Archive for January, 2007

Cech Out

Posted on January 31st, 2007 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

Thomas Cech has withdrawn his name from contention for the Harvard presidency, the Crimson reports. (Nice scoop, Stephanie Garlow!)

“Clearly it’s one of the great positions in academic leadership in the United States,” he said. “But I already have a great job,” he went on, noting that his post allows him to advance science education and biomedical research.

Well…the plot does thicken, doesn’t it? There are so many interesting questions ….why withdraw now? Why do so publicly? What does this mean if Drew Faust is chosen? Why are so many people saying no to Harvard? Why can’t the Corporation seem to do anything right?

I have some thoughts on the above, but I’d like to hear yours…..

Speaking of Boldness

Posted on January 31st, 2007 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

“[Harvard’s report] is bold, and I think it has the potential to change the context of the whole conversation at research universities about what we do with teaching…. That kind of thing has never been a big priority for universities, and maybe research universities in particular.”

—William Rando, director of the McDougal Graduate Teaching Center at Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, in the Yale Daily News

“My impression is that Harvard is sort of rediscovering the wheel. [At Yale], there is already in place a stronger culture about the importance of teaching well, in particular undergraduates. No one is hired who wants a reduced teaching load, which you can do at some universities.”

—Yale history department chair Paul Freedman

The Crimson Takes a Bold Stand for Boldness

Posted on January 31st, 2007 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

The Crimson today editorializes that the Harvard presidential search committee should “make the bold choice.”

Harvard, the paper’s editorial board says, “needs a visionary president, not a consensus pick.”

In five short months, there will again be a new president, the institution is direly in need of change, and the faculty is entrenched in its ways and on the whole resistant to much needed progress….Harvard is, however, badly in need of another Eliot, a dreamer who will take risks and challenge the Harvard community to push itself to its limits. We hope that the presidential search committee has the courage to select such an individual rather than a “safe” choice who will kowtow to Harvard’s many and varied constituencies.

Well…sure. No one’s in favor of a president who will kowtow to Harvard’s many and varied constituencies. But let’s examine the premises. Is the institution really direly in need of change? (And if so, why do so many students want to go there?) Sure, there are things that need to be fixed at Harvard, but this editorial makes it sound as if the university is on the brink of a meltdown.

And what about that anti-faculty slag? “The faculty is entrenched in its ways and on the whole resistant to much-needed progress.”

Based on what, exactly? Under Derek Bok, the curricular review is moving along, and Theda Skocpol’s committee on teaching just proposed one of the most radical changes in Harvard history—linking teacher pay to the quality of teaching. Eliot never did that.

And yet, says the Crimson, the need for a bold and innovative president could hardly be more urgent.

I’m not convinced.

Partly, I think, because the Crimson’s argument sounds like the basis for another choice just like, well, Larry Summers. Bold…urgent…leap of faith….aggressive…controversial.….

These are all nice buzzwords, but they suggest the need for another Summers-style presidency, and that is exactly what Harvard does not need. The Crimson says the next president should not be a “consensus pick,” which was pretty much the case with Summers, about whom several members of the search committee had serious questions right down to the wire but whose candidacy was advocated by two strong personalities, Hanna Gray and Bob Rubin.

Maybe this time around, a little more consensus would be a good thing.

Moreover, there’s a kind of intellectual dishonesty to this editorial. Read between the lines, it sounds like an argument against Drew Faust, because she is well-liked within FAS, and we all know how the Crimson feels about the faculty.

The Faculty is set in its ways and content with its perch in the ivory tower so long as their personal fiefdoms are not intruded upon

And then there’s this line:

An uncontroversial choice would be a prolific writer of open letters, a master fundraiser, and a pretty face who lacks an overall vision.

Which sounds like a criticism of Derek Bok, who fits at least two of those descriptions. (That, Mr. Bok, is what you get for coming out of retirement and working for a buck a year.)

Thanks to its own fine reporting, the Crimson knows more or less who the final candidates are. If it really wants to show some balls, it should just come out and endorse one, instead of casting implied aspersions.

After all, if you’re going to call for bold moves, why not take the first step?

The Money Culture, cont’d.

Posted on January 31st, 2007 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Two more symptoms of the money culture….

Last night, a businessman came into the quiet restaurant where I was eating dinner with a friend, sat down at the table next to ours, and began loudly talking on his Blackberry…with a headset. He could be heard throughout the entire dining room talking about a stock he was advising someone to short….

A friend who sends her children to a prestigious Upper East Side school told me that her 10th grade daughter’s class recently went on a field trip for a day of group discussions.

The subject?


Death of a Whale Shark

Posted on January 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Back when the Atlanta aquarium opened, I questioned its decision to capture four whale sharks and keep them in captivity. Whale sharks are massive animals—there are reports of them as long as 60 feet—and they migrate hundreds of miles, possibly to breed. They feed by swimming slowly at the surface and scooping up plankton in their wide mouths.

It was hard to imagine that a such a massive animal with those migrating and feeding habits could survive in captivity.

Sadly, one of the aquarium’s whale sharks died a couple of weeks ago. No one knows why. But its death was predictable, and its loss pointless.

Not everyone agrees with that. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, retired SeaWorld executive Jim Antrim defends the aquarium.

“Do you think you can sit on a bluff and watch these whale sharks swim by and learn anything about them?” he asked. “It is naive to think you can learn about species if you don’t bring them into a captive environment.

Of course, no one is talking about sitting on a bluff to learn about whale sharks; that’s a classic straw man. It’s also absurd: Of course you can learn about species without capturing them. In fact, since animals behave differently when confined, who knows if what you’re learning has any real-world value?

I’ve been fortunate enough to swim with whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, where I learned a bit about them. That’s more expensive than going to the aquarium, but not unaffordable for a middle-class person. With frequent flier miles, you could do it for a few hundred bucks, far less than the price of a new flat screen TV. Of course, such eco-tourism can have its downsides, and I suppose you could argue that it’s better to kill a few whale sharks than to have the many harassed by clumsy snorkelers such as myself. (Although the whale sharks really didn’t seem to mind; they were unfazed by our miniscule presence.)

Still…we humans have to accept that some things ought not to be put in a cage and “studied.” We should not kill whales ostensibly to study them, but really to eat them; we should not cage whale sharks on the basis of studying them but really to drive up aquarium attendance.

It may slow the pace of our knowledge-gathering about whale sharks, but it will increase the pace of our developing humanity.

Windows on the World

Posted on January 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

For all you Microsoft-types, today’s the big day: the introduction of Vista, the new Windows operating program.

Expect a ton of advertising, goofy publicity stunts in which Microsoft aspires to be hip, and messages from every corner of the PC industry urging you to buy Vista, which essentially won’t run on any current machines (it requires so much memory, you really ought to upgrade) and will consequently necessitate the purchase of a new computer.

All for the purchase of an operating system that does pretty much what Apple’s OSX has done for years.

Except— and you know this is coming—with more bugs, more crashes, and more security patches.

And Microsoft is good enough to make six different versions of Vista available for you to buy. That won’t promote confusion, I’m sure.

C-Net calls Vista “essentially warmed-over Windows XP,” adding, “after more than five years of development, there’s a definite ‘Is that all’ about Windows Vista.”

But of course, the differences between people who use Macs and people who use Windows—guess which one I am—are about far more than comparative operating systems. They’re really about personality types. (Something the current Apple ad campaign has deftly exploited.)

Here, a DailyKos writer argues that Apple users are likely to be liberals and Windows users are likely to be conservatives. (Search on this page for “Devilstower.“) Reasons include the “fiscally conservative theory,” the “conformist vs. individualist” theory, the “hip versus tragically unhip” theory, and “the artists versus sausage-makers” argument.

I think the liberal vs. conservative breakdown is simplistic, but there are real differences between people who actively choose Macs and people who actively choose Windows. You know that in a totalitarian society the operating system would be Windows, and the rebels would use Macs…. In a bureaucracy, the drones use windows, while people who work at home use Macs….That in Star Wars, the Death Star runs on Windows (that’s why it explodes so easily once you know its fatal flaw), while Obi Wan Kenobi is basically Steve Jobs…the Borg is Microsoft….and so on, and so on.

But, hey, go right ahead, go out and buy Vista, see if I care. And while you’re at it, why don’t you pick up a “Zune” as well? Someone has to…..!!!.jpg

Vista: Resistance is futile…..

Commenters, Read Thyselves

Posted on January 30th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in the comments section of the post below, but it sure makes for interesting reading. Who is the mysterious jogger? Is Standing Eagle taking peyote? Is the suspense of the presidential search getting to everyone, or is there just a full moon in Cambridge?

At Harvard, The End is Near

Posted on January 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 30 Comments »

In the Globe, the M-Bomb and Maria Sacchetti suggest that the presidential search is nearly wrapped up at Harvard. But their article has some gaps and hedges that make it less than useful.

Consider, for instance, the first paragraph:

The search for a Harvard president could wrap up as early as next weekend. One of the final contenders is Nobel laureate and philanthropic official Thomas R. Cech , while Drew Gilpin Faust, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, appears to be the leading inside candidate, according to people familiar with the search process.

The search could wrap up…One of the final contenders is….Drew Gilpin Faust appears to be the leading insider candidate…..

And if that isn’t hedging enough, here’s the very next sentence:

But the search remains subject to change at any time, and other candidates could suddenly rise to the top, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process is intended to be confidential.

In other words, what we’ve just written could be totally wrong.

The article then mentions that Harold Varmus is on the search committee’s short list, which strikes me as implausible.

From what I hear, it’s Drew Faust or Elena Kagan, with various e-mailers leaning towards one or the other….

I’ve been thinking that it’ll be Faust all along, and nothing I’ve heard has changed my mind.

A side note: Even though there are some who dislike Steven Hyman because of his association with Larry Summers, I gather that there is also a reservoir of respect and good will towards Hyman, and a sense that, in general, he has served the university well…..

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on January 29th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

Photo by Evan Cornog

Barack and a Harvard Place

Posted on January 28th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Want to know what Barack Obama was like at Harvard? Well, you could read this story in the LA Times, published Saturday. Or you could read this story in the New York Times, published today. And if that’s still not enough, you could peruse this article in the Boston Glove, also published today.

Here’s the Times:

He often played pickup basketball, replacing his deliberative off-court style with sharp elbows and aggressive grabs for the ball.

The Globe:

Then a skinny, soft-spoken forward with tight shorts and high socks named Barack Obama raced out from the sideline and put himself between two of the warring players.”He said, ‘Guys, this is not serious — it’s just a pickup game…’

Here’s the LA Times:

Interviews with more than a dozen people associated with the law review, both liberals and conservatives, found no one who did not profess respect for Obama.

Which is my way of saying that none of these articles tells you very much about Obama…..