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UD is...
"Salty." (Scott McLemee)
"Unvarnished." (Phi Beta Cons)
"Splendidly splenetic." (Culture Industry)
"Except for University Diaries, most academic blogs are tedious."
(Rate Your Students)
"I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere,
except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer,
and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her
politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?"
(Tenured Radical)

Friday, September 30, 2005


A majority on American University's Board of Trustees has concluded that suspended President Benjamin Ladner must be replaced, according to two sources close to the board.

Washington Post, September 30, 2005

Sing me a song of a ladner that’s gone:
Say, could it really be true?
Merry of money roughshod he rode
Over a poor AU.

Trustees, alumni, and students
Fondly remember how
The glory of truth would glow in its soul.
Where is that glory now?

Sing me a song of a ladner that’s gone:
Say, could it really be so?
Heedless he ran through the heart of them all
And now they have told him to go.

Give them again all that he took!
Give them the sun that shone!
Give them the eyes, give them the soul,
Give them the good that's gone!

Sing me a song of a ladner that’s gone,
Say, could it really be true?
Merry of money all roughshod he rode
Over a poor AU.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
Will soon once again be done.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


When start-up businesses start up this quickly, you've got to have confidence in this country's economic outlook.
Jerzy Soltan's

Boston Globe obituary.

The rather hysterical tone prevailing in some quarters calls to mind what sociologists call “moral panic.” But the iron cage of bureaucracy is, after all, a strange thing: Today, there are timid souls who worry that a prospective colleague’s blog might be a record of torrid threesomes indulged while plotting to assassinate the dean. Tomorrow they will be retired, or laughed off campus — whereupon blogging might well become mandatory, rather than forbidden.

Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed.
"Beware the IRS, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the compensation code, and shun
The frumious Oxley Act!"

From today’s Chronicle of Higher Education :

Even as the embattled president of American University tries to save his own job amid a growing controversy over his spending habits, Benjamin Ladner has a warning for other college leaders: This could happen to you. The investigation by American's Board of Trustees, the suspended president said, is being driven partly by two federal laws that have changed the culture of accountability at nonprofit organizations.

Those laws are the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which applies to publicly held corporations, and a section of the Internal Revenue Code that deals with compensation for officials of tax-exempt organizations.

…In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Chronicle of Philanthropy on Tuesday, Mr. Ladner said he was dismayed because, in his view, the university's Board of Trustees had not properly followed guidelines from the Internal Revenue Service designed to help tax-exempt organizations head off trouble over the compensation they pay. What's more, he said, the board also felt "legal pressure" from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a federal law designed to rein in rogue corporations.

…"A level of fear sets in that is quite remarkable," said Mr. Ladner. "It's almost palpable: 'Oh my God, we're going to be sued. Oh my God, we're not following IRS regulations.'"
"It's a case study in one institution being driven by a kind of fear that we're out of compliance."

American University and its trustees do have reason to be concerned about federal regulators, says a former top official of the Internal Revenue Service.

"The IRS has been explicit in its desire to re-establish itself as a policeman of the boundaries of charitable behavior," said Marc Owens, who formerly ran the IRS division that oversees private colleges and other nonprofit groups. “And I think that is one of the factors that is leading the IRS to be more aggressive in following up on media reports in this area."

Mr. Owens noted that a federal law enacted in 1996 gives the IRS the authority to fine officials of nonprofit groups who receive salaries and other benefits that the agency considers excessive, as well as to penalize trustees who approve the compensation. That section of the tax code is known as the "intermediate sanctions" law because it gave officials a way to avoid the extreme case of revoking a charity's tax-exempt status.

Mr. Owens said he believes that the IRS is likely to review the compensation Mr. Ladner received and might look at a provision in his contract that guaranteed him a high-paid job for life unless he was dismissed as president for drastic reasons.

Mr. Owens said that officials of American University need to be aware of proposed regulations that the IRS issued this month that explain when the agency should revoke the tax-exempt status of a nonprofit group whose officials were already in trouble for receiving excessive benefits from the organization. The IRS said it might consider "whether the organization has been involved in repeated excess-benefit transactions" and "whether the organization has implemented safeguards that are reasonably calculated to prevent future violations."

Nobody Expects the
Spanish Inquisition!

It’s everybody’s-hands-out-of-the-cookie-jar-pronto time at American University, Washington, DC., with the latest revelation that, as the Post headline has it,


No wonder the lads and lasses at Ladner’s demesne are “still mad, still yelling,” after their rally yesterday -- it’s worse than they thought. Ladner’s memo to the board - a memo that in its gross compensation demands set off the furor - was, we all originally thought, asking for a couple of million on top of the president’s already unconscionably inflated salary. It turns out to have been for another five million:

A 2004 confidential memo from American University President Benjamin Ladner asks the school's governing trustees to do their best to pay him an additional $5 million in pretax compensation over five years that he felt he needed to "maintain my current living level" at retirement. The disclosure apparently contradicts recent statements Ladner made that he had never asked for more compensation.

Only in this way could Ladner “close the gaps,” in his words, between the opulence to which he had become accustomed at AU and the penury he obviously feared once he retired.

And after all, says Ladner in his defense, his memo was in response to a request from the board chair that he prepare a compensation wish list for the university.

But the board chair told the Post “he was not expecting what Ladner delivered.”

That's an understatement. In fact, “he thought Ladner's proposals were so high that he never distributed the memo to the full board ‘to protect Ben.’”

The board’s compensation committee, though, did see the thing, and that was enough:

The compensation committee and Ladner wrangled for months over the subject, with one member, Pete Smith, quitting over Ladner's demands, according to Smith's resignation letter. Amid rising concern nationally over executive compensation, a board meeting was held in February 2005, and a majority of trustees agreed to lower Ladner's overall compensation from more than $850,000 to $800,000, according to three trustees at the meeting. Ladner told trustees at the time that he was very disappointed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

“Hundreds of students…”

…rallied at American University this evening, while a trustee meeting went on in the building behind them. The students held signs that said “Hail to the Thief.”

Here’s some video of them.



UPDATE: Details and photos from The Eagle, the AU student newspaper, here.

Oh, and UD's favorite part of The Eagle's story:

The students who organized the event were CAS senior Megan Linehan, SPA senior Liz Best, CAS senior Maeve Reed and School of International Service sophomores Alexandra Steepanuk and Caroline Behringer.

Ladies all.
Improper Quotation
Of Second-Rate Poems

Yeah, I know I said I’d get to that other university-related stuff, but I haven’t been able to. Our long ladner nightmare is not over, and its latest development is particularly horrifying to the likes of UD.

For now, as various actors wax philosophical about the situation at American University, we enter the era of poor poetry poorly cited.

"If we [trustees] follow the lead of the deans who have shown no confidence in Ladner, and if Ben realizes that whatever he thinks about himself, other people differ, he should go gently into the good night," said trustee Paul M. Wolff, a lawyer.

Liking Dylan Thomas past the age of eighteen or so is already a bad sign, if you ask UD. Misquoting his vile villanelle (“…go gentle into that good night”) compounds the offense. UD is fine with the fact that Wolff has basically, by quoting Thomas, asked Ladner to die -- that’s the sort of embarrassing rhetorical outcome she enjoys. But of all the poets Wolff might have turned to…!

Get ready for a retired real estate developer on the board to tell a Washington Post reporter “The center cannot hold. Mere chaos is loosed upon the campus.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


But here’s some light, from a letter an attorney with experience in matters like these just sent to AU’s law faculty:

The pattern of Mr. Ladner’s expenditures of University money is far outside what is normal and acceptable in a university community. Even casual research into academic compensation patterns will show this to be so. Indeed, the evidence shows a disregard of accountability that would require a responsible board of directors of a public company to act if the individual were one of its officers.

…Mr. Ladner’s defenders are excoriating and seeking to identify the whistleblower.

…One meaning of academic freedom is independence from outside control. That independence rests upon the assumption that the institution will govern itself responsibly and in accordance with traditions of open debate. I believe that all elements of campus life should take an active interest in the issues now being debated.

Here is the attorney’s direct advice to President Ladner:

· You can’t hide from this.
· Bluster and blanket denial will not work. You cannot “deny the allegations and despise the allegators.”
· You have significant amounts of what lawyers euphemistically call “exposure,” which means risk to your finances and even your liberty.
· The institution you serve may be able to help you – and itself – if you and it take decisive and visible steps to remedy past wrongs and install controls for the future.


The audits …have shown a pattern of excess that falls into two categories: excess compensation and unauthorized expenditure. The auditors have, I am told, been generous in allocating items to compensation, which has reduced the amount that they allege Mr. Ladner should reimburse the University. This accounting treatment is, however, irrelevant to the central issues.

A finding of “excess compensation” means that the University should have reported expenses as income to Mr. Ladner, in its books and records and to the IRS, and that Mr. Ladner should have recognized these funds as ordinary income to himself.

Thus, we have a situation in which the university has made incorrect statements to the IRS. Even if these expenses were in some manner authorized by the trustees, that would not cure the problem. Just as a board of directors cannot authorize irresponsible use of the shareholder’s money, the board of a nonprofit corporation owes a fiduciary duty to preserve institutional assets.

The unauthorized expenditures raise a more serious problem, for they are both income to Mr. Ladner and reimbursable to the University. In obtaining University payment for these items, Mr. Ladner inevitably represented that there were business purposes that in fact did not exist.

I am not going to use loaded words here, and I have cautioned in my writings and law practice against a too-easy elision between corporate misconduct and actionable fraud. However, precisely because there is today a heightened regulatory concern with executive behavior, it was irresponsible for Mr. Ladner to expose himself and the University to liability.
More Headlines (no links)


[School of International Service]


I've been so busy with Ladner ladeeda that I haven't had a chance to blog about a number of intriguing university-related opinion pieces that have just appeared.

There's continued fallout, for instance, from the front-page New York Times article about Ivy League women undergraduates who anticipate leaving the world of work when they have children, and I particularly want to respond to Richard Posner's take on it. There's the recent David Brooks column in the New York Times about profound inequalities in college access and quality in America. And, finally, there are a couple of articles in the November Atlantic magazine about the substance of a college education and, again, about inequities at the heart of higher education in this country.

I'll provide links to all of these, as well as commentary, later in the day.

President Ladner and his Wife Decide to go Directly to the People
Ladner, Act III

Wherein the pathos of a group of
Uncomprehending businesspeople
Compels our pity.

“The group of trustees that backs Ladner,” the Washington Post reports this morning, “… finished negotiating a proposed contract with him and pushed for the full board to get him back on campus. …The new deal would include compensation of about $800,000 for Ladner …”

With students staging Ladner-Out-Now rallies, and faculty voting no-confidence in him as background, a remnant of the trustees now appears onstage. Perturbed and disheveled, they speak:

“$800,000 is reasonable… If people only knew the full story… What a beautiful world it used to be…”
What a University Class Should Be

UD’s friend, fellow blogger, and student, Kevan, is featured making sense in today’s Washington Post, which has an article on the just-fired guy at GW people insist on calling the sex professor (for background, see UD):

Although Duve opposed Schaffer's treatment by the university, he questioned the content of the course, saying that there wasn't enough substance and that it was more "group therapy" than academic work.

After researching the curriculum, he said, "My conclusion was that the class was entirely too frivolous to be part of any university's curriculum."

Duve said that students should have learned about sexually transmitted diseases in middle or high school and that "the university can't be expected to fulfill that very basic function."

Instead, he said, students should learn from the readings of major thinkers on the issue, from Plato to Kinsey.

"We have to look at what a university class should be," he said.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Faculty Circulate
Ladner No-Confidence Resolutions
in All AU Colleges just posted this headline, though with no links.

A brief guide to the Ladnerian Labyrinth in today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription).

A correspondent who used to work at AU writes to UD with a question:

[In newspaper accounts of the AU situation,] faculty [are] portrayed as proceeding with great caution, often under the cloak of anonymity, for fear they might be fired… Is it that bad? Whatever happened to academic freedom? Surely tenured faculty have the cojones to speak out.

The answer to this is that professors are rather wimpy.

But there are significant and impressive exceptions.

UD has in mind The Committee to Save Adelphi, which had its first press conference almost exactly ten years ago today. This group included not only faculty at Adelphi University, but also alumni, students, and former trustees.

Showing great courage and clarity, the Committee successfully organized to sue the bejaysus out of their grotesque president, Peter Diamandopoulos, and his fellow opulence-obsessives on the board, all of whom had to cough up millions.

I hope it’s okay with Committee members (and others at the university who brought the suit) if I reproduce here, a decade later, from the language of the suit, the roll of honor:


Ladner said the document was legitimately created by the five-member compensation committee and signed by himself and then-board chair William I. Jacobs. Jacobs described the contract to the full board and said trustees could see it if they wanted to, according to Ladner.

"What? A second contract…? Oh yes. Yes. The second contract. Let me describe it to you. It’s… on a piece of paper, 8 by 11... Not one of those long French sheets but, you know, a recognizable American-style white piece of paper… What? Well, hell, all you had to do was ask to see the thing if you were so curious..."
It’s “Free REIN”…

…but otherwise, a fine editorial in The Eagle, the American University student newspaper, calling this morning for the president’s resignation.

Actually, I rather like the editors’ description of the “virtually free reign” the trustees gave Ladner, an image drawn from royalty being more appropriate to the case than one drawn from horses:

Ladner has demonstrated a level of entitlement to student funds that is absolutely inappropriate for a university president. Whether he spent half a million dollars or merely tens of thousands, Ladner can best serve the AU community by stepping aside.

…[H]is sense of entitlement runs so deep that he doesn't actually have any idea that what he has done wrong.

…The board of trustees failed the university and the students. By allowing Ladner to have virtually free reign over his spending and compensation, they opened the door that the president and his wife have barged completely through. Examples of this can be found in Ladner's secret second contract signed in 1997. It appears that one half of the board had no clue what the other half was up to. The board's irresponsibility is exemplified in the length and cost of the investigation, which has now surpassed $1 million.

For this systemic problem to be properly resolved, the board must be restructured in addition to Ladner's resignation. Communication between board members must be increased, as well as communication with the students, and there should be a seat on the board reserved for a representative of the student body. Ladner must resign, and it would seem a few members of the broken board of trustees should be prepared to walk the plank with him.

Don't forget that the situation at American University is only one of a number of corrupt president/collusive trustees stories playing themselves out in this country at the moment. Here's another, as summarized by North Jersey Media Group in a recent editorial:

The president and trustees at the state medical school, who last week fought to keep excessive bonuses for the university's managers, apparently live in a world apart.

They seem unaware of the level of public disgust over waste and mismanagement at the school and in denial that this university is partially taxpayer-supported - and certainly not a private business venture that can do as it likes.

They also seem clueless about the serious conflicts of interest posed by board members working for organizations that do business with the university.

But, then again, maybe the problem isn't a lack of understanding, just bald arrogance.

The trustees of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey last week voted 5-4 against a common-sense proposal to suspend more than $3.2 million in executive bonuses at the troubled school.

They did agree to reconsider the issue after a consultant reviews the bonuses. But why can't the trustees figure out on their own that getting rid of these wasteful bonuses is a small but essential step toward rebuilding public trust in the school?

More than 200 senior administrators are slated to receive the bonuses, some of which are unbelievably generous. University President John Petillo, for example, is supposed to get $187,000, which would be on top of his $600,000 salary and school-supplied $58,000 Lincoln Navigator with driver.

Mr. Petillo has offered to donate his bonus to the university's non-profit foundation. But he argues it would be unethical for the university to cancel bonuses that administrators are depending on.

Too bad that Mr. Petillo seems oblivious to his ethical responsibility to taxpayers and students paying tuition.

New Jersey is facing a long-term budget crisis and state residents are coping with skyrocketing property taxes. But the biggest outrage is that the bonuses come in a year that has been filled with revelations about the school's free-spending ways, including the awarding of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts. Both state and federal investigators are probing the university's finances.

Acting Governor Codey, frustrated by the slow pace of reform at the school, said last week he will fill two vacancies on the board with trustees who will push for change.

But don't expect the governor's appointments to solve the bigger, underlying problem with this board - its numerous conflicts of interest.

Board Chairwoman Sonia Delgado, for example, a close ally of Mr. Codey's, works as a lobbyist for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, which is part of UMDNJ. Another trustee is actually on the staff payroll of UMDNJ. And four others either work for organizations that do business with the university or are affiliated with it.

With so many glaring conflicts among trustees, how could the public ever feel assured these board members are acting in the interests of the university and not of themselves?

UMDNJ needs a new ethics code that will bar people who make money off the university from sitting on its governing board.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

UD’s daughter…

… being fifteen, likes many bad musicals (Rent, Wicked, etc.). But she drew UD’s attention to these not-bad, blog-specific lyrics from Avenue Q:

What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?

What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.

I can't pay the bills yet,
'Cause I have no skills yet,
The world is a big scary place.

But somehow I can't shake,
The feeling I might make,
A difference,
To the human race.
Strategy Groups

A schism among American University trustees is widening over the future of suspended President Benjamin Ladner, with some beginning private negotiations with his attorneys for a new contract and others pressing for his ouster. … Complicating an already tangled process, Ladner supporters on the board have divided themselves into three strategy groups, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations. One group reviewed some of the more than $500,000 of the president's spending questioned in an independent report and determined that he should reimburse the university roughly $21,000. Another group is bringing in a tax expert for advice. And a third is putting together terms of a new contract for Ladner that would reduce his compensation while adding controls over his spending and other activities, the sources said.

Washington Post, Sunday, September 25, 2005.

Hey, hey, Group Three!

Here’s how I see us, Group Three, in relation to the other trustee strategy groups (Groups One through Two).

Bottom line: We get our recs out pronto. They mainly involve Total Defense Initiative, in which we totally get behind Ben now that he’s reimbursed the twenty thousand.

First point: Consistency, duration, don’t rock the boat (litigation, he’s been president for a long time, we don’t want another search, the next one’ll be even worse, etc.), they all fly first-class and have chauffeurs (check details on other local university heads), hasn’t he already suffered enough derision in the press (photo of wife crying), look at all the great stuff he’s done for the school.

Second point: We propose the following new contract:

Keeping in mind this whole thing got kicked off because Ben asked for a couple million more recently, we’ll propose that we start with that as the latest compensation figure. So - he already earned about $800,000. Let’s jiggle the numbers a bit and say he only asked for a million more. So that’s $1,800,000 as our baseline figure.

So we go to town! So we take away the whole million!

That leaves $800,000. At this point Ben’s within his rights to ask for pain and suffering or he won’t come back. Something like this could happen again. We need to incentivize to some extent. We propose a $500,000 bonus.

Third point: Spending controls.

Here’s what we’re up against, in today’s Post:

Some trustees said it doesn't matter what Ladner was allowed to do -- that as president of a school without a large endowment, reliant mostly on students for its operating expenses, he should have the judgment and restraint to avoid excesses.

This looks like a toughie, but we propose the following. The Aspen Institute offers a new six-month executive seminar, Chief Operating Officers and the Classical Virtues. It’s totally about judgment and restraint. We propose a sabbatical for Ben, to take place at the time of his reinstatement, for the purpose of attending the Aspen seminar.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


In the course of an intriguing and engagingly written piece in today’s New York Times about how it might make sense for you not to save for your children’s college education, we find the following statistics:

[T]he cost of an education at a top four-year private college [has risen] to more than $160,000. State universities, where tuition has been rising at a faster pace than for private schools, can cost $110,000 to $140,000 for out-of-state tuition.

"The numbers are really staggering," said Rich Calvario, national finance tuition consultant at TIAA-CREF, one of the nation's largest money management firms.

Parents can count on the costs growing. In 18 years, the bill for a private college could easily hit $500,000, according to online financial calculators created by Raymond James planners. To get there, you would have to save $1,000 a month and have it earn 7 percent a month from the day Junior was born. Tuition, which has been rising faster than inflation for two decades, is now also rising faster than the median family income of $44,389.

The factors that have pushed it to rise annually more than three percentage points above inflation - demographics, reductions in state aid to higher education, the demand for college education - are not changing, says Ronald Ehrenberg, a Cornell University economics professor.

There are many other factors, to be sure. Personal chefs for university presidents do not come cheap.

But ultimately there’s the simple willingness of American parents to pay these prices, even as they become more and more staggering…

As the sordid lines of Ladner Act I (it’s going to be a long drama) conclude with his panicked reimbursement to AU of twenty thousand dollars, it’s time to remind ourselves of certain latent elements of plot and theme that will, in Act II, become manifest. For instance, to quote the student paper at AU:

The IRS could levy tax penalties against Ladner and members of the board if it finds evidence of "excess benefits" for executives in 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations like AU, according to a report from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

Benefits are excessive when "pay and benefits appear too high for the market, in the judgment of the IRS, or [they] raise questions about the nonprofit organization's purposes," according to the report.

The trustees, not merely Benjamin Ladner, are in trouble. In a variety of ways. Like him, most are currently wagon-circling, ass-saving, and scandal-spinning to beat the band (UD, scourge of mixed metaphor and cliché users everywhere, savors an occasional indulgence herself). Those among the trustees who really don’t feel prepared to be sued by Ladner, the IRS, the Justice Department, or any number of other outraged agencies and people, desperately cling to life and lies. This faction is locked in battle with those among the trustees who recognize that after years of inaction and no doubt some degree of collusion they‘re going to have to face the music.

In the trustee skirmish below, for instance, Jacobs, representing fear and denial, takes off after Wolff, representing stoicism and contrition:

One trustee involved with trying to reinstate Mr. Ladner, asking that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, said: "There is nothing ambiguous at all about the contract. There's not one thing he was not entitled to."

He added, "He would have a slam dunk case against the university, and we'd be very lucky if he didn't sue."

But Mr. Wolff predicted that Mr. Ladner's contract would be ruled invalid under a legal challenge because, he said, Mr. Jacobs negotiated it without the board's authorization. Mr. Wolff also said that board members did not learn of the contract or its contents until early this year, when questions arose about Mr. Ladner's compensation package.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the 1997 contract has no validity whatsoever," Mr. Wolff said. "No one gave Bill Jacobs any authority to negotiate with Ben Ladner."

Mr. Jacobs, a former senior vice president at MasterCard International, disagreed, saying that Mr. Ladner's original contract, signed in 1994, was a three-year deal, which meant negotiations for a new contract were legal and proper, and that the board's compensation committee had been fully apprised.

"For anybody on the board to say Ben Ladner didn't need a new contract," Mr. Jacobs said, "they just never paid attention."

If you crave more precision about what may await the trustees, take a look at this page, which summarizes the pertinent precedent for this mess, the very similar reign of Peter Diamandopoulos at Adelphi College, which in turn had its precedent in the reign of John Silber at Boston University. Note how many elements this wretched history (recounted below in an excerpt from Lionel S. Lewis, When Power Corrupts: Academic Governing Boards in the Shadow of the Adelphi Case ) has in common with the elements now gathering themselves at American University:

The Board provided Diamandopoulos with an outsized compensation package, guaranteed him cash payment for sabbatical leaves not taken, gave him a second residence, and, most importantly, acquiesced in all of his suggestions and decisions, no matter how unwise. The Board of Trustees of Boston University had earlier acted similarly with respect to its President, Adelphi Trustee John Silber, often referred to as Diamandopoulos's mentor.

There are other parallels between the Diamandopoulos and Silber presidencies. Each constantly quarreled and, indeed, seemed to relish confrontation, with a sizable number of faculty creating continuous turmoil on campus. Each formed close relationships with powerful Trustees who championed an array of administrative proposals and decisions. Each made exaggerated claims of having saved their institution from bankruptcy and certain demise. At each school, former Trustees complained that they were forced off the Board for questioning or not fully supporting major or minor presidential initiatives and decisions, while, at the same time, other Trustees were involved in business transactions from which they derived substantial income. And there were widely publicized accusations and criminal investigations into illegal activities on the part of the President and some of the Trustees at both Boston University and Adelphi University.

… The fact of lay governing boards pretty much assures that faculty will be overmatched when a governing board and administration working in tandem hatch some scheme. Boards need only take care not to overreach so as to catch the eye of civil authorities. The Adelphi faculty and the Committee to Save Adelphi did not force the Board of Trustees and Diamandopoulos out; they merely exposed them. It was Diamandopoulos's and the Board's own actions that were responsible for their removal.

Here, from the same page, are some legal details from that case:

Not-for-Profit Corporation Law. Indemnification of university trustees. Liability of former president.

The Attorney General [of New York] sued to hold former trustees liable for mismanagement. The complaint asserted that the trustees had indemnified themselves in violation of the N-PCL [i.e., the New York Not-for-Profit Corporation Law]. The court held that indemnification was authorized if the trustees had acted in good faith and that the complaint and the findings of the Regents contained the necessary allegations of bad faith so as to preclude dismissal. The court refused to authorize advance indemnification for this case (Sect. 724(c)). The court upheld a cause of action for unjust enrichment with regard to a retainer fee paid by the university to counsel for the former trustees but denied with leave to renew defendants’ request to dismiss a conversion claim because of uncertainty whether the retainer constituted a specifically identifiable fund. The court held that the complaint pleaded sufficient facts to support a claim that the defendant former president caused or permitted himself to receive compensation in violation of a duty to act in good faith.

Vacco v. Diamandopoulos, Index No. 401253/97, 4/6/98 (Ramos, J.)

The Board, on which both Silber and Diamandopoulos sat, settled the case for $4.3 million.
“We pigs are brainworkers.
The whole management and organisation of the farm depend on us.
Day and night we are watching over your welfare.”

From tomorrow’s Washington Post :

Tensions with the board began last year, two trustees said, when Ladner asked for a $1 million bonus and several millions more in other compensation.

…[T]he father of a 2005 graduate said he and his wife had planned to make a "significant endowment" to AU, but they have changed their minds.

"The Board of Trustees has apparently condoned Mr. Ladner's free spending and unilaterally decided that the mission of the university is to enrich the president's lifestyle and NOT provide competitive salaries for professors or scholarships for deserving students," he wrote in an e-mail.

From tomorrow's Washington Post:

Pete Smith was chairman of the board's audit committee until late last year. "In my 30 years as a compensation consultant with Watson Wyatt, I have never had a more difficult client," he wrote in his resignation letter, which was obtained by The Post from someone other than Smith, who would not comment. Its authenticity was verified by three people.

"More important, Ben wanted to control all information pertaining to his compensation very closely. At first I thought this was just a quirk. But as things evolved, I began to wonder if the intent was to hide the full scope of his compensation. . . . Important elements of his pay were not understood or explained to the board. His own CFO was in the dark concerning some elements of his pay; and the reporting of Ben's compensation on [the IRS] Form 990 was incomplete . . .

"As the committee wrestled with this problem, dealing with Ben became increasingly difficult and it began to feel like the board reported to Ben rather than the reverse. It was then that I decided to resign as a trustee."

Friday, September 23, 2005

“There’s not one thing
he was not entitled to.”

According to the most recent article about suspended AU president Benjamin Ladner (it will appear in tomorrow’s New York Times), the board of trustees of that institution gave him a contract that featured no annual reviews and the freedom to bill the university for everything he does.

[T]he contract was written in such a way that it gave Mr. Ladner full discretion over his spending, giving him a strong defense against any legal challenge. One trustee involved with trying to reinstate Mr. Ladner, asking that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, said: "There is nothing ambiguous at all about the contract. There's not one thing he was not entitled to."

Here’s a frinstance:

[Ladner’s] current contract, signed in 1997, explicitly allowed him wide latitude in spending, including the right to travel in a "first class" manner.

Trustees on both sides, as well as the former board chairman who negotiated the contract, William I. Jacobs, agreed that it was up to Mr. Ladner to interpret what "first class" meant, beyond his right to buy airline tickets for the front section of the plane.

…Mr. Jacobs conceded that Mr. Ladner chose a broad definition…

“Hm, what definition shall I choose? ... I know for damn sure I can sit in the front section of the plane... But what more might a ‘first class manner’ imply? Could it mean I can sit way way up in the front with the grownups? Hot damn. Still… contractually speaking, it’s arguably more responsible to locate myself somewhere around Rows 10 - 15 … That still means free booze and slave girls [Wait -- UD’s confusing AU presidents…]…And - ahem! - this is our students’ tuition money we’re talking about, after all… But --- You know what pisses me off?? The donors I golf with have their own private planes! On $800,000 a year I’ll never be able to maintain a Learjet. Looked at from that angle, taking any commercial airliner, no matter where you’re seated, is really an admission of personal financial failure… Great, now I feel like shit... First class it is!”
A University Diaries Series

"I know this is a metaphor, but it is the only way I feel I can protest the unjust occupations."

I can't improve on Ann Althouse's commentary:

Said a performance artist, Hala Faisal, who took off her clothes in public, displaying the words "Stop the War." Where's the metaphor? Supposedly, taking off your clothes ≈ disarmament.
Had she but world enough, and time…

...UD would find out whether it’s actually possible to spend $22,000 on a roundtrip (I presume!) ticket to Nigeria.

From this morning’s Washington Post:

"When it comes to students' money being spent inappropriately or allegations of such, we take it seriously, very seriously," said Joseph Vidulich, 19, a sophomore and secretary of the [AU] student government, adding that students want to give Ladner "the benefit of the doubt." But, he said, referring to a trustee's allegation that Ladner spent more than $22,000 on a first-class plane ticket, "If he was spending as much money as tuition to fly to Nigeria, that is a serious problem and something we need to fix."
AUgean Stables, Cont’d.
From today’s New York Times:

Lawyers for the Ladners have responded to the charges with a blanket denial of wrongdoing and extensive explanations for each expenditure, according to documents before the investigators. The lawyers asserted that all the spending was consistent with the terms of Dr. Ladner's employment contract, signed in 1997, and with a recognition that his wife, as American's first lady, represented the university at all times .

At all times?
Cleaning Up the AUgean Stables, cont’d:
More AU Students Discover the Mess.

In four years, I encountered Benjamin Ladner all of three times, and this was three times as much as the average student, and only because I was a member of the Student Confederation. I enjoyed the lovely chef, and the backyard parties with the waterfalls and koi. All held in a house that cost well over a million dollars.

But it was ok. Because here I was hoping that Ben Ladner was out doing something important for the school. Well as it turns out, he wasn’t. He was frolicking around having fancy-shmancy dinners and sending his chef to Paris for lessons, getting first class tickets on overseas trips, and using a chauffeur to get his dry cleaning….

[S]tudents use the AU SHUTTLE to get their dry cleaning. Tell Mr. Ladner that he should have learned to do the same. Also mention to Mr. Ladner that while many of his students' parents may have some kind of money, I'm pretty sure that money was to be used for their students, not him and his pan-seared foie gras-loving ass.

I want my damn money back. Sorry, my mom wants her money back and she wants it back now. And while you're at it, supplement my income. Mr. Ladner lives in DC off my parent's money. I should too.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

We’re beginning to hear from
angry American University alumni.

“Those bastards owe me. I spent too much money at that school to be this dumb.”
"As you will learn if you read this page often enough, political correctness is coin of the realm at Stanford. Even those who openly chafe against the practice … are usually, in the end, only feeding the beast. For that matter, the use of the phrase 'political correctness' in this column feels too correct. I prefer the grandfather-friendly phrase 'pussy-footing around.'"

There’s too much metaphor and cliche in this paragraph from the Stanford Daily, but never mind. The writer is trying to complain about a group of Japanese tourists on campus who barged into the seminar he was taking and one after another stood at the door taking flash pictures of the students and the professor.

[S]eated with her back to the camera, [the professor] notices the faces of a few students have turned towards the door. She turns to see what they are looking at just as the camera’s flash goes off. She blinks to erase the spots from her vision before turning back to the discussion. The first photographer disappears, but another soon takes his place. And another. Most of us are too stunned to think to close the door until they have gone.

Everyone advises the student against complaining, because the tourists are Japanese. He seems to have decided to complain anyway.
My god, you gotta have a swine
to show you where the truffles are ...

…says George, the college professor in Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In the case of American University , all you gotta do is follow soon-to-be-ex President Benjamin Ladner to find “pan-seared foie gras, BeauSoleil oyster, sabayon and caviar, and white truffle risotto,” a typical menu at one of the Ladner clan’s family birthdays, all made for them by their American University-provided personal chef, Rodney Scruggs.

Ladner really liked Scruggs. While faculty raises in the last five years have been “small, single digit" type things, Scruggs got raises that “averaged 11 percent over the past five years.” And while Scruggs seems to have had a pretty impressive food repertoire, the Ladners apparently felt he needed more sophistication, so they sent him on "‘professional development’ trips …to Paris, London and Rome.”

Ladner also liked to travel in style. He “incurred a travel expense for himself alone to Nigeria,” in the words of a trustee who wants to fire him (the chef has just been let go) “of $22,345. … Had he bought a business elite ticket, the savings would have covered a student's tuition for one semester."

Last year, Ladner was paid more than "the president of George Washington University, which is twice AU's size and includes a medical center. An expert in higher education compensation compared Ladner's package with that of six other presidents of universities of roughly equal size and reputation as American and found Ladner's more than $100,000 higher than the next highest."

Altogether the independent report (which will itself cost the university a million dollars) “questions more than a half-million dollars spent over the past three years.” The investigators are also trying to figure out the mysterious second contract thing. Ladner “was operating under a second contract, negotiated a few years after he arrived at AU in 1994 by William I. Jacobs, then board of trustees chairman, but unknown to some on the board. The university's vice president of finance told auditors that he had repeatedly asked Ladner to let him see the second contract and that Ladner finally did, three years after it went into effect.”

What with, er, supplements from the second contract, “Ladner's total compensation in 2004 was more than $800,000, well above that of presidents at comparable schools, according to outside analysts. He and his wife, according to the report, were charging antiques and cashmere to the university as well… The spending in dispute includes travel expenses, more than $6,000 in club dues, nearly $54,000 in drivers' costs, more than $220,000 in chef services, more than $100,000 in services from the social secretary and nearly $44,000 in alcohol… Although university presidents often are expected to entertain at home with dinners and other events for donors, the report concludes that the vast majority of the chef's time was not university-related.”

Some trustees are wondering whether these and myriad other expenses are “the last straw for a president who squandered money at a school where more than 90 percent of operating revenue comes from students.”

It’s really the first straw, though, since AU has apparently failed to scrutinize any of this activity over ten years time. “Until the new report, no detailed accounting had been done of the Ladners' spending, even as bills came in for first-class tickets for overseas trips, a waterfall for the back yard of the president's house and chauffeurs spending much of their time running errands for his wife to jewelers, salons and dry cleaners.”

But when I say swine…

Ladner's troubles with the board began more than a year ago, when the panel began reviewing his compensation after he demanded an increase...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Maybe Even Tending Toward
Wanting to Not Work At All

UD has already mentioned on this blog the famous quotation from John Adams, the father of John Quincy Adams, about education. Here it is in its entirety:

The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

I think the generational slide of subject matter here, from worldly and conflictual to aesthetic and tranquil, can help make sense of a front-page article in today’s New York Times which has generated a lot of blog-angst.

The article notes with some surprise that many female Ivy League undergraduates have “already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others … say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment. …Much attention has been focused on career women who leave the work force to rear children. What seems to be changing is that while many women in college two or three decades ago expected to have full-time careers, their daughters, while still in college, say they have already decided to suspend or end their careers when they have children.”

For instance, “Shannon Flynn, an 18-year-old from Guilford, Conn., who is a freshman at Harvard, says many of her girlfriends do not want to work full time. ‘Most probably do feel like me, maybe even tending toward wanting to not work at all,’ said Ms. Flynn, who plans to work part time after having children, though she is torn because she has worked so hard in school.”

The article notes the outrage and incomprehension in response to this trend on the part of some feminists, who regard it as a species of betrayal and regression. The piece also records the vapid assurances of some Ivy League administrators, like the head of Princeton, who insists, “There is nothing inconsistent with being a leader and a stay-at-home parent. Some women (and a handful of men) whom I have known who have done this have had a powerful impact on their communities."

So Princeton University carefully selects among the best and the brightest in the United States in order to produce stay-at-homes who improve their communities. Not bloody likely. Either you are, as all Ivies describe themselves, in the business of generating business and government leaders on a significant scale, or you are grooming PTA presidents.

The women interviewed in the article are merely fulfilling the hopes of Adams, who nailed it long ago: the more lovingly you are raised, the more intelligence you are enabled to exercise, the more clearly you understand the world in which you live, the more likely you are to want to temper the conflictual, public world of work with the less conflictual, private life of affective and aesthetic activity. Of that final generational list of pursuits, only one -- architecture -- has an obvious vocational setting. The rest conjure images of the artist in her garret, the amateur lover of music, and so forth.

Note that Ms. Flynn says she “plans to work part time after having children, though she is torn because she has worked so hard in school.” These women have gotten to the educational pinnacle by working themselves to the bone. They have already amply played out the competitive hyperwork thing and they want a break. They’re not sure they see much percentage in continuing indefinitely to work their asses off. And that’s because one of the many ideas they’ve been exposed to has to do with the quality of life and the brevity of life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Despite his attorney's recent insistence that all was and would be well, the merde has truly hit the ventilateur for "suspended American University President Benjamin A. Ladner," as the Washington Post, in its cruel journalistic shorthand, now routinely calls him.

The federal government has decided to take a look at his books. More precisely, both the US Attorney's Office and the IRS have officially begun sniffing around Lander's personal and travel expenses.

"The case could have tax implications not only for Ladner but also for AU," write the Post reporters (who, despite all the secrecy everyone's trying to maintain, seem to have pretty garrulous inside sources) "which is bound by laws governing how much charities and universities pay their executives."

As to activities on campus, "There is a split on the board about the severity of the issues reviewed in its audit, according to several sources familiar with the board's discussions. Some trustees view Ladner's expenses as justified by the constant fundraising and entertaining required of today's university presidents, while others believe that the spending was out of line for a school of AU's size, the sources said."

Constant entertaining. No wonder this guy has to be compensated at $800,000 annually.

Did I say $800,000? I've been saying around $650,000. I was wrong:

The board also has been wrangling with Ladner over compensation -- his salary, benefits and allowances -- which has more than tripled since he came in 1994, according to one source with detailed knowledge of Ladner's pay. In 2004, his base salary was $633,000, but his total compensation was well over $800,000, according to forms the university filed with the IRS.

Last year, some board members became concerned that Ladner's pay was too high for the president of a 10,000-student private, nonprofit school and that they could be liable under laws intended to avoid excessive compensation to executives of charities, sources knowledgeable about board activities said.

Indeed, "The board decided to reduce Ladner's overall compensation by an undisclosed amount, according to the sources."

Hell, he'll have to quit now. Any pay reduction would be too humiliating.

And there's more on the chauffeurs: "A preliminary report by Arnold & Porter LLP, a law firm helping the trustees, has been completed and sent to Ladner. The report includes records of several chauffeurs employed by Ladner and his wife, Nancy Bullard Ladner. Chauffeurs kept a log of their duties, including taking Ladner to such events as an athletic awards banquet, dropping off dry cleaning and taking Nancy Ladner to an appointment at a hair salon." Those logs will be the death of him.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


As the major media decant their [UD has changed the beginning of this post from her original singular formulation -- "the major media decants its" -- to plural because Jack Bush, a reader from Canada, made an impressive argument that she should do so] annual back-to-school stories about alcoholic undergraduates, spare a thought for their schools’ presidents, who may be dragged just as low by demon rum.

It’s not that the presidents are unmasked as alcoholics and carted off; rather, it’s their extravagant taste in spirits that does them in. While his charges are out getting blasted on Boone’s Farm, the American university president may be home getting quietly tight on “daily wine for lunch and dinner at $50 to $100 per bottle,” as the now-notorious anonymous letter to the American University trustees about President Benjamin Ladner has it.

Or, like Peter Diamandopoulos, dethroned despot of Adelphi University, he may be out on the town with friends, racking up (as the Chronicle of Higher Education reported at the time) a “$454.65 bar tab” by sharing "$150 glasses of cognac” with “[John] Silber, a former Adelphi trustee, who later said that he had been unaware of the cost of the drinks."

And yet man does not live by drink alone., citing the New York Times, described “the $707 dinner Adelphi President Peter Diamondopoulos [sic] and art critic and Adelphi trustee Hilton Kramer shared at the fancy Links club in Manhattan -- charged to big D's university expense account -- not long after the scandal broke involving Diamandopoulos's $523,000 salary, the second highest among college presidents in the nation. According to the report, $552 of the tab went for a 1983 Chaval wine and Martel cognac.”

Like their third-world counterparts, these sorts of university presidents also spend a lot of money suing people and defending their besmirched honor and that sort of thing. Before his current difficulties, President Ladner sued an AU alumnus to get him to shut down his website,, because it used the president’s name.

He lost. “Frankly,” says the site’s proprietor, “if he had agreed to have a dialogue about his work and our work, thousands of university dollars wouldn't have had to be spent on a fruitless attempt to shut us down."

Friday, September 16, 2005

1913 - 2005
The Way I See It

From the Baylor University student newspaper:

Late last week, the Baylor Starbucks pulled about 500 cups with a quote by gay author Armistead Maupin after a faculty member complained.

Maupin's quote explains that the only regret he had about being gay is that he held it in for a long time. He said, on the cup, that he gave up the freedom of his youth because he was afraid of revealing himself. He encourages others to not make the same mistake.

...The quote by Armistead Maupin is one of a number of different quotes printed in Starbucks coffee cups around the nation. The quotes are part of a program called "The Way I See It" and according to a Starbucks Web site, are meant to "promote good, healthy discussion."

Here’s an example of one of the cups, reproduced at

UD has a suggestion for the next “The Way I See It” cup:

“I’d lied about it long enough and when I came out I decided I would not lie anymore. I wasn’t breaking any rules. There’s no stated policy on sexual orientation at Baylor, although they do prohibit homosexual behavior and sex outside of marriage, both of which fall under sexual misconduct. By making the statement ‘I am gay’-- a statement of belief about myself-- I’m exercising my First Amendment right. A university is a place where you learn how to think, articulate a position, and where you come to change your views. But at Baylor, it’s only as long as you never hold a certain position or advocate something else.”

Matt Bass, a scholarship student at Baylor whose scholarship was withdrawn, forcing him to drop out, after his orientation became known.

Thanks to JW for the tip.

From the student newspaper at the University of Rhode Island:

Every so often, a professor captures the minds and hearts of many students. Regardless of the topic and the students' interests, the professor has the ability to appeal to every distinct personality.

An individual who wholly fits this description is Marc Genest, who [to] the dismay of many of his students, left the University of Rhode Island in August.

…Genest described the Ryan Center as a waste of money, and said that, "A university is an intellectual institution, not a training ground for athletes; what's more important to the educational mission, additional faculty or a football stadium?"

…In a statement regarding education, Genest refers to President Robert L. Carothers.

"Carother's famous quip that they don't have a physics page in the local newspaper is an intellectually vacuous statement that completely misses the point regarding the proper role of higher education in American society."

…Junior B.L. Gentile, who had Genest for International Politics last semester said, "He was an amazing professor; he demanded hard work and dedication from his students and he loved his work. Any teacher that can prove to his students he loves what he teaches will always captivate a classroom,"

Another student, Matt Napoli, who also had Genest for International Politics said, "I'm pretty upset, I wanted to take another class with him. He's definitely the best professor I've ever had."

…Genest retired from the university after 14 years and now teaches at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Cherchez le Chauffeur

The president of American University might be brought down in a way increasingly common among university presidents: like the now ex-chancellor of the SUNY system, Robert King, he may be done in by one of his fleet of chauffeurs:

'Reginald Green, one of Ladner's former chauffeurs, said the Ladners often used the university car for personal reasons, including requiring him to take in and pick up their laundry and the work shirts of their chef.'

One of his former chauffeurs? Does this mean that President Ladner, like Chancellor King, had a fleet of them? Recall (see this earlier UD entry) that (to quote myself):

King maintained, at state expense, a team of three chauffeurs, Tom, Ray, and Ed. Tom, Ray, and Ed were there (combined salary, $170,000 plus) at King’s bidding to transport him from place to place in the course of his busy day.

King, though, scraped along on a salary of $250,000 or so, whereas Ladner earns about $650,000. Buys a lot of chauffeurs.



Don’t They Know
It’s the End of the World?

…as UD used to love hearing Loretta Lynn sing… and now, as she considers President Ladner’s deteriorating situation, it keeps coming to mind:

The personal chef employed by suspended American University President Benjamin Ladner and paid for by the school has been let go during a probe by the university's Board of Trustees into personal and travel expenses submitted by Ladner, according to sources.

In addition, the social secretary for the president and his wife, Nancy Bullard Ladner, has been transferred, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Sally Ekfelt is now working in the president's office as an assistant to David E. Taylor, chief of staff to the president of the university, they said.

He’s got a personal chef and a social secretary. So the question is: How do you tell the President of American University from the President of America? Answer: The President of America makes $250,000 less than what the President of AU makes.

Sources knowledgeable about the case said Scruggs would sometimes be called late at night to cook dinner for the couple. Two chauffeurs who worked for the Ladners also said they often were required to take Scruggs's dirty white uniforms to a dry cleaner.

Bingo. UD wondered (see above) whether, like Chancellor King, Ladner had multiple chauffeurs.
David Brooks this Morning:
Nobody Does it Better

John Roberts Jr. Aw, shucks. This has been a humbling experience, Mr. Chairman. To think that a boy from an exclusive prep school and Harvard Law could grow up and be nominated for the Supreme Court - it shows how in America it's possible to rise from privilege to power! That's the hallmark of our great nation.

ROSEMONT, Ill., Sept. 14 /PRNewswire/ --

WHAT: PRESS CONFERENCE to announce findings of the
AAOMS Third Molar Study

"Third Molars: Defusing an Oral Time-Bomb"
Washington Monthly
Discriminates Against

Princeton struggles with its abysmal ranking on Washington Monthly’s class mobility and volunteerism heavy College Guide -- 44th, behind Iowa State.

"We would not want to give them any more attention than they have already received," says one interviewee, annoyed that the Daily Princetonian is covering the subject at all. Another local comments: “You could even argue that what investment bankers do actually does serve the nation." Furthermore:

“They have a very arbitrary definition of national service [on the Washington Monthly rankings] that can be an elitist one," Siddique said, referring to choosing between a lower-paying job in the foreign service or a higher-paying one in the private sector. "It may actually discriminate against someone who's financially disadvantaged."

That explains it -- the preponderance of financially disadvantaged students on campus.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Directly to my right as I blog hangs a Henryk Tomaszewski poster, which Tomaszewksi inscribed to my father-in-law. In Polish, in pencil, along one edge, he writes: To Jerzy Soltan: I kiss your ass. H.T. 8/79.

This is Tomaszewski’s best known poster, for Solidarnosc. It says:

2+2 must be 4
Let Poland be Poland

That 2+2 thing is from Orwell’s 1984.

One of Poland’s greatest graphic artists, Tomaszewski died today. He was 91.

Already in a bad mood because of August Kleinzahler's essay about him, Garrison Keillor has now cut the folksy crap right out and summoned his lawyers. He's threatening to sue a young blogger unless he ceases and desists marketing a t-shirt that has A PRAIRIE HO COMPANION written on it. "You'd think we shot Guy Noir or something," complains the intimidated blogger, who has for the moment stopped selling these sweeties.

I propose a line of tees that have written on them excerpts from the Kleinzahler piece:


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Culture of American Poetry
Takes its First Steps Out of the
Primordial Stew

An editorial from the seriously revamped magazine, Poetry:

The rules for our omnibus reviewers are simple. (We bend the rules occasionally for other pieces, when there is a pairing of reviewer and book we especially want—Phyllis Rose and Richard Wilbur, for instance.) They can have no personal connection to any of the authors they are writing about. They do not get to select the books to be reviewed, though we do discuss the list with them and try to make the assignment interesting for them. They are given a strict total word count, which they are free to distribute among the various books as they see fit (e.g., eight hundred words for one book, four hundred for another, etc.). And finally—most importantly—they must express a clear opinion about each book reviewed.

These rules were put in place a couple of years ago, because it seemed to us that the state of reviewing in contemporary poetry was so dire. Not only was there a great deal of obvious logrolling going on (friends reviewing friends, teachers promoting students, young poets writing strategic reviews of older poets in power), but the writing was just so polite, professional, and dull. We wanted to eliminate the descriptive review, those pieces you finish without any clear idea of whether its author loved or hated the book in question. We wanted writers who wrote as if there were an audience of general readers out there who might be interested in contemporary poetry. That meant hiring critics with sharp opinions, broad knowledge of fields other than poetry, and some flair.

It has also meant, inevitably, publishing a lot of negative reviews. Any honest glance at literary history will reveal just how rare good poetry is. If a critic gets ten books sent to him for review, and he finds six or seven of them are excellent, then he is either the luckiest poetry reviewer on the planet, or he has no taste. We believe that it is important to publish these negative reviews along with the positive ones (though we would never print what we considered an ad hominem attack). Not only does it give some ballast and context to the critical praise, it also is a gesture toward treating poetry as a public art in the same way that films or novels are, both of which are routinely and fiercely argued over in the mainstream media. It is a service to serious readers.

Of course, this reviewing policy causes us great conflicts and disappointment at times. Anyone who has followed the magazine over the past two years can’t help but recognize that we are often in the position of printing negative reviews of poets whose work we have published extensively. In effect, our reviewers sometimes criticize our taste. This would be a very easy thing to control. It requires only a phone call to feel out a reviewer on a particular book, or a willingness to kill reviews you don’t agree with, or a stable of reviewers whose opinions you can easily predict. All of these options seem to us timid and deadening.

Omnibus reviewers are the most difficult reviewers to find and the most difficult to keep. This is mostly due to the climate of the times, in which established poets almost never say what they think about a range of new books and often lower the boom on younger poets who do. Still, we believe it’s a fight worth fighting. Poetry is not served by protecting it like some endangered species; quite the opposite, in fact. There are all kinds of signs that a much larger audience for poetry exists in this country, and there are also signs that poetry itself is, to paraphrase D.H. Tracy’s (positive!) review of Glyn Maxwell’s latest book, trying to pull its head out of its behind. Here at Poetry, we’re doing everything we can to encourage both of these developments.

But don't expect things to change all that quickly.

As Halloween season approaches, UD again commends to you the poem she reproduced on her blog last October, by Richard Wilbur. As incentive, she offers this recent appreciation of him, by Phyllis Rose, in the excitingly new Poetry:

…Wilbur, however famous, however loved and respected he has been throughout his career, has rarely if ever been fashionable. He was unfashionable when vadic hipster utterance was in vogue. He was unfashionable when confessional poetry was all the rage. He was unfashionable when difficult, highly intellectual, deconstructive poetry was respected. His devotion to a tightly constructed formalist poetry has seemed retro for decades. He has been famous for my entire adult life without ever being (in that cursed vulgarism) “hot.” But in the annals of the last laugh, Richard Wilbur must be at the top of the list. For he is still alive, in every sense of the word. The very fact that he has not changed will no doubt soon make him a hero to an age of spin and calculation. Masses of students turned out by MFA programs, more devoted to their own careers than to their work, must look in wonder at a literary personage who doesn’t really care how high his stock stands. Perhaps this smart and self-contained man knew all along that if he lasted long enough, his time would come. What seemed recalcitrance would come to seem integrity. WASP coolness would turn into vision, moderation, and character. Not that Wilbur chose calculatingly to be contrarian; rather he had the self-possession to endure it.

“At least 70 percent of college freshmen say they enrolled in their first-choice school,” Jay Mathews notes in his Washington Post column on education today. He’s reviewing the book College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy, which is full of essays fulminating against the destructive commercialization of college entry in America.

A couple of paragraphs from the book:

Leading this rapid commercialization of college admissions are the rankings of U.S. News & World Report, along with those of several newcomers to the field of college rankings, the billion-dollar marketing and consulting industry servicing students and colleges alike, certain members of the media, and the corporatization of the College Board (a non-profit organization that sponsors the SAT and now offers online test prep, application prep, scholarship services, Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and enrollment management, among other things).

Curiosity, self-discipline, effort, imagination, intellectual verve, sense of wonder, willingness to try new things, empathy, open-mindedness, civility, and tolerance for ambiguity are some of the qualities that define and give value to being a student. They are the same qualities that colleges say they seek in admitting prospective students. Yet they are also qualities that have been betrayed and repressed by the business models that now guide much of college admissions.

Gregg Easterbrook suggested something similar in a comment I quoted in an earlier post :

The college admissions process has become almost entirely a test of your ability to please adults — or specifically the sorts of adults who are college admissions officers. There's nothing wrong with pleasing such people. But once you get out into the world, where there are no rules and things are not structured and your own initiative is more important than your ability to please, then everything changes. I do think we've seen that the top schools increasingly are producing extremely conventional people. Not that there's anything wrong with producing conventional people, but you might think that graduates from Yale or Wellesley or Amherst would be the ones to go on to be really artistic and creative or become great engineers or inventors and make important discoveries. You're seeing instead that the important discoveries and the artistic creativity are coming from people out of places like Colby and Colorado College — because they haven't gone through this process of sacrificing their lives to conventionality.

Mathews feels very strongly about all of this:

The scourge of commercialism is real, but who is to blame for it? Thacker and some of his essayists suggest it is the fault of the business executives who are making money off of test prep and college ranking and educational consulting and a dozen other lucrative offshoots of the American obsession for getting into a brand name school. I, on the other hand, think it is the fault of the customers, that is, you and me. …In a free society, people discover they have needs. Some are rational, like the need to improve little Johnnie's atrocious grammar, and some irrational, like the need to impress their neighbors with a famous college name on the sticker in their car's back window. None of us would want to live in a country where people were prohibited from spending their hard-earned money to pursue legal desires, no matter how nutty they might be. I am not sure what we can do, short of martial law, to keep many of us from writing checks to SAT courses and college guidebook publishers and private schools that send many graduates to the Ivy League.

I keep meaning to mention - when you go to the permanent links in UD, for some reason the correct number of comments for each post isn’t noted -- the number you always see at the bottom of each post is zero. I’m going to fix this at some point, but meanwhile, my apologies. There are in fact plenty of comments in response to many of this blog’s earlier posts, but the only way to get to them at the moment is to click on that zero despite the fact that it’s a zero.

Erin O’Connor at Critical Mass picks up on a GWU story I heard about yesterday morning from my friend Jon W. She takes it on as a free speech scandal, but I’ve been sitting on it because, while the part-time professor at issue -- who seems to have been fired because a student in his Human Sexuality course complained about him and threatened a lawsuit -- has probably been treated shabbily by his department (more information’s needed), there are enough extenuating circumstances to give me pause.

At least I’d call them extenuating. Like - what’s the guy’s academic background? In what way is he suited to teach sexuality on the university level? (He holds a full-time job as an administrator in the public schools for a nearby Maryland county.) Is he teaching the history and nature of sex, or is he (as sounds more likely) a kind of therapist/cheerleader for inane candor about everything sexual?

Schaffer defended his teaching methods, which include reading portions of student papers in class and showing a video of a male and female masturbating to orgasm.

"It's all true," Schaffer said of the woman's criticisms. "I did talk about pubic hair in response to someone's paper, and I show pictures of naked people to show what real bodies look like."

"Students have said they enjoy hearing other peoples' papers," he said. "It makes them feel normal to hear that they're not the only person who thinks like that (about human sexuality)."

To show what real bodies look like. Because growing up in repressive America, you’d never have any idea, unless your university professor showed you. Makes them feel normal. Because the Victorian moral distortions of the United States have created a generation of timid, anxious college students who worry that they’re not sexually normal.

Schaffer sounds like one of those sex professionals who, for cynical or sincere reasons, thinks everyone’s going to hell in a hand basket, sexually speaking. The political commentator Eric Alterman, in a piece he wrote a few years ago called “Blowjobs and Snow Jobs,” ridicules Schaffer’s contribution to the sexual hysteria of a Washington Post story which announced

an unsettling new fad in middle schools: oral sex. Apparently, in [an] "upper-income community of elegant brick homes, leafy sycamores and stone walls," some teenagers were said to be fooling around. I write "said to be" because while the story contained any number of hysterical pronouncements by people with no particular knowledge of the incidents described, it was light enough on evidence to float on air….The Post report was inspired by a meeting at which a school principal informed shocked parents that their daughters were "at risk." (The sons, presumably, were at risk only of getting lots of high fives from their buddies.) According to the principal, as many as "a dozen girls and two or three boys had been engaging in oral sex through most of the school year. The teens, 13 and 14 years old, were getting together at parties in one another's homes." … Two or three boys and a dozen girls? Does something sound fishy already? I mean, who are these guys? Well, it doesn't really matter. After all, nowhere in the story are these numbers corroborated. (Also, nowhere does the reporter mention that her son attended the school.) Stepp quotes a Mr. Michael Schaffer, a health education professional in Prince George's County, …who said, "It's now the expected minimum behavior." But unless this school has fewer than thirty kids, the vast majority appear to be defying that expectation with remarkable fortitude.

The expected minimum behavior. Notice how Schaffer jumps from the anecdotal to the universal. They’re all doing it! This makes UD doubt that he’s a paragon of scientific method.

It’s also worth taking seriously the actual content of the complaining GW student’s statement -- at least this part of it:

[Schaffer] does not teach, but reads extremely sexual student responses (to take-home papers), repeatedly hands out condoms…

If the student is correct that he doesn’t transmit much real information but, again, is a kind of friendly passive all’s permitted type, GW probably could do better -- assuming it takes these courses seriously as having to do with content rather than theater and reassurance.

“Several students,” the GW newspaper notes, have told Schaffer's dean that his “course [is] so informative they would like to see it replace the Columbian College of Arts and Science's mandatory freshman advising workshop.”

UD has taught that workshop on a number of occasions, and is already anticipating ways in which she’d modify the syllabus to incorporate Schaffer’s course materials:

WEEK ONE: Good study habits: Time management, effective reading, note-taking, revising.

WEEK TWO: Masturbating to orgasm.


UPDATE: A few shavings more from Inside Higher Education.


Another Update:


“The real question is why a university still gives credit for a Human Sexuality course. This sounds like high-school Hygiene 101. It’s apparently useful and valuable, but doesn’t GWU expect its students to have learned this in high school or at the health center?”

“Do we really need a class on shaving our naughties when we are producing supposedly educated students with no grasp of, say, evolutionary theory or Hamlet or modern languages or european history? They shouldn’t have fired an apparently devoted instructor; they should have eliminated the class and given him a more appropriate assignment for an institution of learning.”


Yet Another Update: At Slightly Critical, Kevan Duve, a GWU undergrad, weighs in.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Some heavy-going irony, in an American Enterprise Institute online publication, from a colleague of UD’s. He’s in GWU’s Economics department. No economist - with the exception of John Kenneth Galbraith, who has always been considered eccentric - cares about good writing, but sometimes it can make a difference.

Did I say irony? Make that sarcasm. The writer begins by noting that pretty much everyone on the faculty of an American university is a liberal; he then asks a couple of questions and exclaims a couple of exclamations:

If redistributing wealth is a good idea for workers, companies, individuals, and families, then intellectual consistency suggests it should be equally valid for institutions like colleges and universities. Right?

Why should students at Princeton, where economist Paul Krugman teaches when he is not thundering against the “well off ” on the New York Times editorial page, enjoy income from huge endowments, while students at poorer institutions have far fewer educational resources? How unfair!

Worse, the extreme inequality of colleges is subsidized by the government. Gifts to rich schools are tax deductible for the donors. Universities and colleges pay no taxes on their capital gains, dividend, and interest income. This is an outrage against liberal principles! Remedial legislation is clearly needed!

Why does the writer put the phrase “well off” in quotation marks? Is Krugman wrong that rich people are well off? Is the writer suggesting that the well off do not exist?

The writer goes on to point out that

The disparities in college endowments are enormous. As of mid 2004, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton had average endowments of $14.9 billion, while three private institutions of similar size, George Washington University, Georgetown, and American University, averaged $543 million. That is a ratio of 27:1—about the same difference in income between a successful investment banker and a Wal-Mart clerk.

The numbers are even more striking in small liberal arts colleges. Grinnell, the richest of those that report data publicly, had an endowment of $1.2 million per student. Annual earnings of just 4 percent would produce more than $46,000 per student in yearly interest. Why does Grinnell charge tuition?

Er, I know that last question’s rhetorical -- as are all the questions so far asked in this piece -- but why does Grinnell charge tuition? Why does Harvard?

It’s time for an egalitarian revolution. Liberal professors at Harvard, Princeton, Amherst, and Williams should follow the principles they proclaim and strongly support action to end campus disparities by redistributing educational wealth.

Congress should pass, and President Bush should sign, a hefty and progressive tax on large per student endowments. The funds should be transferred to poorer schools. The same tax should apply to future gifts from alumni.

Voila. Touche. Game set and match. The writer seems sure he’s been very clever, but in fact he’s now got me thinking that there must be a better attitude toward these remarkable disparities than complacency ...
“This Will Be the Last Blogger to Get an Academic Job.”

Today’s New York Times :

A Journalist and Blogger Tries Teaching

For some old-school journalists, blogging is the worst thing to hit the print medium since, well, journalism school. They may want to avert their eyes today, when Stephen B. Shepard, dean of the new Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, is to name Jeff Jarvis director of the new-media program and associate professor.

Mr. Jarvis, 51, has been developing the new-media curriculum for CUNY's journalism program since last year. As part of the core curriculum, all students will be required to take at least one new-media class exploring digital journalism.

"New media will be a big part of the school," said Mr. Shepard. "And Jeff is a major figure in the world of citizen journalism, blogging and online journalism."

Currently, in addition to consulting for (which is owned by The New York Times Company), Mr. Jarvis avidly posts to his blog BuzzMachine ( about news and media coverage.

Mr. Jarvis said that the media could achieve greater transparency by using blogs, podcasts and online video. "I want students to explore the relationship of the media with the public," he said.

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, said this represented a good chance for journalism education to reinvent itself beyond teaching the nuts and bolts of reporting and writing. "There is nothing to compel a tenured professor of journalism to engage with the Internet other than as a user," he said.

"The problem for dealers is not so much selling as finding the really nice things," E. Forbes Smiley III told a New York Times reporter in an article about the hot market in old maps. E. Forbes, himself a dealer, seems to have found the really nice things by going to the libraries they’re in, taking out his X-Acto knife , and stealing them.

A few months ago, he dropped a blade and left it behind him on the floor of Yale’s rare book library. When a security guard at the library caught up with him, it became apparent that Smiley’s jacket was crammed with fine old maps. His haul that day would have been worth almost a million dollars had he not been caught.

This is the sort of American map Smiley dealt in. It shows the area in Massachusetts where Smiley is building a new modular house for himself. Here’s a Boston Herald story about it:


Even facing 60 years in the slammer , accused map bandit E. Forbes Smiley has told builders of his mod Martha's Vineyard pad to keep working. Smiley, who was arraigned this week on charges of stealing rare maps from a Yale University library, hired a hip New York architect to build him a home in Chilmark. But instead of the usual ostentatious island getaway, Smiley and his wife, Lisa A. Benson-Smiley, opted for a groovy modular home built mostly off site and brought by boat to the couple's wooded lot. At the time of Smiley's arrest, the 2,500-square-foot home was about two-thirds done, said architect Craig Kim of Resolution: 4 Architecture. ''We haven't heard from them, but the contractor has informed me that the Smileys want to finish the house." Kim wouldn't say what the couple paid, but he said similar jobs have cost about $200 per square foot. The revered map collector, who was snared June 8 after a librarian at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library found an X-Acto knife blade on the floor near where he was sitting, hired Kim's firm after reading about an international award it had won for its prefab creations. ''They were very hands-on during the design process," Kim said, ''but I don't know if we're going to hear from them again."

Yeah, that sounds like he’s brazening it out, but he was “so nervous during his hearing” the other day that “he misstated his age.” UD couldn’t find a photo of him, but the paper describes him as “a balding bespectacled man dressed in a sports coat, yellow tie and khaki pants.”

Here’s a picture that has helped put Smiley’s more likely new home on the map.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hello? Hello?
Get Me the Weddings Editor!


A report last Sunday about the wedding of Emily Elizabeth Cohen and Benjamin William Cavell misstated the title of one book and the publishing history of another, both by the bridegroom’s father, Stanley Cavell. The title was “Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage,” not “The Harvard Comedy of Remarriage.”


Associated Press

Granting of backup jobs suspended; employees convicted of crimes will be fired

WEST BEND, Wis. — No more backup jobs for now. Get the convicts off the payroll. And nobody will get paid for not working.

Reining in employment practices that have embarrassed Wisconsin's public universities, University of Wisconsin System regents on Friday put limits on perks granted to administrators and ordered campuses to expedite the firing of employees guilty of criminal activity.

The regents, who oversee 13 four-year universities and 33,000 employees, moved after a summer of intense criticism from lawmakers and Gov. Jim Doyle over their personnel policies. The problems ranged from convicted felons who were still on the payroll to abuse of paid leaves.

"This package is the start of the process of reform," Regent Thomas Loftus said.

The board approved a resolution that lays out eight steps regents will take to address the problems.

It moved to continue a suspension on the granting of backup jobs, which had been a way to guarantee job security for administrators who can be fired at will. The practice, once a way to attract top level talent to provost and dean jobs, had become a common perk for even mid-level employees.

The suspension, first ordered in July by UW System President Kevin Reilly, will remain in place while the campuses review whether more administrators should work under fixed-term contracts instead.

Underperforming mid-level administrators could be let go at the end of their contracts under the new system, but this would not affect administrators who had already earned tenure.

Meanwhile, the regents ordered the campuses to immediately investigate those convicted of crimes in order to quickly remove them from the payroll.

Three UW-Madison professors recently convicted of felonies have not been fired because internal investigations required to show cause were not finished.

Board President David Walsh said the System's handling of felons did more damage to its reputation in the public eye than any other misstep.

Roberto Coronado, a physiology professor who pleaded guilty to three felony counts of repeated sexual contact with a child in March, has been collecting vacation pay in jail. The school has moved to fire him, but he is appealing the decision.

Two others — one serving a jail term for felony stalking, the other for exposing a child to pornography — have not been fired because school investigations are not over, UW-Madison said.

The regents also:

• Shortened paid leaves granted to administrators returning to teaching positions from one year to one academic semester. Administrators who have served at least five years will still be eligible for the full year. Those granted leave will have to document what work they did to brush up on their subject matter.

• Decided that administrators returning to professor jobs should be paid the same as their peers. The current policy pays them 82 percent of their previous salary, which had paid some higher salaries than those doing similar work.

• Ordered UW campuses to seek approval from president Reilly before agreeing to settlements involving the termination of administrators. Some settlements had been criticized for allowing administrators to collect their salaries for months after they resigned or were removed.

• Ordered the UW System to specify by Oct. 1 the time period after which a doctor's note for use of sick leave is required.
They Shoot Courses, Don't They?

More on the pained life of professors [see yesterday's post, "Suffering Succotash"], from the newspaper at Brown University (seventh most expensive American college in 2003):


For many Brown students, shopping period begins sometime in August, when they find that their favorite courses have been marked on the Brown Online Course Announcement with one dreaded red word: CANCELED.

Ariana Raufi '09, who was looking forward to taking PL 9: "Philosophy of East and West," said it was "a huge letdown" to learn that it had been canceled. Raufi decided to replace the course with a Middle East studies class, only to learn that it, too, had been canceled.

"I didn't even know this happened," she said.

Professor James McClain, chair of the Department of History, attributes his department's 13 cancellations to a wealth of research opportunities. "Every year one-third of our professors are trying to get money for research or a stipend to go away from the University for a semester or a year. This year, six or seven professors got outside funding" after their courses were placed in the Course Announcement Bulletin, he said….History added only four courses to replace the lost ones…


History - 13
Political Science - 9
Comparative Literature - 6
Economics - 5
Geology - 5
Religious Studies - 5

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Suffering Succotash

“Perhaps we professors turn to satire because academic life has so much pain, so many lives wasted or destroyed.”

Oy. Again with the pain. Elaine Showalter, a retired English professor, wrote this in the introduction to her study of academic novels (the intro’s online at the Guardian). As speculation goes, UD finds it painfully unpersuasive.

Americans in general live the most pain-free lives of any people in the world (and I don’t only have in mind the availability of the sorts of drugs to which Justice Rehnquist, a Placidyl fan, was addicted). They are, scads of them, affluent, healthy, and maintained on a rich diet of entertainments.

Among this group, professors, with their pleasant surroundings, bright and eager students, long summers, and astounding degrees of autonomy, are particularly pain-deprived. If Showalter really thinks significant numbers of them are "wasted or destroyed,” UD suggests a trip to New Orleans.

Professors can spend their lives sampling French bread or sticking more straw into their straw houses or poking around the gardens of Pompeii. (Read Jane Smiley’s academic novel, Moo, for details.) The hallways around UD’s office at GWU yesterday echoed emptily because so many of her colleagues are on leave. And because yesterday was Friday and almost nobody teaches on Friday.


Friday, September 09, 2005


"[Michael] Brown’s biography on FEMA’s website reports that he’s a graduate of the Oklahoma City University School of Law. … Of more relevance is the fact that, until 2003, the school was not even a member of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS)..."

'Under the "honors and awards" section of his profile at — which is information on the legal website provided by lawyers or their offices—he lists "Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University". However, Brown "wasn't a professor here, he was only a student here," says Charles Johnson, News Bureau Director in the University Relations office at the University of Central Oklahoma (formerly named Central State University). "He may have been an adjunct instructor," says Johnson, but that title is very different from that of "professor."

Carl Reherman, a former political science professor at the University through the '70s and '80s, says that Brown "was not on the faculty." As for the honor of "Outstanding Political Science Professor," Johnson says, "I spoke with the department chair yesterday and he's not aware of it." Johnson could not confirm that Brown made the Dean's list or was an "Outstanding Political Science Senior," as is stated on his online profile.

Speaking for Brown, Andrews says that Brown has never claimed to be a political science professor, in spite of what his profile in FindLaw indicates. "He was named the outstanding political science senior at Central State, and was an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City School of Law."'


Thursday, September 08, 2005

To leave New Orleans for a moment…

“Boarding school enrollment dropped from about 42,000 in the late 1960’s to 39,000 in the last school year - even though, according to the Census Bureau, the population of 14- to 17-year olds was more than 1.5 million higher in 2004 than in 1968,” notes an op/ed writer in one of those schizy pieces that so often appear in the New York Times. (Schizy because rich Times readers like the idea of expensive exclusive schools for their kids, but the same readers demand that their paper publish regular denunciations of them. Why? I don’t know. That’s why I call it schizy.) The writer has various theories as to why boarding schools have declined in popularity; but after all there are still close to 40,000 American people in these places, and if we want to understand the nature of a university like Brown or Princeton, it’s worthwhile to understand their feeders:

The self-containment of boarding schools can create terrariums of privilege in which students develop a skewed sense of money and have a hard time remembering that, in fact, it is not normal to go skiing in Switzerland just because it's March, or to receive an S.U.V. in celebration of one's 16th birthday. At, for example, Choate Rosemary Hall - one of many boarding schools starting classes this or next week - room, board and tuition for 2005-2006 is $35,360. If, as Choate's Web site explains, 27 percent of students receive financial aid, that means the other 73 percent come from families that are, by just about any standards except perhaps their own, very rich. Even when these schools hold chapel services espousing humility and service to others, it's the campus facilities - the gleaming multimillion-dollar gymnasium, say - that can send a louder message.

Remember Walter Kirn’s essay about Princeton? This is the backstory.

It's hard not to wonder: in a world of horrifying inequities, at what point do these lavishly maintained campuses go from enriching and bucolic to just obscene? Can a student living on such a campus be blamed if, logically working backward, she starts to think her access to such bounty must exist because she deserves it? It is this line of thought, I suspect, that gives rise to the noxious attitude of entitlement and snobbishness that is simultaneously less common than pop-culture depictions of boarding school would have you believe and also not that hard to find.

For me, the question isn't why parents wouldn't send a child to boarding school as much as why they would. Unless there are either severe problems at home or flat-out terrible local schools, I don't see the point. Even in the case of terrible schools, I'm not convinced that parents can't significantly augment their children's education. Among the advantages of boarding school are opportunities for independence, academic stimulation, small classes, peer companionship and the aforementioned campus beauty - but every single one of these opportunities is available at dozens of liberal arts colleges, so why not just wait a few years until the student will better appreciate such gifts and save $140,000?

Outraged letters from faculty are flying about lately, and Erin O'Connor, at Critical Mass, is sorting through all the paper. Go to her blog for coverage of the outraged architecture professors of the University of Virginia who think it's time to stop with all the phallic columns already, and the outraged education professors of Brooklyn College, who think people who don't like their coercive classroom politics ought to be stood up before tribunals.

"Despite negative press from Chi Tau pledge Matthew Carrington's death by water intoxication last semester and the pornographic video filmed at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house, positive things arose from those events, [Cal State Chico President] Zingg said."
A Professor Blogging
At The Valve
Takes Offense…

at the idea that the humanities curriculum at many colleges is random, politicized, and dumbed down with pop culture. He writes that people “exaggerate the extent to which the ‘classics’ (and the 'dead white male') ever disappeared from the classroom.” [Look at all them scare quotes!] He proceeds to prove his case by doing things I wouldn’t recommend his undergraduate writing students do.

Instead of statistics, he cites a personal anecdote ( "I’m going to assign the fifth and sixth books of the Republic in my freshman writing class this semester, and I have taught the Symposium, most of Rhetoric, and several other core-friendly works in such classes in the past."). Then he gets all emotional about a recent report on the nature of college writing courses which says mean things about the university where he teaches: “[T]he Briggs report on literature in the composition classroom, sponsored by the ALSC, gratuitously slurs the University of Florida writing program …where I assigned these works (alongside --shock! horror! -- other media).”

Here’s the part of the report that mentions the University of Florida:

[L]iterature’s role in the composition classroom is idiosyncratic, or subservient to the teaching of something else, such as popular culture. The number of film titles in our web survey exceeded the number of pre-1945 literary works…. A second survey (involving ninety chairs, composition directors, and interested faculty from colleges, universities, and California community colleges) added to the impression of fragmentation.

Georgetown’s composition syllabi, each with a different reading list, managed to convey a sense of serious engagement with authors such as Frederick Douglass, Anne Frank, Mary Shelley, Orwell, E. B. White, T. S. Eliot, Morrison, Walker, Stoker, Hemingway, Faulkner, Atwood, Ellison, Delillio, Dostoevsky, Woolf, Austen, Hawthorne, Wells, Lee, More, Conrad, Stevenson, Kuchner, Sophocles, Shakespeare (a different play in each of the eight sections that assigned him), Miller, Shaw, Hansberry, Virgil, Homer, Whitman, Salinger, Gilman, Alison, the Beowulf poet, and a dozen more contemporary novelists. Another dozen instructors assigned literary non-fiction by authors such a Primo Levi, Sartre, Pico Della Mirandola, Kozol, Coles, and others. In contrast, the University of Florida, which posted far more titles on-line than Georgetown, listed syllabi with a dozen films, eight television shows, half a dozen contemporary autobiographies, and dozens of topical essays.

That’s a description, not a slur.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Monica's Story

Monica Lewinsky has taken yet another downward step in her restless post-humiliation life. She will get a Masters in Social Psychology at the London School of Economics. Her professors will teach her to see her perfectly understandable sexual attraction to the most powerful man in the world as a dense Foucauldian fable.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


“Students should not come to view their classes as an amalgam of subjects but rather as a concerted, unified inquiry,” writes the proprietor of the blog Slightly Critical. He’s a GWU undergrad, and he wrote this on his blog and in the university’s student newspaper. “Education is a comprehensive enterprise where previous knowledge is expanded upon; it is neither a random sampling of courses nor an amassing of trivia. … [T]he long-term interests of students must trump the short-term interests of faculty.”

Gradually more and more serious students are picking up on the patronizing language of people like a dean at requirements-free Brown, who assures us that “the difference between courses where students are forced to be there and where students have chosen to be there is like night and day.” Only an American would describe a shared set of courses at a college as an instance of “force.” It would be an interesting mental experiment for people at Brown to expand the concept of "choice" to include the volitional selection of a rigorous undergraduate institution, coherent curriculum and all.

Brown’s rapid descent in the college rankings lately suggests word’s getting out that while taking what Jay Matthews, in a piece today in the Washington Post, calls a “smorgasbord of courses that don't really have much to do with each other” will make you happy - Brown ranks very high in student happiness - it will not make you educated.

Spinning like mad, and keeping the primary purpose of a college education - nay, life itself - front and center, the Brown administrator insists to the rather anxious student reporter (alumni and trustees too, he acknowledges, are beginning to question the ranking) that he's not concerned: "Armstrong said happiness at Brown is a direct result of the University's curriculum and liberal attitude toward learning. 'When you give students the freedom to set their own academic program,' they become more engaged and thus happier, he said."

In his article, subtitled “Modern Campuses Return to Works of Dead White Males", Matthews notes a trend toward true core curricula in American colleges, a response to people having recognized that, as one administrator puts it, the curriculum was becoming “too much like a shopping mall, and there was a deeper and more fundamental concern over the very nature of what education should be for undergraduates."

“Several colleges seem to have common freshman course requirements but in reality don't,” Matthews explains. He quotes an administrator: "Many of these courses seem to be seminars, small classes with term papers, the subject of which varied with the interests of the instructors, who were drawn from different departments."

Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said one reason why most colleges do not have a common course for freshmen is because "it's much easier not to." The number of courses at all schools has grown rapidly, each with its advocates.

Faculty commitment to research also plays a role. "Professor Jones is researching Tibet, so he wants to teach a course on Tibet," Neal said. "But the reality is that faculty are there to teach students, and the question is, what do our students know when they graduate? Have they received a coherent and rigorous education, or have we simply given them a patchwork of classes and a curriculum where everything goes?"

"When it is Herodotus week," says a dean at Reed, "the campus is awash in copies of Herodotus. This creates an intellectual basis for freshmen to interact."


UPDATE: And as long as we're on the subject, Allan Bloom said it best almost twenty years ago:

The third island of the university is the almost submerged old Atlantis, the humanities. In it there is no semblance of order, no serious account of what should and should not belong, or of what its disciplines are trying to accomplish or how. It is somehow the repair of man or of humanity, the place to go to find ourselves now that everyone else has given up. But where to look in this heap or jumble? It is difficult enough for those who already know what to look for to get any satisfaction here. For students it requires a powerful instinct and a lot of luck. The analogies tumble uncontrollably from my pen. The humanities are like the great old Paris Flea Market where, amidst masses of junk, people with a good eye found castaway treasures that made them rich. Or they are like a refugee camp where all the geniuses driven out of their jobs and countries by unfriendly regimes are idling, either unemployed or performing menial tasks.

Monday, September 05, 2005


More tribbling from the still-pseudonymous Ivan Tribble, on why tenure-track job seekers shouldn’t blog, in the Chronicle of Higher Education .

Tribble Two responds to the many critics of the original piece, most of whom felt that he/she didn’t understand what serious academic blogs were, and that the effect of the piece was to scare academics off of a reasonable and often valuable writerly, social, pedagogical, and scholarly activity.

Tribble acknowledges that the critics are right, and in so doing gives us a window into the mental world of some academics:

As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don't "get it." That's right, I don't. Many in the tenured generation don't, and they'll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come. If that's bad news, I'm sorry.

When I originally read this, I found myself instantly translating it into language I used to hear from my mother when I was sixteen or so and interested in doing or reading something she found inexplicable and offensive:

“That right! I just don’t get it! And I don’t intend to get it. I only know that I don’t like it. Too bad for you that you still live in my house. If that’s bad news, sorry.”

[For UD's earlier commentary on this, go here and here.]

Sunday, September 04, 2005

De mortuis…

There’s a strange sort of tribute to Allan Bloom in today’s New York Times. Jim Sleeper quotes, among other statements from The Closing of the American Mind , one that UD has already quoted on this blog . Sleeper quotes it in part; I’ll quote it again in full:

Nothing prevents us from thinking too well of ourselves. It is necessary that there be an unpopular institution in our midst that sets clarity above well-being or compassion, that resists our powerful urges and temptations, that is free of all snobbism but has standards.

These and so many other beautifully turned out sentences from that book (Bloom was a great stylist, something I’ve always figured must have been an element in his and Saul Bellow’s affinity) are precisely the sort of thinking and writing you get when clarity is indeed the primary goal of education. Bloom’s language modeled the sort of chiseled mind that people are supposed to gain from a truly liberal college experience. No doubt an important part of his book’s huge success was simply the intense pleasure to be had reading its prose.

No one but UD, of course, has ever been much interested in the sheer writerly facility of The Closing. The book stands as the most excoriated best-seller of its time. Detesting it became an article of faith for academics all over the United States. Its title still stands as shorthand among professors for everything loathsome about reactionary America.

And yet, and yet, and yet. Sleeper’s essay this morning marks another moment in a subterranean narrative UD has been tracking for awhile now, in which academics on the left acknowledge complex and conflicted feelings about Bloom’s book. The man they used to dismiss as a hypocritical son of a bitch (He was a gay marauder! But he was conservative!) now turns out to have had very smart and true things to say about the university. One left academic recently wrote of his “love/hate relationship” with Allan Bloom, whose attack on the vulgar materialism of American capitalism and the curricular absurdity of the American college seems after all to have been powerful and true and worth keeping.

Sleeper suggests that even when it came out, a lot of professors were
“reading The Closing under their bedcovers with flashlights, unable either to endorse or repudiate it but sensing that some reckoning was due.” While the professorial timidity described here rings true, Sleeper’s wrong. When Bloom’s book first appeared, professors fell all over each other to befoul it. The professors with flashlights under their covers were reading Angela Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Woman .

In this latest discovery of Bloom’s merits, Sleeper wants to argue that Bloom warned as much against the excesses of an unreasoning right as of an unreasoning left. Which is certainly true, and has always been true, and which makes one wonder why Bloom continues to be tagged a neofascist by the professoriate.

Sleeper quotes Roger Kimball saying something that would have been anathema to Allan Bloom: “Many parents are alarmed, rightly so,” Kimball has written, by their children coming back from college and tossing out “every moral, religious, social and political scruple that they had been brought up to believe.” Sleeper’s absolutely right that Bloom wanted students to be shocked out of a passive dependency upon inherited truths and into an autonomous working out of a personal philosophy. So yes, the appropriation of Bloom by the cultural right is as lamentable as the abuses he’s endured from the left.

But Sleeper is certainly unfair when he performs the following fascist-by-association routine:

Conservatives who reread Bloom will also discover that the 60’s left reminded him also of the right-wing hordes his mentor Leo Strauss had encountered in Europe in the 30’s. ‘The fact that in Germany the politics were of the right and in the United States of the left should not mislead us. In both places the universities gave way under the pressure of mass movements,” whose participants, full of animal spirits and spiritual animus, undertook, “the dismantling of the structure of rational inquiry.” Yet Kimball and Horowitz themselves are trying to rouse a mass movement of alumni, the public and legislatures to “take back” the university.

This is palpably unfair and rhetorically shabby.

And Sleeper goes astray when he suggests that Bloom rejected spiritual seriousness. Bloom found the more simple-minded modes of American religious faith inadequate, but his book is after all a “meditation on the state of our souls,” and the word “souls” appears not only in his subtitle but throughout the book. Like Gore Vidal, Vladimir Nabokov, and many other thoughtful people, Bloom had no use for the conventional religion of his day, but plenty of interest in earlier and richer modes of spiritual life.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Classes so far,

one upper level course on modernism, one freshman/sophomore "writing in the disciplines" course, have been great. Lively students with interesting things to say. When I ask them questions -- "Who are the great modernist architects?" -- they answer: "Mies!" "Corbu!" And these are English majors mainly. Most impressive.

No, more than impressive. Exciting. I'm fired up.

We had a little fun with August Kleinzahler in my writing class. He's a poet and a memoirist. I like his poetry well enough, but his essays about growing up in New Jersey, Cutty, One Rock, are spectacular. Kleinzahler recently wrote a mean, mean essay about poetry which I loved and quoted in full on this blog (see August 2, 2005 entry).

In his essay, Kleinzahler makes fun of the worship by poetry boosters of one poem in particular, by William Carlos Williams. Here's the relevant part of it:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

Poetry advocates love to quote this. Mark Edmundson, whose book Why Read?, my students and I discussed today, quotes it on page one. Garrison Keillor, the object of Kleinzahler's scorn in the essay, also quotes it. Here's Kleinzahler's take on the Williams lines:

A pretty sentiment, to be sure, but simply untrue, as anyone who has been to the supermarket or ballpark recently will concede. Ninety percent of adult Americans can pass through this life tolerably well, if not content, eating, defecating, copulating, shopping, working, catching the latest Disney blockbuster, without having a poem read to them by Garrison Keillor or anyone else. Nor will their lives be diminished by not standing in front of a Cézanne at the art museum or listening to a Beethoven piano sonata. Most people have neither the sensitivity, inclination, or training to look or listen meaningfully, nor has the culture encouraged them to, except with the abstract suggestion that such things are good for you. Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


True enough. But I was a good sport about it.

If you're here from Inside Higher Ed, which kindly linked to UD's Squirrel Rankings piece, just scroll down to the post titled "One More Rankings List."

Or click here.

... the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health for fighting the good fight against charlatans in the field of psychology.

UD has argued on this blog that of all academic fields, psychology is probably the most intellectually precarious, and that to read through the course listings in many psych departments is to encounter a salad of plausible and poopoo.

Under the poopoo lies a legitimate empirical field, and respectable psychologists spend a good deal of time trying to, er, disaggregate.

Along these lines, UD is particularly impressed by CSMMH’s expression of

disappointment and dismay at Syracuse University's [recent] appointment of Dr. Douglas Biklen as Dean of its School of Education. Dr. Biklen has long been the world's foremost proponent of facilitated communication (FC), a thoroughly discredited technique … The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Association on Mental Retardation, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Association for Behavior Analysis, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the New York State Department of Health have all issued policy statements advising against the use of FC for autism….

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence against FC, Dr. Biklen has continued to promote it widely and uncritically in numerous venues. In addition, he has continued to dismiss the substantial body of negative findings regarding FC from controlled studies. Disturbingly, FC has been associated with numerous uncorroborated allegations of sexual and physical abuse against the family members of children with autism, some of which have resulted in the separation of parents from their children. Moreover, by first raising and then dashing the hopes of thousands of parents of children with autism, Dr. Biklen and other proponents of FC may have done grave harm to mental health clients and to the reputation of clinical practitioners.

Dr. Biklen's efforts are particularly troubling given the availability of applied behavior analysis and related treatment approaches that have demonstrated promise in controlled studies for ameliorating the cognitive and emotional difficulties of individuals with autism….

By placing Dr. Biklen in charge of a major school of education at a prestigious institution of higher learning, Syracuse University is undermining the nationwide movement to place the fields of education and educational psychology on firmer scientific footing. Whether intended or not, Syracuse University is also sending a clear signal that it is not firmly committed to embracing evidence-based approaches to understanding and treating cognitive and emotional disorders. Their appointment of Dr. Biklen as Dean is a major step backward in the vitally important effort to promote science and combat pseudoscience in mental health care.

A Frontline documentary about all of this was damning. Critics wondered at the “sophisticated output” at the typewriter of five year old children with autism. Many of these children “produced perfectly spelled sentences. Where had they learned to read and write?” But “desperate” parents and “passionate” speech pathologists and its popularizer at Syracuse defended the procedure like mad, despite double blind tests all of which showed its worthlessness. “The messages,” one scientist concludes, “were being absolutely, totally directed and authored by the facilitator.”

The PBS narrator concludes: “Syracuse University is now in the position of having an institute dedicated to researching, teaching and promoting a technique that all the scientific evidence says is not real. The University even has seven students doing research theses on facilitated communication.”

Biklen is hopping mad, calling his critics bullies and intimidators, defending his stable of writers, and dismissing all the botheration about method: “So it almost doesn't matter how many instances of failed studies we have. What we need with any one individual are instances where the person succeeded.”

Syracuse comes out of this looking bad. By way of defending Biklen, who has been a fixture at the school for decades, people there praise the “inclusiveness” of his research, as if it's commendable to open the doors of your lab to crapola. Biklen explains to the SU newspaper that FC is “part of a whole array of things" that he does, adding that “he teaches students many techniques and lets them decide which they prefer.”


UPDATE, September 3, 2005: For a comprehensive look at various bogus approaches to autism, go here.