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      **GUEST POST By Eric Anderson** If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are. — Wendell Berry I’ve thought a lot about immigration in my time, and confess, I’ve never thought very highly of it. Which, of late, seems to be an extremely unpopular position among liberals. But it’s not that […]
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Helen Dragas disparages without disparaging

Helen Dragas is an amazing piece of work.  She’s the rector of the Board of Visitors that forced UVA president Teresa Sullivan to resign.  A new hearing to potentially reinstate Sullivan is scheduled for Tuesday but leading up to it, Dragas is digging in her heels about the rightness of the board’s original decision.

Yesterday, she released a statement explaining why the board forced Sullivan to resign.  It turned out not to have been written by her.  The geeks unpacked the electronic copy to discover that some hack at the PR firm Hill and Knowlton actually wrote it.  Then the professors weighed in and picked it apart.  Jeez, you do not want to get on a Wahoo’s shit list.  They’re having a field day.

Governor McDonnell laid down an ultimatum: get this issue under control by Tuesday or I will ask for the resignations of the whole board.  I’m not sure this works in UVA’s favor though because McDonnell is a Republican and half of the board members were appointed by Tim Kaine, the previous governor who is a Democrat.  That includes Helen Dragas.  The board actions look like they cross party lines, however.  What the board members seem to have in common is that most of them are in the 1%.  To them, party distinctions are irrelevant.  They’re used to getting their own way.

In response to McDonnell’s ultimatum, Dragas fires back a nasty little ditty of her own.  Here are the money quotes:

I also agree with him on the importance of providing clear explanations of our actions, as I aimed to do in my statement yesterday, while being mindful of the constraints of the confidentiality of personnel matters and the non-disparagement agreements in the President’s contract.

I appreciate the Governor’s leadership in affirming the importance of Board governance, and that we alone are appointed to make these decisions on behalf of the University, free of influence from outside political, personal or media pressure.

I look forward to a respectful and dignified meeting on Tuesday, and to an important discussion of the implications of any decision we make on the ability of future Boards to lead the University.”

Let’s leave aside the sheer chutzpah required to tell the Governor to BTFU, what Helen appears to be saying here is roughly the equivalent of “I am prohibited by law from telling you that Teresa Sullivan is a goat fucker.  If I said that, that would be disparagement.  And anyway, that information is confidential.”

I know I should be blogging about the election or the new, incredibly boneheaded and damaging “Fast and Furious” scandal that provoked Obama to claim executive privilege. That scandal seems to have depressed even Jon Stewart.  But this event at UVA is riveting because it is a microcosm of what is happening everywhere in this country, an easy to digest story of  overreach by the privileged for mysterious reasons that may or may not have to do with making money. It’s happening at a historic university, founded by one of the most famous founding fathers who penned the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson knew all about the motto Sic Semper Tyrannis. There is a lot of Americana and symbolism. The 1% have been doing this very same thing to this country for decades now to different segments of our economy and society.  And the privileged class started crossing party lines to take over the Democratic party in 2007 as well.  But never mind that right now.

What is it that drives Dragas?  There’s a timeline convergence happening in July where the board members are up for renewal.  It doesn’t look like Dragas will be reappointed*.  Is Dragas taking one for the team?  Is she trying to accomplish something before her term is up? Is something big at stake here for her to assert the board’s sovereignty?  Is that why she won’t resign?  Her statement of reasons why Sullivan was “fired” from yesterday seems to be superceded by the statement from tonight where she implies that there’s a blot on Sullivan’s permanent record.  What is this all about? There must be a strategy, because I can’t believe someone would go this far out on a limb without one.  Maybe it only appears to be a Komenesque self-destructive event.

And what are we to make of Sullivan’s confidence?  If she’s been fucking goats, she doesn’t seem to mind anyone finding out about it.

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*Update: @cvillnewscom tweets that a reliable source in the Governor’s office says that Dragas will be reappointed.  If true, the board is determined to get its way and this is going to be a very ugly power struggle.

I saw this quote on twitter in a tweet on #UVA:

“When wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality.”

UVA disaster: About those online classes

It’s kind of strange when there’s something in the news that you actually know something about.  I’m talking about the online classes that were the underlying reason why UVA president Teresa Sullivan was fired.  In truth, it’s not the classes themselves that did her in.  It was the fact that she stood in the way of progress making a ton of money for prospective investors and rectors on the board of visitors who want to make UVA into a business that offers academic goods and services.

The best explanation for what might have happened is by Anne-Marie Angelo, UVA alum and current PhD candidate in History at Duke.  (H/T Lambert at Corrente)

But let’s talk about those online classes for a second.  As many of you may know, Brooke takes her AP English courses through Stanford’s Online High School.  Stanford runs their OHS classes through an application called Saba Centra. It uses another program called eCollege as well but Centra is how the online classes are distributed. I was skeptical at first how this was going to work but it turns out that it is very good.  The class is held in real time with high school students from all over the world.  The app initially didn’t work on a Mac but they’ve straightened that out in the past year.  Through Centra, the teacher can call on students.  He/She can ask some of them to write short responses to questions while she is discussing the day’s material with other students.  Students can respond to each other, chat and give “applause” feedback.  The interface is loaded with features.  It truly is an interactive experience and I’ve often passed by the basement door to hear her talking to her teacher as if she were in an actual classroom.  Classroom attendance is strict.  You can only miss a class for technical reasons or your grandmother died.  If you’re sick, well, you’re at home soooo, what are you doing with your time??  In addition to the live classroom experience, the teacher can also provide supplementary material, like videos, that can be viewed through Centra.  Students can view this material at their convenience within a given timeframe but if it’s part of an assignment, attendance will be recorded and graded.

I credit Stanford OHS for getting Brooke back on level and thoroughly challenged.  The class material is not easy for a high school student.  The course follows the Stanford University schedule so Brook’s course ended in May, leaving her time to finish up her other online courses which are not taken through Stanford.  These two classes are American History and Precalc and are offered through a for profit curriculum provider.  The application it uses is not as complete as Stanford’s.  The classes are prerecorded and you go at your own pace.  The interface is kludgy and it’s a bit like studying for your written driver’s exam.  If you don’t answer the questions exactly as they have been spelled out in the lesson, you can’t go forward, even if you disagree with the answer or find the question poorly worded.  The experience is much more pedantic, less lively, less personal.  It’s something you want to get over with, not something to look forward to.

So, there are good online packages, like Stanford’s, which should be the current working model to be tweaked and adjusted for course material, subject and size of class, and there are not so good online packages.  But the thing that makes Stanford’s OHS stand out is the quality of the faculty.  This year, Brooke’s teacher was a professor of English who had scored AP English essays at one point in her career.  Last year’s teacher was equally well qualified.  I’ve asked Brooke several times if she thinks the classes are worth the outrageous price tag and she always looks like she would be bereft without them.  What you are paying for in the end is the faculty and the program.  Stanford has a lot of experience working with exceptional learners and the way it uses Centra and has set up these classes reflects that experience.

The bottom line is that you can’t just rush into these things.  It takes time to research the online setup, choose materials, create supplementary material and train staff to get the best possible experience.  Of course, there is no substitute for the ambience of a college or university where you can spend time with people in your classes who share your interests and with whom you can talk about issues that are important to you.  Taking an online class or two is fine but you really need to be there to transform yourself and learn how to learn.

So, I sympathize with Teresa Sullivan who calls herself an incrementalist.  In my opinion, that is exactly the approach that is needed when it comes to carefully and effectively implementing an online class so that the student and college gets the most value from it.  Just buying a package off the shelf and running a few training seminars for the staff is just so corporate.  What comes along with that will be a behemoth IT department and a standard, one-size-fits-all interface that will frustrate all but the most dedicated hackers.  You know how I know this?  It was in the way in which the forced resignation was handled.  No one in the faculty was consulted and it was done quickly, without much thought to fallout or repercussions for the university’s reputation.  The Board of Visitors want to make money and that means skimping on the interface, implementation and preparation steps so that a lowest common denominator image can be rolled out before the fall classes start.  That’s probably why university professor Bill Wulf resigned yesterday.  He knew that the minute you turn your expertise over to a corporate standard, you lose all control over it and any catastrophes that follow.  Everything becomes centralized and making changes or handling problems becomes very difficult. Ask anyone who’s every worked in corporate research.  The management class seems determined to get in the way of true progress.

Now, what could Teresa Sullivan have done differently to save her job?  Well, she *could* have taken a serious look at the various schools and maybe scaled some of them back.  I would have started with the Darden School of Business at UVA.  One wonders if Jefferson would have approved of a business school as being sufficiently rigorous enough for UVAs standards.  Business management isn’t really a science, it’s fairly artless and it is anything but humane.  Everything I’ve read about business curriculum is that it tends to be trendy, appealing to the business class that has the attention span of a magpie distracted by shiny objects. It’s also light on actual content, much of it not well validated, except for the math, economics and accounting.  Couldn’t you just roll that stuff into the economics department or send the future spreadsheet jockeys to an accounting program?  Or she could have resolved to review the business program to make sure we aren’t graduating too many students who have no background in the industries that they will be managing.   I know that if Sullivan had done something like that, those of us who have been laid off from our corporate research positions would have been eternally grateful.  And given how unethically the MBAs have lead the global economy off a cliff, she might have prevented even more cocky Brooke’s Brother’s assholes from ruining the world.  She could have been a hero.

But that’s all water under the bridge now.  What’s coming up is finding a permanent replacement for Sullivan. And I have just the right guy for the job!  That’s right, why not just recruit Barack Obama?  There’s a good chance he’s going to lose anyway once the working class base he blew off in 2008 votes in November.  There’s not a damn thing a hipster creative class person can do about that if Obama insists on running.  And he’s got the right mindset.  He’s a good fundraiser, he likes schmoozing with donors, who he will give his full attention to later, and he’s not terribly sympathetic to labor, which makes it all the easier for the Board of Visitors to dynamically strategize how to “harmonize” their benefits.  (When you see “harmonize” in the company bulletins, update your CV)  Besides, Obama is all about Change!™  It’s a match made in heaven.  Solve two problems at once: hire Obama as the president of UVA and get a real Democrat to run in his place in November.

Update: Siva Vaidhynathan, professor of media studies at UVA gave an interview this afternoon that sounds eerily like my post.  It’s like some kind of Vulcan mind meld.  Cue the Twlight Zone theme.  Here it is in its entirety, about 30 minutes.

UVa disaster continues: One of the top 13 professors has resigned

Read the resignation letter from University Professor Bill Wulf (Computer Science).  It’s a beauty.  It reminds me of one of those letters that your write in a fever and then debate whether to send or not.

Here’s a snippet:

Dean and Interim President Zeithaml,

By this email I am submitting my resignation, effective immediately. I do not wish to be associated with an institution being as badly run as the current UVa. A BOV that so poorly understands UVa, and academic culture more generally, is going to make a lot more dumb decisions, so the University is headed for disaster, and I don’t want to be any part of that. And, frankly, I think you should be ashamed to be party to this debacle!

 [rather impressive bio goes here]

In short we have extensive experience that spans academia, executive positions in the private sector, government, and board memberships. So we deeply understand the proper conduct of academic administration and the proper oversight of that administration by a board, In my opinion the BOV has perpetrated are the worst example of corporate governance I have ever seen.

To repeat_- I resign. I want no part of this ongoing fiasco.

Bill Wulf

Wm. A. Wulf University Professor, Dept. of Computer Science University of Virginia, and President Emeritus, National Academy of Engineering

Bill Wulf is not a slacker.  It’s unclear whether his wife intends to follow him.  There are other tweet rumors that the Vice Rector, Mark Kington was also in the process of has resigned. The vice rector is the second ranked member of the Board of Visitors who forced Sullivan to resign.  Governor McDonnell of Virginia,  appears to be cautiously critical of the board’s actions.  But half of the board members are his appointees.

And what of the interim president who was appointed today to take Sullivan’s place?

Zeithaml will take a leave of absence from the McIntire School during his tenure as interim president. In March, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the McIntire School as the No. 2 undergraduate business program in the country, and the No. 1 MBA feeder school.

He specializes in the field of strategic management. He joined the McIntire School in 1997.

It sounds like the university community knows *exactly* what’s going on, who is doing it and why.  This isn’t about change.  It’s a corporate coup of MBA management assholes who are going to restructure the University to be more attentive to their needs.  They know nothing about academia but they have a lot of experience with management techniques.  Gawd help UVa.  They’re going to need it.

If UVa doesn’t have an Occupy group, now’s a good time to start one.  If they were located closer to a major metropolitan area, they’d be getting recruits to help make some noise.  But Charlottesville is kind of isolated.  Nevertheless, I hope the protestors get the attention they deserve.  When it can happen at UVa, no university is safe from the bonus class.

Update: the more I read about the forced resignation of Sullivan, the weirder this story gets.  A couple of sources (Here and here) are reporting that the board of Visitors did not meet to take a vote to get rid of Sullivan, that there was no unanimous vote and that Rector Dargas has been planning this resignation for months in secret without any faculty input.

Stuff that only looks random

Worlds largest woodpile, Byholma, Sweden.

Update: Is it possible that the firing of Teresa Sullivan from the University of Virginia is part of a ratfucking operation to get Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts?? See this post at Brietbart (Ewww) for details.  Firing Sullivan may be the first step in making Warren look like she is guilty of scientific misconduct.  Regardless, the Board of Visitors should be investigated.  Who are they taking orders from?

*******************************

I’m cleaning out the Instapaper queue this morning.  Let’s take a look:

Derek Lowe writes a response in Slate to a recent Slate article that claims that we need more scientists and mathematicians.  No, what we really need are more jobs for the hundreds of thousands of STEM majors who are out of work right now.

Derek also has a post about the future of Organic chemistry in this country.  Bottom line: there is no future in this country for organic chemists and a recent National Research Council Committee study confirms this:

Whitesides believes that the question should be asked whether PhD theses are narrow technical presentations for jobs that no longer exist. Should U.S. graduate students be doing organic synthesis if most organic synthesis is being done in China? “That’s not to say that these aren’t really important activities, but we need to connect our investment in graduate school with what’s actually needed to give jobs to students.”

That’s really sad.  America has produced some of the finest chemists of the modern era but if there are no jobs after graduate school, why bother studying a dead field? You might as well get a PhD in Alchemy for all the good it will do you.  Our country hasn’t felt the full effects of all of the industrial slashing and burning on our scientific infrastructure yet but it’s coming and it won’t be pretty.  Meanwhile, our wealth of scientists are forced to pursue other careers…

*************************

Theresa MacBain, the Methodist pastor who recently came out as an atheist, gave a short interview on Fox News radio.  It’s only 9 minutes.  Well worth the time. She did very well and held her own.  Good job, Theresa.  It’s not easy taking on the blowhards at Fox.  Let’s hope some of this interview percolated into the minds of the listeners.

Theresa is presently directing the Clergy Project, an initiative to help non-believing pastors make the transition into the civilian world.  The purpose of the Clergy Project is not to deconvert practicing pastors.  The pastors that join the project are already past the point of deconversion.  They just want out of the pulpit because they want to stop living a lie and they need to make a safe landing.  The number of clergy who have joined the project has swelled dramatically since McBain and another graduate, Jerry DeWitt, have barnstormed the country in the past couple of months.  They have almost 300 members and many more clergy who are on a waiting list to be screened before they can join.

In another sign of the atheist apocalypse, Linda LaScola, a researcher on religion, gave an interview to CNN about the rate of deconversion and its future effects on politics. The days of the religious right strangling the country and squashing modernity are numbered.

As more people turn away from religion, there is an associated trend that shows they are becoming more liberal.  So, you have to wonder why Democrats seem scared to death of the religious right.  If they just hang in there and stop ceding ground to the conservatives, in a few election cycles, the pendulum will have swung the other way.  In fact, Republicans seem to be frantically throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the electorate this year because they know they are rapidly running out of time.  Before long, there won’t be enough elderly, conservative religious voters who they can conscript for the plutocrats.

By the way, did you know that up until recently, most people stayed with the religion traditions they were brought up in?  And according to Bob Altemeyer, author of The Authoritarians, “amazing apostates”, those individuals who reject their  fundamentalist upbringings and become secular do so at the rate of about 1%.  What the data shows recently is that the rate of deconversion is picking up with greater access to the internet.

Previously, that 1% shared some common characteristics, such as being good in school and valuing truth.  In other words, we don’t just accept what people tell us unquestioningly no matter how much our parents isolate us.  Altemeyer also found that there are a few people who go the other way from secular households to religious conversion but these people tend to be less well educated and they make their conversions after some life-changing event like an illness, unemployment or relationaship failure.  In other words, religious conversions happen when people are most vulnerable to persuasion and to individuals who are least able to reason their way out of it.  These findings are similar to my own experience.  I never believed the fundamentalist crap I was fed and to get me to believe it now, after I have seen the proof of evolution in my research and now know the historical facts behind the bible, would require me to undergo a lobotomy.

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Something very weird is going on at the University of Virginia.  Last week, the President Teresa Sullivan, was asked to resign abruptly by the University’s Board of Visitors, which is like the Board of Regents everywhere else.  The reasons for the resignation are not clear.  Even Sullivan herself is not actually sure why she was fired and the board is not answering questions to anyone’s satisfaction.  This move came 2 years after Sullivan was appointed and has, by all accounts, done an admirable job.

I first read about this a few days ago from a history professor there, Siva Vaidhyanathan, who wrote about the dismissal in Salon.  What Vaidhyanathan describes sounds oddly familiar to those of us in the pharmaceutical industry who have lost our jobs due to cost saving measures of the shareholders:

In the 21st century, robber barons try to usurp control of established public universities to impose their will via comical management jargon and massive application of ego and hubris. At least that’s what’s been happening at one of the oldest public universities in the United States—Thomas Jefferson’s dream come true, the University of Virginia.

On Thursday night, a hedge fund billionaire, self-styled intellectual, “radical moderate,” philanthropist, former Goldman Sachs partner, and general bon vivant named Peter Kiernan resigned abruptly from the foundation board of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He had embarrassed himself by writing an email claiming to have engineered the dismissal of the university president, Teresa Sullivan, ousted by a surprise vote a few days earlier.

[…]

“The Board believes that in the rapidly changing and highly pressurized external environment in both health care and in academia, the University needs to remain at the forefront of change,” [Board of Vistors chair] Dragas wrote in her initial email announcement. I have no idea what that means or why it pertains to Sullivan’s dismissal. I guess it means that stuff is changing. So the university must change. Firing a president is change.

On Monday Dragas, sensing that the university community might want some explanation for such a radical act, sent out a second message: “The Board believes this environment calls for a much faster pace of change in administrative structure, in governance, in financial resource development and in resource prioritization and allocation. We do not believe we can even maintain our current standard under a model of incremental, marginal change. The world is simply moving too fast.”

OK, then. It’s all about pace. I suppose this means the board will appoint a new president every two years. Or maybe more frequently, because that’s the only way to keep up with the pace of change.

Earlier in the statement Dragas wrote that “the board feels strongly and overwhelmingly that we need bold and proactive leadership on tackling the difficult issues that we face.” So we can derive from Dragas’ statements that Sullivan was not bold enough, fast enough, or “proactive” enough to guide a bucolic 193-year-old institution founded by a stocking-wearing guy who studied Greek and Latin for fun.

We were all baffled. So Sullivan did nothing wrong? The board would not even hint at the reason she was fired. Conspiracy theories quickly circulated to fill the vacuum. And they got worse after Kiernan’s letter unleashed an unfounded fear that an MBA “cabal” was in cahoots with Goldman Sachs to loot the university.

It sounds like the financiers’ values have come to the University of Virginia because they loves them some change! The bizspeak jargon is always a bad sign.  No one knows what it really means, not even the speakers.  This leaves a lot of leeway to interpret the jargon on the fly to justify just about anything.  Vaidhyanathan suggests that donors to the university want more control over how their donations are used.  Maybe they want more influence over the curriculum or benefits or hiring.  Whatever it is, they want to impose change on their timetable and in their way without some capable university president who specialized in class dynamics and the sociology of debt getting in the way.

Did I mention that the University of Virginia has pretty reasonable tuition compared to its peers?  How much do you want to bet that that’s going to Change!™ now that the bonus class has got its grubby mitts on the steering wheel?  Cut back on wages benefits here, hire some more poorly paid adjunct professors there, get more companies to foot the bills for research, raise tuition 30% over a few years and voile!  This is not a charitable institution, after all.  Why should University of Virginia students and their parents get off easy?

The students and faculty have turned out for Sullivan and latest reports say that 4 of the 12 members of the Board of Visitors have approached Sullivan to ask her to stay.  But this is not a good working environment for anyone at the University and Sullivan warns that the faculty may be poached by other universities looking to pick up spooked researchers and professors.  Researchers need to be able to plan and require a contiguous and stable environment and this crap from the Board of Visitors is undermining that.  They’ll get their change for sure but what they will be left with won’t be worth anything after they’re done.  The university’s faculty need only look at the smoking hulks of our empty industrial labs and extraordinarily well compensated former MBA overlords to know what will come next.

Another disaster brought to you by the Goldman Sachs family of assholes.

****************************

More office chairs.  I’m still pining for the white leather one from West Elm but the damn thing never goes on sale.

****************************

Le Pacman: