that chair, because members of the family have been accused of Medicare fraud.

In response to campus outrage and embarrassment over the Carmen Puliafito scandal, the University of Southern California has announced the immediate release of the following adjectives:


“Watch this space,” announced President Nikias, “for additional adjectives as appropriate.”

Update, Puliafito Pileup.

Pileup because the scandal looks likely to take down the president of the University of Southern California, plus other high-ranking do-nothings.

“The mood on campus is one of stunned depression,” a USC physician said in an email to me, asking me not to use his name. “Students are upset that this was allowed to happen at their medical school, while the faculty are flabbergasted as well as embarrassed.” The physician said that in his opinion, Puliafito should have been immediately suspended in March 2016 [the meth incident] and an investigation launched.

“By allowing him to continue to practice,” he said, “patients’ health was put at risk.”

“On balance, while the grievor’s record of service has been excellent and while the cost to the grievor of discharge is undoubtedly heavy, I find that there are insufficient mitigating factors to warrant interfering with the penalty of discharge in light of the very serious nature of the grievor’s misconduct.”

That’s Canadian. Here in the USA, we’re more straightforward:

Fine prof, and it’s too bad she’s going to lose her job, but she’s a liar and a thief, so out she goes.


A professor at York University committed extensive benefits fraud, and then tried to lie her way out of it. She submitted

more than 100 false benefit claims totalling more than $8,000 for paramedical services, including physiotherapy and massage, on behalf of herself and her family. She did so by altering electronic copies of genuine invoices for prior services…

Massage! Why didn’t I think of that when filing false benefit claims??

[Her] conduct as her scheme unravelled worked against her. When the benefit administrator made inquiries about her claims, she fabricated and submitted additional fraudulent invoices. After further inquires, she denied she had ever submitted the electronic claims at all.

What a tangled hot stone massage we weave…

Tyranny of the Strong

When you’re an Ivy League professor who writes a sloppy, error-ridden, yet prize-winning book, you don’t expect a bunch of nonentities to crawl out of the woodwork and call you on it. It won a prize, after all.

Thus, Charles Armstrong, author of Tyranny of the Weak (a book about North Korea) was clearly caught off guard when some dude with some weird Hungarian name who teaches at Korea University complained that Armstrong seemed to have made up some of his sources and plagiarized parts of his text and other stuff like that. Armstrong went right on the attack:

I have, as far as I know, never offended him. I’ve known him for years, and appreciate the work he’s done. His book appears in my bibliography. I don’t understand why he would come after me this way.

Must be professional jealousy.

Plus it’s all the nonentity’s fault because he didn’t follow proper academic protocol:

Dr. Szalontai never communicated his concerns or criticisms directly to me prior to these various posts on different blogs. Why direct communication, a common professional courtesy and practice in academia, was not the preferred form of expression remains a mystery.

Another scholar, commenting on this response, noted:

The Columbia professor attributes improper academic conduct to Szalontai. That tells you all you need to know. … [N]o honest scholar who had accidentally lifted dozens of items from a colleague would dream of scolding him for not complaining courteously enough.

But Armstrong is not through transferring blame to others. He also – like so many haughties before him – blames the servants.

The book’s narrative was constructed through multiple transfers of notes, some made by my research assistants and others done by myself. This too, in retrospect, may have resulted in some inaccuracies.

You just can’t get good help these days!

Armstrong tried most of the traditional techniques people try when they get themselves into his position: He painted himself as a victim of mysteriously malign forces; he attacked the messenger; he attacked his research assistants. The only (very popular) move he didn’t try was the bit where you reveal that while writing the book your wife died, your cat died, you suffered recurrent bouts of impotence, and you developed a drug addiction. He didn’t go for that one.

Anyhoo. He just gave back the prize.

Some commentary from one of his colleagues at Columbia.

Voice of the People

From comments accompanying a petition urging Marshall University to retain engineering professor Andrew Nichols, who has just pled guilty to an elaborate, years-long (2009-2011), tax fraud conspiracy.

I think there is a lot not known.

I think he was the scale goat for this mess.

[H]e was dragged into [legal issues] by crooked people.

He shouldn’t lose his job over something that happened years ago !!!

[He has remained] focused, positive, and effective … during this difficult time.

Not like he murdered anyone.

Marshall has no good professors in engineering and he is the best.

“Finally! A Heartfelt and Accessible Account of the Truth of Our Sisters’ Lives.” — The Muslim Brotherhood.

Positive reviews are pouring in for Everyday Women’s and Gender Studies, a new textbook. An excerpt from it about the burqa:

Everywhere, such veiling signifies belonging to a particular community and participating in a moral way of life in which families are paramount in the organization of communities and the home is associated with the sanctity of women.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, and UD loves the thought of young American college students encountering it in our classrooms. There are particular communities in the world so moral as to elevate women to the status of saints. They actually sanctify them. Here in the United States, families are not quite so paramount, and indeed we fail to think of women as exclusively restricted to home and family life. Here we not only think of women as having lives outside of the domestic sphere; we let them drive cars and take jobs and walk around outside without male handlers. Clearly we have much to learn from moral communities in which women are housebound saints allowed outside in desert heat under the condition that every inch of their divinity is covered in thick black cloth.

Know Hope

The Adelsons have consistently maintained their innocence, and they have not yet been charged with anything in connection with the [Dan] Markel murder. But that doesn’t mean they will never be charged; as prosecutor Georgia Cappleman pointedly noted last month, there’s no statute of limitations for murder.



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