Good news for the humanities at Oxford

Here’s news of a nice-sized donation ($40 million or so) for the Humanities at Oxford from the Erteguns (as in Atlantic Records). His Wikipedia biography says: “At the time of his father’s death he was taking graduate courses in Medieval philosophy at Georgetown University,” and suggests he got into the record business to make money for school. Talk about a part-time job!

The history of TED

In case you ever wondered, here’s the history (and future?) of TED and the other Conferences-for-Ideas.

I hadn’t wondered, but it was more interesting than I expected. And at the end the magazine posted the 5 most popular TED talks, so you can see what the author is talking about if you have never watched an 18 minute talk (I admit I like the “what it feels like to have a stroke” talk).

I have colleagues who use TED videos in class a lot. I find the genre too irritating to sit through enough of them to find ones worth sacrificing 18 minutes of class-time to. Or maybe they’re just not about the kind of subjects we talk about in my classes.

More than halfway through!

Provost candidates, that is. Number three of five was on campus all day yesterday (she’s still here today, but I don’t have to see her again). I’m afraid candidate fatigue has set in: there were only a little more than half as many folks at the open meeting as there were for candidate #1. That’s a pity.

One more person this week and one next week and then I hope we can come to a decision and that the most favored candidate eagerly accepts so that we can stop all this!

Do I sound tired?

Foxes, hedgehogs, hybrid monsters

Professor Tim Burke has a very interesting essay on liberal arts college models. I really don’t want to excerpt (I want to read it again myself) — so go read: On How Not to be Foxhog College.

Here at these Colleges we had a marketing plan that used the Isaiah Berlin Hedgehog and Fox contrast. The implication was that we were all very foxy folk here.

One of my colleagues in Classics gave a brilliant lunch talk in which she showed quite convincingly that Archilochus wasn’t thinking about the life of the mind at all when he wrote something like: “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” He was — um — making a genitalia joke. That Admissions slogan didn’t last a lot longer.

Burke’s essay is especially interesting for me this month, because I sit on a committee that has to review a dozen or so proposals for faculty positions and recommend them to the provost in a ranked list. The way it usually works around here there are always more proposals than there is money to hire new folks (depending on how much the salary pool will save as people retire), so if there are a dozen proposals six or eight or ten might go forward. The process is always a competition of goods, but it takes place in the jumble that Burke describes at the end of the essay — some are driven by foxy priorities, others by hedgehogish tenacity.

Leakers or Seekers?

Daniel Drezner says he prefers power-hungry bureaucrats to whistleblowers:

 A world in which we must rely on whistleblowers that possess martyr complexes for important information about national security is a dangerous world.  It is too easy to tarnish whistleblowers because of their other personality tropes.


Bureaucrats or career-minded political appointees leaking to advance their own aims, however, covers a lot more rational actors.  Even if their motives are far from pure, the combination of individual incentives encourages a lot more leaking than would otherwise occur.  Like Adam Smith’s invisible hand, even if the intent is not for policymakers to provide more information to the press, the combined effect is a larger and more accurate spotlight on the foreign policy machine.

 I see his point – but can we choose “neither”?


If it weren’t for their porch light, I would have lost all sight of the house across the street just now. We don’t get a lot of lake effect here south of the Thruway, but this morning we’re getting a classic. Good day to be inside, warm, and with bacon on the stove . . . .

Johns Hopkins and Baltimore do the PILOT tango

Payment in Lieu of Taxes, that is.

Here’s the truth of the matter — a well-established college or university is not portable:

“You can’t sequester our institutions from the community,” Daniels told the development board at its monthly meeting. “All of these things impact very directly the survival of our institutions. The reality is that we have billions of dollars invested in Baltimore City and we cannot, like some other institutions that have left the city, we cannot willy-nilly leave the city. We are here.”

Of course, part of the situation is that universities (especially) are now becoming developers on their own. Everyone’s partnered with developers for a long time to build things like residential complexes, but all these mixed use developments on the borders of campuses are something fairly recent.

The First Day of Pompeii!

And I introduced it with this clip, showing the 1944 eruption. I think the cameramen behind the American lines had been filming combat for so long that they were a little bored — and willing to stand near falling buildings to get a good shot!

Hmmm – this is annoying.The Youtube clip shows up in Firefox but not in Safari…must be some sort of WordPress weirdness? Flash problems? If you’re using Safari, click here.

Ah, another charming urban finance story from Upstate New York

Buffalo teachers do their part to prevent their school system from bankruptcy. Buffalo teachers take advantage of free plastic surgery provisions in their city contract, to the tune of $5.9 million dollars last year.

Last year, the town’s 3,400 teachers spent $5.9 million (£3.74 million) of public money on enhancing their appearance, at a time when the school district is forecast to run a $42 million (£27 million) deficit.

The free treatment for public servants in Buffalo including police officers and firefighters began in the 1970s, as a way of covering the costs of caring for burn and gunshot victims at a time when plastic surgery was relatively uncommon.

By 2004, the bill had reached $1 million (£634,000), peaking at $9 million (£5.7 million) in 2009. Nine out of 10 procedures are now skin treatments such as Botox, and 100 per cent are described as elective, and therefore medically unnecessary.

via Bergheim Follies.