December 25th, 2012
An awful lot of ugly…

… has been sticking to Yeshiva University in the last few years. Ugly plus hypocrisy.

Last year, in the school newspaper, a Yeshiva student published a short story with mild sexual content. The school became hysterical, clapping filters on male students’ computer accounts (no need to do women; they don’t read about sex).

But sex and money issues involving older adults on campus don’t seem to get much of a rise out of Yeshiva’s president and board of trustees.

Of course, when those trustees have until recently included Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin, and when your “Entrepreneurial Institute” bears the name of Ira Rennert, you can expect a forgiving attitude toward ways and means of acquiring large sums.

Yeshiva said nothing when the Madoff/Merkin story broke; it simply got its technicians to remove, on the day the story broke, all references to the two of them from its website.

Eventually it had to talk, of course, about its victimization by those bad boys. (The victimization thing isn’t flying too well; Yeshiva “may be at risk for clawbacks.”) But it said as little as possible.

Now yet another scandal has roiled Yeshiva – another sex scandal. It hasn’t responded as aggressively as it did to that evil woman who wrote the short story. In fact, it has said and done nothing for decades about multiple complaints that rabbis at its high school sexually abused boys who were enrolled there.

From the mid 1980s until today … Y.U. officials … have dismissed claims or kept them quiet. Some of these officials allowed [one of the alleged abusers] to leave the Y.U. system and find a new position as dean of a Florida day school without disclosing the abuse allegations. Later, … a Y.U. rabbi warned the Florida school that Finkelstein could be a threat. And when Finkelstein’s next employer, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, asked whether the allegations that dogged him were true, Y.U. assured the synagogue that there was nothing to worry about.

At this point, there’s a critical mass of ugly coming out of Yeshiva University. No doubt they’ve hired some incredibly expensive public relations firm in the belief that if you throw enough of your students’ tuition money around it will solve problems you created through your own negligence or ineptitude. One more insult piled onto many insults.

At most universities, the president of the school would have resigned by now.

December 24th, 2012
Keep pricking my fingers on the little needles inside…

… the designer ribbon I’m using on gifts.

Cambridge is sunny, not too cold. All the stores are open.

I have decades of Harvard Square memories. They gather ’round me as I walk.

December 23rd, 2012
At Union Station Shoe Shine…

… (and I think this is the first time in her life UD‘s gone to a shoe shine), UD presented her dry, filthy, thready boots to a guy who took out a cigarette lighter and began burning them.

A small crowd formed. UD pulled up her pants when the flame seemed to be approaching her legs.

“I thought you’d use scissors.”

“Better to burn ’em. Just need to be careful you only get the threads.”

December 23rd, 2012
It’s not that we’re threatening you or anything…

In April of 2010, journalism student George Hines organized a protest [against the no-guns-on-campus policy at the] University of Alaska campus in Anchorage. He argued that the Board of Regents’ policy violated his second amendment right. When discussions between the Board and Hines broke down, he and 20 other students gathered on the Anchorage campus, weapons in hand.

December 23rd, 2012
“Titan sent an email Nov. 21 saying that it had money with SAC and was monitoring the situation, said Marisel Lieberman of the Florida International University Foundation, a Titan client that handles the university’s endowment.”

Big investors are starting to pull out of the fund run by Brown University’s highest-profile trustee, Steven A. Cohen. Too much bad “insider trading” press.

Titan invests for FIU, and has decided to take that university’s money elsewhere.

December 23rd, 2012
The Dean of Columbia University’s Business School Shows his Students…

… how to do business.

If you want to make big money – say $1200 an hour – you can’t be too scrupulous about how you do research, and you can’t be too scrupulous about your clients.

As Matt Taibbi points out, Hubbard took $1200 an hour from the now-notorious Countrywide Financial Corp. to be an expert witness on their behalf in an insurer’s lawsuit against them.

… Hubbard testified on behalf of Countrywide in the MBIA suit. He conducted an “analysis” that essentially concluded that Countrywide’s loans weren’t any worse than the loans produced by other mortgage originators, and that therefore the monstrous losses that investors in those loans suffered were due to other factors related to the economic crisis – and not caused by the serial misrepresentations and fraud in Countrywide’s underwriting.

In other words, the Dean of the Columbia University business school testified that the fact that Countrywide claimed to have conducted thorough due diligence when in fact it was pressuring underwriters to approve 60 to 70 mortgage applications a day and failing to verify any income levels or other key information (to say nothing of the outright falsification of such data, which also went on on a mass scale) – he testified that these issues were irrelevant.

For that amount of money, you’d expect scrupulous research techniques.


So how did Hubbard manage to analyze Countrywide and conclude that mass fraud in its underwriting procedures wasn’t problematic? Easy: He didn’t look at the underwriting! All Hubbard did was take a group of Countrywide loans and compare them to a group of other loans from the same time period.

When that comparison revealed that Countrywide’s loans failed at about the same rate as the non-Countrywide loans, he smartly concluded that fraud wasn’t the problem and that macroeconomic factors must have been the cause.

Except for one thing: He left out the fact that about half of the loans in the “non-Countrywide” pool he selected for his analysis were originated by companies that were also being sued for underwriting fraud and other irregularities. What Hubbard did is compare a bunch of bad loans to a bunch of bad loans.

Taibbi concludes:

[T]his awesome ability to non-absorb information makes him qualified to be one of America’s leading academics.

December 22nd, 2012
UD leaves tomorrow…

… for a Polish Christmas in Cambridge, and then a New Year’s gathering in Townshend, Vermont.

She will continue blogging throughout.

December 21st, 2012
UD’s kid – La Kid, as she’s known around here – can be glimpsed on TNT tonight….

… by tuning in at eleven. She’s singing background for Diana Ross at the very beginning of the broadcast. She’s the blond in the first row, stage right.

December 21st, 2012
The wonderful poet Rachel Wetzsteon…

… who two years ago killed herself (I discuss a couple of her poems here,) wrote an end of the world poem. With the Mayan annihilation upon us, let us look at The World Had Fled. (The poem without commentary is here.)


The world had fled, with all its silly cares
and questionable aches, and in one swoon
we rose above its stupefying airs
like flying lovesick pigs up to the moon.
In that blue light where two lives equaled all,
our souls looked down upon a spinning ball.

[Very simple traditional end-rhymed iambic pentameter, describing that incredible moment at the beginning of passionate mutual love when the intensity, closeness, and fullness of your alliance makes everything else in the world — makes the world itself — disappear. The blissful energy released by your pairing propels you out of earth’s atmosphere, grants you immunity from untranscended life’s “cares” and “aches” and stupefactions. You are everything to one another; you have no need of anything else: “two lives equaled all.” For you the world has – gloriously – come to an end.]

The world returned, and this was a surprise
I raged against like someone on a rack,
telling the sun, tears clouding my stunned eyes,
give us our splendid isolation back.
I craved third rails, a shot of something strong
when I found out it doesn’t last for long.

[The poem’s three stanzas narrate a tripartite tale of transcendence, immanence, and a final successful merging of these two states. Here, in the second stanza, the poet registers her despair at the passing of that early amorous stage in which, entirely caught up in one another, the lovers are truly out of this world, over this world. She wants their “splendid isolation back,” and is willing to kill herself (kill both of them? in a kind of liebestod?) to get it back.]

The world came back and stayed, pain never ended,
but when the aches and cares begged for a hand,
grew softer in the light we’d made and tended,
I finally began to understand
love’s widening third stage, and of the three
this was the most outstanding ecstasy.

[Sounds a little like John Donne, doesn’t it? The vaguely obsolescent language; the beautiful resolution at the end; the astute, controlled rhyme and meter; the concision and confidence of the voice…

So, transcendent passion “doesn’t last for long.” But if the love persists, something better, something world-embracing and world-surviving, supercedes it. Love’s third stage – after world-destroying narcissism and world-resurgent despair – is the best stage, because earthly love softens earthly life.

It is “widening” as well, lacking the immobility of stages one and two, where you’re suspended in equally untenable heavens and hells. Untenable because ultimately you’re going to have to fall back down to earth, since its claims are too powerful; or, having ragefully fallen down, you’re going to have to do yourself in with a “shot of something strong.” In earthly love there’s not merely survival; there’s room for growth, a moral widening out into mutual compassion, not just mutual bliss.

Her use of the word “outstanding” at the end is outstanding, because throughout the poem she’s imagined these passionate stages as propulsions, as pressings out from (or into) the earth. And here, finally, is the best out-standing, the most excellent self-projection: A self-projection which is self-less, which involves a standing outside oneself and one’s soulmate in order to lighten and soften the world for oneself and for others.

The “most outstanding ecstasy” is in a sense redundant, the word ecstasy in fact coming from ek- “out,” and stasis “a stand.” The poem has, in its three stanzas, its three stages, explored three forms of “ecstasy” – losing yourself in the beloved; losing yourself in death; losing yourself (your aches and cares) in the light your own love sheds.]

December 21st, 2012
In retraction news, there’s a kind of self-reflexive paper that’s gotten into trouble.

This one’s by an accounting professor on the subject of fraud. So a paper about fraud which seems to have fraudulent elements.

The authors claimed to have used data involving 150 US audit offices and 2,614 auditors of a CPA firm. But when it later came to light that the 150 offices were both domestic and international, that prompted other questions by the journal about the data. [James E.] Hunton declined to answer the questions, saying the data were confidential.

Further review of the article (see the exchanges here) suggests other problems with the data.

The professor – a big-shot at Bentley University – has resigned.

December 21st, 2012
UD rarely covers university sex stories; but she will do so under the Cage Aux Folles Rule…

… in which, say, the president of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics is in court for “sexually assaulting [a] woman by intentionally or recklessly touching her on the breast and thigh. The charge also alleges that he asked whether the woman enjoyed being touched by him.”

December 20th, 2012
‘”When these concerns were raised, the Faculty Athletic Committee stated that it was incumbent upon each instructor of record to determine how to teach his/her own course and that is was therefore unnecessary for ASPSA personnel to question the instructional methods used,” the report stated.’

Of course the academic scandal at the University of North Carolina – in which, in the tradition of Auburn’s Thomas Petee, the corrupt chair of an entire department designed a vast system of totally bogus, basically non-existent courses for athletes – will damage that school very badly for a very long time.

But with the final independent report on the matter – released today – you see the inner workings here, the way the hilarious Faculty Athletic Committee (its chair is a woman who describes herself as having been appointed to lead the committee even though she had “No previous contact with athletics other than occasional attendance at events … I possessed a limited understanding of the breadth of athletics, both its contributions to higher education and its effects on higher education”) said hey forget your concerns; they’re professors, and professors can do whatever the hell they want with their courses.

And that is possibly the most damaging thing of all for UNC — as an academic institution, that is, rather than the jockshop it’s on its way to becoming. Because now all UNC faculty will be subject to serious oversight. The independence (and of course that independence is never absolute in the way the FAC suggested – or it shouldn’t be) the FAC cynically invoked to distract attention from the rot in a corrupt department can no longer be taken for granted among that school’s faculty.


Update: The Charlotte Observer is correct that this report fails to answer some important questions.

Those findings leave significant unanswered questions about academic fraud. What was the impetus for the no-show classes if there was no personal gain? How did the no-show courses grow to an astounding 216 over the last 15 years, and how and why were they sustained?

On the second question: I’m assuming the chair just executed ye olde Independent Study maneuver, assigning himself twenty or so a semester… Maybe putting the names of other faculty on yet more… I mean, it was all pretend, and he was chair, so he could do pretty much anything he wanted… Including hiring a sports agent professionally involved with a couple of UNC players to teach a course! Whatever genius put together the inept, indifferent Faculty Athletic Committee must have been proud of her work.

On the first question: But there was personal gain for the department chair. In so many ways. Here’s the most obvious:

Last summer, UNC-Chapel Hill professor Julius Nyang’oro received $12,000 to teach AFAM 280 – Blacks in North Carolina. The 19 students enrolled in the course were to learn about the state’s legacy of slavery and racism, and how blacks fought to overcome it.

It is a course that typically involved classroom lectures, research papers and exams, according to syllabi from other UNC-CH professors who taught it. Nyang’oro, the department’s chairman, was expected to teach it that way as well, university officials said.

But Nyang’oro did not hold classes or require any exams. His one-page syllabus said that because of the “compact nature” of the summer schedule, the students would spend that time largely on their own to find one or two black leaders in North Carolina to be the subject of a research paper due at the end of the session.

Nyang’oro taught multiple summer courses, and got more money for being a ‘summer administrator,’ and in all of this he seems to have done nothing at all. Raking it in for doing nothing at all is extreme personal gain.

His secretary, also in on the scheme, continued to get a low salary; but UD‘s going to speculate a bit here about her motives. First, there’s the possibility that Nyang’oro or someone else gave her money under the table, or found a way to give her other benefits (free tickets to games, social access to players). It’s possible that Nyang’oro – a charismatic man by all accounts – charmed her into it. It’s also simply possible that as a loyal, long-serving person (the problem goes back to 1997, if not before), she saw this completely non-controversially as the way things worked. For her, “personal gain” presumably meant keeping her job, since administering bogus courses for athletes was her job.


UPDATE: The secretary:

Crowder had close ties to the basketball team. She has been in a longtime relationship with a former basketball player, and Martin’s investigation found that in 2008, she had received $100,000 and some Hummel figurines from the estate of the father of a close friend who was the former academic adviser to basketball players until shortly before her death in 2004.

December 20th, 2012
“The group of protesters was greeted by Lawrence Biondi, S.J., president of SLU, who offered to take their drink orders.”

The clueless president and board of trustees at Saint Louis University, a Jesuit institution whose chief trustee embodies the Jesuit principle of humility at its finest, have hired an expensive public relations firm to handle the rage from faculty and students that their own regal indifference to both groups has generated.

UD does not think this approach will work very well. Remember the University of Virginia.

December 19th, 2012
“Beyond the embarrassment at having Germany’s top education official face charges of academic impropriety…”

The German political establishment is at it again.

UD thanks Chris.

December 19th, 2012
Plague town

As more victims from the slaughter of 20 children and six adults were laid to rest, long funeral processions clogged the streets of Newtown …

Associated Press


They walked out together into the fine fall day, scuffling bright ragged leaves under their feet, turning their faces up to a generous sky really blue and spotless. At the first corner they waited for a funeral to pass, the mourners seated straight and firm as if proud in their sorrow. […] “It seems to be a plague,” said Miranda, “something out of the Middle Ages. Did you ever see so many funerals, ever?”

Katherine Anne Porter, “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”

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