This is an archived page. Images and links on this page may not work. Please visit the main page for the latest updates.

Read my book, TEACHING BEAUTY IN DeLILLO, WOOLF, AND MERRILL (Palgrave Macmillan; forthcoming), co-authored with Jennifer Green-Lewis. VISIT MY BRANCH CAMPUS AT INSIDE HIGHER ED

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)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Godzillatron Update:
Whose the Headline Editor?

Who's is better?
Texas A&M's athletic director takes his shot.

My scoreboard is better than your scoreboard!

Those are the taunts bouncing between Austin (home of the so-called Godzillatron stadium big screen) and College Station (where 12th Man TV also goes on the air Saturday).

Texas A&M's athletic director, Bill Byrne, has even entered the fray, defending the Aggies' slightly smaller high-definition screen.

"If having the largest screen was all we wanted, we could have done that easily," Byrne wrote in his weekly column on "We decided it was important to be attentive to programming. As a result, our big-screen content . . . will be better than on any screen in the country, guaranteed. . . .

"When it comes to putting together game-day audio and video production, we're the Joneses."

Was that a veiled shot at DeLoss Dodds? The Texas AD once famously said that UT doesn't keep up with the Joneses because, "We are the Joneses."

UT officials on Thursday declined to enter the fray, opting to let Godzillatron speak for itself.

But coach Mack Brown did boast about the Royal-Memorial big screen in his talk Thursday to the Austin Longhorn Club. "It's huge," Brown said. "It's the best in the world, not just the country."'

--austin american-statesman
A Tad Too Baroque

Longtime readers of UD know she loves a good hoax. This latest one, though, is a bit baroque for her taste. Hoaxes, in her experience, should be relatively straightforward to be enjoyable; one shouldn't have to expend any real brainpower figuring out their tricks. Who, for instance, beyond the editors who published it, has read in its entirety the Sokal essay, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"? It's enough to enjoy its title and renown.

In order to get at the current John Betjeman hoax, though, you have to assimilate a good deal of information, rumor, documentation, and commentary. It lacks the pie-in-the-face reward of a direct hit.

Furthermore, the Betjeman hoax seems to have been motivated by egotistical rage against a particular person, whereas the best hoaxes, like Sokal's, and like, for instance, the Ern Malley hoax, are motivated by calm, serious, displeasure with a general trend, coupled with a desire to make oneself laugh, and these are both commendable impulses. They allow us to like and to laugh along with the hoaxer.

Anyway, here are a few details of the Betjeman thing -- click on the link for more information.

For connoisseurs of John Betjeman, his centenary has brought many blessings. For one thing the 100th birthday itself fell on a drizzly Bank Holiday Monday, enabling true believers to eat damp fishpaste sandwiches on the prom before retiring to hold hands in tea-shops. To improve the occasion two biographers are sparring viciously over their hero: Bevis Hillier, who over 25 years wrote a magisterial three-volume authorised biography, and A. N. Wilson who obliges us this year with a briefer, elegantly readable one of his own. Hillier is quoted condemning Wilson as “despicable . . . a playground bully” and Wilson says Hillier is “old and malignant”. Hoorah!

But even better, The Sunday Times unveils a splendid hoax perpetrated on the hapless Wilson. The paper reveals that a 1944 love letter, used in his book as proof of an apparent affair, is a fake. It was sent to the biographer by a person calling herself Eve de Harben, of an untraceable address in the Cote d’Azur. She sent a typed version, claiming that the original belonged to an equally untraceable American collector. Wilson, all unsuspecting, welcomed the document and included it in his book. Now, close examination reveals that the opening letters of each sentence spell out the message “A. N. WILSON IS A SHIT”.

... The hoax was unveiled by a letter from the mysterious “Eve de Harben” to the newspaper, claiming that it is her revenge for something terribly rude that A. N. Wilson once said about the late Humphrey Carpenter, yet another literary biographer. Mr Wilson, says the paper, admits that he should have asked more questions, especially as, when he returned the typescript to de Harben, it came back marked “Addressee and address not known”.

It looks very likely as though the hoaxer is, of course, Bevis Hillier.

'While it may seem like a chore to outsiders, many bloggers enjoy the compulsion. Mark Lisanti, who runs the entertainment gossip blog Defamer, is much like Mr. Romenesko in his no-vacation tendencies. Although he gets three weeks off each year from Gawker Media, which owns the site, he rarely takes a day. Not because he can't, he just doesn't want to. "My plan is to die face down on the desk in the middle of a post..."'

wall street journal

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Another Nail in the Coffin
Of Prestige Panic

From the New York Times:

It is still far too early to sound the death knell, but for many small liberal arts colleges, the SAT may have outlived its usefulness.

Since Bowdoin and Bates dropped their testing requirements decades ago, more than a fourth of U.S. News & World Report’s Top 100 liberal arts colleges have made admissions exams optional, and new ones are joining the list at a quickening pace.

The new colleges include Mount Holyoke, Middlebury, Hamilton, Union and Dickinson. In recent months, George Mason, Providence College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges have also become test-optional.

Admissions officers said eliminating the testing requirement had increased both the size and diversity of their applicant pools, and bolstered their reputation as places personal enough to consider each applicant individually.

At the same time, the revamped, longer SAT, the drop in average scores announced on Tuesday and recent problems with scoring have created growing disenchantment. College officials also say that tests — whether the SAT or in the Midwest the ACT — are not the best predictors of performance.

“Test scores are a much weaker predictor of how students will do in college than their high school transcript,” said Mark Gearan, the president of Hobart and William Smith. “We really know our applicants, because we have an admissions staff that can read every essay, have a personal interview and review the high school transcript in depth.”

Half a century ago, the SAT was a tool for opening college access to students who did not come from elite schools, a steppingstone to academic meritocracy. But many admissions officers now see the test as a barrier to low-income students and those who do not speak English at home.

Test scores, college officials say, present a skewed picture both of poor students who have had little formal preparation and wealthy ones who spend thousands of dollars — not to mention evenings, weekends and summers — on tutoring.

“We felt the system had gotten out of whack,” said Steve Syverson, dean of admissions at Lawrence University, which admitted its first test-optional freshmen this year. “Back when kids just got a good night’s sleep and took the SAT, it was a leveler that helped you find the diamond in the rough. Now that most of the great scores are affluent kids with lots of preparation, it just increases the gap between the haves and the have-nots."

Test-optional admissions also allow colleges to admit interesting students with low scores, without pulling down rankings by U.S. News & World Report and others who use SAT scores to rate colleges. In fact, test-optional admissions may raise rankings because low scores are unlikely to be submitted.

More than 700 colleges and universities are test-optional, but most accept nearly all their applicants. For now, the SAT and ACT remain a rite of passage for students applying to colleges that are more selective in their admissions. There is also no evidence that guidance counselors are advising students to skip testing, and most applicants still submit scores to test-optional colleges.

But that could change.

“We are now at a point where, if you’re interested in a liberal arts education at the best schools in the country, you can put together a good portfolio of colleges to apply to and not take the test,” said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, a group critical of standardized testing.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, sees the trend as wrong-headed, but no real threat. “Even if half of the best small schools in America go test-optional,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, “it’s a minimal number of students.”

Of the nation’s 17 million college students, fewer than 250,000 attend the top 100 liberal arts colleges.

“At a time when the United States is vying internationally for excellence,” Mr. Caperton said, “it’s very contrary to any decision-making process, in business or education, not to use the data that’s available. If I were a parent, applying to a selective school, I would prefer them to use all the data they possibly can.”

But many families visiting test-optional colleges have a different preference. “I think SAT-optional is great, it’s wonderful,” said Lynne Brandes, of Hanover, Mass., who took her daughter, Jacqueline, on a New England college tour this summer. “Some families have the money to pay for tutoring, but some don’t. I’d love to see the SAT’s abolished.”

At test-optional colleges, admissions officers say they look forward to students’ liberation from testing.

“We hope that now that there are more test-optional schools, students will think about not taking it and putting their time and money into other activities like music or writing or community service,” said Jane B. Brown, vice president for enrollment at Mount Holyoke, which dropped the SAT requirement in 2001. “We hope they will have more interesting lives.”

But most admissions officials at selective colleges continue to rely on standardized test scores. “They’re especially useful for evaluating the rural Midwestern kid who’s No. 1 in a graduating class of nine at a high school you don’t know,” said Paul Thiboutot, dean of admissions at Carleton College.

William Shain, the dean of admissions at Bowdoin, has seen the pros and cons. Last year, he was at Vanderbilt, where tests are required. At Bowdoin, the first and most selective college to become test-optional — admitting fewer than a quarter of its applicants — Mr. Shain is mindful that each student admitted without scores displaces one with stellar scores and grades. He also said test scores become more helpful as high school transcripts provide fewer clear indicators of students’ abilities.

“Many schools won’t do rankings, there’s enormous grade inflation, and parents help write some of the essays,” he said. “It’s not so easy to disentangle from SAT’s. Even the bond-rating people, when a college borrows money, look at SAT scores.”

True, neither the Ivy League nor most large universities are about to drop their testing requirements. At the Ivies, anything that helps differentiate among hordes of highly qualified applicants is useful. And many large public universities do admissions by the numbers. But some state universities have minimized their use of SAT scores. For example, Texas students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes are automatically admitted to the University of Texas or Texas A&M.

Growth in test-optional admissions would be bad news for test-preparation companies like Kaplan, which this month issued a news release playing down the trend and warning that students who plan to apply only to test-optional colleges are “limiting their options.”

Admissions requirements vary widely, even among test-optional colleges. Middlebury, for example, is not entirely test-optional, but it allows students to substitute three subject exams — Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or SAT II’s — for the SAT or ACT. Like several others, it also asks students for a graded high school paper.

At Bates College, William Hiss, vice president for external affairs, said the policy helped attract exceptional students who might not otherwise apply. Lien Le, a Vietnamese refugee with an SAT verbal score of 400, who applied to Bates without submitting her scores, earned a biology degree magna cum laude and then a medical degree at Brown.

“Sure, all the kids who get SAT’s over 700 have real academic strengths,” he said. “But can you say that all the kids who get under 600 don’t, that they won’t do well?”

No, according to Bates’s 20-year study of test-optional admissions, finding that the graduation rate of those who submitted scores differed by only one-tenth of a percent from that of students who did not, about a third of Bates students.

“Human intelligence and ambition is more complex, more multifaceted, than any standardized testing system can capture,” Mr. Hiss said.
A Couple of Updates on Marcus Einfeld

Mr Einfeld's friends are rallying around him, with one telling The Australian he was "pale and depressed."

A North Coast resident has lodged a statutory declaration stating that his vehicle was in the custody of "Marcus Einfeld's Spirit" when it was clocked speeding in April.
President of Lewis and Clark:
Yes to the Federal Database

Contrary to what critics of the database plan might have the public believe, we in academia know remarkably little about what emerges from the vast and diverse system of higher education. Why do students drop out? Where do they go when they do? What factors in primary and secondary school, beyond grade-point averages, class rankings and standardized test scores, best predict their success or failure in college? What impact does their educational experience have on our students' success or failure after graduation?

We are ill-equipped to answer these questions. Without comprehensive information, both individual institutions and society lack the tools to assess how the system is working, how it is failing and how it might be improved.

Proponents of the database -- including, interestingly, many leaders of the nation's community colleges and public universities -- view it as a means for educators to achieve the accountability for which lawmakers and the public are clamoring.

--the washington post--
Turning to the Needle
To Keep Pace

[T]he mother of all steroids exposes, the piece that should have alarmed America and told us where all of this steroid mess was headed long ago...ran in late October 1988. It caused quite a stir in my college locker room, and I've never forgotten the story. I'm not sure anyone else in America read it. It was hidden in an obscure sports magazine called Sports Illustrated; maybe you've heard of it.

The piece might have been 8,000 words, and it foreshadowed absolutely everything that is going on today.

For the past year, I've sporadically tried to locate the piece on the Internet. You can find the sidebars to the main story on, but you can't find the main story. Monday, I called the author, Rick Telander, now a sports columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times and a noted author. He faxed me a hard copy of the story, and he shares my disbelief at the way American sports fans and some journalists pretend like the steroid crisis is new.

"It's all in there," Telander told me. "There's nothing new. Not one iota. I get really frustrated when people say sportswriters buried their heads about steroids."

It's the same frustration I feel when sportswriters try to reduce the steroids crisis to Barry Bonds and home runs. It's juvenile and highly unfair. It avoids an obvious reality that a young sportswriting friend, Bomani Jones, summarized perfectly: "Baseball corrupted Barry Bonds more than Bonds corrupted baseball."

All of our athletic steroid users are victims, even and especially Bonds. They're victims of America's obsession, glorification and money-injection of sports.

Telander exposed this beautifully in 1988 when he befriended a University of South Carolina football player, Tommy Chaikin, and persuaded him to tell his steroid story. It's as fine a piece of journalism as you'll find. It's more relevant today than it was when it was written.

Chaikin told absolutely everything about his steroid abuse and his teammates. He estimated that half of the Gamecocks' 100 players used or tried steroids. I'm going to repeat a passage from the article that is likely to make some of you very uncomfortable. But it's the passage that sparked the most discussion in my Ball State football locker room, and it's a truth about the steroid controversy that most people are reluctant to address. I'm not repeating this passage out of some form of perverse delight. I'm repeating it because we have to understand everyone's motivations if we're ever going to come close to getting a handle on this problem.

Here's what Chaikin said in 1988 that no one in authority dealt with then or now:

"Another thing that had gotten to me was trying to compete with the black guys. I hadn't played against many blacks, and they intimidated me with their strength and speed. I'd say all but a couple of the guys on my team who used steroids were white, and the reason they did was to keep up with the other guys on steroids and with black athletes."

That passage set off great debate in my Ball State locker room, because the sentiment rang true in our environment, too.

I've always believed that German Olympic athletes turned to science after Hitler was embarrassed by Jesse Owens and Co. American Olympians turned to science to keep pace with the foreign athletes who were using. My belief is that in the last 20 years of college football, black players turned to steroids to keep pace with the steroid users.

This is a verifiable fact: My football coaches certainly favored the steroid users over the nonusers. The pressure to use was immense. Telander wrote a powerful piece in what was then the most influential sports publication on the abuse of steroids by college athletes, and not one of my coaches chose to address the topic with our team. Steroid use was the white elephant in the room that we were supposed to ignore.

We're still ignoring it. We've simplified the discussion and resorted to labeling all of the users as dirty, nasty, immoral cheaters because that makes it easier to go after Bonds and protect the sanctity of a meaningless record.

I'll be honest. Some of the guys who used steroids when I was playing football were/are some of my best friends. Good guys. Victims of college sports becoming big business. Victims of their desire to compete at the highest levels. Victims of the leadership failure of the men in authority over them. Victims of our collective sports obsession. No different from Barry Bonds. No different from all the athletes getting busted today.

According to the people leading the Bonds-steroids witch hunt, Barry watched sportswriters go nuts over Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's 1998 home-run chase, and Barry turned to the needle to keep pace.

The indifference to Telander's 1988 masterpiece laid the foundation for where we are today.

If you want to get rid of performance-enhancing drugs in team sports, start punishing the team owners, coaches, universities and high schools that financially benefit from steroid abuse. Test the college athletes regularly and fine the coaches and strip the schools of scholarships when the players turn up dirty. Test the pro athletes regularly and fine the coaches and owners and strip the teams of roster spots when the players turn up dirty. Of course, you can still punish the players, too.

Five years of this kind of policing, and NFL linemen will go back to weighing 260 pounds, and recovery from serious knee injuries will take nine months to a year again.

But right now there is no real motivation to clean up the athletes. The leagues and colleges are making way too much money. Sports fans don't really care. Sportswriters only care because it's a tool to carry out their vendetta against Bonds.

--mercury news--

Athens Banner-Herald:

Listen, a university administration that allows the type of "adult" binge drinking on campus like it does on football game days has zero moral authority to lecture its kids. Zero.

We're far from innocent out here in the community.

Ever notice we bust a lot of Mexican restaurants for serving underagers, but conveniently "overlook" a half dozen obvious offenders downtown. We'll wag the finger on our right hand while holding out the left for all that sweet, sweet tax revenue produced by the downtown "hospitality" (wink-wink) industry.
Cowed by UGA

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

'Sadly, a Spot to Drink, Party
Athens fumbles, lets the bars get best of students

The AJC's recent front-page article about student drinking at the University of Georgia is a much-needed wake-up call to a town and a university that love themselves too much for their own good ("Sobering up," Aug. 23).

Sadly, everybody in power in Athens is just too busy making easy money off of these little golden eggs we call students to even think about watching over them.

What little we have to pass for as public media in Athens is too cowed by UGA to ever offer a discouraging word about any of the serious problems our poor little college-town-on-steroids is facing.

Here is the prime issue that is never talked about:

Every town and city in America that even started to become a party haven or a drinking zone has had the sense to put some limit on the total number of liquor licenses they handed out. But not Athens.

In 1987, Athens had three things, UGA, the Bulldogs and a thriving music scene. At that time we had about four clubs and two bars and about the same number of restaurants that we do now. Since then, we've added about four clubs, while the number of bars has increased by nearly 100.

Our population hasn't gone up that much, but we've gone from two bars to 100. For such a small city, that's a dramatic change. Imagine the Buckhead party scene attached to a college. It's a terrible atmosphere for the students to learn and grow-up in.

A small, nonindustrial college town has allowed itself to become "Liquor Disneyland" and the music and the football haven't gotten any better.'

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Four New Bars
For the Fall Semester

Athens Banner-Herald:

Another election season is now upon the citizens of Athens-Clarke County, and, to no one's surprise, one of the issues that defines where political lines are drawn in the community has also surfaced again.

Helped along this year by recent stories in this newspaper noting that 40 arrests for underage drinking were made during the first weekend of the University of Georgia's fall semester, and that four new bars were set to open in downtown Athens, the question of where downtown is headed - and what, if any, controls should be placed on a nightlife fueled by dozens of bars and clubs - is once again likely to become a focus of this year's campaigns for Athens-Clarke's mayoral and commission seats.

What's amazing about "the downtown issue" is that it doesn't necessarily have to be an issue at all.

As this newspaper's Aug. 22 story, "40 charged with underage drinking over weekend," clearly indicates, people under 21 years of age indulging in alcohol use - and abuse - is a problem in the community. Just as clearly, downtown is a major locus of that problem, as illustrated by the fact, noted in the Aug. 22 story, that police on foot patrol arrested "several underage drinkers with beer on sidewalks outside of bars."

The logical inference to be made is that there are some bars in the downtown area that are serving alcohol to people under the legal drinking age. Need something more, albeit admittedly anecdotal, to bolster that conclusion? How about the Aug. 18 column in The Red & Black, UGA's independent student newspaper, in which the writer named a specific downtown bar that's "usually packed with freshmen."

In short, the only real "issue" in downtown Athens is that some bars are operating in violation of the law, serving alcohol to people too young, legally speaking, to consume it. Getting control of that issue shouldn't be particularly difficult, nor should it require any political gymnastics.

All that anyone holding a mayoral or commission seat - or who hopes to hold one of those seats - has to do is insist that laws pertaining to the legal drinking age are enforced in downtown Athens, and to make sure that the alcohol licenses of establishments that run afoul of those laws are revoked at the earliest opportunity.

Will that approach ensure that downtown Athens becomes a safe and appealing place for those who enjoy a night out that includes the consumption of an alcoholic beverage or two or three? Certainly not. Anytime alcohol is a factor in nightlife - in downtown Athens, or anywhere else - there's a possibility that unacceptable, even dangerous, behavior will ensue.

But clamping down on underage drinking would accomplish one important thing. It would keep any number of young people away from situations they are incapable of handling responsibly.

From that, it follows that, for the mayor and commission - and the people now seeking those offices - the "downtown issue" comes down to a relatively simple question.

Is the local tax revenue generated by alcohol sales so important they're willing to look away as some of that revenue is provided by underage drinkers, through downtown businesses operating in violation of the law?

From Sports Illustrated:

The next time any big-time college football coach or AD complains about financially contributing to all of the campus sports that don't bring in any money -- pretty much everything but a handful of school's men's basketball programs -- remember the Godzillatron and all its superfluous glory.

Although, this could lead to yet another revenue stream for [the University of Texas]. It's only a matter of time until the school starts selling T-shirts and hats and posters and sweatshirts featuring a Longhorn logo plastered across the gargantuan scoreboard. The end result of which will be more merchandising moolah and an even larger video board in five years when this one gets boring.

Actually, what would be even better is if they could save computerized crowd images from the board and print those directly onto shirts. You know, like when you go on an amusement park rollercoaster -- with 10,000 of your closest friends. Think about it: Given the size of the new video screen, during crowd shots, just about everyone at the game will make an appearance. Imagine all of those $25 burnt-orange-and-white T-shirts, with the crowd pic printed chest-high, sandwiched between "I was on Godzillatron!"

I'm doing some final footnoting for the manuscript my colleague, Jennifer Green-Lewis, and I have written -- The Return of Beauty to Literary Studies. Ne quittez pas.

Monday, August 28, 2006

University of Texas:
We May Be Ranked Number Two
For Alcohol Consumption,
But We're Number One for Biggest TV!

From Sports Illustrated:

Its nickname is Godzillatron.

Frankly, no other word would do justice to the monstrous new football stadium scoreboard at Texas.

Towering over the south end zone at 55 feet tall and 134 feet wide, it is more than just a Texas-sized upgrade of the scoreboard at Royal-Memorial Stadium, home of the defending national champions.

It is nearly as wide as the field itself and will be, for a short time at least, the largest high-definition video display board in the world, school officials say.

And Texas players can't wait to watch super-sized replays of their touchdowns.

"Oh man, that thing's big," said wide receiver Quan Cosby. "At night, we don't need the lights, it's so bright."

Built by South Dakota-based Daktronics Inc., the $8 million scoreboard and accompanying sound system easily dwarf the old unit. It is the most visible change so far in a $150 million stadium renovation that will add about 10,000 seats in the north end zone, bringing capacity to just over 90,000 by 2008.

The last time Texas fans got to watch the old scoreboard, it was showing highlights of the 2005 national championship season. The new one will debut Sept. 2 when No. 3 Texas plays North Texas.

"The last board outlived its life," said UT athletics spokesman Nick Voinis. "Now look what we've got."

The board is so large it took some major adjustments just to get it in place.

For starters, the university had to upgrade its utilities capacity to supply the board with enough juice. Keeping it cool in the Texas heat was another issue.

Whether it's a typical 100-degree Texas afternoon or the heat generated by the board itself, both will damage the board over time. UT officials had to install 40 5-ton air conditioning units.

And for sheer size surprise, the support columns are as large as redwood tree trunks. The heads of the grounding bolts measure about 5 inches across.

"When they first starting building it, I thought it was going to be half the size that it is," said defensive end Tim Crowder. "When they kept adding more and more, I was like `How big is this thing going to be?."'

When workers first started testing the lights and sound system, it created a buzz among the video game generation.

"The guys are talking about trying to hook up an Xbox to play games," Crowder said.

Daktronics spokesman Mark Steinkamp said the Texas scoreboard is the highest resolution screen the company has ever installed. The Godzillatron nickname appears to have originated on Texas fan Internet sites, and Steinkamp said he likes it.

"Maybe we should try to trademark it," he said.

Inspiration for Godzillatron came from a visit to old rival Arkansas in 2004. The Razorbacks had installed a 30-by-107 video board at their stadium, and Texas officials were impressed.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds strives to keep the Longhorns at the top of the heap when it comes to facilities -- "We are the Joneses" he likes to say -- and said he's pleased with the latest addition.

"When we got into it, I said 'Let's put one up that will make people in the new north end feel like they're sitting in their living room watching TV,"' Dodds said. "That's about how it will be."

For now, the video board is the largest in the world. UT officials say they're told that within a few months, a slightly larger one in Asia will own that designation.

Even so, in a state where size definitely matters, the Longhorn board will be bigger than a new one going up at Kyle Field at rival Texas A&M. That board measures 53 feet by 73 feet, said Alan Cannon, A&M's associate athletic director for media relations.

Cannon said he's ready for inevitable size comparisons between rivals. The Aggies play Texas in Austin on Nov. 24, when they'll get to see themselves on the big screen.

"Content is all that matters," Cannon said.
Headline of the Day

From Long Elegantly Formed Passages
to "Coach K, Please Stay!"

From a New Yorker article about Duke lacrosse:

Even after his move into Yale’s administration, [Duke president] Brodhead remained so thoroughly the literature professor as to embody the type — shy, prone to a slight stammer, but speaking in long, elegantly formed passages, filled with literary allusion.

...As Brodhead was getting settled [at Duke], Joe Alleva, Duke’s athletic director, rushed in with urgent news: the Los Angeles Lakers had offered Coach K the job of head coach, and Krzyzewski was thinking of leaving Duke.

After forty years in the academy, Brodhead, on his first day in the new job, was facing a crisis wholly foreign to him. But he understood that losing the star coach would be a disastrous beginning, and he took Krzyzewski to dinner and desperately sought common ground. There was no way that any school, even Duke, could compete monetarily with the N.B.A. (the Lakers had reportedly offered Krzyzewski forty million dollars), but Brodhead did have one edge: his status as an academic heavyweight. He told the coach how highly valued he was at Duke, not just for his winning but for his talents as a teacher, and if Krzyzewski stayed he would retain his auxiliary position as a “special assistant” to the president. As the days passed, Brodhead found himself joining the crowds of students chanting “Coach K, please stay!” and helping to fill a human chain forming the letter “K” outside Cameron Indoor Stadium. On July 4th, Krzyzewski made his decision: he would stay. But he waited until the next day to relieve the president of his agonies.

“What you saw there was the lay of the land,” Orin Starn, a Duke professor who specializes in the anthropology of sports, recalls. “The fact is that it’s the basketball coach, Coach K, who’s the most powerful person at Duke, and in Durham, and maybe in North Carolina — much more powerful than the college president himself. So Brodhead —I mean, there was almost this kind of ritual humiliation, this ritual obeisance, or fealty, that was required of him.”

...Orin Starn, the [Duke] sports-anthropology professor ...says [Duke] has become “this place that’s sort of divided against itself. On the one hand, you have this university that wants to be this first-class liberal-arts university, with a cutting-edge university press, these great programs in literature and history and African-American studies, that’s really done some amazing things over the last twenty years, building itself from a kind of regional school mostly for the Southern élite into a really global university with first-class scholarship. But then you have another university. That’s a university of partying and getting drunk, hiring strippers, frats, big-time college athletics.”

...Such a commitment to sports carries a significant price tag: Duke’s annual athletic budget is nearing fifty million dollars. ...Starn says, “If you were starting from scratch at Duke, no one would have imagined an athletics program where the budget is almost fifty million dollars. This huge outlay of expenses and energy and visibility of sports is just clearly out of proportion with what it should be. Yes, athletics has a place in college education, but not this sort of massive space that it’s taking.”

Sunday, August 27, 2006

SOS: Scathing Online Schoolmarm
A Regular University Diaries Feature

An opinion piece from a South Carolina newspaper:

"The task of the modern educator," wrote C.S. Lewis more than half a century ago, "is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts." [Warning light: Lewis is a very condescending writer. I've never been able to stand his simplistic, hectoring style. I know, I know -- a lot of wonderful, smart people love him. And he's written some wonderful stuff. But when I read his essays on Christianity, for instance, I really feel talked down to. And this quotation from him is typical of his elliptical, rather silly style: Isn't the task of education to do both? To brush away destructive overgrowth and to put something sustaining in its place?] The Oxford don [This is supposed to impress us, and I suppose it does. But the writer of this piece should also disclose that Lewis was often writing in defense of a specifically Christian world view.] suggests by this statement that the college classroom is at its best when it is a place where unformed minds confront a lofty standard, in the hope that students will rise and follow the exalted example. At its worst, college educators enter the academic arena determined to "cut down jungles" of prejudice and replace them with their own beliefs.

The Clemson committee selection of the book "Truth and Beauty" by Ann Patchett shows education at its "cutting down jungles" worst.

For those who haven't read the book, the summary provides a glimpse into its purpose. "This memoir of (Ann) Patchett's friendship with ... Lucy Grealy shows many insights into the nature of devotion ... moving from the unfolding of their deep connection in graduate school into the more turbulent waters beyond." Patchett describes their attempts to be writers, while Grealy endures continuous rounds of operations as a result of cancer, as well as "heartbreak and drug use."

The moral theme of friendship in the book is lost in mind-numbing descriptions of reckless sexual liaisons, affairs with married men and students, financial irresponsibility and abortion. In the words of a local pastor in his letter to President James Barker, "Lucy eventually pays the price ... not for these mistakes, but for her false sense of invincibility. Little is done to dissipate the moral fog, even by the book's end." [The reader's suspicion that this opinion piece is about Christian morality rather than education in itself is now heightened.]

This is where the selection committee failed the incoming freshmen at Clemson by making this universally assigned reading. They did not consider that, in the words of John Gardner in his book "On Moral Fiction," "art is essentially and primarily moral -- that is, life-giving -- in its process of creation and moral in what it says." In the end, Patchett's book doesn't succeed for the same reason her friend didn't survive: because she has no moral standard to offer to pull her back from the brink. [This may be true; but even if it is, this writer has given us no reason not to be interested in this failure, to find it enlightening.]

At one point Ann Patchett says to Lucy, "I'm not going to try to solve your problems, I just want to make you happy." The author's work is supposed to be about love, but it reads more like manipulation and dependency. Ann leaves her friend in a self-destructive lifestyle [Never use the word "lifestyle." Drop "style" to get to the word you mean.], which ends in death [All lives do.]. She violates one of the sacred responsibilities of what college students call a "relationship" [Why "what college students call"?]: the obligation to help.

Cicero said in 44 B.C. that "friendship lightens adversity by dividing and sharing it." The Bible says in the book of Proverbs, "faithful are the wounds of a friend." Both understand that friendship involves uncomfortable commitments to confront and intervene.

Whenever possible, good literature should do the same thing. Good art should hold up models of decent behavior in contrast to destructive ones. [Yikes. That would be no fun at all. And what does "whenever possible" mean??] One need only think of the lasting literary works: "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles; Virgil's "Aenid," the plays of Shakespeare; the novels of Tolstoy and Melville. These works have a civilizing effect century after century, long after he cultures that produced them have decayed. [Talk about a selective list. And Melville doesn't belong on it.]

Characters in good fiction -- who struggle against confusion, error and evil both in themselves and in others -- can offer us firm intellectual and emotional examples in our own struggles. Scout's defense of Atticus, and her recognition of Mr. Cunningham at the jailhouse door, in the book and movie "To Kill a Mockingbird" may have done more to dissipate racial prejudice in the South than a dozen laws. Storytelling has great power in a culture, and that is why we must be careful which ones we endorse. [I wondered when the twentieth century would rear its head. Note that the choice is a high school favorite because of its heavy-handed morality and undemanding style.]

Compare the freshman reading at Clemson with that at the University of South Carolina. The book being read in Columbia is by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, and is titled "Mountains Beyond Mountains." Again, the description tells you all you need to know. "The title ... is a metaphor for life -- once you have scaled one mountain there are more to come ... this is especially true for Paul Farmer, MD, who has devoted his life to what he calls the 'impossible' task of trying to cure infectious diseases worldwide." At the center of the book is a doctor who is selfless in solving one problem after another, far different from Lucy's self-absorption. [If college literature courses do anything, they inculcate a loathing for Climb Every Mountain moral uplift metaphors.]

Clemson University is justifiably proud of its new ranking as a top 30 public university, and of its more than 100 new faculty members. But in the selection of its freshman reading project, Clemson is a poor second to USC. The former adopted the "cut down" approach to education, while the latter chose to "irrigate" the minds of its incoming students.

I have my own problems, by the way, with Clemson's choice. But moralistic and simplistic literary criticism ain't the way to go.


Blogroll Update

I've added two blogs -- Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and Grad Student Madness -- to my links. They're just to your right, down a tad (assuming Blogger, which is very slow at this, ever publishes them).

The CCAP is the work of an economics professor who subjects many of the things universities do to rational analysis. This is rare.

Grad Student Madness is the work of a group of grad students who welcome you to the site with: "Come on in - the ennui is fine!"

(Shouldn't that be Annouilh?)
What's More Embarrassing --
Graduating from a Diploma Mill,
Or Having the Diploma Mill
Fail to Find
Your Records?

'More doubts have emerged over Marcus Einfeld's academic record, with the San Diego-based Pacific Western University unable to find any record of the former Federal Court judge as a graduate or student.

...More questions now exist over Mr Einfeld's relationship with Pacific Western University. His extensive Who's Who entry says he obtained a PhD from there in 1993.

The doctorate has been pilloried because of Pacific Western's reputation as a "diploma mill" where, for the right price, academic credits are awarded for "life experience" without any study being done.

But the absence of any records linking Mr Einfeld to the university raises the possibility that his Who's Who entry contains false information.

"We've had an extensive search but we can't find any record of Mr Einfeld as either a graduate or a student," Pacific Western president Ronald Detrick said. "We inherited the files and I can't vouch for them being complete. But when we get requests, we generally find the records."

Mr Einfeld also claims to hold a doctorate of laws from Century University in New Mexico. A spokeswoman for the online university would say only that Mr Einfeld had been registered as a student.

In 2004, Pacific Western University was named in Congress as one the worst "diploma mills" in the US.'

Could our Mr. Einfeld have lied about graduating from a diploma mill? I'm an old hand at diploma mills, and this is a new one on me. If you're going to lie about having graduated from a university, why lie about graduating from a bogus one? Why not say you graduated from Oxford? The mystery deepens.
Canada's ahead of
the US on this one

From the Toronto Star:

Eleven universities, including the University of Toronto, say they will no longer participate in the annual Maclean's magazine ranking of them because it is arbitrary and flawed.

David Naylor, president of the University of Toronto, didn't mince words last night when he spoke about the collective decision.

"It's a bit hypocritical for institutions that tend to be focused on intellectual rigour to implicitly support and endorse a rating system that is really junk science," Naylor said.

Concern about the rankings has been building for years, with a number of universities "concurrently reaching a tipping point," he said.

The magazine, he said, has not been transparent and has been unwilling to respond to concerns about the methodology they use.

The 10 other universities are: Dalhousie University, McMaster University, Simon Fraser University, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, University of Manitoba, Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa.

In a signed letter sent yesterday to Tony Keller, managing editor of special projects for Maclean's, the universities said their main problem has been how it combines and uses aggregate data across a range of programs to create a single ranking.

They described it as being akin to saying a general hospital is ranked first in obstetrics, tenth in cancer care with an overall ranking of fifth.

"For a patient seeking care in one of these areas, such a measure would be useless at best and misleading at worst," they wrote.

Maclean's magazine, however, remained defiant, saying its popular fall survey of 47 Canadian universities, one of the best-selling issues every year, will continue to be published with or without university co-operation.

Keller said a number of universities, not the majority, are uncomfortable with rankings and the magazine will seek other ways to find some of the information that is provided to them. He said it would contain all the information their surveys have previously had.

"Most students don't like to be graded," Keller said. "As long as universities are grading students, we'll be grading universities."

He said students are hungry for information about what will be one of their biggest investments. And while their survey may not be perfect, there's no denying it's useful, he said.

Keller said that while the magazine provides overall rankings, it also displays detailed variable data that can be of specific interest to students.

Indira Samarasekera, president of the University of Alberta, said she couldn't see how the magazine could provide data accurately without co-operation from universities.

"For example, they want average entry grades for all 6,000 students (attending the university this fall)," she said. "There's no way Maclean's can calculate that. ... They won't even come close."

Yesterday's letter follows an earlier letter sent to Maclean's by four universities that boycotted its University Student Issue in April, refusing to participate in a graduate survey.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


This statement of Randall Jarrell's, from his essay, "Poets, Critics, and Readers," made me think of Truman Capote:

The writer cannot afford to question his own essential nature; must have, as Marianne Moore says, 'the courage of his peculiarities.' But often it is this very nature, these very peculiarities - originality always seems peculiarity, to begin with - that critics condemn. There must be about the writer a certain spontaneity or naivete or somnambulistic rightness: he must, in some sense, move unquestioning in the midst of his world - at his question all will disappear.

I think this has something to do with Capote's comment about his education -- I quoted it a couple of posts down. He sensed even very young that he must pursue, unimpeded and unmediated and untaught, his essential writerly nature.

But inside this naivete, this sleepwalking Being, resides perhaps the eventual downfall of some writers as well. Capote's life ended early and pathetically, as did the lives of a good number of other modern writers. I don't want to sugggest that we can account for this shared fate in some general way. We can't. But I wonder if for some writers -- James Agee comes to mind, too -- their inability to do anything other than be inside that unexamined unteachable selfness means that when they start to spiral down, when life hands them the reversals it hands everyone eventually, they have much more trouble righting themselves.

Friday, August 25, 2006


As with the Time article (headline: "Who Needs Harvard?") I mentioned a few days ago, so with Newsweek: Our mass culture weekly magazines have now determined that what Robert Samuelson calls "prestige panic" in college admissions is, like most forms of scarcity anxiety in a country like ours, a false alarm.

'Underlying the hysteria is the belief that scarce elite degrees must be highly valuable. Their graduates must enjoy more success because they get a better education and develop better contacts. All that's plausible—and mostly wrong. "We haven't found any convincing evidence that selectivity or prestige matters," says Ernest T. Pascarella of the University of Iowa, co- author of "How College Affects Students," an 827-page evaluation of hundreds of studies of the college experience. Selective schools don't systematically employ better instructional approaches than less-selective schools, according to a study by Pascarella and George Kuh of Indiana University. Some do; some don't. On two measures—professors' feedback and the number of essay exams—selective schools do slightly worse.

By some studies, selective schools do enhance their graduates' lifetime earnings. The gain is reckoned at 2 percent to 4 percent for every 100-point increase in a school's average SAT scores. But even this advantage is probably a statistical fluke. A well-known study by Princeton economist Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale of Mathematica Policy Research examined students who got into highly selective schools and then went elsewhere. They earned just as much as graduates from higher-status schools.

...[Researchers] studied admissions to one top Ph.D. program. High scores on the Graduate Record Exam helped explain who got in; Ivy League degrees didn't.... One study of students 20 years out found that, other things being equal, graduates of highly selective schools experienced more job dissatisfaction. They may have been so conditioned to being on top that anything less disappoints.'
Truman Capote Died Aug.25, 1984

His education:

At the age of 17, Mr. Capote wangled a job at The New Yorker. "Not a very grand job, for all it really involved was sorting cartoons and clipping newspapers," he wrote years later. "Still, I was fortunate to have it, especially since I was determined never to set a studious foot inside a college classroom. I felt that either one was or wasn't a writer, and no combination of professors could influence the outcome. I still think I was correct, at least in my own case."

The single constant in his prose:

In 1963, the critic Mark Schorer wrote of Mr. Capote: "Perhaps the single constant in his prose is style, and the emphasis he himself places upon the importance of style."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

An Edgily Cohabited World

The New York Times talks about some newly released police notes -- from a Sergeant Gottlieb -- about the Duke lacrosse case. It's a long article. Here are a few excerpts.

...[A]n examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution [in the Duke University rape case] in the four months after the accusation yields a[n]... ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are big weaknesses in Mr. Nifong’s case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury.

...[I]n addition to the nurse’s oral description of injuries consistent with the allegation, Sergeant Gottlieb writes that the accuser appeared to be in extreme pain when he interviewed her two and a half days after the incident, and that signs of bruises emerged then as well.

...[The accuser] gave largely consistent accounts of being raped by three men in a bathroom.

...[In] Sergeant Gottlieb’s version of [a] conversation [about her attackers], her descriptions closely correspond to the defendants.

...[T]o read the files, with their graphically twined accusations of sexual violence and racial taunts, is to understand better why this case has radiated so powerfully from the edgily cohabited Southern world of Duke and Durham.
University of Georgia:
Worst University in America

With this morning's editorial in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and with UGA's latest showing on the Princeton list (see editorial below), and with UD's review of the 29 mentions of Georgia on this blog (key in "University of Georgia" in the blog search engine at the top of this page) over the last year or so, almost all of them about administrative corruption, the cancelling of whole swathes of classes for football games, trustee cronyism and malfeasance, NCAA violations, and rampant alcoholism, it's time to declare the University of Georgia the worst university in America.

In the University of Georgia's student newspaper, a health educator points out that not everyone drinks. "Many students choose to abstain: 22.6 percent of University undergraduates did not drink any alcohol in 2005," wrote Erin English in a recent issue of The Red & Black.

What English fails to mention is that leaves 77.4 percent who did drink.

Too many of them are drinking to the point of drunkenness and alcohol poisoning. Many students and their parents assume the inevitability of alcohol abuse in college. "I have been stunned at the kids who come here already having gone through rehab," says Pat Daugherty, UGA assistant vice president for student affairs. "These kids are living in a whole new culture of excessiveness."

The climate in Athens doesn't help. Bookstores hand out advertisements for alcohol specials and bail bonds to kids buying textbooks. The free-wheeling Athens bar scene has boosted UGA's reputation as party central, landing the university the 12th place "party school" ranking in a popular college guide.

What's even more disturbing about the Princeton Review's new rankings is UGA's eighth-place showing in the category of schools where "students [almost] never study."

The listings, fed by student responses, are unscientific, but it's disheartening all the same to find UGA students themselves reporting that they aren't required to work that hard.

There's been very little public discussion of whether the excessive partying at UGA reflects a student body with too much time on its hands. UGA President Michael Adams has talked about raising academic rigor, but it's difficult to measure whether the school has done so.

UGA has rising SAT scores, owing to the generosity of the HOPE scholarship, but have the academic demands risen with the higher quality of the students?

"Our students are so smart now. I don't think they have to study as much, and we are concerned with creating more challenge for them," says Daugherty. In the meantime, UGA has instituted tougher sanctions on drinking by underage students. A second offense sends the kids packing for at least two semesters.

The university has made a pass at calming football tailgating, but the student newspaper rightfully questions the sincerity of that effort.

A Red & Black editorial states: "On football Saturdays, campus turns into one giant alcohol-soaked party. Good luck finding even one person not drinking.

"What message is President Adams sending to the university by hardly doing anything to curb behavior on those select weekends? If he thinks simply restricting tailgating to start at only — gasp — 7 a.m. on game days will help, he's wrong."

If Adams is wrong, then he and his staff ought to go even further in their pursuit and their punishments of underage drinking at UGA.

Other universities look like UGA in a variety of ways. Why pick on Georgia? Because Georgia's got it all. Everything that can go wrong with a university has gone wrong with Georgia. Know why? It's got a secret weapon: President Michael Adams.
Einfeld has definitely entered...

Black Knight territory.

From an article in Policy Review.

Blogs help police and expose false studies with which interest groups and partisans may attempt to counter the empirical work that undermines the factual bases of their positions. Academic experts regularly write for blogs and, unlike reporters, are well suited to subject empirical work to searching scrutiny. Recently, for instance, a group of prominent legal scholars has begun a blog wholly devoted to law and empiricism. Such developments will also force empiricists to be more careful and transparent about the discretionary decisions they make, such as their choices of time periods to include in their investigations, because their colleagues will be able to call them to account for misjudgment or bias more easily.

...Another policy imperative for advancing empiricism is to sustain the free flow of information that conveys research in useable form to the public. It goes without saying that any regulation of the blogs should be rejected. Unfortunately, some are already suggesting that blog postings should be considered in some circumstances a contribution to candidates and subject to regulation under the McCain-Feingold act. But it is precisely near elections that those with empirical data and expertise are most needed to critique the policies and platforms of candidates.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hope it Wasn't
Anything I Said

Canyon Ranch 'thesda may have bitten the dust.
UD Writes a Marcus Einfeld Limerick

The eminent jurist Sir Einfeld
In order to not pay a fine, yelled:
"The true reprobate
Is some chick in the States!"
(For the third time, he hoped that old line held.)
From an Interview
With Chris Horn,
Football Player

"What sets Stanford apart from other college football programs?"

"We actually go to class."
The Football Major

From Sports Illustrated, another statement of an oft-stated idea:

...[I]f a goodly number of top college athletes are going to go through the motions simply for the sake of maintaining their eligibility, why not put an end to the sleazy charade and give them the option of declaring their chosen sport as their major? Let them concentrate all of their time and energy on training, studying the playbook, practicing, traveling, playing and learning from their coaches with an eye toward a pro career.

...I just fail to see the value of forcing an academically disinterested athlete to take a full course load, especially when his school has more interest in his performance on the field. [The writer means "uninterested," not "disinterested."]

...This will remove the considerable pressure on professors to award inflated grades to superstars who sit at the back of the room picking their teeth, tossing paper planes or ogling babes, if they even bother to show up at all. It will also put a lot of term-paper ghostwriters and test-takers out of business, but so be it.

It's an attractive idea. It has the merit of honesty. It begins by admitting that many bigtime university athletes are never going to be students at all. It then lets them play their game for four years, and when four years are up, it hands them a diploma. There would be no academic pretense, and no NCAA rule-breaking, in this straightforward handling of valuable physical specimens as purely physical specimens.

But that of course is where the trouble enters. It's hard to think of a university willing to so degrade its foundational identity as ... a university ... that it would officially establish an elite, venerated, high-profile subculture of know-nothing gamesters. Even the most academically tattered campus will hesitate to create a (possibly largely minority) cadre of students who will never have to open a book or sit in a classroom or write a paper.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Those partying donate
thousands of dollars
to the school."

Looks as though the University of Georgia administration has tried to deal with a campusful of obnoxious drunks by killing the messenger. The messenger responds:

Our Take
Majority opinions of The Red & Black’s editorial board

The Rum & Black

More than a dozen University students were arrested on alcohol-related charges this past weekend. Will the student partiers’ punishment be to pick up trash after tailgaters, or will they merely continue partying downtown?

Almost all students who have ever lived on campus know just how easy it is to keep alcohol in their dorm room. Most Resident Advisers just look the other way from clinking backpacks and strangely cylindrical cargo pockets.

On football Saturdays, campus turns into one giant alcohol-soaked party. Good luck finding even one person not drinking.

What message is President Adams sending to the University by hardly doing anything to curb behavior on those select weekends?

If he thinks simply restricting tailgating to start at only — gasp — 7 a.m. on gamedays will help, he’s wrong.

University administrators are too hesitant to place behavior restrictions on football Saturdays because those partying donate thousands of dollars to the school.

The Red & Black [U Ga's student newspaper] covering alcohol consumption is not making the problem of a bad party culture on campus worse. It’s just an indication there is a problem.

The administration insults its students’ moral consciousness when it says The Red & Black stories about beer-drinking games encourage students to drink irresponsibly.

University students are adults who have the mental faculties to discern what’s right and wrong. After all, it’s the same students who were accepted to the University based on their grades and standardized test scores.

Thank you for boosting our self confidence, but we don’t control the entire 34,000-student campus.'
It's God's Way
of Balancing Out
Marcus Einfeld

'A maths genius who won fame last week for apparently spurning a million-dollar prize is living with his mother in a humble flat in St Petersburg, co-existing on her £30-a-month pension, because he has been unemployed since December.

The Sunday Telegraph tracked down the eccentric recluse who stunned the maths world when he solved a century-old puzzle known as the Poincaré Conjecture.

Grigory "Grisha" Perelman's predicament stems from an acrimonious split with a leading Russian mathematical institute, the Steklov, in 2003. When the Institute in St Petersburg failed to re-elect him as a member, Dr Perelman, 40, was left feeling an "absolutely ungifted and untalented person", said a friend. He had a crisis of confidence and cut himself off.

Other friends say he cannot afford to travel to this week's International Mathematical Union's congress in Madrid, where his peers want him to receive the maths equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and that he is too modest to ask anyone to underwrite his trip.

Interviewed in St Petersburg last week, Dr Perelman insisted that he was unworthy of all the attention, and was uninterested in his windfall. "I do not think anything that I say can be of the slightest public interest," he said. "I am not saying that because I value my privacy, or that I am doing anything I want to hide. There are no top-secret projects going on here. I just believe the public has no interest in me."

He continued: "I know that self-promotion happens a lot and if people want to do that, good luck to them, but I do not regard it as a positive thing. I realised this a long time ago and nobody is going to change my mind. Newspapers should be more discerning over who they write about. They should have more taste. As far as I am concerned, I can't offer anything for their readers.

"I don't base that on any negative experiences with the press, although they have been making up nonsense about my father being a famous physicist. It's just plain and simply that I don't care what anybody writes about me at all."

Dr Perelman has some small savings from his time as a lecturer, but is apparently reluctant to supplement them with the $1 million (£531,000) offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for solving one of the world's seven "Millennium Problems."

The Poincaré Conjecture was first posed by the French mathematician, Jules Henri Poincaré, in 1904, and seeks to understand the shape of the universe by linking shapes, spaces and surfaces.

Friends say that evidence of Dr Perelman's innate modesty came when - having finally solved the problem after more than 10 years' work - he simply posted his conclusion on the internet, rather than publishing his explanation in a recognised journal. "If anybody is interested in my way of solving the problem, it's all there - let them go and read about it," said Dr Perelman. "I have published all my calculations. This is what I can offer the public."

Friends were not surprised to learn that he was living with his mother. The Jewish family - he has a younger sister, Elena, also a mathematician - was always close. One friend, Sergey Rukshin, head of St Petersburg Mathematical Centre for Gifted Students, gave Dr Perelman his first break as a teenager.

At 16, he won a gold medal at the 1982 International Mathematical Olympiad, with a perfect score of 42. He was also a talented violinist and played table tennis. It was after gaining his PhD from St Petersburg State University that Dr Perelman first worked at the Steklov Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Science. Later, he worked in America before returning to the Steklov in 1996. Its rejection of him, three years ago, devastated Dr Perelman, said Mr Rukshin.

Although the two old friends still discuss life, music and literature, they no longer talk about maths. "It has become a painful topic for the doctor," said Mr Rukshin.'

Monday, August 21, 2006

Marcus Einfeld: My Everything

I never dreamed I'd find a man who had everything. Everything.

Everything I Google every day. Plagiarism. Diploma mill degrees. (Not just one. Two.) A resume more fantastic than my wildest fantasy.

All of that, plus multiple speeding tickets, mendacity, egomania, and dementia.

The retired Australian judge, Marcus Einfeld (for background, scroll down to "The Hon Justice Marcus" etc.), now known to many over there as Justice Seinfeld, is one hell of an amazing story. I mean, there are confidence men, and then there are confidence men. Marcus Seinfeld is A Confidence Man.

The Australian media is ... stunned. They're only just beginning to put things together and make sense of it all. Here's one effort:

'...Last week, as Einfeld's saga of absurd denials and evasions became ever more threadbare and pathetic, I Googled "Marcus Einfeld" and the very first item that appeared, his CV, was a cause for concern. It listed him as having a BA, LLB (Sydney University), and PhD and LLD (USA). The "USA" raised an alarm. A check of his entry in Who's Who confirmed why. The BA had disappeared, while the PhD was from Pacific Western University and the doctorate in law from Century University. I'd never heard of either of them.

It did not take long to confirm that Pacific Western and Century are both what is known as unaccredited colleges, or "diploma mills". On its website, Pacific Western University describes itself as "a distance learning university located in San Diego". Its goal is to is provide "a self-paced, year-round, off-campus experience to all of our students". Century University is much the same. A doctoral program and doctorate from Century costs $US5199 ($6850). A masters from Pacific Western costs $6240.

No one could present such qualifications with any seriousness as a marker of credibility or rigour. I was amazed this had never been picked up before. As so often happens in the media, the same wheels were turning elsewhere. On Saturday the legal affairs writer for The Australian, Chris Merritt, wrote about these same utterly dubious qualifications.

Einfeld's entry in Who's Who, self-compiled, is a metaphor for his career. It begins with a parody of academic rigour and continues with an egregious amount of padding, groaning into one of the longest entries in Who's Who, as if his mere membership of Amnesty International etc, etc, etc, needed to be recorded. The entry begins as it ends, with a self-inflating distortion, giving his address as "Judges' Chambers, Federal Court of Australia", an address five years out of date. Using the title of judge is something he has done often since he ceased being one.

The brazen padding goes some way to explaining his behaviour since August 7, when he appeared at the Downing Centre Local Court to contest a $77 speeding fine generated by a speed camera in Mosman on January 8. He contested the fine on the grounds that he wasn't driving the car at the time. So many falsities, half-truths and evasions have been uttered since then that I've numbered them to keep track.

1. Einfeld says he sent a statutory declaration to the court stating that his car was being driven at the time by a Professor Teresa Brennan, who had since died in a motor vehicle accident.

2. In court, he was asked: "What did you do with your vehicle?" and replied: "I lent it to an old friend of mine who was visiting from Florida."

Barrister, helpfully: "I think that was Professor Teresa Brennan?"

Einfeld: "Yes it was."

3. Einfeld was contacted later that day by Viva Goldner of The Daily Telegraph, who presented him with the fact that his alibi had been dead for three years. He responded: "This was not the same person. This was a totally different person … another Professor Brennan." Asked to provide details to verify this, he replied: "I'm afraid not. I know she lived in one of the states of America. She moved."

4. The second Therese Brennan soon since disappeared from the line of argument and was replaced, on August 9, with this prepared statement: "As I said in court, I am uncertain as to who was driving the car …" His statement to the court was quite clear: "an old friend", Professor Teresa Brennan, was driving.

5. On August 9 Einfeld said he would never perjure himself, especially over such a trivial matter, and his licence had not been at risk.

Einfeld has a history of speeding offences, and had reached eight demerit points for offences on December 9, 2005, January 11, 2004, and June 22, 2003. The Daily Telegraph discovered that in May the Roads and Traffic Authority sent him a letter warning that his licence would be suspended if he reached 12 demerit points. Had he not contested the $77 fine, he would have been just one demerit from having his licence suspended. His licence might not have been literally at risk from this fine, but it would have been hanging precariously by one point.

6. On August 10, Einfeld began responding to the media via a barrister, Winston Terracini, SC, and a solicitor, Michael Ryan, who issued a written statement saying that contact had been made with a person in the US and it was hoped that it would be possible "in the next few days to reveal who was the driver". That was 11 days ago. The mystery endures.

Enough. Marcus Einfeld has made a career out of portentous moralising. The man now enmeshed by small falsities and large vanities is the same man who has resorted to the big deceits to gain moral advantage - the claim of genocide and the comparisons with Nazis.

This son of a Labor politician, and Labor judicial appointee, has played the political game with ferocity. He has invoked the Nazi era ("The thuggery of the guards at Woomera … not much different to that shown by the SS guards in the name of the Third Reich …").

Inevitably, he cried "genocide" after the Bringing Them Home report on the removal of Aboriginal children was published, a report whose claim of genocide, when subjected to the forensic scrutiny of the courts in Cubillo v Commonwealth (2000), disintegrated.

He was subject to a formal complaint of plagiarism in 2003 by Professor John Carter of Sydney University after Einfeld reproduced Carter's work in Halsbury's Laws of Australia in a judgement without attribution. "We fail our students and discipline them if they do this," Professor Carter told The Australian Financial Review. Einfeld said the footnotes had been left out in the printing process.

Now he has become Marcus Minefield, or Justice Seinfeld, and it no longer matters who was driving his Lexus in Mosman on January 8....'
Positive Denial

They're spinning the latest university rankings at the University of Texas Austin:

The Texas Longhorns earned another national title Monday, not for football but as the country's best party school.

The University of Texas at Austin beat Penn State University, West Virginia University and last year's winner, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Princeton Review survey of 115,000 students at campuses around the country.

It topped the overall list — its first time atop the Princeton Review chart — by ranking second in the use of hard liquor, third in beer drinking and 13th in marijuana smoking.

For the ninth straight year, Brigham Young University was voted the most "stone cold sober" school.

UT spokesman Don Hale said campus leaders don't take such rankings very seriously.

"I know there were a lot of good parties here after we won the national football championship, and I'm going to guess that a lot of the kids who filled out the survey remembered those parties," he said.

Student body president Danielle Rugoff said the school had a vibrant social scene even before the top ranking. With about 1,000 student groups, including more than 50 social sororities and fraternities, it's easy to find a way to unwind after a long day of studying, she said.

"It's such a unique environment," said Rugoff, a senior government major. "It allows for students to just live life to the fullest and have such a rich academic environment and rigorous academic program and still have an amazing time and enjoy being in college."

[Um, there's more in this article, and I'll get to it in a moment. But you have to be impressed by the insouciance... Most party school winners issue shocked and stern denials from the president's office ... Whereas Miss Merry Sunshine bombs through the booze statistic and tells us how unique Austin is, what with everyone living life to the fullest and all. And Mr. Spokesman says hell we just won a big football game for chrissake...]

...Rugoff said administrators and student leaders work hard to help students make good decisions about alcohol and drugs.

Despite those efforts, a freshman died of acute alcohol poisoning in December as a result of fraternity hazing.

Tests showed Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath's blood-alcohol level was 0.50, more than six times the legal limit for drivers. University officials canceled Lambda Phi Epsilon's status as a registered student organization until 2011 after an investigation found new members were expected to drink large amounts of liquor.
A friend of this site,
And an enemy of PowerPoint...

...Edward Tufte is reviewed in the International Herald Tribune.

'It has happened to us all. You are sitting in a PowerPoint presentation trying - and probably failing - not to yawn as slide after slide flashes across the screen.

You may blame your boredom on the speaker, but Edward Tufte has another explanation. Microsoft PowerPoint, he believes, is a badly designed medium for communicating the information people need to make informed decisions. That is why it is so dull.

...Whether or not you agree with him, Tufte cannot be dismissed as a crank who has endured one too many PowerPoint presentations. He is professor emeritus at Yale University, where he taught statistical evidence, analytical design and political economy, and the author of a series of influential books on the history of information design. The latest addition to the series, "Beautiful Evidence," is the product of nine years of research and writing in which Tufte applies many of his ideas about good - and bad - information design to the presentation of evidence, which he defines as "information used to explain something accurately."

...Tufte is an eccentric figure, who founded his own publishing house, Graphics Press, in the leafy Connecticut town of Cheshire, where he lives, rather than conform to the conventions of the publishing industry. The cover of "Beautiful Evidence" features photographs of his golden retriever, Max, diving, even though they are not discussed in the book. He has his critics; notably the digital design lobby, which has accused Tufte of being overcritical of computer-based design, although he doesn't seem to be any less scathing about shoddy design in print.

Entertaining as Tufte's tirades can be, the charm of his books is in his skill at identifying inspiring examples of good design, often in the least likely places. He is as excited by an intelligently designed railway timetable or police instruction manual as by an exquisite 16th-century Albrecht Dürer engraving. "Beautiful Evidence" is crammed with his discoveries.

...Tufte's own contribution to evidence design is the sparkline, a combination of words and graphs that illustrates complex changes over time. In "Beautiful Evidence" he contrasts the clarity of the sparkline, and his other exemplars, with poor evidence design.

One of his targets is Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the chart he drew to illustrate the development of Cubism and Abstraction with arrows indicating the influence of one artistic movement on another, such as constructivism on the Bauhaus. Tufte suggests that by adding double-headed arrows, Barr could have presented a fuller picture that would have allowed for the interchange of ideas.

But his prime target is Microsoft PowerPoint, the subject of an entire chapter titled "Pitching Out Corrupts Within." He rails against what he calls PP Phluff, the frames and logos that tend to clutter PowerPoint slides. But rather than simply attacking PowerPoint, Tufte has analyzed its shortcomings. The crux of his argument is that a PowerPoint slide is so much lower in resolution than paper or the computer screen that too little information can be included. An average PowerPoint slide contains 40 words, whereas people typically read 300 to 1,000 words a minute. No wonder we are bored.

Tufte reckons that the bottom 10 percent of speakers probably benefit from using PowerPoint because it at least "forces them to have points," and that the top 10 percent are able to overcome its limitations. As for the remaining 80 percent, he suggests that these speakers print their thoughts on paper handouts instead.'
First Day of Class
at Virginia Tech:

'BLACKSBURG, Va. Authorities in Blacksburg, Virginia, say a sheriff's deputy has died from gunshot wounds he suffered today while searching for an escaped jail inmate.

The suspect in the shooting is William Morva, who's accused of killing another man -- a hospital security guard -- when he escaped county custody yesterday.

The campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg has been shut down today, and everyone has been told to stay inside because of the search. Authorities say Morva has reportedly been seen on the campus.

The first day of classes was canceled for the school's more-than 25-thousand students. The head of the campus police says people are being asked to stay in dorms and in academic areas.'


Update: NPR reports Morva's been captured.
Ohio University's Problems...

...have attracted the attention of the major media. There's so much going on there, you could overlook the fact that the football coach thinks someone tried to date rape him.

Ohio University administrators are looking forward to a better school year this fall. In the wake of plagiarism charges, a massive theft of personal data and a thumbs-down faculty vote for the school president, it could hardly get worse.

Alumni of Ohio's oldest college are grumbling over a string of scandals. Fundraising is down. The football coach is in trouble over a drunken driving case.

"Academics work in a small circle," said journalism professor Joseph Bernt. "When we go to conferences, the question that will come up is, 'What the hell is going on at OU?'"

The public university plans to spend up to $8 million to improve computer security and is defending itself against lawsuits sparked by the data thefts and plagiarism accusations. It has fired or punished employees over both problems and has started requiring engineering students to submit papers electronically, so software can scan for similarities in other works.

In May, a committee investigating allegations of copying in the engineering graduate program said it found plagiarism in 40 master's degree theses dating back 20 years. The investigators called the problem rampant and flagrant.

"I have to admit, I've never seen anything like this," said Dennis Irwin, dean of the college of engineering and technology, who led an initial investigation.

The probe began after a mechanical engineering student, Tom Matrka, reported in 2004 that he found what he suspected was copying while reading other students' papers.

Matrka says he's pleased that the university has acknowledged the problem but believes more cases could be found if officials looked harder.

Most of the copying was in background material, and there was no evidence of falsified research data, the investigation found. Many of the accused former students haven't responded to the charges or requested more information from the school. Those found guilty will have plagiarism noted in their permanent records, and the school could strip graduates of their degrees.

Earlier in the spring, the university announced the first of what would be identified as five cases of data theft, affecting thousands of students, alumni and employees _ including the president. About 173,000 Social Security numbers could have been stolen since March 2005, along with names, birth dates, medical records and home addresses.

A private consulting firm blamed the university for not having enough skilled computer staff and too few resources to fight off hackers.

Amid the upheaval, football coach Frank Solich is trying to withdraw his November 2005 no-contest plea in a drunken driving case based on subsequent testing that revealed the "date rape" drug GHB in his system. Solich believes someone spiked his drinks while he was at a local Mexican restaurant, his attorney said.

"These are certainly not the headlines we'd like to see about the university," said 26-year-old Aaron Brown, a 2001 graduate.

Founded in 1804, Ohio University has a pleasing campus rich with colonial-style architecture that's set in the foothills of state's Appalachia region. Known for a strong journalism program, the school of 20,000 students also has a reputation for heavy drinking, which it is trying to shed by expanding parental notification in cases of underage drinking.

President Roderick McDavis, who received a 3 percent raise but no bonus after the scandals broke, said he's met with alumni and heard their concerns about the school's trying year.

"No one has to ask, 'Does the president get it? Does he understand what's going on?'" he said. "I not only got it, but I was one of the victims."

The school will set aside a day in September to talk about plagiarism and academic honesty, Provost Kathy Krendl said. Plagiarism is already against the student code of conduct, and the school is considering instituting an honor code that might encourage offenders to turn themselves in.

French major Jennifer Jolly, 24, said she thinks renewed discussions are a good idea. "It probably wouldn't hurt for the school to define plagiarism more clearly" and to review ways to properly cite other people's work, she said.

Donations to the school dropped from $17.2 million in the third quarter of the school's fiscal year to $4 million in the fourth, ending June 30. The school eliminated about a half-dozen fundraising mailings and 3,000 telephone calls because the appeals didn't seem appropriate given the sensitivities over the data security issues, said Molly Mayo Tampke, interim vice president for university advancement.

Now school leaders are hoping the fallout won't last too long. Despite a symbolic no-confidence vote by faculty against McDavis, board of trustees Chairman Greg Browning said he still has faith in the president.

"I think he's addressed these issues with the seriousness that they deserve," Browning said, "and if these problems have a silver lining, it's that Ohio University will emerge a stronger, better university."
State Degree Factories

'The university sector has become a main charge on the state, where its dependency has made it a lax and wasteful arm of government. As a result it offers less a launch pad to adulthood and more a tail end of childhood. The best universities are American. They show an awareness of their market by persuading those who use them of the value of their service. That means money. That means charging full-cost fees.'

The Great European University Debate rages on. Though in most countries it's not a debate, really. A few people talk about wresting these wretched systems from state control. The state makes tentative efforts in this direction. Hundreds of thousands of students rush into the street. The state backs off.

But because it's a good case, it keeps getting made, especially in England, which among European countries looks most likely to reform someday. Here's how the argument looks, from an opinion piece in the Sunday Times:

Two groups of Britons are definitely not on holiday this weekend. One is the nation’s cohort of bright 18-year-olds, peering expectant from every newspaper front page. The other is the nation’s education politicians. The first “jumps for joy” at their exam results, the second jumps at the opportunity for an annual soundbite, demanding money with menaces from government.

This year the tables are turned. The number of students is fewer than the number of places and universities are chasing students. This is despite the fact that the 300,000 confirmed in their initial choice of courses is one of the highest on record. A further 90,000, mostly with below the requisite qualifications, will be allocated places through the clearing house system, education’s answer to eBay. A decrease in the latter group is partly the result of a 17,000 drop in overall applications with the start of the £3,000 top-up fee this year (balancing the surge last year).

This suggests that a market economy is lurking deep within British higher education. Worthy students are qualifying for places in unprecedented numbers. Less worthy ones are being mildly deterred from wasting time and money on a possibly lesser degree.

When the means-tested £1,000 fee was introduced by Labour in 1998 a socioeconomic catastrophe of declining working-class studentship was predicted by the left. There was no catastrophe. The same was predicted for this year’s £3,000 top-up fee. Yet there is no evidence that students from poorer backgrounds regard higher education as any less worthwhile than they did a generation ago. Student numbers are continuing to rise.

The government naively hoped that universities would vary top-up fees to offer students a choice. In fact only three of Britain’s 96 universities have not imposed the full amount, which suggests that the fee was far too low. A few universities desperate for applicants are being tempted to reduce their fees at the last minute, because for every £1 they get from an extra student they get £2 from the government, a state subsidy to mediocrity.

Last week a university regulator, Sir Martin Harris of the Office for Fair Access, warned universities not to introduce discounts during clearing. His concern was not for the fee income lost, however, but because discounting would undermine principles of fairness and equity. Harris is a devotee of the Alexander Pope school of higher education that wants to “bring to one dead level every mind”, with every student place as of equal value.

Given the soaring cost of universities to the taxpayer, now about £8 billion, so-called fair access has become a ruling political obsession. Ministers cannot bring themselves to achieve it through the most obvious and economical means, a proper fee-and-scholarship system as in America. Yet since the result has produced the biggest of all middle-class subsidies the government struggles to enmesh it in reverse discrimination. Gordon Brown tried to code A-level results so as to bias entry against middle-class students. His then higher education minister, Margaret Hodge, tried to spot wealthy parents “cheating” any admissions bias by switching from private schools to comprehensive school sixth forms.

This centralisation of higher education began under Margaret Thatcher with Kenneth Baker’s 1988 act followed by Ken Clarke and then Brown at the Treasury.

It sought to turn universities into an educational National Health Service. Government would measure everything and pay for everything, professorial teaching quality, scholarly output and the right socioeconomic balance in each institution.

This Leninist ideal was undermined by the survival of the “voucher” principle that had long applied to British universities. Since the Robbins expansion of the 1960s, money followed the student. Universities were left free to offer courses at will with their total fees picked up by central government. A further expansion to 30% of the age group under the Tories in the 1980s and towards 50% under Labour meant throwing money at any university that could attract more students.

The Treasury’s response, until it won top-up fees, was to reduce subsidy per student by almost two-thirds since 1980. This boosted the average staff/student ratio from 1:8 in 1980 to 1:18 today. Universities, the most ineffective professional lobby in Britain, simply took this on the chin. They did not protest that less money per student would mean lower standards and worse degrees, but the opposite. The less the teaching the more they inflated degree grades. More meant cheaper meant better.

The truth is that nobody can value a university education except its customers and they are not charged its cost. As a result universities remain among the last unreformed corners of the public sector, still working to the medieval calendar. Students are left untaught for half the year so they can attend harvests, pilgrimages and religious festivals (refashioned as pubs, fly-drives and raves).

Expensive campuses, laboratories and libraries are left idle for most of this time. Courses that could be completed in one or two years are stretched to three or even four. Meanwhile, centralised research assessment has become fantastical. About 150,000 academics must overproduce work of doubtful benefit to be measured by peer review, metrics and citation indices.

There is no good reason for not charging students the full cost of their higher education, subject to a test of means. That cost is now between £9,000 and £15,000 a year. I know of no serious economist who can show that this is really a national investment, only that most graduates are richer than most non-graduates.

As Alison Wolf of the Institute of Education, and others, have pointed out, international comparison suggests that a high graduate population tends to be a resulting consumption of economic growth, not its cause. As for qualified scientists, the Soviet Union used to produce half Europe’s entire total, and much good it did that economy.

University education is a benefit that accrues peculiarly to the individual. Whether paying for it should be regarded as surtax on middle-class families or a future tax on graduate incomes is immaterial. There is no justification for forcing the mass of taxpayers, who are nowadays as much poor as rich, to pay for it. Government support should be limited to scholarships and research endowment, not for basic costs. Such subsidy can be targeted at poor students, engineers, doctors or teachers, according to taste. Blanket subsidy prevents such targeting and encourages indolence and indulgence.

The socialist tradition that all public services in Britain should be free at the point of delivery is breaking down everywhere, in health, education, road use, even law and order. Demand for free goods will always be infinite. With no control by price, the public sector can only respond with rationing by congestion, delay, poor quality and red tape.

British universities have been moving away from the autonomy they once shared with America and towards the European tradition of state degree factories. Young people are held out of the workforce for years on end, leaving the economy to suck in migrants from the developing world, denuding the latter of talent. Meanwhile, the latest Times Higher Education Supplement league table suggests that of the top 20 world universities 12 are American, four British and nowhere else had more than one.

Universities must adapt to serve the changing needs of their users, as defined in some version of a market. They are still independent institutions and should discard the subservience to government that has them all dancing to the same financial tune. Left to charge fees at will, they can become good, bad, indifferent or just local.

Those that want to teach should not be penalised for it. Those that want to do research should go in search of the relevant support. If brighter, poorer students go to cheaper universities, so much the better for those universities. That is how the great municipal institutions faced down snobbish Oxbridge in the first half of the last century.

hat tip: phil

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Creating an Intellectual Elite

Via Butterflies and Wheels, a serious attempt to account for why British university education (like most European university education) is tanking:

'We will soon have no world-class universities left in this country. Oxford and Cambridge struggle to retain a position among the top 10; I expect that they will soon drop out through the bottom....The concept of learning, the acquisition of knowledge and the exercise of creative imagination within the constraints of evidence and reason, has been almost fatally devalued....

[U]niversities [are] overwhelmed by the number of A grades, but ... the possession of an A grade is no guarantee that its possessor can write intelligibly, read critically or think analytically. More than 15 years ago, Cambridge was finding that an A grade in pure mathematics did not mean that a student could understand the concepts involved in even first-term undergraduate work unless he or she had a fortnight of intensive pre-term preparation. A-levels have long been inadequate as a means of selection for university. But to make A-levels more difficult would be to create an intellectual elite. Not everyone could succeed and this would be unthinkable in the present political climate.

This abhorrence of an elite lies at the very heart of our educational troubles, first at school, then at university. Yet how could we possibly hope that our universities might become world class if we did not think that they were elitist? Most rational people would accept, as a matter of manifest fact, that not everyone can be a Nobel Prize winner. But though they accept that, they then go on, half-automatically, to suggest that everyone should be given the chance to become a laureate.

This is morally unexceptionable, but does not mean that everyone should go to university. It means, rather, that everyone from the age of five should be given an education that enables them to exercise their exceptional talents, if such they have. This, in turn, entails that if there are those who show academic prowess, they should be given the tools, such as a command of language and rational argument, with which they can progress, and they should sit examinations, success in which will prove to the world that they are good at their work.'
Enough Already About the Soul!
The Wall Street Journal Gets
This Season's Real University Story.

'FOR FANS OF THE University of Tennessee's football team, last season was a difficult one. Though the team was widely expected to be in the running for the national title, it finished out of the Top 25, and wound up with a 5-6 record.

This season is also shaping up to be a tough one for fans of the Volunteers -- in the pocketbook. Despite last season's woes, the team is now charging an extra 10% for some games. And, for the first time, all sideline season tickets require an extra annual fee of at least $250.

From the Tigers of Louisiana State University to the University of Michigan Wolverines, many top college football teams are forcing fans to pay more to get into games this season. With the latest price increases, some colleges are now charging more for their premium tickets than the pro football teams in the same town.

Prices are also surging on the secondary, or resale, ticket market. The average cost to see Penn State and Notre Dame on Sept. 9, a much- anticipated matchup, is more than $822 per ticket, according to, a market for secondary ticket sales. The highest-price ticket sold on StubHub last season, which was for the game between USC and Notre Dame, averaged $575.

Much of the price hike is traceable to the escalating cost of running a top college football team. Ohio State University's football expenses, for example, have grown to nearly $26 million. And universities, under pressure not to stick students with the tab for these spiraling expenses, are making teams foot more of the bill. That has put the onus on the football programs to find new sources of revenue to fund everything from stadium expansions to player scholarships.

Some of the latest ticket prices come with more amenities. The University of Alabama added skyboxes and a club-level area in one end zone of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Each club seat has an annual fee of $1,500 -- on top of the ticket price -- while each suite costs either $35,000 or $42,500 for the year, depending on the size.

But a number of the price increases don't contain any extra perks. Many of the biggest jumps are with season-ticket packages, which in college athletics, unlike in most pro sports, account for the vast majority of ticket sales. Most universities now charge an annual fee -- of anywhere from $50 to over $5,000 per seat -- on top of the price of the tickets themselves. (Colleges refer to these fees as "donations," and they are partially tax deductible.) But because demand for tickets exceeds supply at many schools, priority goes to the biggest donors, which means the actual cost of entry winds up being much higher.

Oklahoma State University's most well-heeled ticket holders had to pay $2,500 upfront this year just to be able to buy box seats, more than double last year's requirement of $1,000. At the University of South Carolina, the season tickets themselves are up a whopping 33%, to $40 a game. Even some students are being hit with the higher prices. At Louisiana State University, students will have to pay up to 71% more (or a total of $18) for some general-admission seats.

For the teams, it helps that demand for tickets remains strong. Last season, Division I-A football teams drew a total of 32.6 million fans, up slightly from 32.5 million in 2004. This year, Kenneth DeMoor, a University of Miami season-ticket holder for almost two decades, had to pay $400 extra for his four seats on the 50-yard-line of the Orange Bowl. Mr. DeMoor says he "wasn't thrilled" but says the fee is still below what Florida State University and the University of Florida charge.

Some fans, though, aren't so accepting. Fresh off a disappointing four-win season, Oklahoma State season-ticket holders in March received a brochure from the school titled "Cowboy Up: The Cost to Compete for Championships in the Big 12." The message: to cover the rising cost of running a competitive football program in one of the country's top conferences, as well as to help finance renovations of the football stadium and basketball arena, OSU was raising prices for season tickets 28% to $295 for six games. For club-level seating, the cost of a season ticket is now $395, up 71% over last year. So far, season-ticket sales are down more than 10% from a year ago.'
'Tis the season... editorialize about the soulless illiterates about to pollute the halls of learning. You've got to get your digs in now, in late August/early September, when lots of people are thinking about our about-to-reopen universities.

Our undergraduates only read shlock and don't know the simplest words. They're fucking like bunnies. Their professors are specialization robots.

All of us, says a Baylor philosopher, have to start taking

the term "soul" seriously, as indicating a sense of what is higher and lower, better and worse, in human life. The word "soul" also figures in the title of Mr. Lewis' book about Harvard. But what does Mr. Lewis mean by "soul"? Can contemporary academics use the term without putting it in scare quotes to indicate its status as a relic from a bygone age of religious primitivism? Without snickering, can we seriously pose to our students the challenge Socrates posed to the Athenians, who in this case are a pretty good stand-in for Americans? Can we issue the challenge to give more care to the soul than to the body?

The word soul also figures in Allan Bloom's famous title. It's a winner of a word.

It's used in two ways by people complaining about college students. One is the Baylor guy's way, and it tends to mean having a spiritual life, and not having that spiritual life degraded by materialistic and sexually degenerate students, or by corrosively secular professors. This use of the soul word is basically a call for greater religious seriousness at universities and colleges.

The other way soul comes up is in defense of the inner life as such. Allan Bloom uses it this way. Professors - humanities professors - are supposed to initiate students into a seriousness about life, through an intensive consideration of the profound thoughts in great books. To be in posssession of a soul is not to be religious necessarily; it is to understand that a valuable life transcends the material realm and is ever in search of, and in enjoyment of, the immaterial. The unexamined life is not worth living. The consciousness unable to respond to the greatest art is not worth having. Etc.

One funny thing -- the professor complaining about student illiteracy says the only book they've all read tends to be The DaVinci Code.

This is a book which assumes serious religious knowledge on the reader's part, and its massive best-seller status suggests a broad interest in religious matters (even shlocked up) among the American population. So start there. Avoid grand and vague complaints about our soulless culture, and just start teaching serious philosophical and theological works. Define words that students don't recognize. Be patient. Don't preach.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

In Paul Fussell's Class...

...we are reminded that:

The general class rule about wrist watches is, the more "scientific," technological, and space-age, the lower. Likewise with the more "information" the watch is supposed to convey, like the time of day in Kuala Lumpur, the number of days elapsed in the year so far, or the current sign of the zodiac. Some upper-class devotees of the Cartier tank watch with the black lizard strap will argue that even a second hand compromises a watch's class, implying as it may the wearer's need for great accuracy, as if he were something like a professional timer of bus arrivals and departures. The other upper-class watch is the cheapest and simplest Timex, worn with a grosgrain-ribbon strap, changed often: black ones for formal wear are amusing.

Generally, the more upper you are, Fussell goes on to note, the less interested in high-tech anything, the less concerned with accuracy and shininess and up-to-dateness... Yet more generally, uppers aren't concerned with impressing people (those old Timexes)...

By these criteria, UD's alma mater, the University of Chicago, has done her proud lately:

'The University of Chicago boasts more than 70 Nobel laureates, and its math and economics departments are among the best in the world.

But for years, the prestigious school apparently didn't have an accurate count of its faculty, number of classes or educational spending.

That's the explanation the university gave for why it changed some of the figures it reports to U.S. News & World Report for the magazine's "America's Best Colleges" guide. Partly because of those changes, Chicago jumps from No. 15 to ninth in this year's ranking...

...The magazine says it was surprised to learn a university as prominent as Chicago hadn't kept better track of its data -- the school was keeping some records by hand -- and that it failed to put its best foot forward for the closely watched rankings. But the magazine accepted the changes.

Chicago was in the U.S. News top 10 five years ago, but its rank had been sliding since then. School officials acknowledge the drop prompted them to review their data -- and they concluded Chicago was selling itself short.

"We just were too casual about it," said Michael Behnke, vice president for university relations and dean of college enrollment. "I'm kind of embarrassed we didn't catch it before."'

Keeping records by hand, being casual about such classic prole motives as "putting your best foot forward" -- excellent. Too bad Chicago finally fell for, as Fussell calls it, "the whole anxious class racket."

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Hon Justice Marcus R.Einfeld AO QC PhD... he styles himself, helps us understand the mentality of many diploma mill graduates. A highborn Australian, he seems to have gotten a legitimate law degree and been a competent judge for a number of years. He's now retired, but he still calls himself a judge, which you're not supposed to do, and this stubborn bit of vainglory is our first piece of evidence as to what is wrong with the man.

The Hon Etc. falls squarely into the Egomaniac Conman diploma mill grad category. It wasn't enough for him to have merely college and law degrees; he must have PhDs, or people wouldn't be impressed. So he got a couple of them, and he describes them in his online personal material as simply being from the USA -- no university name is given.

Nobody examined this matter closely until a few weeks ago, when The Hon got a speeding ticket and instead of paying it said that an old friend from America was driving the car. Police tracked down the woman, and she turned out to have been dead for three years. The Hon then said no, no, not THAT American friend; another American friend with the exact same name... Only no one could find any other person fitting that description with that name.

So the merde's already hitting the ventilateur for The Hon (some of his businesses are in bankruptcy too), and now it turns out he has not one but two bogus advanced degrees:

FORMER judge Marcus Einfeld obtained a PhD degree from a university that has been debunked in the US Congress as a "diploma mill".

Pacific Western University, which awarded one of the two doctorates claimed by Mr Einfeld, was investigated by the USGovernment Accountability Office and named in Congress in 2004 for handing out doctorates for the flat fee of $US2595 ($3413).

The other doctorate is from the Century University in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is not accredited with the relevant American legal bodies.

University of Sydney law dean Ron McCallum said he had never heard of the two universities, but said doctorates issued by degree mills "are not worth the paper they are written on".

Mr Einfeld, a former Federal Court judge, is facing a fraud squad investigation into evidence he gave to a Sydney magistrates court last week that allowed him to avoid a $77 speeding fine.

He told the Downing Centre Local Court that at the time of the offence in January, he had lent his car to professor Teresa Brennan, who had been visiting from Florida.

It later emerged that Brennan, an Australian-born academic, had died in 2003.

He will be interviewed by fraud squad detectives next week. The NSW Police State Crime Command has been called in to investigate whether he gave false evidence in the case.

"Detectives attached to Strike Force Chanter have spoken with the retired judge's lawyers and now expect to interview him during the week commencing Monday, August 21," a NSW Police statement said yesterday.

In correspondence with the court, Mr Einfeld, who retired as a judge in 2001, styles himself as"The Hon Justice Marcus R.Einfeld AO QC PhD".

The accountability office told US Congress that Pacific Western University sold its PhD degrees for $US2595 ($3390).

It offered academic credit for "life experience" and did not require any classroom instruction, the office said.

Pacific Western University, which is based in San Diego, is not accredited by the American Bar Association or the Association of American Law Schools.

Century University, where Mr Einfeld says he holds a doctorate of law, is also unaccredited with the ABA or the AALS.

ABA accreditation is granted to law schools only after inspections and assessments of factors including staff-student ratios, academic research and law libraries, according to the chairman of the Council of Australian Law Deans, Michael Coper.

When Mr Einfeld was invited yesterday to discuss his recent troubles, he said: "You have got to be joking. Thank you for calling. Goodbye."

Sydney executive headhunter Peter Salt, of Salt & Shein, said anyone seeking a job on the basis of degrees from Pacific Western and Century universities "is obviously the wrong candidate".

"If they are not accredited or in the process of becoming accredited then it immediately sends alarm bells," Mr Salt said.

Specialist legal recruiter Elvira Naiman, of Naiman Clarke, said she was always surprised by people who paid for these sorts of qualifications as most employers rigorously checked a candidate's academic background.

An undercover investigator from the US accountability office visited Pacific Western and other "mills" and was told they were not in the business of allowing students to enrol for individual courses of training, according to an accountability office official, Robert J.Cramer.

He gave evidence to a US House of Representatives education committee in September 2004 about Pacific Western's cut-price degrees. It offers a bachelor of science for $US2295, an MBA for $US2395 and a PhD for $US2595.

I'm afraid The Hon's response to all of this - You've got to be joking - is not a particularly good one. True, he has brazened out his entire life thus far with marked success; but when things begin to unravel -- when there's a lot to unravel -- events move fast.

UD's advice is for The Hon to fake his own death and resurface in Las Vegas.
Bloody Good

What makes Truman Capote's
prose in In Cold Blood
supremely good? Let's hitch up

our pants and mosey over
to the first page.

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.

Capote knows how to set a scene and set a mood at the same time. Throughout the book, he's going to find ways to infuse an extremely plain location housing extremely plain lives with the human oddness and spiritual eerieness that underlie all earthly locations if you dig deeply enough. Much like James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Truman Capote in In Cold Blood will raise the lives of ordinary people to a high nobility, to an intense aesthetic and moral value. He will honor them - and the country whose heartland they inhabit - in a way only the greatest writers can. He will intuit and express their profoundest and most beautiful truths, and make them immortal.

Notice he's already compared their grain elevators to Greek temples, and called their landscape awesome. In the next paragraph, he'll describe the buildings of their town as a "congregation." These words and phrases hint at the holiness of the place, the slow pensive nature of the pious lives there.

His narrative eye now focuses more intently on Holcomb itself:

Holcomb, too, can be seen from great distances. Not that there is much to see -- simply an aimless congregation of buildings divided in the center by the main-line tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad, a haphazard hamlet bounded on the south by a brown stretch of the Arkansas (pronounced "Ar-kan-sas") River, on the north by a highway, Route 50, and on the east and west by prairie lands and wheat fields. After rain, or when snowfalls thaw, the streets, unnamed, unshaded, unpaved, turn from the thickest dust into the direst mud. At one end of the town stands a stark old stucco structure, the roof of which supports an electric sign - DANCE - but the dancing has ceased and the advertisement has been dark for several years. Nearby is another building with an irrelevant sign, this one in flaking gold in a dirty window - HOLCOMB BANK. The bank closed in 1933, and its former counting rooms have been converted into apartments. It is one of the town's two "apartment houses," the second being a ramshackle mansion known, because a good part of the local school's faculty lives there, as the Teacherage. But the majority of Holcomb's homes are one-story frame affairs, with front porches.

There are strange antiquities among the words Capote has chosen to describe this Kansas town: words like "hamlet." Certain phrases, too, have a classical or Shakespearian echo to them: "the dancing has ceased," "unnamed, unshaded, unpaved." His diction, we begin to see, is strangely elevated for so lowly a place. He will play on this paradox throughout: The plainest of plain American towns will be transfigured, through the sympathetic depth perception of the great writer, into a lofty and sacred space.

Third paragraph, and his writer's eye moves in yet more closely:

Down by the depot, the postmistress, a gaunt woman who wears a rawhide jacket and denims and cowboy boots, presides over a falling-apart post office. The depot itself, with its peeling, sulphur-colored paint, is equally melancholy, the Chief, the Super-Chief, the El Capitan go by every day, but these celebrated expresses never pause there. No passenger trains do - only an occasional freight. Up on the highway, there are two filling stations, one of which doubles as a meagerly supplied grocery store, while the other does extra duty as a cafe - Hartman's Cafe, where Mrs. Hartman, the proprietress, dispenses sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks, and 3.2 beer. (Holcomb, like all the rest of Kansas, is "dry.")

Now the language is not so much classical as baroque. Capote will not uncritically admire this place and its people: he will note its grotesques when they come along. And again, he'll note them through this disjunction between formal language ("presides," "melancholy," "proprietress") and a setting most of us would consider the very opposite of baroque. We are being eased not merely into the underlying nobility of this place, but also into its shadows, where things resemble Kafka's Metamorphosis, with its mix of the dully real and the terrifyingly surreal.

(The epitome of this mix will be the Kansas murderer Lowell Lee Andrews, who shows up toward the end of the book -- he shares death row with the Clutter killers. Capote's at his spectacular best evoking the bizarre disposition of Andrews, "an enormous, weak-eyed boy of eighteen who wore horn-rimmed glasses and weighed almost three hundred pounds. [He] had been a sophomore at the University of Kansas, an honor student majoring in biology. Though he was a solitary creature, withdrawn and seldom communicative, his acquaintances, both at the university and in his home town of Wolcott, Kansas, regarded him as exceptionally gentle and 'sweet-natured' (later one Kansas paper printed an article about him entitled: 'The Nicest Boy in Wolcott'). But inside the quiet young scholar there existed a second, unsuspected personality, one with stunted emotions and a distorted mind through which cold thoughts flowed in cruel directions." A farcically pure nihilist, Andrews reads the last chapter of The Brothers Karamazov and then shoots his whole family to death while they're watching tv. He confesses to his minister, "The Reverend Mr. Virto C. Dameron, a Dickensian personage, an unctuous and jolly brimstone-and-damnation orator...")

Capote's introductory paragraphs take us closer and closer in to the town of Holcomb, all the while maintaining their odd eloquence of address (the farmers "must contend with an extremely shallow precipitation," the last few years have had a "droughtless beneficence," in their lives preceding the "somber explosions" of the guns that killed the Clutters, the townspeople had been "theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors").

This complicated dance between ordinariness and surreality, plainness and nobility, niceness and nihilism will sustain itself throughout the book, until, in its last pages, we join the consciousness of the lead Holcomb investigator of the Clutter crime, a man who has had to admit and contend with these forces throughout. He watches Perry Smith hang and thinks: "[He] possessed a quality, the aura of an exiled animal, a creature walking wounded, that the detective could not disregard." The empathy of the detective, the empathy of the writer, extends even to this surpassingly vicious man.

And then we follow the detective to the Clutter grave as the book ends. We are told that, though a "Spartan people," the founders of the nearby town where the cemetery is located decided to make the graveyard as beautiful as they could, "a dark island lapped by the undulating surf of surrounding wheat fields." We began with the wheat, and we end with it, as the detective leaves the graves:

[S]tarting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.
Bring me the Head
of Mary Beard!

Feminists the world over are sexually harassing Professor Mary Beard, who waxed nostalgic in her blog "for that, now outlawed, erotic dimension to (adult) pedagogy. ...It is naive to think that the powerful set of power relations in student- tutor relationships can be de-eroticised. You can police it, but you cannot deny history about this.”

Fay Weldon, in a terribly written piece, defends Beard. She shares a memory of her own:

Had I thought I had any hope of seducing [a professor to whom I was attracted], or even known how to set about it, I would have done my damnedest, in the hope of sopping up knowledge, wisdom, understanding and integrity, all the things students were hungry for, in that foreign country, once upon a time, long ago.

She was clearly never attracted to a prose stylist.

Christina Nehring is one of the best writers on the subject:

Teacher-student chemistry is what fires much of the best work that goes on in universities, even today... It need not be reckless. It need not be realized. It need not even be articulated or mutual. … In most cases, it would be counterproductive for it to emerge, itself, into the limelight. That said, it occasionally does. And when it does, it must not be criminalized.

Hat tip to Fred.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bring Me the Head
of Robert Darcy!

The gentle hand of T. Boone Pickens is felt at Oklahoma State University:

Robert Darcy, a regents professor of political science and statistics and past chairman of OSU's Faculty Council, nonetheless has complained about Pickens' heavy hand in school affairs. He was publicly critical of the $165 million gift, painting it as an example of the university's overemphasis on athletics.

“That, to me, is amusing. You give the money where you want it,” Pickens says, and he tacks on a caveat. “If you're telling me that somebody in the faculty said that, I'd be careful if I were they because I've said I was going to give more money to the school. I'd want to be a supporter, not a critic.”

From USA Today. Helmet tip: Cold Spring Shops.
A Distant Modem

Lazy, hazy, summer day... Couldn't get online for a long while because of problems with a distant modem (wasn't that a book by Barbara Tuchman?)... Spent hours reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which I've assigned to my Contemporary American Literature class... Spent other hours writing a longish post -- call it an essay -- on Why the First Five Pages of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood are Among the Best Five Pages of Prose I've Ever Read (I'll post it tomorrow)... All of this in solitude because Mr. UD's at George Mason University, where there's a small conference dedicated to a work in progress of his, and UD's Joycean Spawn is at the Comcast Outdoor Film Festival at nearby Strathmore Hall (whose attractive grounds are directly across the street from Georgetown Prep, whereat a number of Duke lacrosse players were educated)...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Relentlessly Individualist Ethos

The blog Power Line quotes from a forthcoming book about blogs:

Quite simply, the blogosphere exists because it fills a need. It was not brought into being by fiat; it evolved through the accumulation of individual acts. The many people who find it worth their investment in time and effort to create blog content surely do it because they find it fills a need for expression, for giving voice to their thoughts, in a way the previous outlets available to them did not. So, too, does the blogosphere fill a need for those who read the content, and participate in discussion by adding their comments. In this sense, then, the blogosphere represents a vox populi the technology did not determine, but did, instead, facilitate. This is clearly a free market perspective on the blogosphere; the author finds it the most satisfying understanding of it.

Probably the critical theorists, as a school of thought, would be discomfited by the notion that a blatantly commercial marketplace in communication technology has facilitated the evolution of a genre of computer-mediated communication (viz., blogs) with such a relentlessly individualist ethos,

yet having such a clear public benefit. Probably they would not have expected that a genre with such inconsequential roots (viz., personal web pages) could have opened up public discourse to a collective level only considered a theoretical ideal. Probably they would have assumed that even an approximation of that ideal discourse could come into being only through some sort of concerted political action, not through the accumulation of voluntary interactions in a decentralized, unmanaged virtual space. Yet, that is precisely what has happened.

This author is inclined to think that social structures which evolve through the voluntary interactions and exchanges among people—such as the blogosphere—tend in general to be more beneficial than structures created through the deliberate exercise of power, however well-intentioned—such as regulatory bureaucracies. That idea cannot be fully explored here. For our purposes, we can simply note that the blogosphere would seem to be a near-perfect instantiation of the ideal discourse.
Penn State Avoids State Pen...

...but does have to pay a complainant's legal fees, and ditch its restrictive speech policies.

Petulantly, Penn insists it was about to do that anyway all on its own ("University spokesman Bill Mahon said Penn State had been considering the policy changes even before [a student] brought the litigation."), but I guess sometimes people just need a little push -- in the form of legal cases costing thousands of dollars.

One professor is eloquent on the subject:

In effect, the whole campus is now a "free-speech zone." Demonstrators just need to comply with university rules and regulations -- and not interfere with university business, according to the revised policy.

Laurie Mulvey, a sociology lecturer, applauded the change. She had written in opposition to the free-speech-zone concept.

"I, and other folks, have a gut, instinctive reaction against making free speech something that happens in zones defined by institutions," Mulvey said. "I think it flies in the face of what we believe to be our constitutional rights.

"That is, fundamentally, we believe we can stand outside and say what we think -- as quaint and provincial as it sounds," Mulvey said.
Unreasonable Defensiveness

In anticipation of the imminent release of this year's US News and World Report college rankings, a New York Times writer reviews the current state of higher education:

[The] United States ranks ninth among industrialized nations in higher-education attainment, in large measure because only 53 percent of students who enter college emerge with a bachelor’s degree, according to census data. And those who don’t finish pay an enormous price. For every $1 earned by a college graduate, someone leaving before obtaining a four-year degree earns only 67 cents.

Last week, in a report to the Education Department, a group called the Commission on the Future of Higher Education bluntly pointed out the economic dangers of these trends. “What we have learned over the last year makes clear that American higher education has become what, in the business world, would be called a mature enterprise: increasingly risk-averse, at times self-satisfied, and unduly expensive,” it said. “To meet the challenges of the 21st century, higher education must change from a system primarily based on reputation to one based on performance.”

The report comes with a handful of recommendations — simplify financial aid, give more of it to low-income students, control university costs — but says they all depend on universities becoming more accountable. Tellingly, only one of the commission’s 19 members, who included executives from Boeing, I.B.M. and Microsoft and former university presidents, refused to sign the report: David Ward, president of the nation’s largest association of colleges and universities, the American Council on Education. But that’s to be expected. Many students don’t enjoy being graded, either. The task of grading colleges will fall to the federal government, which gives enough money to universities to demand accountability, and to private groups outside higher education.

“The degree of defensiveness that colleges have is unreasonable,” said Michael S. McPherson, a former president of Macalester College in Minnesota who now runs the Spencer Foundation in Chicago. “It’s just the usual resistance to having someone interfere with their own marketing efforts.”

The commission urged the Education Department to create an easily navigable Web site that allows comparisons of colleges based on their actual cost (not just list price), admissions data and meaningful graduation rates. (Right now, the statistics don’t distinguish between students who transfer and true dropouts.) Eventually, it said, the site should include data on “learning outcomes.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Another Absent-Minded Professor

' Professor Charged with Having Explosives

A man from Lycoming County has been charged with having explosives in his home.

Police in Williamsport charged Charles Guttendorf, 30, [Visiting Professor of Criminal Justice at Lycoming College,] Tuesday afternoon with having the explosive devices.

In June police looking for the source of a water leak found more than two dozen of the explosives. Guttendorf was not home at the time. The apartment building was evacuated until a special team got rid of the explosives.

Guttendorf said the devices were to be used in a World War II battle reenactment but he didn't go and forgot to disassemble the explosives.

Guttendorf is charged with three felony offenses.'


you talkin to me?
Academic Blogoscopy

With a London Times Educational Supplement article in the works about academic blogging (UD was interviewed for it), and with quite a bit of chatter generally about the pros and cons of this increasingly popular and high-profile activity, it might be a good idea, as a new academic year begins, to think more deeply about where we are.

A recent post, in a blog called Urban Planning Research, sets the issues out nicely. The author notes, and quotes from, the very positive Economist magazine appraisal of blogs and blogging by economics professors (scroll down a bit for my take on this article). Academic blogs permit quick expression of ideas and quick response to them; they can earn a good blogger a large academic and non-academic audience and raise her posture as a public intellectual. They can benefit her university by drawing valuable attention to it. They add an undeniable dynamism and social engagement to intellectual activity.

But academic blogs, as Alan Jacobs and others have complained, can also be disappointing. The UCLA blogger quotes Jacobs:

As a member of the professoriate, I had long since gotten frustrated with the game-playing and slavishly imitative scholarship of the official academic world—all choreographed in advance by the ruthless demands of the tenure system—and I thought that the blogs could provide an alternative venue where more risky ideas could be offered and debated, where real intellectual progress might take place outside the System. ...[But the speed of the internet makes it] woefully deficient...for the development of ideas, [converting] really good scholars into really lousy journalists. With few exceptions, posts at the 'academic' or 'intellectual' blogs I used to frequent have become the brief and cursory announcement of opinions, not the free explorations of new and dynamic thinking.

The UCLA professor comments:

That is, by shifting their focus from scholarly content to just plain content, scholars regress to the internet equivalent of gabby radio talk show hosts. He calls this "an architectural deficiency" in the internet infrastructure.

Perhaps, but I suppose that is somewhat up to you and me. Better access to planning research materials is probably terrific. Additional interaction among scholars outside conferences and journals could be grand. Formats that encourage scholarly risk-taking might be good too.

I think he's right that it's up to individual bloggers to respond to Jacobs's legitimate gripe about superficiality. Timothy Burke's blog is a good model of what Jacobs is looking for -- Burke typically writes short essays every couple of days on political and academic subjects, interspersing them with personal anecdotes and with brief opinions in response to linked articles, and so forth.

But academic blogs are about more than what Jacobs describes. Robert KC Johnson's blogging about a ridiculous recent abridgement of academic freedom at Fredonia College no doubt helped (along with other bloggers and the organization FIRE) to turn that situation around. Academics blog for many reasons, not merely to express ideas in essay form. Sometimes they are blogging, as in this case, in defense of other academics.

And sometimes a blog regularly returns to a subject (corruption in university sports, for instance), offering occasional longer takes on it, but mainly building a certain critical mass of articles and brief commentary in order to give substance, texture, and topicality to an already argued position. Each particular posting can look superficial if you haven't followed the blog's established interest in the subject.

I think, too, that academic blogs are somewhat seasonal, offering less developed writing during summers and breaks, and more fully worked essays during the school year, when their readership is highest and most focused.

But, yes, Jacobs is right that there's a temptation to drift into facile commentary on academic blogs.
Eight Million Dollar Deficit

From an opinion piece in Asbury Park Press:

[New Jersey's] $66 million fiscal slight to its state university ... prompted Rutgers' announcement that it would eliminate six varsity teams: men's tennis, swimming, heavyweight and lightweight crew, and men's and women's fencing. Rutgers did have a budget gap to close and hard choices to make. However, in the case of athletic department cuts, wielded with a hatchet rather than a scalpel, deleterious consequences will result not only to the 153 eliminated athletes but also to Rutgers and the state.

These six teams have long had exemplary athletic and academic records, which the football team, the sacred cow of the athletic department, can only hope to emulate. These teams have been repeatedly recognized by the university as having the highest GPAs and setting the standard for Rutgers' other varsity athletes. They have fostered nationally and internationally ranked athletes, numerous NCAA champions, All-Americans, Olympians and a disproportionate number of Academic Big East and Academic All-American awardees.

Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick vowed to address the brain drain problem, acknowledging, as reported in Rutgers Targum, that the university is "losing the brightest men and women in the state." Yet the eliminated athletes are the epitome of the type of student that the university and state should want to attract rather than drive away. While they may not produce revenue, they bring prestige and honor to a university that should strive to be a bastion of excellence.

The football team, with a roster more than double that of pro teams, and despite producing a multimillion-dollar deficit annually, will see its budget increase in an amount essentially equivalent to the $1.2 million purportedly saved by axing these six teams.

The football and basketball teams consume nearly half the $36 million athletic department budget and together produced a reported deficit of $8 million last year. In contrast, the eliminated teams are low-budget sports, several having budgets under 1 percent of the overall department budget. Sacrificing these teams saves a mere 3 percent of this budget.

These six teams have a per-athlete expenditure of approximately $7,843 ($1.2 million divided by 153 athletes) in contrast to the per-capita expenditure on the football and basketball teams of approximately $128,000 (some $17.5 million divided by 137 athletes).

These six teams do not need the multimillion-dollar academic hand-holding expended on the football team, nor do they need that team's plasma TVs, high-tech stereo systems, expansive coaching and support staff rosters, half-million-dollar playing fields or recruiting budgets far exceeding the budget totals of several of the affected teams.

Inside Higher Ed's thoughtful piece this morning, on how universities recover from the sudden deaths of their presidents, reminded me of this Slate essay titled "Deathstyles of the Rich and Famous." (Of the four presidents IHE considers, one died in a private plane, another in the ocean near his Hilton Head vacation house and a third from the ledge of one of San Francisco's most luxurious apartment buildings.)

There are diseases of poverty, such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. There are diseases of affluence, such as lung cancer, high blood pressure, and type-2 diabetes. And then there are the hazards of extreme affluence, such as being thrown off a polo pony, flipping your Cigarette boat, or succumbing to altitude sickness on a vanity expedition to the Himalayas.

This point was brought home this week with the presumed death by drowning of Philip Merrill, the mid-Atlantic press baron who owns Washingtonian magazine. The 72-year-old Merrill was sailing alone on his 41-foot boat, probably without a life jacket, when he fell into the Chesapeake Bay. I mean no disrespect to Merrill or his family when I say that the risk of meeting this sort of end goes into the small but poetic category of problems unique to the rich and famous. Members of the middle class do not have to worry about falling off $250,000 sailboats because they don't have $250,000 sailboats to fall off of.

In fact, the rich are less likely to perish in expensive boating accidents than in expensive flying accidents. Travel by private plane and chartered helicopter may be the ultimate corporate perk, but it is much riskier than flying commercial, claiming in recent years figures in entertainment, politics, and business including the R&B singer Aaliyah, Sen. Paul Wellstone, and Wal-Mart heir John Walton. The accident that killed golfer Payne Stewart and four others in 1999 was particularly grisly: Their Learjet depressurized. After the occupants suffocated and froze, the plane coasted another 1,500 miles on autopilot before crashing into a field in South Dakota.

An even greater hazard for the wealthy and privileged is the urge to fly their own planes. This costly urge killed country singer John Denver, who died when he pressed the wrong pedal on an experimental Rutan Long-EZ. John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and wife's sister died when the single-engine plane Kennedy was piloting plunged into waters off Martha's Vineyard. Though the crash was apparently caused by spatial disorientation on the part of an inexperienced pilot, there was speculation that Kennedy might also have been impaired by a foot injury from an earlier paragliding accident. If true, that would make the tragedy doubly wealth-and-fame-related. Of course, the Kennedy family is in a risk category all its own. One wonders if the surviving members are insurable at all, given the family history of driving off bridges (Teddy), smashing into trees while playing football on skis (Michael), death by drugs (David, Christina Onassis), plane crashes (Joseph Jr., Kathleen, Alexander Onassis, and, very nearly, Teddy), and assassination (JFK and RFK). These are terrible fates, but ones that members of the struggling middle class do not have to worry much about.

If you survive paycheck-to-paycheck, you can also rest easy about dying while fleeing paparazzi (Princess Diana); at the hand of a servant jealous of your other servants (Edmund Safra); at the hand of the president of your fan club (Selena); at the hand of a lunatic stalker (John Lennon); at the hand of an impatient heir (the royal family of Nepal); from a face lift (Olivia Goldsmith); in your Porsche, while drag racing (basketball player Bobby Phills); in pursuit of a speed-boat record (Stefano Casiraghi, husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco); while diving off your yacht (Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys); after fighting with Christopher Walken (Natalie Wood); while trying to buzz Ozzy Osbourne's tour bus (Randy Rhoads); from injuries sustained in a cross-country riding event (Christopher Reeve); in staged violence on a film set (Brandon Lee); as a former vice president, atop your mistress (Nelson Rockefeller); or of a disease that subsequently gets named after you (Lou Gehrig). Given the increasingly democratic nature of the game, middle-class people as well as corporate executives are occasionally struck dead by lightning on the golf course. But relatively few are victims of less-democratic ego-sports like off-piste skiing (which killed 25 people in the French Alps this year), yacht racing, hot-air ballooning, or trying to set various speed records with test vehicles. If you aren't worried that the Senate might not fully repeal the inheritance tax for estates above $5 million, you probably don't need to be worrying about these perils, either.

The problem of having more money than sense also drives fatality statistics in the world of high-end travel. Given the cost of a tour to the top of Mount Everest (between $10,000 and $40,000), it's safe to assume no one collecting the Earned Income Tax Credit was among the 10 deaths there last season. Similarly, while the poor of Africa are sometimes eaten by wild animals, it is only the well-to-do from other continents who face the risk of being mauled by lions or trampled by hippopotamuses, which surprisingly kill more people than any other animal in Africa.

The next frontier for extravagant death is, of course, space. Richard Branson is taking reservations for his Virgin Galactic airship, which promises "the world's first affordable space tourist flights" to view the aurora borealis, possibly as soon as 2008. Affordable, in this context, is somewhere around $200,000. Let us hope it will be a round trip.

Monday, August 14, 2006


The recently appointed president of SUNY Albany has drowned in a swimming accident at Hilton Head.
Selena Roberts,
in the New York Times,
on the Auburn Grades Scandal

...Auburn, for more than a decade, has been among the N.C.A.A.’s most consistent visions on the perp walk of violators.

Given Auburn’s recent purge of academic guilt, Oklahoma’s self-policing of bogus summer jobs for athletes and the shutdown of prep factories, has anything really changed on big-time campuses?

Yes, if only technically. Certainly the rite of easy passage in college athletics has become a path obstructed by scrutiny. Out of the sporting society’s pathology of cheating — if it isn’t steroids or corked bats, it’s sham grades and corked diplomas — a rampant skepticism about a team or an athlete too good to be true has emerged in the high-tech age.

The Internet has eyes. Every chat room is filled with rumors of programs out of control. And the e-mail messages leave trails. Rival boosters routinely send whiffs of scandal to opposing athletic directors.

Cover-ups are becoming more difficult by the day. Scandals aren’t over, but the scandalous have to be more ingenious, because no one is above suspicion these days. No one is above punishment. No one is immune from accountability.

“When you knowingly and intentionally and premeditatedly break N.C.A.A. rules, you cannot be a member of this football team,’’ Stoops said at a news conference announcing his players’ dismissals.

Stoops’s words rippled with false integrity and self-righteousness. The rash of recent internal actions by college programs — including Phil Fulmer’s new zero-tolerance approach at Tennessee and Larry Coker’s fresh hard line at Miami — has not been hatched from a moral obligation to do what is right, but out of self-preservation.

Bomar was not the first Sooner who worked at Big Red Sports/Imports. The team mascot of car dealers has employed 20 to 25 Oklahoma players over the past several years, according to The Dallas Morning News. As recently as this spring, running back Adrian Peterson was cruising in a luxury auto from the dealership before returning it.

But what set off Oklahoma’s car alarms? The Tulsa World reported last week that details of the car plot were posted on a message board for Texas A&M fans in January. Sooners foiled by an Aggie with spy info.

And Auburn was not motivated to check the academic veracity of its course work until James Gundlach, a sociology professor, surfaced as a whistle-blower to perk up the ears of the N.C.A.A.’s antennae.

Self-disclosure isn’t a sign of an epiphany of college ethics, just a way for university officials to plea-bargain with N.C.A.A. investigators: see, we launched an internal investigation; see, we took action.

Don’t confuse self-protection with self-policing. The wink-wink era isn’t over, but its loopholes and shortcuts require more creativity.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Snapshots from Home

This is from an article in Saturday's Washington Post:

This summer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation identified 100 communities in 20 states as particularly at risk of losing their individual character. Among those in the Washington area were Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Garrett Park, Kensington and Somerset in suburban Maryland, the entire District of Columbia and parts of Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County in Northern Virginia.

"It's the greatest threat to the character of older neighborhoods since urban renewal and the construction of the interstate highway system 50 years ago," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust.

Whenever I come back from a trip -- like my recent week away at the house in upstate NY -- I'm amazed at how the mansionization of Garrett Park has progressed. Small houses like ours that sit on big forested lots are vanishing, and humongous ones with no yard space at all are taking their place. Garrett Park's mayor is quoted in the Post piece:

Carolyn Shawaker, mayor of Garrett Park, shares [the general] feelings of helplessness and blames it on what she sees as a pro-developer attitude among county planners. "That's made it harder for the little communities to do things to protect themselves," she said.

So Shawaker and other local leaders sought aid from Maryland Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., (D-Montgomery County), who sponsored a law that will permit about 11 communities in suburban Maryland to get more control of their zoning. He introduced the legislation after attending a Fourth of July picnic in the town of Chevy Chase, finding himself in a flood of 400 local residents walking around emblazoned with "Moratorium Now" stickers.

A resident of one of the at-risk towns comments: "It's almost the same as when people stopped driving cars and had to outdo each other with SUVs ... It's like there is peer pressure in whatever their realm might be. They're doing things that are not really necessary for their lives..."

Behind the treeless bohemoths lies belligerent resentment, a fuck you to the world.

Delicate well-meaning morsels like Garrett Park are helpless indeed against this degree of aggression.

(Scathing Online Schoolmarm)

(A University Diaries Feature)

Here's an article in the Arizona Republic, with UD's bracketed commentary.

For many students, college is an intellectual rite of passage. [Let's not go overboard. For some students.]

The beliefs that students bring to the classroom often collide with what they learn. [Rather awkwardly phrased. And "collide," while a good enough metaphor, will soon start colliding with the writer's many other metaphors.] Professors push students to think critically.

But some Arizona lawmakers think that push has gone too far. They want to tame what they see as left-leaning professors at state universities who they contend wield an unhealthful influence over Arizona's younger minds. [Clunky writing. Very clunky writing. Mixed metaphors, first off. Professors are not merely pushers now, but beasts that must be tamed. "Arizona's younger minds" is somehow both a cliche and bizarre.]

Their response is a string of proposals that opponents fear could quash academic freedom. [It's the rare string that's tough enough to quash anything.] The efforts reflect a nationwide trend being fueled by conservative activists. [Fueled... See the problem? Any one of these many metaphors might be okay, but when you throw all sorts of them at us, it makes a mess.]

In Arizona, the moves include:

• A bill enabling students to refuse assignments they find sexually offensive. It failed in March but compelled Arizona's Board of Regents to pass a resolution supporting academic freedom and advance notice to students of a course's content.[This writing is fine, and UD certainly finds the idea of advance notice to her students of offensive sexual course content intriguing. As someone who teaches Molly Bloom's soliloquy and things like it virtually every semester, she thinks the most pragmatic path for her would be a large sign on her office door:


The following sex acts will be performed in the written material assigned in Professor Soltan's literature classes:


• An "Academic Bill of Rights," which Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, plans to introduce next year. Pearce and other legislators hope to meet with David Horowitz, a national activist who lives in Los Angeles, for help in drawing up the bill, which they say would keep liberal bias out of the classroom.

• A law passed in the spring that requires schools to display the U.S. flag and Constitution in every classroom. It puts patriotic symbols in front of every professor and student. [This ought to keep the mind off prurient matters.]

The proposals reflect a distrust of professors among some ranking legislators on higher-education committees.

"University professors lean liberal and not conservative," said Sen. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix, chairwoman of the Senate's Higher Education Committee. "They contribute to society accepting immoral behavior. (The classroom) is where they get to the mind."

Gray said public universities typically do not provide examples of "what a good, normal family life is." [A+ for honesty.]

Student complaints

Last school year, no student at Arizona's three major universities filed a complaint saying professors imposed their views and values in class. [Clearly a problem demanding legislative response.]

Still, allegations have come to light, one of which led to the bill on offensive coursework.

At Chandler-Gilbert Community College, a student was so offended last year by a book in Professor Bill Mullaney's literature and film class that he asked for an alternative assignment.

The 1994 book, The Ice Storm by Rick Moody, deals with two suburban families in the 1970s that engage in sexual experimentation.

Mullaney refused to offer another assignment, saying he presented the syllabus on the first day of class. He told students some of the material might be offensive and that they could drop the class.

The student filed a grievance with the school. School officials rejected the student's request, instead offering him another class. The student refused and took the matter to Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert.

Verschoor sponsored a bill that would have allowed university and community college students to refuse any assignment that depicts or describes sexual activity in a "patently offensive way." The Senate defeated it 17-12. Public debate led the Board of Regents to pass its resolution. [What a lot of trouble! UD already proposed a simpler solution.]

'Bill of Rights'

The most controversial attempt to influence college classrooms is Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights.

Lawmakers in 18 states have weighed resolutions supporting some form of the document. Georgia was the only state that approved one, although the university systems of Tennessee, Ohio and Colorado adopted policies that espoused its tenets.

Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, who heads two higher-education committees, said the bill to be proposed here next year will be based on Horowitz's version.

"I have heard more and more over the years that there is less and less tolerance for conservative opinions," she said.

Faculty members widely view the bill as an attempt to subvert academic freedom, the opposite of what Horowitz claims.

Wanda Howell, a University of Arizona professor and faculty chair, argues that the bill would put state government and university administration in charge of the classroom. Professors no longer would be in control of what or how they taught, or how they graded.

In the name of "academic diversity," professors say, professors could be forced to censor certain materials.

Horowitz insists his Academic Bill of Rights is "viewpoint neutral." [Tell Senator Gray.]

"It is to ensure that professors take a scholarly, academic approach in the classroom, so professors teach students how to think, not what to think," Horowitz said. "It goes for right-wingers (too). It goes for anyone."

Surveys support the common belief: Most professors are liberal.

Liberal professors

A 2005 study by American and Canadian professors indicated that 72 percent of those teaching at U.S. colleges and universities identified themselves as liberal. Only 15 percent called themselves conservative.

Several students said professors' liberal views tend to spill out [Okay. You want to go with "spill out." Fine. Stay with it for just a paragraph!] in classrooms in subtle and overt ways. It [What does "it" refer to here? "Views" is plural...] can trigger [Spills out and triggers.] lively debates but also intimidate some students.

Blake Rebling, 19, president of the UA College Republicans, said he typically doesn't challenge his liberal professors' opinions because they control his grades.

[NOTICE: OBSCENE MATERIAL.] "I don't want to risk going to law school over that," the political science major said.

Several professors said instructors should present issues without personal bias and allow for a variety of viewpoints. Teachers should not impose their personal beliefs, and a grade should never depend on a student's political opinion.

UA political science Professor John Willerton, who specializes in Russia and the former Soviet Union, sees that as the responsibility of the teacher. He grades students on the coherence of their work.

"I want people to think carefully about stereotypical thinking, conventional wisdom. Is the essay well-reasoned with a good introduction and conclusion, and does it have an argument I can find?"

But when Willerton does take a stance, he loves a good debate.

"I really respect a student who will challenge me," he said. "I don't want a toady. I don't want someone who will mimic me."

Ruth Jones, vice provost for academic programs and a political science professor at Arizona State University, said some professors may cross the line but she doesn't think it's widespread.

She sits on a standards committee that would handle the types of cases that conservatives say are rampant in today's college classrooms. She has never had one.

"The question is: Are we dealing with reality or perception?" Jones said. "Is there a common denominator among students complaining? Sometimes, students are used (by others) to promote an agenda. We need to look at that."


They're overplaying it...

...It's Time magazine, after all... But this article, which notes that increasing numbers of Americans have calmed down about applying to universities, does suggest that the mainstream media may have tired of the College Admissions Nightmare story that's dominated fall semester coverage for the last couple of years.

Doom-laden stories are better than happy, reassuring ones, so we can certainly expect Time and other publications to continue trying to scare people about how they'll never get into a good college. But it's nice to see the truth -- there are many excellent, interesting, well-located colleges that'll set you up very nicely for graduate school, and you'll probably get in to one of them -- peeking out.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Auburn University Update

"Tom Petee, a professor in AU’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work, has submitted his resignation as department chair," Auburn says in a press release. Petee's the guy who handed out independent study party favors to athletes.

And he was chair. Petee and his ephebes had a sweet deal going.

The party pooper was a zealous colleague, disdained by pretty much everyone on campus for lacking a sense of fun.

The university also announced it's going to try to make it difficult for any other faculty boosters to pull the "directed readings" thing.

So... it's scramble time once more at Auburn, where -- UD assumes -- the best minds on campus are putting their heads together to come up with a new winning run around academic eligibility rules.
As UD prepares to return to 'thesda...

...she surveys her country domain -- a little house on a high hill in Summit, New York -- and is happy.

She was looking at photographs of country houses in some book awhile back, and one homeowner had hung a wooden sign over his front door that said WHILE YOU ARE HERE, BE HAPPY.

The late Allan Bloom was unhappy in the countryside, because for him life was all about the polis. Nature just sat there, he complained in Ravelstein, Saul Bellow's book about him. Human beings were the only really interesting thing.

Those of us ambivalent about other people find nothing lost and much gained by withdrawing from them on occasion and being by ourselves.

The Bellow character in Ravelstein tries to explain to his urban-only friend that quiet natural settings and their slow routines calm the spirit and keep time from slipping as hastily as it otherwise seems to do into the future. Bellow is "avid for inwardness," as a phrase from Rilke's Duino Elegies has it (a translated phrase, but one of great beauty), yet his political friend Bloom wants him out and about in the big city all the time -- a public man.

The real Bellow was as urban as he was rural. His autobiographical novel, Herzog, spends much of its time playing up the affinity between the fevered pace of New York City and Herzog's existential madness. Even when he gets to the countryside, Herzog broods about the wrongs others have done him.

During his own life, Bellow kept country places; and at the end, in writing Ravelstein, he paid homage to them. They build, he wrote, "reserves of stillness in your soul."

"Blogs have enabled economists," writes The Economist at the end of a recent article about academic blogs, "to turn their microphones into megaphones. In this model, the value of influence is priceless."

The writer begins by listing the usual suspects -- Posner and Becker, DeLong, Mankiw -- as well as their impressive daily readership ("Each week 3,000 people" read one economist's blog, "more than bought his last book." He comments: "I certainly have not found a comparable way to get my ideas out. It allows me to have a voice I would not otherwise get." In the case of DeLong, it's "more than 20,000 visitors daily."), and then quotes some of them on what they're doing. DeLong calls it "a place in the intellectual influence game." Becker and Posner use it for "instantaneous pooling (and hence correction, refinement, and amplification) of the ideas and opinions, facts and images, reportage and scholarship, generated by bloggers."

I like in particular this comment from Mankiw: "It's a natural extension of my day job - to engage in intellectual discourse about economics."

Recall Daniel Drezner's comment (I quoted it a few posts down) about an incompatibility between some elite universities and blogs. The Economist article points to one reason for this, citing a study that suggests "the internet's ability to spread knowledge beyond university classrooms has diminished the competitive edge that elite schools once held. Top universities benefited from having clusters of star professors. ... The faster flow of information and the waning importance of location - which blogs exemplify - have made it easier for economists from any university to have access to the best brains in their field. That anyone with an internet connection can sit in on a virtual lecture from Mr. DeLong means that his ideas move freely beyond the boundaries of Berkeley, creating a welfare gain for professors and the public." Such a person can do more than sit in. She can contribute.

The article concludes: "Universities can also benefit from this part of the equation. Although communications technology may have made a dent in the productivity edge of elite schools, productivity is hardly the only measure of success for a university. Prominent professors with popular blogs are good publicity, and distance in academia is not dead: the best students will seek proximity to the best minds. When a top university hires these academics, it enhances the reputations of the professors, too. That is likely to make blogs more popular."

Anti-blog types - Ivan Tribbles - ignore serious blogs because of their socially democratic, institutionally reformist energies. Tribbles dislike the look of the emergent intellectual landscape.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Still Away...

I'm at Stagecoach Coffee, in hyper-well-tended Cooperstown, New York. Ms. and Mr. UD pride themselves on the fact that they've been here dozens of times and never entered the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Still, they like to look at everyone on the street duded up in their team's uniform. It's an intriguing contrast with the other town they always visit upstate: Woodstock.

We've gotten a string of spectacular August days and nights at our house in the hills.

I'm keeping track of comments to various UD posts whenever I get a few moments alone with a hotspot, as here at Stagecoach. But I don't have time to think and respond, or to write much of a post either -- that'll have to wait until our return to DC on Monday.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

UD's Friend Phil...

...sends her this, by John Sutherland in the Guardian:

I teach part of the year at an American elite scientific institution, Caltech, where my classes are very un-elite Englit. I mentioned in passing to a "Techer", as they call themselves, that in my country universities were closing down departments of chemistry.

I expected the response one would have got from a prelate on being told that Henry VIII had just resolved to dismantle the monasteries.

What in fact Young Big-Brain did was shrug his shoulders and say, "Yeah, it's an old subject." What's the problem, prof? He himself was majoring in an exotic new combo - biophysics, astrogeology or something.

For me "old" meant venerable: Chinese sages, vintage wine, the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace. The English department I taught in, UCL (founded in 1828), prides itself on being the oldest in the country. For YBB, "old" meant the equivalent of Rod Stewart (or me).

Science at Caltech disdains "departments" and organises its research and teaching activity within large fluid "divisions". New combinations are constantly taking place. Whole divisions have disappeared: x-ray research, for example. "Disciplines" - core organisational principles - seem healthily uneroded by these ever-dividing, kaleidoscopic formations.

All of which raises two questions: (1) how "adaptational" should subjects be to forces within and outside the academy? How should they bend with, or resist, the tides of fashionability? And (2) can they, perhaps, control those tides - or is that Canute thinking?

All this is a wind-up to my specific subject here. Is English as an academic pursuit dead, dying, moribund, or on the verge of a great new chapter in its long history?

English - within living memory - was once the queen of the curriculum: the chemistry of the humanities. Ruefully looking back half a century to the 1950s, Frank Kermode, the greatest of our literary critics, recalls: "There was in those days a general belief, now weirdly archaic, that literary criticism was extremely important, possibly the most important humanistic discipline, not only in the universities but also in the civilized world generally."

In those days the subject mattered. Why does English matter less in 2006? Or hardly matter at all? It is not numbers. In a week's time, when the annual A-level results come in, English will again be, by enrolment, the most popularly chosen option and the grades historically sky-high.

In terms of feet, the youth of Britain vote every year. They love English. But, one has a sneaking feeling that, like water, they follow the line of least intellectual resistance. It is easier, and more fun, to "discuss" Birdsong or Talking Heads than - say - to master differential calculus or those other hard topics that the young British foot is determinedly marching away from, year on year.

English recruits massively. But is it still a discipline? Does it even believe in itself? In the era Frank Kermode is nostalgic for, English was sustained in its self-importance by John Newmanesque (The Idea of a University) idealism. The academy enshrined society's highest values. Those values were expressed, in their noblest form, by literature. To engage with the complexities of literary expression (no easy task) was to have that nobility rub off on you. It was a benign spiral that kept English, like a ping-pong ball on a fountain, bobbing away at the top of things for decades.

Since the 1950s, much has happened to the subject. Two strong forces have reshaped English - both, as it happens, emanating from outside England. One was "relevance", mobilised at Modern Language Association conventions in the US in the 1960s. Literary study, it was felt, should be utilised as an instrument of social progress in the essentially non-academic cause of civil rights, equality, decolonisation, and class struggle.

Out with Heart of Darkness (dead white man racism) in with Rigoberta Menchu Tum. No more ping-pong ball.

The other force that has redefined English is, notoriously, "theory". This injection of advanced thought has undeniably stiffened the subject intellectually, but exclusively at the research/scholar end rather than the A-level end of operations. English today is like a badly blended fondue, with a mass of easy stuff at the bottom and a thin layer of brain-wrenchingly difficult stuff at the top.

Thus, when you interview candidates for admission, they will blandly inform you that they "really like" Sylvia Plath as if that was all that needed to be said, critically. Meanwhile, 200 metres away, in the library, lie shelves of unconsulted journals whose contents are comprehensible only to hierophants. Where, if anywhere, is the connection?

It is instructive to dip into the current issue of Nineteenth-Century Literature lying, resolutely unborrowed, on those shelves. NCL is generally top-rated. To have an article accepted looks terrific on the CV. The journal was founded at UCLA in the early 1950s (those golden years) as The Trollopian. In those early days it carried enthusiastic pieces about the Chronicler of Barsetshire (eg did Anthony really write his novels before breakfast? What, now we think of it, did he eat for breakfast?)

The journal was, after a few numbers, renamed Nineteenth-Century Fiction. For the next half-century, NCF faithfully reflected the shifting intellectual fashions of the academy. Just recently it has renamed itself, again, Nineteenth-Century Literature, to include poetry and cultural history.

The latest issue of NCL is a "special", devoted to Lesbian Aesthetics: Aestheticising Lesbianism. One can feel a strong vibration of "relevance" - at a period when gay marriage is tearing the US apart and losing election after election for the Democratic party. The general tone of the issue is leftist-feminist.

One can also feel the bracing presence of high theory. This issue of NCL carries, for example, the discovery, by ingenious forensic analysis, of "female marriage" as a central feature of Trollope's Palliser novels. The old fellow will doubtless be spinning like a top in his grave at Kensal Green.

The journal also has an article entitled Sarah Jewett and Lesbian Symmetry. The author, Melissa Solomon, helpfully explains what her title means: "My working definition of lesbian symmetry is the symmetrical correspondence of size, shape, beauty, proportion, form or feeling allegedly visible or operative between, and in turn supposedly the result of, the corresponding bodies of lesbians - lesbians ever and always illustrating symmetry of form, of one kind or another."

Now we know.

Browsing this issue of NCL (a journal on whose editorial board I sit, incidentally, despite the theoretical thorns in the cushion) inspires the thought, can you teach an old (really old) academic subject new tricks? If you put Trollope through this ideological mangle, does he come out Trollope the other side? Likewise Sarah Jewett. If you do a lesbian symmetry job on her, is she still the author of the universally loved short story The White Heron?

Is English, as a subject, remaking itself by pondering the aestheticisations of lesbianism, or the lesbianisation of aesthetics? Is this the elixir of academic life, or merely a change of embalming fluids? Worst scenario: is English headed, like x-ray research, into the dustbin of academic history, muttering incomprehensibly to itself as it goes?

The dust on the learned journals in the library (not to say their gristly contents) predict extinction and irrelevance. But there is hope, surely, in the sound of all those young feet tramping towards the subject - even if they studiously (or unstudiously) don't stop off at the learned journal shelf while making for the books they manifestly "really like."
"Something very ugly."

Well-meaning but rather vague opinion piece on college sports in Inside Higher Ed. But read the comments. They're the real thing.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


The New York Times introduces Daniel Drezner, and then quotes some of his comments in a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed:

'In the July 28 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s weekly review, Daniel W. Drezner discusses whether his popular, outspoken blog ruined his chances for tenure at the University of Chicago. He is now a tenured professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.'

'Blogs and prestigious university appointments do not mix terribly well. That is because top departments are profoundly risk-averse when it comes to senior hires. ... In such a situation, even small doubts about an individual become magnified.

The trouble with blogs is that they seem designed to provoke easy doubts. Blogs are an outlet for unexpurgated, unreviewed and occasionally unprofessional musings. What makes them worth reading can also make them prone to error. Any honest scholar-blogger — myself included — could acknowledge a post or two that they would like to have back.'
Snapshots from Away

The night sky outside this house in the New York woods is spectacular. A bright moon leaves the brim of the mountains visible, and also the blue clouds on top of them.

The house stands alone on a hill. There are no neighbors, and few lights. The large canopy above it glimmers with airliners and satellites and perseids. Below, when the sun is out, there are high forested hills and a green valley, mainly trees, with some fields. Behind the hills is a Catskill range.

After Washington's months of heat, the cold air here feels like a freak of nature, an instance of forgetting what August is supposed to be.

For the first time, we've sculpted the curved field that fronts the house, creating a maze of paths among its tall wildflowers. So you can walk the field (which I just did -- it's late morning now) and see the birds and snakes and spiderwebs in the stands of flowers. Butterflies settle on the rim of your hat.

The noise is incessant. Birdsong, crickets, the wind in the pines. Farm machinery. When you walk the dirt road at the bottom of the field, you can hear frogs squawk along the ponds.

But the traditional walk is on the twisty path that leads from the house to our pond, and to the neglected little cabin overlooking the pond. I always walk with a pair of scissors in my hands, because there's always overgrowth to clear.

I like the business of leisurely business here, the way you're always vaguely doing something useful as you wander about -- pulling reeds out of the pond, collecting twigs, resettling stones. Of course the house sits uninhabited most of the time -- we weren't able to be here at all last year, and this year we only got a week free --so we do little to alter the life of the property, outside or in. A new chaise for the deck, a white chest of drawers, planting a dozen perennials - these are the small measures we take with the place.

One larger measure this season is a serious pond cleaning. A local man will spend three days dragging the thing of logs and weeds.

But for us the main business is being here. Watching the weather write the book of the world, as Donald Hall, who lives on a farm in New Hampshire, puts it. Watching the world leaf through its summer chapter.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Seventy Degrees!

UD's older sister, visiting 'thesda from her home in upstate New York, swears that temperatures there are supposed to dip into the seventies in the next couple of days. (She and UD have been locked for a week in an almost unbearably intense Scrabble tournament. At the moment, they're tied.) UD's about to pack for her trip today to her house in the hills near Cooperstown (where, the New York Times insists, there's a terrific Grandma Moses exhibit at the otherwise pretty dull Fenimore Museum), and finds this piece of information thrilling. The idea of putting sweaters in her luggage! The idea of clear cool nights under the shooting stars!

Blogging will be somewhat lighter for the next week as UD retreats to the ponds and the dairy farms.

Meanwhile, though, a note and a reminder:

*** I've been interviewed by a London Times reporter about academic blogging. Don't know when/if any of my remarks will appear in the paper, but I'll let you know.

*** Remember that when you go back in the archives of University Diaries, the number of comments for each post does not always appear at the bottom of the post. Sometimes just the word "Comments" appears. Click on this word. There may be no comments, or there may be twenty. I haven't gotten around to fixing this problem.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Sounds Like Fun

Ricky Bobby [Will Ferrell] is famous for either winning races or wiping out trying. He's never come in second and never let his best friend and racing partner Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly) pull ahead at the finish line. Ricky's life is one long montage of victory laps, breathless ESPN tributes, and make-out sessions with his hot wife Carley (Leslie Bibb). That is, until he comes face to face with his arch-nemesis Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), a gay Frenchman who reads Camus and drinks café macchiato during races, all the while muttering senseless imprecations like, "And now ze matador shall dance with ze blind shoemaker."

-- from a review in slate of the new film, talledaga nights --

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Buyer's Remorse...

...has definitely set in at the University of Wisconsin. After a few heady days defending the free speech rights of 9/11 conspiracy theorist and faculty member Kevin Barrett, the provost has leaned in for a closer look.

The distinction between Barrett's right to bark like a dog on the subject of 9/11, and the university's obligation to inflict Barrett's barking on its students, has, in the light of day, become clear to the provost, judging by the angry letter he's just written Barrett (who is scheduled to teach in the fall). Here's part of an AP story about it:

[The provost writes:] "In summary, if you continue to identify yourself with UW-Madison in your personal political messages or illustrate an inability to control your interest in publicity for your ideas, I would lose confidence ..."

...[The provost] scold[s] Barrett for identifying himself as a UW-Madison instructor in e-mails in which he challenged others to debate his theories. The provost said the challenges suggest "that you speak for the university -- precisely what I told you was inappropriate in that context."

Note the patronizing nature of the email. The provost writes to Barrett not as a colleague but as a wayward child.

No doubt this tone will offend Barrett (who after all is in possession of truths about the world the provost can never hope to grasp), and he will respond in kind, setting off a long epistolary give and take which we will all follow in the papers.
What the hell do you want?
No player has been arrested
in more than two years.

"The off-season has long been as newsworthy for the University of Miami as the football season.

Player arrests, assorted misbehavior and general scandal often have kept the Hurricanes on the front page long after the season.

[M]ore recently, [there was] controversy surrounding Willie Williams' admission into UM after his extensive criminal history was revealed.

Few off-seasons have been quite as turbulent as this one, which ends Monday when the Hurricanes begin fall practice.

The latest issue occurred Tuesday, when coach Larry Coker announced the suspension of four players, including starting receiver Ryan Moore and tailback Tyrone Moss, for the season opener against Florida State.

That was the most recent of events - mass firings, shootings and a Jerry Springer-like attack on a UM player Saturday - that have affected Miami's football program since it ended the 2005 season with a 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl.

"Lou Holtz had a statement that there are going to be three bad things happen to your football team," UM coach Larry Coker said. "(He said), 'I don't know what they are. I don't know when it'll happen. But there are three bad things that will happen.'"

The Hurricanes have made their quota and more in just the past month.

Among the lowlights:

•The suspensions of Moore, Moss, receiver Rashaun Jones and linebacker James Bryant for violations of team policy. Moore will miss UM's first two games, effectively sitting out a three-game suspension that began with the Peach Bowl.

•On July 21, an unidentified man fired gunshots to which UM safety Brandon Meriweather returned fire. During the incident, UM safety Willie Cooper was shot in the buttocks.

•A bizarre incident involving UM safety Lovon Ponder, who was physically and verbally attacked by his mother and aunt during CanesFest on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale.

"People are wondering, 'What's going on there?'" said Bruce Feldman, a national college football writer for and the author of Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment. "It's not that they're making news. It's that they're making weird news."

A dark cloud seems to hang over the Hurricanes since the Peach Bowl fiasco, the school's most lopsided post-season defeat.

Three days later, Coker overhauled his staff, firing four veteran assistants. The road has been rocky since then.

"We've had a couple of incidents," UM Athletic Director Paul Dee said. "I suppose you hope you don't have any incidents, but from time to time, things are going to happen.

"We've dealt with most of them in a good way. ... Overall I think we've had a good, but not perfect, off-season."

Dee insists that Miami's problems "get exaggerated a lot," and no UM player has been arrested in more than two years.

"Are they full-blown scandals?" Feldman said. "No. But the problem is people don't even read the story. They just read the headline and see it as trouble.

"If you're in Miami's position, you can't give people any ammunition, and they've given ammunition."

How UM deals with the off-season of discontent is what interests the fans.

"If you have strong, veteran leadership and guys who are really driven, it goes under the rug," said Joel Rodriguez, who played for UM from 2001 to 2004.

"Because once the bullets start flying and you're hot, sweaty and tired, it doesn't matter if the guy next to you was involved in a shooting or a cheating scandal or whatever. He's a guy that you have to count on."

Former UM quarterback Steve Walsh said despite the problems, the program will be fine.

"Miami has typically responded to situations where its back has been against the wall," Walsh said. "I see no reason why they can't do that again. I expect that to happen."

[In other news:]

Sooners release QB: Oklahoma starting quarterback Rhett Bomar and his roommate, offensive lineman J.D. Quinn, were kicked off the team after an investigation revealed they broke NCAA rules through their employment at a local business, according to a TV report.

Noteworthy: Southern California DB Brandon Ting tested positive for steroids before his surprise decision to leave the team last week, the Los Angeles Times reported. ... Tennessee freshman tight end Lee Smith, charged with drunken driving on campus, was dismissed from the team, and another freshman arrested this week, Marsalous Johnson, was suspended for an unrelated incident. Who can forget the spring and summer of 1996, when six UM players were facing criminal charges and a seventh - linebacker Marlin Barnes - was murdered on campus?"

From the New York Times:

People who study exceptional longevity — the state of living to 100 or beyond — say factors like diet, exercise, health habits, social support and the ability to find meaning in life appear to play a role in getting people to, say, 85. But, some of them say, they suspect that genes play the dominant role in hitting 100 or above.

“I have no one that was exercising,” said Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who is studying 400 centenarians. “I don’t have vegetarians. Nobody ate yogurt or anything like that. If you have longevity genes, well, lucky you. If you don’t, you know what to do.”

..."I have a 104-year-old lady who’s been smoking for 95 years,” he said. “Her response is, ‘Every doctor who told me to stop is now dead.’ ”
Scroll Down... the photograph of the man in the cafe for a link to and a comment on the New York Times piece David Brooks is writing about:

'In all healthy societies, the middle-class people have wholesome middle-class values while the upper-crust bluebloods lead lives of cosseted leisure interrupted by infidelity, overdoses and hunting accidents. But in America today we’ve got this all bollixed up.

Through some screw-up in the moral superstructure, we now have a plutocratic upper class infused with the staid industriousness of Ben Franklin, while we are apparently seeing the emergence of a Wal-Mart leisure class — devil-may-care middle-age slackers who live off home-equity loans and disability payments so they can surf the History Channel and enjoy fantasy football leagues.

For the first time in human history, the rich work longer hours than the proletariat.

Today’s super-wealthy no longer go off on four-month grand tours of Europe, play gin-soaked Gatsbyesque croquet tournaments or spend hours doing needlepoint while thinking in full paragraphs like the heroines of Jane Austen novels. Instead, their lives are marked by sleep deprivation and conference calls, and their idea of leisure is jetting off to Aspen to hear Zbigniew Brzezinski lead panels titled “Beyond Unipolarity.”

Meanwhile, down the income ladder, the percentage of middle-age men who have dropped out of the labor force has doubled over the past 40 years, to over 12 percent. Many of the men have disabilities. Others struggle to find work. But in a recent dinner-party-dominating article, The Times’s Louis Uchitelle and David Leonhardt describe two men who are not exactly Horatio Alger wonderboys.

Christopher Priga, 54, earned a six-figure income as an electrical engineer at Xerox but is now shown relaxing at a coffee shop with a book and a smoke while waiting for a job commensurate with his self-esteem. “To be honest, I’m kind of looking for the home run,” he said. “There’s no point in hitting for base hits.”

Alan Beggerow, once a steelworker, now sleeps nine hours day, reads two or three books a week, writes Amazon reviews, practices the piano and writes Louis L’Amour-style westerns. “I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me,” he said.

His wife takes in work as a seamstress and bakes to help support the family, as they eat away at their savings. “The future is always a concern,” Beggerow said, “but I no longer allow myself to dwell on it.”

Many readers no doubt observed that if today’s prostate-aged moochers wanted to loaf around all day reading books and tossing off their vacuous opinions into the ether, they should have had the foresight to become newspaper columnists.

Others will note sardonically that the only really vibrant counterculture in the United States today is laziness.

But I try not to judge these gentlemen harshly. What I see is a migration of values. Once upon a time, middle-class men would have defined their dignity by their ability to work hard, provide for their family and live as self-reliant members of society. But these fellows, to judge by their quotations, define their dignity the same way the subjects of Thorstein Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class” defined theirs.

They define their dignity by the loftiness of their thinking. They define their dignity not by their achievement, but by their personal enlightenment, their autonomy, by their distance from anything dishonorably menial or compulsory.

In other words, the values that used to prevail among the manorial estates have migrated to parts of mass society while the grinding work ethic of the immigrant prevails in the stratosphere.

This is terrible. It’s a blow first of all to literature. If P. G. Wodehouse were writing today, Bertie Wooster would be at Goldman Sachs and Jeeves would be judging a meth-mouth contest at Sturgis. Anna Karenina would be Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada.” “The House of Mirth” would become “The House of Broadband.”

More important, this reversal is a blow to the natural order of the universe. The only comfort I’ve had from these disturbing trends is another recent story in The Times. Joyce Wadler reported that women in places like the Hamptons are still bedding down with the hired help. R. Couri Hay, the society editor of Hamptons magazine, celebrated rich women’s tendency to sleep with their home renovators.

“Nobody knows,” he said. “The contractor isn’t going to tell because the husband is writing the check, the wife isn’t going to tell, and you get a better job because she’s providing a fringe benefit. Everybody wins.”

Thank God somebody is standing up for traditional morality.'

My only complaint is that Brooks is unfair to Beggerow, who as I recall was a steelworker for thirty years. He's earned his leisure. And he's doing some good things with it.
Advice from an
Australian Academic

"...[U]se your moral muscle only very sparingly. My father, a professional philosopher, has a job that involves thinking very hard about very difficult things. This, of course, is an activity that consumes mental resources at a terrific rate.

The secret of his success as an academic, I am now convinced, is to ensure that none of his precious brainpower is wasted on other, less important matters. He feels the urge to sample a delicious luxury chocolate? He pops one in his mouth. Pulling on yesterday's shirt less trouble than finding a clean one? Over his head the stale garment goes. Rather fancies sitting in a comfy armchair instead of taking a brisk jog around the park? Comfy armchair it is. Thanks to its five-star treatment, my father's willpower - rested and restored whenever possible - can take on the search for wisdom with the strength of 10 men.

Although we may not all be able to live the charmed life of the well-paid scholar, the general principle - not to spread our inner resolve too thin - is an important one. If you are about to embark on a big project you court disaster if at the same time your life is cluttered and demanding, or you also commit to draining attempts at self-enhancement. The would-be novelist whose taxing day job exhausts her moral muscle will find it harder to apply the seat of her trousers to the seat of her chair. The dieting philosopher will struggle to keep his attention on a tricky passage of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Where are the students whose self-discipline is constantly worn away by other concerns? Not in the library reading course-notes, photocopying articles or borrowing books. And if they are relying on their smarts to get them to the top of the class then there will be disappointment ahead."

--- Cordelia Fine ---
via arts and letters daily

"Years ago, I paid for the New York Times and Barron's and spent Sunday mornings reading them to get caught up on the past week and prepare for the new one.

Other than having a cup of hazelnut coffee, my Sunday morning ritual of news absorption has been dramatically transformed.

Besides discovering news from a whole host of free Internet sites, I search for particular topics in Google News, and increasingly blog search site Technorati to see what the bloggers are saying. My latest habit is to check out which blogs are the most influential by seeing how many blogs link to them.

What I once would have ignored and considered mindless noise, I'm now fascinated with. I'm reading the unfiltered thoughts of so many people, often with nuggets of good information or observations.

Apparently I'm not alone. About 57 million Americans, or 39 percent of Internet users, read blogs, according to Pew Internet & American Life."

The only reliable paper element of my Sunday morning news ritual these days is the New York Times magazine crossword puzzle. And the acrostic.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Snapshots from Home

From a New York Times obituary of a New Yorker magazine cartoonist:

On at least one occasion, Mr. Reilly's work influenced public policy, albeit briefly. In 1984, the town council of Garrett Park, Md., voted to install a traffic sign at a troublesome intersection. The sign, taken straight from one of Mr. Reilly's New Yorker cartoons, read: "At Least Slow Down (formerly STOP)."

It was too good to last. "It's been gone some time," Ted Pratt, the town administrator of Garrett Park, said in an interview yesterday. "It got stolen so many times, they gave up."

I remember those signs fondly. They were indeed always stolen. We have the same trouble with our NUCLEAR FREE ZONE signs.
Extreme Heat
Further North

Along with one Glimmerglass opera, an afternoon in Cooperstown, and UD's birthday dinner at Woodstock's Bear Cafe, we like to take in Saratoga Springs when we're at our house in New York. We're driving there in a few days. But it sounds as though it's just as hellish upstate as it is down here in 'thesda:

Racing at Saratoga Race Course is canceled today because of extreme heat, according to William Nader, New York Racing Association senior vice president.

The decision to cancel the nine-race program was made in a morning meeting with trainers, jockeys, the track veterinarian, stewards, track superintendent and senior management this morning.

"The consensus in the room was to take the ultimate precaution and cancel the entire card for the safety of all participants,'' Nader said in a press release.

He said racing is scheduled to resume Thursday, and Friday's card will be expanded to 10 races.

There is no simulcasting today at Saratoga.

This is the first time that an entire card has been canceled at Saratoga in modern times, according to a track spokesman.
How often...

...does the New York Times run a lovely
photo like this, of a man enjoying an
afternoon in a cafe, reading a book?

Not very often. And when it does, it's part of
a story about unemployment:

Millions of men [...] — men in the prime of their lives, between 30 and 55 — have dropped out of regular work. They are turning down jobs they think beneath them or are unable to find work for which they are qualified, even as an expanding economy offers opportunities to work.

About 13 percent of American men in this age group are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960’s. The difference represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained where it was in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Priscilla Slade Update

From Newsday:

'Former Texas Southern University President Priscilla Slade was indicted Tuesday by a grand jury following accusations she misspent hundreds of thousands of school dollars to furnish and landscape her home.

Slade, 54, was indicted on two charges of criminally misusing university money for her private benefit.

The grand jury, after a three-month investigation, also indicted three other former high-ranking TSU staffers.

University regents voted in April to dismiss Slade. An inquiry by an independent law firm found that Slade spent more than $260,000 on house-related costs.

An audit also concluded she spent nearly $650,000 over the past seven years on purchases not allowed under her contract.

Slade, who served as president of the historically black university for more than six years, has denied any wrongdoing and has filed a civil lawsuit against the school.

If convicted, Slade faces anywhere from five years of probation to life in prison, and a fine of up to $20,000. A judge set her bail at $100,000.'
From today's Herald Sun

'Semen found in the house where three Duke lacrosse players allegedly raped an exotic dancer matches the DNA of two team members, but lawyers disagree about its potential impact on the unfolding case.

The previously undisclosed matches, one involving indicted rape suspect David Evans and the other involving a player not charged, have been confirmed by several sources close to the case.

..."It means nothing," said veteran defense lawyer Mark Edwards, who is not involved in the case. "These are college-age males full of testosterone. So what if there is semen found in the house? If the accuser's story was true, their semen should have been found in her, too."

Lawyer Bill Thomas, who represents an unindicted lacrosse player -- but not the one whose semen was discovered on the bathroom floor -- agreed.

"Every person who uses a bathroom on a daily basis will have his DNA present in that bathroom in some form," Thomas said. "But in this case, none of the accuser's DNA whatsoever was found. The only significant DNA is semen from a third party unconnected to the case. There still is no evidence whatsoever linking any of these [lacrosse players] to allegations made by the accuser."

Lawyer Kerry Sutton, also representing an unindicted lacrosse player, said essentially the same thing.

"Finding a healthy young man's semen or DNA on a towel near his bedroom or in his own bathroom couldn't possibly be less shocking," she said. "It would be more surprising if you didn't find it."

But not everyone thinks the semen evidence is unimportant.

Lawyer John Fitzpatrick, who is not connected to the lacrosse case and who teaches periodically at the UNC School of Government in Chapel Hill, said Monday it could have great impact for the prosecution.

"If there is semen there that matches one or more of the players, I think it's crucial," he said. "It is evidence to show that some kind of orgasm occurred. It gives more credence to the prosecution's theory that something happened. It is a potential link to a crime. It is a big thing.

"The prosecution can say the semen was there because the alleged victim was right. Of course, the defense will probably try to explain it by saying the guys just masturbated."

N.C. Central University law professor Irving Joyner also said Monday the semen evidence should not be automatically discounted.

"It would tend to support the prosecution's case," he said. "Of course, the prosecution will need to establish how the semen got there and its relevance to the young lady. There are still some hurdles, but this will help the prosecutor. The defense will have to go some lengths to explain it."'
The Most Dysfunctional
Business in America


[A]s programs vie to outspend one another, many go deep into the red, forcing schools to raise student fees and seek new sources of support. (Texas is a rarity: its program is self-sufficient and usually runs in the black.) Indeed, although many schools have increased revenue by adding premium seating and charging for seat licenses and ticket guarantees, they haven't improved their financial positions much, if at all. Unlike in the corporate world, most universities don't bother to track the returns on their sports investments beyond the win column. Despite the myth of massively profitable college-sports franchises built on the backs of unpaid players, only a handful of athletic programs manage to break even without university or student-fee subsidies.

Some argue that successful athletic programs bring intangible benefits to their schools, in the form of publicity and image enhancement. But research has cast doubt on the value of such reflected glory (see "Money Well Spent?" at the end of this article).

"College sports is the only business in America that has no bottom-line responsibilities," says Rodney Fort, a sports economist at Washington State University. "Even nonprofits have to watch the bottom line to some degree." In his 2000 book Beer and Circus, which takes a critical look at the world of university athletics, Murray Sperber, an emeritus professor at Indiana University, called college sports "the most dysfunctional business in America." Six years later, Sperber says it's as true as ever.

Haves and Have-Nots

According to an analysis by the Indianapolis Star newspaper of the 2004–05 budgets of 164 public universities, just 9 percent of these Division I schools had athletic departments that were able to support themselves. The rest received a total of more than $1 billion in student fees, general school funds, and other subsidies. Without the financial assistance, the average school would have lost $5.7 million, according to the Star.

"Except for a handful, they are all losing money," confirms Daniel Fulks, a professor of accounting at Transylvania University in Kentucky. Fulks, who analyzes athletic budgets for the NCAA, adds that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider. Many have-nots are trying to keep up, he says, but are destined to fail. "It's not so much difficult as it is impossible," says Fulks. "I call these schools 'the pretenders.'"

Consider the disparity between Ohio State, which competes in the Big 10, and Iowa State, which belongs to the Big 12. Ohio State has the largest athletic budget in the country, spending more than $90 million last year. For 2006–07 it has budgeted $97.5 million with a full-time staff of 300 to support 36 sports, with more than 900 student-athletes participating. The Buckeyes athletic department is completely self-supporting and usually operates in the black. "We are very lucky. Ohio State [football] has such a following that even in a down year we can expect to have sellouts," says Susan Henderson, senior associate athletic director, who acts as CFO of the athletic department.

The picture at Iowa State, which made ends meet last year with just over $28 million, is much bleaker. "We haven't been competitive," admits athletic director Jamie Pollard. He says that while you don't have to be the biggest to be the best, Iowa State, which has the smallest athletic budget in the Big 12, is too far from the median. "We just have to try to be the best we can be with what we have," says Pollard. It's not easy. Iowa State still supports 18 varsity sports played by more than 450 student athletes. While the athletic program reported a $700,000 surplus for the 2004–05 academic year, it was far from self-sufficient. Data from the Indianapolis Star shows the school relied on $2.6 million of general university money and more than $1 million in student fees.

Smaller schools in big conferences are forced to make do with what they have or spend money they don't have to keep up. "We basically have two choices," says Dave Marmion, assistant athletic director for finance at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "We can either spend out of control and go into the red, or spend smarter, which is what we try to do." Wake Forest, which competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference, doesn't release budget figures, but Marmion says larger conference rivals like Florida State and the University of Miami spend far more.

Pollard, former CFO of the University of Wisconsin athletic department, concedes that the spending race is "staggering" and "never ending." But he doesn't blame big schools for spending what they do. "To each his own," he says. "It's a competitive business." Pollard's view is that the race will continue as long as fans are willing to support it: "Until consumers stop investing in it, the market drives it."

Revenue Generators

Indeed, fans seem to have an insatiable appetite for college-sports tickets, television broadcasts, and apparel. The biggest schools seemingly can grow revenues at will — and in recent years have been less shy about doing so, pushing further into the realm of blatant commercialization.

Rather than rebuke colleges for any excesses, the NCAA — in more of an admission of reality than a change in policy — gave college athletics its blessing for running up the score on revenues. "Let us end the ambivalence and do the best job we can developing revenue for our athletics departments," NCAA president Myles Brand told athletic directors at a convention in January. "Athletics, like the university as a whole, seeks to maximize revenues. In this respect, it has an obligation to conduct its revenue-generating activities in a productive, sound, and businesslike manner." It was a sharp departure from Brand's earlier warnings for athletic departments to tone down the commercialization.

"There's no doubt that the brakes are off on efforts to increase revenues," says Stephen A. Greyser, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School who studies the business of sports.

While Henderson says Ohio State keeps tight controls on costs, the school is focused on developing additional sources of revenue. That goal is shared by universities around the country, and it's not just premium stadium seating they are pursuing. A common trend among athletic departments is to outsource the sales of broadcasting rights and sponsorships to professional sports-marketing companies. Last year, for example, Boston College handed over sponsorship sales to Fenway Sports Group, the marketing arm of the Boston Red Sox. T.J. Nelligan, who runs Nelligan Sports Marketing, says such agreements can increase broadcasting and sponsorship revenue exponentially. The University of Louisville, for example, credits its outsourcing deal with Nelligan for increasing its broadcasting and sponsorship revenue from $700,000 in 1996 to $7 million last year.

Borrowing another page from the professional-sports playbook, universities are also beginning to sell naming rights on their stadiums. Louisville is reportedly seeking $40 million for the naming rights to a new arena it is building on campus. (Such a deal would dwarf the $5 million Louisville received to name its football stadium, which opened in 1998, after a pizza chain: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.) The University of Minnesota already sold the naming rights to its new football stadium, expected to be completed in 2009, to TCF Bank for $35 million. Elizabeth Eull, associate athletic director for administration and finance and CFO of the athletic department, says some on campus squawked over the deal, which will help fund the $248 million project. "There was some discontent, but it's a situations where you say, 'This isn't going to get done without [selling the naming rights],'" she says.

It doesn't stop there. In June, Big 10 officials announced plans to team with Fox Cable Networks to launch the Big 10 Channel, which will cover Big 10 sports 24 hours a day. If it's successful, other conferences will be sure to launch dedicated cable channels of their own. College-sports television contracts, even aside from the monster deals with the big-four broadcast networks and ESPN, can be wildly lucrative. An all-college-sports network, CSTV, was launched in 2003 and purchased by CBS in January for $325 million.

All told, Division I-A colleges increased revenues by 34 percent from 1999 to 2003 (the latest year for which data is available), when the average athletic program brought in $29.4 million.

Spendthrift U.

In the corporate world, revenue growth like that would certainly be something to cheer about — but not if costs were increasing just as fast. And that's the case, unfortunately, with college athletics. Costs are rising nearly dollar-for-dollar with revenues. In 2002–03, Division I-A schools averaged $27.2 million in total spending on athletics. "As good as we are at bringing it in, we are just as good at spending it," admits Texas's Goble.

Worse, spending on the cash cows of men's football and basketball doesn't necessarily generate an incremental increase in revenue. According to an NCAA study commissioned in 2003, an increase in operating expenditures of $1 on football or men's basketball in Division I-A was associated with additional revenue of just $1. In other words, increasing spending, even on the profitable sports, has yielded no return on investment at all.

Those who follow the economics of college sports say the system is set up to encourage athletic departments to spend all the revenue they can make. "There's no tight oversight from the university, due to a vocal group of alumni that want to win," says Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College who studies the business of sports. He says athletic directors are driven to expand the territory they control. "The more they pay coaches and the bigger the stadiums get, the more the ADs are worth," he says. "There are no shareholders to show a profit to."

Yet out-of-control spending isn't just the result of ADs trying to expand their domains, but also of the imperative that colleges must win, at all costs. "In the corporate world, the bottom line is profits, and if the company does well, everyone goes home happy," says Iowa State's Pollard. "In college sports, the bottom line is a championship, and everyone else goes home unhappy." He says this drives athletic departments to spend everything they can to further that goal. "They could stand up and say, 'This is insane, I'm going to stop it,' but they would get fired." College ADs are under pressure to do everything they can within the rules to win, says Pollard, including spending all of their resources. Anything less means they didn't try hard enough.

When schools don't spend everything they bring in, they generally bank those revenues in reserve funds to guard against a down year. At Ohio State, profits were squirreled away with the expectation that the department would lose money in the 2004–05 academic year, when the football team played only six home games instead of the usual seven. "We knew that was coming, so we were able to prepare for it," says Henderson. Likewise, the University of Texas banked its 2005–06 surplus in a reserve fund.

Only a few schools ever send money back into the general university fund. The department of athletics at Ohio State, for example, pays the university a fee of more than $4 million annually in overhead charges to support basic campus infrastructure. The University of Kentucky's athletic department contributes $1 million a year to the president's office for nonathletic need-based scholarships, says Rob Mullens, deputy director of athletics.

To be sure, some cost escalation is uncontrollable. Athletic departments, which generally pay back scholarship money at the list price, are subject to the same runaway tuition costs that all students are seeing. Mullens says that the cost to cover athletic scholarships at Kentucky has increased 12.5 to 15 percent in each of the last four years.

When athletic departments lose money, they often raise student fees to cover the deficit or dip into the university's general fund. For example, when the University of California at San Diego went $300,000 into the red this past academic year, its student-affairs department covered the shortfall, and the school put an increase to student fees on the table. Students will vote in a referendum to raise the fee this fall. Similarly, Colorado State University, which expects an annual deficit in its athletic department of $1 million in coming years, is looking to raise what students pay into the sports program from $53 a semester to $68 a semester, bringing in an additional $720,000 each year. And on the infrequent occasions when Ohio State runs in the red, the university covers the shortfall, but charges the athletic department between 5 and 6 percent interest on what it considers to be a loan. "We're expected to be in the black every year," says Henderson.

Facing a shortfall after a scandal-plagued couple of years and an expensive contract buyout for former football coach Gary Barnett, the University of Colorado obtained an $8 million loan in June from the general university reserve fund at a rate that CFOs would kill for — 2 percent.

Stretching the Dollar

Plenty of universities, however, say they have no choice but to watch the cost side closely. Minnesota, which in 2002 was projecting a deficit of $31 million in its athletic program by the 2007–08 academic year, recently conducted a top-to-bottom review of its sports budget and cut costs anywhere it could. "We looked at every nickel," says Eull. The program now operates close to break-even, with less dependence on general university funds.

Charges that athletic directors spend foolishly ring false to Suzette Fronk, assistant athletic director for business affairs at the University of Toledo in Ohio. She says the athletic department is under tremendous pressure to rein in spending after years of running a deficit. "We don't just have to balance our yearly budget, we're also working against a [loss] carry-forward."

While the athletic department finished the last academic year with a surplus of $800,000, it was not a typical year for the Rockets. Generally they have lost money, and when they do, they start the next year in the hole. After last year, the department still has a deficit of $3.17 million to make up.

A few years ago, Toledo athletics, facing a budget shortfall of $1 million annually, went into turnaround mode, says Fronk. After a thorough review of its finances, the department decided to eliminate three sports: men's swimming and men's indoor and outdoor track and field. The move would ease budget pressures and help the school comply with Title IX, a government mandate to provide gender equality in athletics. "It was like giving up three of your children," recalls Fronk. To avoid having to make further cuts, she says the department operates as lean as it can. Fronk negotiates room rates with hotels and even pushes for discounts on meals when teams are on the road.

Fronk says she would like to see more-equitable revenue sharing to level the playing field for the haves and the have-nots. "Those of us have-nots say that we could do so much with that $1 million the others are blowing."

For its part, the NCAA says there's not enough data to tell whether there is a spending race in college sports, according to CFO Jim Isch. But he admits there is evidence of a growing gap between the haves and have-nots. "We're monitoring it and collecting more data before we make any changes," says Isch. The NCAA does share a portion of its $6 billion television contract with CBS to televise the March basketball tournament with all schools, even those that don't make the field of 64, but the cut isn't very high. Fronk would like to see mechanisms where rich athletic departments would share more of the spoils with the have-nots.

That scenario is unlikely to become reality, though. Explains Transylvania's Fulks: "The people in a position to change things are the ones that are benefiting the most from the way it works now."



Muddled accounting makes comparing finances in college sports nearly impossible.

Universities readily admit that they monitor athletic spending at their peers. After all, you have to know what the Joneses are doing in order to keep up with them. The trouble is, obtaining a clear view of a rival's finances can be all but impossible.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requires all schools to submit detailed financial information, but it doesn't release that information to the public or share it with other schools. Instead, it releases aggregated revenue and spending data, organized by conference. Universities are also required by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) — part of the Title IX gender equality in athletics law — to disclose some financial data to the public. But the EADA requirements (as well as the NCAA's) have few standardized accounting rules. The result makes comparisons among universities very difficult.

"Those numbers can be very misleading," says Eric Ziady, associate athletic director for business operations at Boston College. He says that schools compute their figures differently. For example, some include capital expenditures and debt servicing in the reports; others don't. Some include the cost to manage sports facilities — expenses such as security and maintenance — while others carry those expenses on their general books. "Things included or excluded in gross numbers can sway budgets by tens of millions of dollars," says Ziady.

Efforts are under way to improve the comparability of finances in college sports. Rule changes enacted for the 2006–07 school year require universities to file financial reports using a common set of accounting definitions and have them audited by a third party. The new guidelines also require schools to report capital expenditures and the athletic department's share of costs being picked up by the university. "We believe it will significantly improve the quality and reliability of our data," says Jim Isch, CFO of the NCAA.

The NCAA is also making changes to promote more transparency. After the coming year, schools will be able to view the financials of up to 10 peers, says Isch. While the public will still be kept largely in the dark, sharing data among universities offers them some hope of understanding — and hence controlling — athletic spending.

Winners and Losers

Some college athletic programs run a surplus, but many go well into the red.

Most Profitable Athletic Programs

University of Georgia $23.9*
University of Michigan 17.0
University of Kansas 10.1
Virginia Tech University 8.3
University of Texas 7.3
University of Iowa 6.7
Kansas State University 5.5
Texas A&M University 5.3
University of Alabama 5.3
Louisiana State University $5.1

Least Profitable Athletic Programs

University of Arkansas-Little Rock -$8.7*
University of California-Berkeley -7.9
University of Cincinnati -4.1
University of North Texas -3.1
University of South Carolina -2.7
West Virginia University -2.3
University of Washington -2.2
University of Hawaii -2.2
University of Nevada -1.8
North Carolina State University -$1.3

* Revenues minus expenses for the 2004–05 academic year (in $ millions). The numbers are presented here as reported to the NCAA. Schools differ greatly in how they report financial information.

Source: Indianapolis Star analysis of data obtained through public-records requests.


Money Well Spent?

Colleges generally justify spending on athletics by pointing out the intangible benefits that they bring to the universities. They argue that sports is the window through which many people come into contact with the school and that such exposure is worth a lot. (During most televised college events, each participating school gets one free minute to air a promotional message.) Athletic success increases the number and quality of university applicants, the argument goes, and improves alumni giving.

There is some anecdotal evidence that supports these claims. The idea is known as the Flutie factor, for the overall growth and academic improvement seen at Boston College after the school racked up victories on the football field under Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie in the mid-1980s.

Empirical evidence, however, doesn't necessarily back up the theory that athletic spending leads to academic success. A study commissioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2003 found no relationship — positive or negative — between increased spending on big sports and incoming SAT scores. However, the study's authors admit that with only eight years of data, the period could have been too short to see the relationship. Most surprising of all, the study found no link between increased athletic spending on marquee sports and alumni giving, either to sports programs or to the university itself. (As Notre Dame alumni might tell you, the link between winning and giving — not part of the study — is likely a lot stronger.)

But it appears difficult to spend your way to victory on the athletic field. The same study found no statistical relationship between changes in operating expenditures on football and changes in winning percentages between 1993 and 2001. One possible explanation for this is that as long as everyone is increasing spending, the status quo is maintained. But the evidence shows that schools will have a hard time achieving academic success by spending their way to it on the sports fields.
Statement v. Statement

Which is best?

Statement #1:

Over my 15 years in public life, [Pretty good opening phrase -- an attempt at gravitas.] I've felt a responsibility [This word wants to deepen the aura of moral seriousness.] to speak honestly and openly [Americans, Patrick Kennedy's publicist/writer knows, like the language of openness and honesty. So much that spilling the beans is usually enough. No need to change the behavior about which you're spilling.] about my challenges [Challenges is good. Strong people like Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods have challenges. "Weaknesses" would undermine the moral equivalence.] with addiction and depression [The publicist has so far successfully medicalized everything.]. I've been fighting [Chariots of Fire rhetoric. Every day a Blakean battle.] this chronic disease since I was a young man, and have aggressively and periodically sought treatment so that I can live a full and productive life. [Has to dry out all the time. Could have put it more straightforwardly, but okay. If Rhode Island wants a person like this leading it, that's democracy.]

I struggle every day with this disease, as do millions of Americans [Battle Royale again, and I'm not the only one, you know.] I've dedicated my public service to raising awareness about the chronic [Needs to keep saying chronic, or we'd wonder why he keeps doing shit.] disease of addiction and have fought to increase access to care and recovery supports for the too many Americans forced to struggle on their own.

This past Christmas [Switches to narration here. Good idea. We like stories.], I realized that I had to seek help again so checked myself into the Mayo Clinic for addiction to prescription pain medication [Kennedy's effort to make this not be about alcohol has not been a success]. I was there over the holiday and during the House recess getting well, and I returned to the House of Representatives and to Rhode Island reinvigorated and healthy.

Of course, in every recovery, each day has its ups and downs [Cliche probably not a good idea. Sounds facile, insincere.], but I have been strong, focused and productive since my return. But in all candor, the incident on Wednesday evening concerns me greatly [Weird dissociative language... I concern myself greatly... Doesn't work.].

I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police, or being cited for three driving infractions. That's not how I want to live my life, and that's not how I want to represent the people of Rhode Island. [This is excellent. Has the ring of truth. But the sequence of events forgets to mention his time spent drinking in a Capitol Hill bar. The question is whether he remembers that.]

The recurrence of an addiction problem can be triggered by things that happen in everyday life, such as taking a common treatment for a stomach flu. That's not an excuse for what happened Wednesday evening, but its a reality of fighting a chronic condition for which I'm taking full responsibility.

I am deeply concerned about my reaction to the medication and my lack of knowledge of the accident that evening. But I do know enough to know that I need to seek expert help. This afternoon, I'm traveling to Minnesota to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic to ensure I can continue on my road to recovery [Road to recovery is a vile cliche. And since his writer has assured us countless times now that his disease is chronic, it's really really all wrong].

The greatest honor of my public life is to serve the people of Rhode Island, and I'm determined to address this issue [Address this issue is so weird -- so much the dead distant language of politicos -- that one can't feel any confidence a person so alienated from himself will experience any real recovery.] so that I can continue to fight for the families of Rhode Island with the same dedication and rigor that I have exemplified over the last decade.

I hope that my openness today and in the past, and my acknowledgment that I need help, will give others the courage to get help if they need it. I am blessed to have a loving and supportive family who is in my corner, and I am grateful to my friends, especially those in Rhode Island, who have reached out to me. Thank you for you prayers and your support. [The statement is much too long, and too full of ass-saving blah blah. The writer should have stopped with the phrase "Mayo Clinic."]


Statement #2

"After drinking alcohol on Thursday night [Publicist starts right in on narrative -- good idea. Kennedy's had far too much political filler.], I did a number of things that were very wrong [Barney the Dinosaur locution makes your reader feel you're talking down to her.] and for ["about" would be better] which I am ashamed. I drove a car when I should not have [Again, this crosses the line between attractive simple direct statement and Barney], and was stopped by the L.A. County sheriffs. The arresting officer was just doing his job [Cliche. And why is it there? Isn't it self-evident? Makes Gibson sound like the Hollywood padrone he is.] and I feel fortunate that I was apprehended before I caused injury to any other person [Gibson apparently tried to make a run for it when he saw the cops, so this doesn't ring very true.].

"I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. [As with Patrick Kennedy, we have the dissociative problem. I acted like a person. But you are that person.] I am deeply ashamed of everything I said and I apologize to anyone who I have offended.

"Also, I take this opportunity to apologize to the deputies involved for my belligerent behavior. They have always been there for me in my community and indeed probably saved me from myself. [Getting a bit over the top here, but I like the phrase saved me from myself.] I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry.

"I have battled the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life [Eerie. Gibson's writer's reading from the exact same template Kennedy's is.] and profoundly regret my horrific [Misuse of this word. Nothing horrific here, and makes Gibson look like what he is -- a ham, emoting his way out of a problem.] relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health."

Statement #3:

"Jet lag, loneliness and adrenalin." [The clear winner.]
Strega Bloga

Here's Strega Nona, from the popular

children's book, warning a little twerp
that only she can control the spell
whereby she creates endless pasta in
her cooking pot. The lad will ignore her,
of course, and overrun the town with
pasta because he doesn't know how to
turn off the spell.

Inside Higher Ed has a Stregna Nona story this morning, about a university president brought down by a boiling blog:

The author of the blog is unknown, and there is no consensus on the campus about who started it. What is known is that the blog first appeared on May 13, 2005. The blogmaster, using the pseudonym “Brewster Pennybaker,” attacked the president on a number of fronts, including leadership style ("Gupta tried to justify the cruel and callous way in which she has treated so many people at Alfred State"), skills ("When it comes to fund raising, the level of incompetence of Alfred State President Uma Gupta is almost beyond belief"), and even mental health. The posts were numerous, detailed, up-to-date, and generated many responses from an ever-growing readership.

The president and her cabinet appeared completely befuddled by the new technology. Ignoring the blog seemed out of the question; once the blogmaster installed a counter on the main page, it was evident that the blog had a substantial readership. Although Alfred State has only a few hundred employees, the original blog recorded over 12,000 hits in just a couple of months, and the newer version recorded almost 100,000 page views in less than a year. Using legal means to shut down the blog were considered; Alfred State administrators consulted with the central SUNY administration in Albany and got the bad news that it would be legally difficult if not impossible to shut down the blog.

The administration then turned to threats: Vice presidents told their staff members that any non-tenured employee who was caught posting to the blog would be fired. These efforts produced only howls of derision on the blog itself. The president also pressured the Faculty Senate to officially condemn the blog, but the senate refused. The cabinet then tried to squelch the blog by blaming it for low enrollment and poor fund raising, and hinted at job cuts. But use of the blog only grew.

This isn't really a story about blogs, though. Recall that American University's Benjamin Ladner also attempted to shut down critical blogs during his cartoonish presidency.

True, the technology of exposure and dissemination is better now (MIT's Susumu Tonegawa is the most recent high-profile person to be made aware of this); but what's notable about this story is not the burgeoning blog but the hapless president.