So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

UD‘s old friend Natasha attends the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, where weird things are happening.

The Scottsdale-based Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which operates the school, announced last week that it would not independently incorporate the school as a way to stay accredited. The Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission, which accredits degree-granting colleges and universities in 19 states, changed its bylaws two years ago to prohibit accreditation for schools that operate as divisions of a larger organization.

It’s not quite clear why the foundation refuses to independently incorporate the school. Students like this one are baffled. Are they afraid that they’re not going to be able to make money off of the school? he asks.

So, if you scroll about halfway down this Washington Post page…

… you get to the announcement of UD‘s talk on Charles Wright at the Georgetown branch of the DC Public Library this afternoon (1 PM, 3260 R St. NW).

Here’s how I suggest you do it on this beautiful Saturday:

The library is just down the street from the famous Dumbarton Oaks gardens, which open today at 2:00. So take in my talk, and then stroll over to the gardens.

Then I’ll let you have a late lunch of your choosing among the many cafes of Georgetown.

“The Names is a prophetic, pre-9/11 masterpiece: a 21st-century novel published in 1982.”

Wonderful brief appreciation of UD‘s beloved Don DeLillo in the Guardian, where Geoff Dyer reckons that if the Booker Prize had been open in the past to Americans, three of DeLillo’s novels would have won.

Yet Dyer doesn’t really get at why The Names is such a great novel. For that he’d need more space, because there are lots of reasons.

Above all, The Names is extremely beautifully written.

One recurrent tension in the book is between the white noisy, airy, superficial, radically present, restless life of postmodern Americans, and the deeper, grounded, realer life of pretty much everyone else. The Americans literally spend much of their time up in the air – they are multinational businesspeople, constantly flying from place to place. Here DeLillo evokes the feel of air travel:

At the boarding gate, the last of the static chambers, the stillness is more compact, the waiting narrowed. He will notice hands and eyes, the covers of books, a man with a turban and netted beard. The crew is Japanese, the security Japanese… He hears Tamil, Hindi, and begins curiously to feel a sense of apartness, something in the smell of the place, the amplified voice in the distance. It doesn’t feel like earth. And then aboard, even softer seats. He will feel the systems running power through the aircraft, running light, running air. To the edge of the stratosphere, world hum, the sudden night. Even the night seems engineered, Japanese, his brief sleep calmed by the plane’s massive heartbeat.

Where to start? With even the night seems engineered, no? Not only for its strange but true content, the way so many hugely powerful and transformative techno-moments are managed for us, their massive underlying powerful systems quieted and calmed for us (WhisperJet), their deformations of nature so radical that from their theater of simulacra they can seem to pull open the curtains of our very morning noon and night … But also for its poetry, the long ee sound eerily recurrent not only in this phrase but throughout the passage (the repetition of Japanese, of feel, and then, after seems engineered, brief sleep…). And note along with this incantatory word music the language of the spirit, prayer, loftiness (chambers, stillness, stratosphere) — “it doesn’t feel like earth.”

The character senses, is alive to, a certain affiliation between traditional spiritual experience and what he is being lifted into here; but the language of radical artifice, and of a kind of drugged drowsiness, makes clear that this experience is far from truly spiritual. It is empty, engineered.

The other side of the tension is DeLillo’s evocation throughout the book (most of which is set in Greece) of grounded existence, or, more precisely, the postmodern American’s yearning toward it. The main character feels it, sort of, when talking one beautiful quiet evening with his wife:

This talk we were having about familiar things was itself ordinary and familiar. It seemed to yield up the mystery that is part of such things, the nameless way in which we sometimes feel our connections to the physical world. Being here. Everything is where it should be. Our senses are collecting at the primal edge. The woman’s arm trailing down a shroud, my wife, whatever her name. I felt I was in an early stage of teenage drunkenness, lightheaded, brilliantly happy and stupid, knowing the real meaning of every word.

We sometimes feel our connections to the physical world. And again in a passage about Greece:

The sun, the colors, the sea light, the great black bees, what physical delight, what fertile slow-working delight. Then the goatherd on the barren hill, the terrible wind…. Look to the small things for your truth, your joy. This is the Greek specific.

What’s It Like Here?

Hot. There’s a small breeze, but it’s Washington and it’s September and that means muggy. The early evening sky is beautiful. A mix of blue and gray with white clouds – it’s been a day unable to decide whether to rain, and the sky remains mixed.

UD is sitting on the edge of the Pentagon Memorial, from which there’s a large view of the gravel, the grasses, the white-flower crepe myrtles, and the winged benches jutting out of the gravel. Constant low-flying jets out of Reagan buzz the plaza. One of them was crashed just here.

I sat for ten minutes on Leslie Whittington’s bench – Whittington, her husband, and her two children, all killed. All of their names engraved on the bench.


Tears? Oh yes. Didn’t know her, but feel a kinship. My age, also a professor in Washington. I feel compelled, on these anniversaries, to imagine her last minutes.


Enormous American flags hang off the sides of the Pentagon and nearby office buildings. The evening sun lights everything up with great clarity and drama. People set flowers down on each bench. A simple gesture which feels immensely loving.

Of course I’m never adequate to these moments. People go to a lot of trouble to design and build memorials, but when you get there it’s hard to know what to do, where to walk. There are quite a few people here with me, and we drift from winged bench to winged bench, reading names, photographing bouquets…

I’m now in a corner crouching over my laptop…

I find myself thinking not of the dead but of the living… Specifically, of two students I chatted with today after class. One after my English literature seminar and the other after The Postmodern Novel. One is a sophomore, one a senior.

The sophomore is talented in many directions and loves the study of many things, and this enviable condition was lately causing him anxiety. As in: What precisely to do? His parents were artsy sorts who did poorly in life and regret their artsiness; their son has inherited both a love and a suspicion of art. He figures he should probably be a music major (piano, other instruments, theory) but what can he do with that?

I tell him that a lot of people with those degrees teach. He listens. “What if I trap myself? Here I’m told to take advantage of all my skills and interests, but what if that’s actually a dumb thing to do?” I laugh and tell him that the impulse to map out your life, a preoccupation with not making mistakes, is understandable but to my mind a mistake in itself. “Life is messy, unpredictable. Probably the best thing to do is relax and pursue what you love. GW gave you some major, whopping, scholarships: Enjoy the gift.”

The senior amused me with a description of her honors seminar on the subject of love. “By the end of the semester, I’ll have learned never to get near it.”

Have I said often enough on this blog how much UD adores many of her students? Their charm, their energy, their considered and considerable puzzlement. It maketh my heart go pit-a-pat.

UD’s just like Leopold Bloom leaving the cemetery after Paddy Dignam’s burial. Throughout the funeral and burial his mind circles all the morbid themes; exiting the gates of the cemetery he’s right back onto Molly and Milly and all.

I can’t be very much with the memorialized; I grant them parts of my mind and soul on anniversaries, but even there the business of being busily alive intrudes.

I saw the motorcycles lined up in front of the cafe…

… at 1776 G Street where I grab a salad before meeting my English lit class. The bikes were part of today’s 9/11 Ride.

After classes, UD plans to visit the Pentagon Memorial, a good place for reflection despite the big urban setting. It’s been a couple of years since she visited the Memorial; she will blog about how it looks now.

“[The] family-values Patriots drafted Aaron Hernandez, a fine tight end about whom there had been many whispers of troubles during his college career.”

So UD‘s nodding off to yet another article about the beyond-belief-lucrative degeneracy of American football, when she lit on the sentence in this post’s headline. Which reminded her of one of her blog’s most consistent themes: The professionalization of revenue sports at our universities has put more and more of our students at risk from the dangerously violent players universities routinely recruit. Nebraska got to deal with Richie Incognito, about whom it still boasts; and of course the lovely University of Florida program got Hernandez:

Since Hernandez’s arrest for first-degree murder, [then Florida coach Urban] Meyer has been under heavy scrutiny for allegedly allowing Hernandez to engage in inappropriate acts while a member of the Gators football program. Gainesville Police reports indicate Hernandez was questioned in a shooting investigation in 2007 where a witness described a suspect meeting his general description. Hernandez was also reportedly involved in a 2007 bar brawl where he broke a bouncer’s eardrum, and allegedly failed multiple drug tests. A Sporting News report indicated that Meyer shielded the press from learning of one drug-related suspension by having Hernandez wear a walking boot and fake an injury.

Here’s UD‘s take on the highly compensated monsters of professional American football: Americans love the monsters’ violence, on and off the field. The world’s most violent sport is by far this country’s most popular. And we’re making our players more violent by the day. Okay.

But college. You know? College? Colleges are importing pumped up nutbags on their way to the NFL.

The American university president makes $400,000 a year intoning about the sacred duty to keep our students safe; his football coach makes four million dollars a year doing everything but going down on Richie and Aaron to get them to come to campus.

Piling On: The Sociopath’s Undoing

UD has made the point on this blog before: Universities need to be very skeptical of high-powered job candidates who come at them with absolutely incredible accomplishments. Rather than start hyperventilating and begging the candidate to tell them what the school can do to make them join its faculty, search committees need to calm down, take a deep breath, and ask whether they’ve got a liar on their hands. Not just the sort of mild liar who plumps up his cv a bit here and there, but a plagiarist, a research-faker, a degree-inventor, and – ultimately, as West Virginia University has recently learned, a very scary person.

When a faculty member at WVU began examining the credentials of the school’s chair of epidemiology (the chair was being considered for an honor called the “Chair of Excellence”), he quickly discovered that virtually everything on Anoop Shankar’s cv was made up. As the university launched an investigation, Shankar made the sociopath’s characteristic mistake: overdoing. Sociopaths tend to overdo their resume claims; and, when cornered, like Shankar, they tend to overdo their efforts to destroy their would-be destroyers. Shankar sent two Indian friends to talk to the professor – Ian Rockett – who outed Shankar. This is what his friends reported happened when they did so, with one of the friends entering his office and the other waiting in the hallway.

“You Indians have nice brown skin,” Rockett allegedly said [to them]. “But you smell weird with the spices that you use for cooking.”

Right about then the grey-haired professor supposedly pulled his chair closer and snatched at the young man’s penis.

Teppala claimed that from the hallway, he could then hear Rockett rise from his chair and say loudly to Ganesan, “Here, taste my white c–k.”

Ganesan said he fled rather than reciprocate and that Rockett flew into a rage, his words echoing into the corridor: “I will destroy you!”

Ahem. When scripting these scenarios (one of the friends later confessed that Shankar had written and directed this drama), you need to be selective. Minimalism is more plausible than maximalism to most audiences. Deciding to throw in not merely an ethnic slur, but sexual harassment, and not merely sexual harassment but sexual assault, and not merely sexual assault but violent threat of retaliation, is just the sort of excess you’d expect from a sociopath.

A story that warms the cockles of my heart.

Learning to write again.



Just because I like the sentence.

[T]here are no grounds for the sweeping pronouncements about the virtues of non-Ivy students (“more interesting, more curious, more open, and far less entitled and competitive”) that [William] Deresiewicz prestidigitates out of thin air. It’s these schools, after all, that are famous for their jocks, stoners, Bluto Blutarskys, gut-course-hunters, term-paper-downloaders, and majors in such intellectually challenging fields as communications, marketing, and sports management.

“If you consider only the most serious transgressions, roughly 10 percent of the top 200 players could be ineligible. With far stricter criteria — including players fined for showing up late to team meetings, for example — nearly a third could be off the draft board.”

Of course, he’s talking about professional football players. You don’t see this in our colleges.

A Scroll Through Architectural Digest’s Best New University Buildings.

Here they are. UD comments on each one.

The writer starts with a new building at Yale, and there’s a reason he starts with this project. It’s the best. By far. Most of the others are quite bad, but the Edward P. Evans Hall, with its soft light ‘fifties modernism footprint is simply a pretty, non-jarring, non-aggressive addition to the campus.

Like a lot of contemporary buildings, its interior is so insanely open and abstract that things like privacy and the human specific seem totally absent. And while UD herself might not be keen on the tendency away from autonomy and individuality, she acknowledges that – especially in a business building – an architect has to reflect the digitized groupworld of the people who inhabit the construction. Evans Hall’s walls feature massive childish Sol LeWitt wall art, reflecting the thin bright bold everything-supersized world of postmodern hedgies (Yale has plenty of gothic architecture and brooding squinting portraiture for its humanities division).

Lee Hall at Clemson (AD’s #8), for its school of architecture, is also excellent. It mirrors the mini-Dulles-Airport, modestly soaring, white-sail-like, radically open floor plan, all-windows, exteriorized technology (see the Pompidou Center) thing the Yale building’s doing – and it does all of this well. And #9, the Reid Building, is equally fine, in the same almost-all-white, radically open, large masses luminescently lit way as Lee and Evans (a critic of the building notes that “Doors are in notably short supply, the whole interior presenting a Piranesi-like fluidity.”). You could argue that Reid is out of keeping with the bricky gloom of its Scottish street, but there’s nothing wrong with having a lighthouse to perk things up.

Eh, okay, so that’s the good stuff. The bad buildings all have stuff in common, just as the good buildings do. Mainly the bad stuff features pointless gigantic dead abstraction (see #4, which clearly has no context at all – I don’t see anything around it – and therefore randomly sprouts, a dying mushroom and a red oxygen canister trying to pump life back into it via an obscure connecting unit); yet more abstract gigantism plus deadly overhangs (#2; #7); desperate chaotic wedging in (#3); overhangs, gigantic abstraction, and dramatic Spiderman-like pointless design features (#5); and, finally, runty off-kilter deconstructed blah with overhangs (#6).

Think Skanks.

It’s so much easier to whore yourself when you’re a think tank than when you’re a university. Think tanks don’t really have any of the public accountability universities do. Washington think tanks are increasingly set up to make money by prostituting their intellectual work to paying foreign governments. Pressure is building for some of them to do the decent thing and register as foreign agents.

“It is particularly egregious because with a law firm or lobbying firm, you expect them to be an advocate,” [says one observer]. “Think tanks have this patina of academic neutrality and objectivity, and that is being compromised.”

UD ain’t sayin’ some professors at some universities (some departments at universities) don’t get away sometimes with whoring themselves to corporations and governments. This blog couldn’t stay in business without global pharma having its way on a semi-regular basis with some universities, and without econ professors issuing custom-built papers the real estate industry, for instance, pays them to write… She is saying that, as in the recent dual but failed assault on the university’s virtue by rich Jonnie Williams and handsome Governor Vaginal Probe, American universities tend to do a pretty good job of defending ye olde patina.

Think tanks? Meh.

Behind Eastern Michigan University’s 65-0 Loss to Florida.

You have to understand how much that shut-out cost EMU. To do that, you have to revisit the following University Diaries posts:

1. The post pointing out that “virtually no one shows up to watch” games which cost EMU millions to put on.

2. The post pointing out that

NCAA rules stipulate a school must average 15,000 fans per home football game to remain in Division I. Eastern Michigan, which averaged 6,401 fans per home game in 2010, uses $150,000 from a distribution contract with Pepsi to purchase tickets from itself at a rate of $3 apiece to remain NCAA compliant.

3. The post quoting an EMU finance professor saying

“We’re down to 57 percent regular faculty, and the other 43 percent are lecturers and part time. Searches are being held back, and I’m unhappy that they spend so much money on athletics and not academics. It’s important that we have full time faculty…Over the last few years, the budget for academics was cut by four million dollars. They need new programming. They redid the football stadium before they redid the academic buildings. … The football coach makes more than the president.”


UD calls football the freak show that ate the American university.

At EMU, you can actually watch the process of digestion.

Margaret’s Nature Journal.

UD, à ce moment-là, sits drying off on her bed after a Rock Creek Trail walk that ended just as a big summer thunderstorm came up.

The walk was fine, but the big nature news today was UD‘s encounter with an Eastern American Toad as she watered her front garden (who knew she didn’t need to water?). It plopped out from a rock UD was watering around and then hunched absolutely motionless on her gray driveway. A lesser toad hand might have assumed it was a clod of mud or a piece of dog waste, but UD knew from her time with Elphaba (a toad who, years ago, took up residence on UD‘s front stoop and ate all her bugs) that this was a toad for sure. UD lifted the water hose and sprinkled the toad, which immediately hopped into UD‘s pachysandra lawn and disappeared.

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University Diaries. Hosted by Margaret Soltan, professor of English at George Washington University. Boy is she pissed — mostly about athletics and funding, the usual scandals — but also about distance learning and diploma mills. She likes poems too. And she sings.
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