Cash for Flash

In May 2011, Mr UD went to Jeddah, to review an academic program at King Abdulaziz University. I remember thinking, listening to him talk about the school and Saudi Arabia, that this is arguably the weirdest country in the world. It has money, and seems to want various forms of international legitimacy (for its educational establishment, for instance). Saudi Arabia must look at rapidly progressing China and India and think I’ll have a slice of that…

Yet its deeply, absurdly, repressive culture (Mr UD described the way, as the plane touched down, every woman passenger assumed a funeral pall) makes any form of cultural progress almost impossible.

Saudi Arabia does have one university, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (its only mixed-gender university) that’s getting somewhere.


Most countries do indeed look first at their universities as they seek a voice in the modern intellectual and scientific world; but because Saudi Arabia by definition (it not only lacks a scientific ethos; it is foundationally opposed to a scientific ethos) cannot attract or cultivate world-class intellectuals, it has tried to use its vast wealth to as it were attach academic respectability to itself.

Case in point: The same university Mr UD visited has been throwing tens of thousands of dollars a year at highly cited researchers in the US and elsewhere in order to get them to list an affiliation with King Abdulaziz University. They don’t have to go there or anything; in exchange for the money, they call themselves adjunct professors. They make contact with one or two professors on the campus; they may talk vaguely about scholarly cooperation. But really it’s about cash for flash: You give us your name, we give you $70,000 a year.

It’s also about gaming the international university ranking system:

Citations are an indicator of academic clout, but they are also a crucial metric used in compiling several university rankings. There may be many reasons for hiring highly cited researchers, but rankings are one clear result of KAU’s investment. The worry, some researchers have said, is that citations and, ultimately, rankings may be KAU’s primary aim.

Indeed a Berkeley mathematician describes his shock on seeing that “a little-known university in Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz University, or KAU, ranked seventh in the world in mathematics [in the US News and World Report rankings] — despite the fact that it didn’t have a doctorate program in math until two years ago.”

The adjunct ploy has spawned some busybusybusybusyBUSY professors:

[There’s] Jun Wang, director of the Beijing Genome Institute, whose affiliations are BGI (60%), University of Copenhagen (15%), King Abdulaziz University (15%), The University of Hong Kong (5%), Macau University of Science and Technology (5%). Should he also acknowledge the airlines he flies on? Should there not be some limit on the number of affiliations of an individual?

Take that, Morris Zapp!!


You have to give KAU this: They understand numbers. And they understand human psychology. (As one scientist who went for the deal explained to the Berkeley guy, “It’s just capitalism.” A professor who turned down an invitation from KAU writes, in a comment on the Berkeley guy’s blog, “I got one of these invitations from King Abdulaziz University too and I said ‘No’ to it… But believe me, the offer of $72K ‘easy money’ even made me think for a minute or two before saying ‘No.’ It was tempting! Some people have children to send to school, and their salaries are not enough.”) Maybe for this alone they deserve their ranking.

And he was a terrific dancer

Comparing Adolf Hitler with Josef Stalin, [Humboldt University professor Jörg] Baberowski claimed that Hitler was not “a psychopath, he wasn’t cruel, and he tolerated no mention of the extermination of the Jews in his presence”.

This summer, Mr UD goes to Ukraine.

Western Ukraine, so don’t worry too much, to hold a civic studies summer institute.

Also on the subject of Ukraine: The country’s got its first university in exile. Most of Donetsk University has cleared out of the separatist east and moved to Vinnytsia, where students and faculty are waiting for the government to transfer the budget so they can eat. Their situation sounds rather dire.

‘The brothel attempted to conceal its activities by functioning under the guise of a “foot massage department.”‘

I think that was its mistake right there. The name gave too much away. Better choice: Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

A Polish Literary Scandal with EVERYTHING.

Sex (heterosexual and homosexual). Money (unpaid debts). Corruption (a writer nominated for a prize is apparently living with the secretary of the prize’s selection committee). Increasingly unhinged emails between the two combatants.

The ongoing story of Kinga Dunin (well-known literary journalist and Medical University of Warsaw professor) and Ignacy Karpowicz (hot young – significantly younger than Dunin – novelist) hasn’t jumped to to the English language press yet.

Basic narrative, however, is this: Dunin suddenly posted on her Facebook page a complaint that Karpowicz hadn’t repaid the $4,000 loan she’d given him; she wrote that maybe by publicizing the matter she could shame him into it.

Karpowicz responded that for some time Dunin had been allowing him to use her apartment when he was in Warsaw, and recently when she was also in the apartment she invited him to share her bed. Not wanting to make her angry, he writes, he agreed to do so. (He’s either a liar or a fool.) Eventually he fell in love with someone else and broke off the relationship with Dunin. He claims that on their last night together in her apartment, when he told her he was leaving her, she raped him.

Dunin then came back with the claim that Karpowicz threw her over for a man – a man who happens to be the secretary of the selection committee for a literary prize Karpowicz is up for.

It seems likely to UD that the story has enough intrinsic interest to show up, soon, in the New York Times. We’ll see.

Gory details here, if you happen to be fluent in Polish.

Vindictive celebrity tell-all books…

… are one of life’s great comforts, a way for millions of readers to feel reconciled to their own, more obscure, resentments. France has Valerie Trierweiler, England had Diana Spencer… and Canada currently has a former university leader, Arthur Porter, playing this important social role…

Arthur Porter? You remember. Once head of the entire McGill University hospital system, Porter will go on trial (as soon as he loses his extradition fight) for having stolen zillions of dollars from said university (massive construction project; kickbacks). He has spent his prison time in Panama profitably, penning The Man Behind the Bow Tie (Gordon Gee’s going to have to find another title for his tell-all), an attack on the cynical mercenary world which has consistently misconstrued his idealism.

UD‘s keeping an eye on Porter because she is beyond excited at the prospect of his trial, and she is truly, well, resentful that his lawyers keep unextraditing him. But…

All in good time, my little pretty — all in good time….

Venezuela and the Sacking of the Universities

Back in 2011, this blog chronicled only their attempted ideological takeover by the state.

Today, street gangs are taking over university hospitals and killing people in them.

Next week’s guest …

lecturer: Lee Joon-seok.

“Prosecutors say the data were ascertained to have been altered in many cases. We cannot help but wonder why the medical doctors at the universities were unaware of what happened. Laboratories of those universities have so far received more than ¥1.1 billion in research funding from Novartis Pharma. The possibility is high that the back-scratching relations between universities, who are eager to obtain cash from businesses, and Novartis, out to exploit research results to promote its drug sales, may have formed a hotbed of wrongdoing.”

The Japanese have actually arrested someone in the Novartis scandal (background here). Color UD shocked. Color her shocked beyond recovery if the guy actually goes to jail for more than a day or two.

Novartis embedded one of its employees – made him a staff scientist – in five Japanese university laboratories. Five.

As a Novartis Pharma employee [Nobuo] Shirahashi took charge of analyzing data from clinical tests comparing Diovan and other blood pressure-lowing drugs at five Japanese universities … between 2002 and 2004.

How did that happen? How did a Diovan pusher get accepted – hired? – into five university labs in Japan and then take charge of clinical results?

That’s the ¥1.1 billion question, ain’t it?

‘Controversies have swirled for years around Megatrend, which offers degrees in everything from media to economics and has campuses across Serbia. When Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the late Libyan leader, was granted an honorary doctorate in 2007, Srbijanka Turajlic — the then deputy minister for higher education — was quoted as saying, “This is not something this university should be proud of.” But considering “the quality of the university,” she added, “it is not surprising that it awarded a doctorate to a dictator.” ‘

Serbia’s Interior Minister, a Megatrend grad, is accused of having plagiarized his doctorate.

So what. Academic plagiarism’s endemic in much of the world. Let’s not get too excited about brave little Serbia’s borrowings.

Let us instead extract what pleasure we can from their new megatrendy university that – taking a page from Benjamin Barber’s book – celebrates dictators.

‘Mikhail Lotman, an Italian scholar of Russian origin, wrote in a public letter that awarding an honorary fellowship to [Vladimir] Medinsky is like “awarding Mr. Berlusconi for his contribution to the education of female minors.”’

Putin’s culture hack gets a big prize from an Italian university, reports Maria Lipman in The New Republic. So much disgust ensues that the vice rector responsible for granting the prize has resigned.

“… [T]he [McGill University Hospital Centre] not only topped up Porter’s $241,000 salary in 2010 with a $63,000 stipend to ensure his ‘increased availability,’ the board of directors also agreed to upgrade his company car from a Mercedes to a Bentley. This came on top of taxpayer-funded memberships in exclusive clubs, a $500,000 low-interest loan and extra pay for research and teaching that Porter may never have actually earned.”

UD‘s not ashamed to say that she has missed Arthur Porter, and that she is therefore mucho excited as Canada enters another round of Portermania. Porter was the much-loved, much-gifted CEO of McGill University’s hospital, until it turned out that he’d rigged a bid on a new facility in order to arrange an 11.25 million dollar kickback for himself. The Bentley just wasn’t cutting it for Arthur Porter, a man responsible for “perhaps the biggest fraud ever perpetrated in Canada.”

UD‘s only regret is that he’s Arthur rather than Joseph Porter; if he were [Sir] Joseph Porter, she could write a whole version of When I Was A Lad for him (sample line: But when the breezes blow, I generally go to Panama.)

But really, beyond that, UD has no complaint at all. The yummy revelations of spectacular greed and corruption at McGill University and environs will keep coming and the whole thing will be far more interesting than (yawn) Rob Ford. Personal collapse stories call for our compassion, certainly; but the Arthur Porter story is about the collapse of a university’s board of trustees as well as a region’s legislative body. It’s about how Quebec continues to claim its title as the most corrupt province in Canada.

University-Level Math, Greece.

[T]he Athens Special Affairs Unit carried out an inspection in the Development Grants Account of the National Technical University of Athens and found that during the years 2002-2013, the university submitted false income declarations and as a result it failed to pay 20,796,216 euros in tax returns.

‘”I am afraid, but there are situations in which you have to act, regardless of your own fear,” he told the Russian New Times magazine.’

Andrei Zubov gets fired (no tenure in New Imperial Russia?) for criticizing the motherland’s action in Crimea.

Meanwhile Mr UD (a Pole) is excited about Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s letter to Poland inviting it to join the fun and take whatever part of Ukraine it wants. Mr UD has been rubbing his hands together gleefully. He has taken out maps and put big red lines down the middle of Ukraine. “Here!” he says, and then redraws the line. “No. Here!”

You go girl.

Last September, [three] vice-rectors [at Uppsala University in Sweden] sent a short letter to the Ministry of Education and Research, which had appointed [Eva] Akesson as the first female rector of Uppsala, calling for her removal “due to being unfit for the position”.

They provided no argument in support of the claim, which was subsequently signed by eight of the university’s deans.

… Things did not become clearer when one of the deans, Professor Jan Lindegren of the faculty of the humanities, published a four-page letter in which he tried to explain the conflict and why the 11 vice-rectors and deans had acted against the rector.

He claimed that the collaborative climate in the university had been eroded during her tenure. But he overstated his mission of clarification when, in rather non-academic wording, he reportedly said Akesson was managing the university by “scaring the shit out of many of her employees”.

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