Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 8, 2014

Stupidity on parade

Filed under: comedy,Education,popular culture — louisproyect @ 3:54 pm

May 20, 2014

Why NYU does the things it does

Filed under: Education — louisproyect @ 4:55 pm

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 12.50.26 PMYesterday’s NY Times carried a blockbuster report on the mistreatment of the predominantly East Asian construction laborers hired as virtual indentured servants to build the New York University satellite campus in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Although I have grown inured to leftist complaints over the years about the Times, it is reporting like this that makes me uneasy about calling the paper our Pravda, even if the removal of editor Jill Abramson smacks of Kremlin intrigues. These are the lead paragraphs but I urge you to read the entire article that will make your blood boil.

The strike had entered its second day when construction workers at Labor Camp 42 got word that their bosses from the BK Gulf corporation had come to negotiate. Mohammed Amir Waheed Sirkar, an electrician from Bangladesh, scrambled down the stairs to meet them. But when he got to the courtyard, he saw the truth: It wasn’t the bosses who had come. It was the police.

They pounded on doors, breaking some down, and hauled dozens of men to prison. Mr. Sirkar was taken to a Dubai police station, where officers interrogated him. After a while, new officers arrived. That’s when things got rough.

“They beat me up,” he said through an Urdu interpreter, “asking me to confess I was involved in starting the strike.” Others were slapped, kicked, or beaten with shoes, a special indignity in Arab culture.

You can understand (but not forgive) how American garment corporations screw workers in Bangladesh–the same country that supplied many of the NYU indentured servants. Except for an outfit like Benetton, most of those companies have no pretenses about social justice or progressive values. The Abu Dhabi campus is part of NYU’s Global Network, an initiative meant to express a “good” globalization. On the university’s website, the Global Initiative is hyped with allusions to Karl Jaspers and Teilhard de Chardin:

As we begin a new millennium, a Second Axial Period has begun. Though first described by theologians like the Jesuits’ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I believe it also has a secular, progressive dimension (quite separable, for those who prefer, from religiosity) which is useful in understanding what we see unfolding in our time.

Right, a secular, progressive institution that is built on the super-exploitation of the most desperately poor workers in the world. NYU has the brass to describe Abu Dhabi in these terms:

NYU’s early experience at its portal campus in Abu Dhabi provides support for the claim that the global network structure will be attractive to talented cosmopolitans. Abu Dhabi is a crossroad city, containing in microcosm (but in different proportions from New York) a blend of all the world; it is blessed with a visionary government, economic dynamism, and an increasingly tolerant and welcoming society; and, it is both a repository of a great culture and a symbol of that culture’s adaptation to modernity.

Three years ago the Nation Magazine reported on the crackdown on quite moderate critics of the government who only plead for it to clean up its act. This is what happened to them:

On April 8, at 3 am, several police asked Ahmed Mansoor, one of the signatories, a blogger and a member of the Human Rights Watch advisory committee, to come down to “answer some questions about his car.” (Incidentally, this was the same approach that security officials used to take Naji Hamdan, a United States citizen who allegedly was tortured in custody.) Fearing a trap, he refused to come down, but was taken away by a second group of security officers that same afternoon.

Two days later Nasser bin Ghaith, a prominent Emirati economist and lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the University of Paris-Sorbonne, was also carted away. His ostensible crime was urging the UAE, on television shows and in panel discussions, to become more transparent, as a means to further economic development. In subsequent days, three other online activists, Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali al-Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, were arrested.

NYU was untroubled by the arrests: “The school itself does not take public stands on issues and policies that fall outside of its core mission of operating a world-class university.”

Forget all the bullshit about a Second Axial Period and a benign globalization. NYU is expanding because there is money in it. Back in 2007 a UAE investor named Omar Saif Ghobash promised NYU $50 million if it opened a campus in Abu Dhabi. NYU’s President John Sexton welcomed the opportunity to set up a satellite campus there since the school was discovering that a tsunami of applications from foreign students was symptomatic of emerging markets as the NY Times reported on February 10, 2008:

In a kind of educational gold rush, American universities are competing to set up outposts in countries with limited higher education opportunities. American universities — not to mention Australian and British ones, which also offer instruction in English, the lingua franca of academia — are starting, or expanding, hundreds of programs and partnerships in booming markets like China, India and Singapore.

The demand from overseas is huge. At the University of Washington, the administrator in charge of overseas programs said she received about a proposal a week. “It’s almost like spam,” said the official, Susan Jeffords, whose position as vice provost for global affairs was created just two years ago.

If NYU’s expansion into places like Abu Dhabi is a kind of external colonization, who could be surprised by its ambitions to colonize internally at the expense of its Greenwich Village neighbors. Sexton has been rebuffed—at least for the time being—over his bid to turn beautiful sections of a historic neighborhood into NYU territory.

In January of this year a judge ruled that half of the planned expansion would have to be scrapped, a decision that led opponents of the university to call for its total ban. The City Council had voted 44 to 1 in 2012 in favor of the expansion. Unsurprisingly, the one nay vote came from Charles Barron, a former member of the Black Panther Party, while our current mayor voted in favor along with a bunch of other liberals who feed at the real estate industry’s trough. (A comrade just dropped me a line: And, unsurprisingly, the key vote in favor (from the Councilmember “representing” the affected area) came from Margaret Chin, a former member of the Communist Workers Party.

While by no means as exploited as the construction workers in Abu Dhabi, NYU’s graduate student part-time instructors felt that they had no other recourse than starting a trade union to protect their interests. In what has become routine at this point, the university filed a brief that opposed the organizing drive in words that smack of utter hypocrisy: “Petitioners [ie, the grad students] urge a cynical view, that the university is just another big business, that graduate students are no more than wage earners, and that using graduate student teachers and researchers is merely a cost-saving measure.” Well, how dare they claim that the university is just another big business? What are they? A bunch of commies?

To help you decide whether NYU was a big business or not, consider who it picked to lead the anti-union drive, its Executive Vice President Jacob Lew who got a $685,000 exit bonus to become Obama’s Treasury Secretary. By comparison, a teaching assistant at NYU could expect $1,327 per month.

A cursory glance at the officers serving on the NYU board of trustees will help you understand why it does the things it does.

William R. Berkley:

The founder and CEO of WR Berkley Corporation, an insurance company with over $5 billion in revenue. In 2006 this mutt got permission from the Greenwich, Connecticut town board to put an antique carousel in his 58 acre backward. Let me repeat that with emphasis: a 58-acre back yard. Do you know what that amounts to? That’s the same as fucking 15 blocks in New York City. Why would someone like William R. Berkley care about some Bangladeshi construction worker? Berkley paid $15,000 to the wife of former governor John Rowland in Connecticut for a speech she gave to his company bigwigs in 2003. Do you think making such a huge fee had anything to do with the business dealings his insurance company had with the state, you cynic you? Who knows? I can only tell you this. Not long after this incident, John Rowland was found guilty of taking bribes and sentenced to fourteen months.

Lawrence D. Fink:

The founder and CEO of Black Rock, a privately owned investment company that is considered the most powerful money management firm in the world. Fink belongs to Kappa Beta Phi, a secretive private club made up of plutocrats. In 2012 a reporter from New York Magazine crashed their yearly gala and witnessed the acts performed by new inductees, who were required to wear leotards and gold-sequined skirts. One of them told “jokes” like this:

Paul Queally, a private-equity executive with Welsh, Carson, Anderson, & Stowe, told off-color jokes to Ted Virtue, another private-equity bigwig with MidOcean Partners. The jokes ranged from unfunny and sexist (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Hillary Clinton and a catfish?” A: “One has whiskers and stinks, and the other is a fish”) to unfunny and homophobic (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Barney Frank and a Fenway Frank?” A: “Barney Frank comes in different-size buns”).

I imagine that nearly all the members of Kappa Beta Phi sit on the board of places like NYU.

Kenneth G. Langone:

The founder of Home Depot, who was put on trial with Richard Grasso, the former head of the NY Stock Exchange for arranging a $139.5 million parachute for Grasso. The judge declared a mistrial while D.A. Elliot Spitzer ended up disgraced for using prostitutes. Not surprisingly, Langone formed a group called “Republicans for Cuomo”. Seeing the NY state’s governor tilt toward the plutocrats, you can say that Langone’s efforts were amply rewarded just as Berkley’s were in Connecticut. Two months ago Politico interviewed Langone. When the question of the one-percent came up, the billionaire responded: ““[I]f you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

Larry Silverstein:

A real estate developer best known for owning the World Trade Center. While the 911 Truthers obsess over his alleged conspiracy to bring down the towers with the aid of Mossad, his most likely crime is helping to shape NYU’s expansionary onslaught.

Leonard Wilf:

Like Silverstein, this guy is a real estate developer and like most members of this tribe something of a crook. Last year he and his cousin Zigmund, who owns the Minneapolis Vikings football team, had to pay $84.5 million in damages over chiseling their business partners in a New Jersey apartment complex. The judge ruled that ruled the Wilfs committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty by such practices as charging the partnership unauthorized management fees and interest payments. Perfect. Just the sort of person who belongs on a university board of trustees and one who can be relied upon to protect the rights of Bangladeshi workers.

Martin Lipton:

I have save the worst for the last. Lipton is the chairman of the board and a first class scumbag. He is the founder of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a law firm serving the needs of the one percent corporate bigwigs. Last year NYU professors issued an open letter calling for Lipton’s resignation, mostly prompted by the university’s buying vacation homes and NY apartments for the top brass. It stated:

The same day that you notified the faculty of your report, you also re-affirmed the Board’s embrace of Pres. Sexton in a letter to the New York Times, about the recent scandal over NYU’s “vacation homes program.” Casting all those lavish gifts to NYU’s top bureaucrats as a way of “building a community of outstanding scholars,” you used “N.Y.U.’s loan programs” to make yet another statement of trustee support: “We are wholly confident in N.Y.U.’s president, John Sexton, whose own innovative leadership has done so much at the law school and the university to maintain the university’s upward trajectory.

In many ways, Lipton is really the boss of NYU who uses Sexton as a puppet for his long-range strategies. A NY Times article from April 10, 2014 revealed the close relationship between the two men. It was titled perfectly: “The Power Broker of NYU” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/13/education/edlife/the-power-broker-of-nyu.html). Since the article is behind a paywall and since it really sums up why NYU does the things it does, I will reproduce it here:

Martin Lipton, chairman of the board of New York University, recently took a trustee to lunch at San Pietro, a pricey Manhattan restaurant frequented by the city’s C.E.O.s. Over a meal that lasted several hours, they discussed Mr. Lipton’s plans to step down next year, after 16 years at the helm. “Marty wants his own replacement there a year in advance,” recalled Evan R. Chesler, chairman of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a leading New York law firm. The reason, he said: “The new chairman would be responsible for the process that selects the president who will replace John Sexton.”

It is Mr. Lipton, though, who will appoint the group of trustees, students and faculty members who will search for the next president of N.Y.U.; he also sits on the committee to select his own replacement as head of the board he created.

More than a decade ago, Mr. Lipton handpicked Dr. Sexton without any systematic search process — and for years the board could congratulate itself on its choice. During Dr. Sexton’s tenure, admission applications have risen 45 percent, and N.Y.U. has attracted top-level professors and administrators.

But under a cloud of faculty unrest, Dr. Sexton announced in August that he would step down at the end of his term, in 2016. In the past two years, faculty anger at Dr. Sexton and the board has marred the university’s increasingly high profile. Much as corporate boards came under public scrutiny in the 1980s, university boards are under pressure from faculty as they grapple with the same questions: Do they look too much like businesses and less like places of learning and to what extent should they globalize? But at N.Y.U., tensions have been particularly visible.

Dr. Sexton has been widely criticized for an aggressive expansion program in Greenwich Village and for erecting campuses in parts of the world with oppressive governments. Faculty members, claiming to be underpaid and excluded from decision making, have struck out at what they view as lavish pay and perks for a few star employees: loans for vacation homes; executive exit bonuses of $1.23 million and near $700,000; a $1.5 million compensation package for the president plus a $2.5 million “length of service” bonus due next year, making Dr. Sexton among the highest paid college presidents in the country.

While Dr. Sexton has taken the heat — five schools passed votes of no confidence last year — the person who has largely escaped attention is Mr. Lipton, who has wielded enormous power at N.Y.U. His tenure provides insight into just how important a chairman can be in shaping a university’s agenda, given that the board’s mandate includes choosing a president, approving salaries for top administrators and overseeing expansion.

At N.Y.U., where Mr. Lipton has headed the highly influential compensation committee since 1998, the board’s approval of generous compensation packages and intense loyalty to management parallel Mr. Lipton’s views in the corporate world.

Even as he retires as chairman, N.Y.U. will continue to bear his imprint. Mr. Lipton, who will remain on the board, is also on the committee that nominates new trustees, and has had a major role in choosing a majority of the 65 members (and two honorary members). That board is 1.7 times as large as the average private research-university board, according to the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and many of its members are, like Mr. Lipton, scrappy self-made entrepreneurs.

Along with a clutch of other N.Y.U. law school graduates, Mr. Lipton formed Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in 1965. The upstart firm lacked the pedigree of white-shoe rivals. Nevertheless, in the ensuing decades, it muscled its way into the top ranks by representing corporations in some of the business world’s biggest takeover battles. Mr. Lipton is best known for creating the “poison pill defense,” a strategy to protect existing management by making the company’s stock less attractive to a hostile bidder.

Mr. Lipton sat for an interview in a small conference room in his unpretentious suite of offices at the firm’s West 52nd Street headquarters. A portly 82-year-old with disappearing curly white hair, he talked passionately about his commitment to the university.

Mr. Lipton joined the law school board in 1972, and four years later was named a trustee of the university, working, he said, to help “bring N.Y.U. back from the brink of insolvency and help create a modern global research university.” In 1998, he took over the board from Lawrence A. Tisch, who he recalls telling the trustees: “I am stepping down and proposing Marty as my successor before Marty gets too old to succeed me.”

Over the past dozen years, Mr. Lipton has been deeply immersed in Dr. Sexton’s agenda for growth, making visits to N.Y.U.’s new Shanghai campus and helping establish its Abu Dhabi campus in the United Arab Emirates. He seemed as outraged by the attacks on Dr. Sexton as he might be over efforts to remove a corporate chief. (Dr. Sexton declined to be interviewed for this article.)

“You would think the faculty would recognize the fabulous accomplishments he has made,” Mr. Lipton said. “They thought that by having a vote of no confidence, they would panic the trustees,” he said, just as a vote of no confidence led to Lawrence Summers’s dismissal as president of Harvard.

Mr. Lipton’s indignation does not surprise Jonathan R. Macey, a professor of corporate law at Yale and author of “Corporate Governance: Promises Kept, Promises Broken.” “He has built a reputation for work that is firmly of the view that incumbent management should be protected and that the incumbent board of directors is the only entity whose opinion matters in corporate governance,” Professor Macey said.

“In effect, John Sexton is the C.E.O. of N.Y.U.,” he added. “So if you are facing a revolt of the faculty you can’t be in a better position than John Sexton to ward off no-confidence votes.”

To Mr. Lipton, N.Y.U.’s approach to compensation is entirely logical at a university in one of the world’s most expensive cities. “You have to recognize that N.Y.U. is the largest private university in the country,” he said, “and I don’t think we pay outside the normal rate for similar institutions. You can best say that the policy of the university is to maintain a faculty of excellence and do what is necessary to attract distinguished people to the faculty.”

He added: “It is necessary and good for the institutions, just as it is good for corporate giants.”

Mr. Lipton practices what he preaches. Partners at Wachtell Lipton are routinely the highest paid in the country, according to The American Lawyer magazine. In 2012, they earned an average of $4.95 million.

His board, too, includes hugely wealthy individuals, some of whose own pay has attracted headlines. Barry Diller, a U.C.L.A. dropout and Wachtell Lipton client, was in one year the highest paid executive in the country, with compensation of $295 million. Several board members say they have virtually never seen him at meetings. “But he is a contributor and is always available to me for advice,” Mr. Lipton said.

Other boldface names include Lisa Silverstein, daughter of the real estate developer Larry A. Silverstein, a longtime Wachtell Lipton client. The hedge fund moguls John Paulson and Michael H. Steinhardt are also trustees, as are Daniel R. Tisch, William C. Rudin and Constance J. Milstein, all members of powerful New York clans. Kenneth G. Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot, is on the board. Mr. Langone donated $200 million to the medical center, which was renamed in his honor. (He was recently in hot water himself for sending mass emails to medical school staff, soliciting donations to politicians who had helped the center after Hurricane Sandy.)

The roster includes at least one eyebrow-raising trustee, Leonard A. Wilf. In September, Mr. Wilf and two cousins were ordered to pay $84.5 million to former business partners after a New Jersey judge ruled they had committed fraud, breach of contract and violated civil racketeering laws in a 1980s real estate case. An appeal has been filed. Mr. Lipton declined to comment but William Josephson, a lawyer who specializes in nonprofit institutions, said this: “I cannot recall an iconic American university having a board member with such a history.”

One might argue that a board so loaded with money moguls has lost touch.

In September, a group of faculty activists sent out a “dear colleague” letter complaining that compensation to a select few was excessive relative to what most academic staff earned. Compensation to 25 top administrators rose 20.4 percent from 2010 to 2012. They noted that the average salary increase to faculty was just 2.5 percent at the university and 3 percent at the medical school. The administration’s counterattack: many of the high earners are with the medical school, which operates separately from the university and with a different salary structure.

Board members say compensation issues are carefully examined. “The idea of housing has been our greatest difficulty, and there have been substantial discussions about it,” said William R. Berkley, chairman of an insurance holding company and member of the compensation committees at both N.Y.U. and the medical school. “It is complicated because young, terrific people coming to N.Y.U. have families who have to live in New York, and it is not an ordinary environment.”

In some cases, the university has bought homes for stars, including a $6.5 million apartment for the head of its medical center. N.Y.U.’s newest celebrity hire, the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, whom it lured away from Princeton, is getting university-owned housing — paying rent, according to the N.Y.U. spokesman John Beckman, that is “proportional” to what other faculty members pay in university-owned residences.

To end the “disruption,” as Mr. Lipton refers to the tension gripping N.Y.U. last summer, he announced that the board would no longer make loans for vacation homes. The university has never divulged how many got those loans, though Mr. Berkley said it was fewer than 10 people. Mr. Lipton said he would continue to pay top talent what he views as necessary and to find ways to sweeten the pot.

If there is controversy over how N.Y.U. spends its money, there can be no criticism of how effective the board has been at bringing it in. Since Mr. Lipton took over, it has raised $5.97 billion.

Given the wealth on the board and the amount it has raised, some observers call it a “money board.” Mr. Lipton laughed and said: “Bring us more money.”

While Mr. Lipton has successfully solicited gifts from board members — Shelby White has given $200 million, Helen L. Kimmel $150 million — there is a difference of opinion as to whether he has solicited their viewpoints as well. Mr. Berkley said, “Marty was always open to a dialogue about issues.” Mr. Chesler concurs. But several other board members, who would not speak for attribution, said that Mr. Lipton ran the board with an iron hand. “It is Marty’s board and he controls it,” said one. Another added: “I would go so far as to say that the board has been a near rubber stamp board. And since they are not rubber stamp types, I scratch my head as to why. I think there is a long tradition of the board being quiescent with a management that it feels good about.”

Perhaps confidence in Dr. Sexton left the board blindsided to the degree of unhappiness among faculty. Faculty members have called on Mr. Lipton to resign, citing governance without faculty inclusion and failure to improve the conversation. They also object to how Mr. Lipton embraced Dr. Sexton. He sent out emails from the board supporting the president after the faculty had expressed concerns in no-confidence votes. “That is not listening,” said Robert Cohen, a professor of history and social studies at N.Y.U. “That is broadcasting.”

Mr. Berkley conceded: “John antagonized a lot of people trying to move a large institution into the 21st century. But we believed it was more of a fringe group than it ended up being. The straw that broke the camel’s back was 2031” — the controversial expansion plan, named for N.Y.U.’s 200th birthday. “It was a great idea that was not put forward in a way people understood,” he said.

Over the past several years N.Y.U. faculty members have joined with Greenwich Village preservation groups, celebrities and elected officials to fight the “Sexton plan” — to add roughly two million square feet of space in the Village and six million over all. While Mr. Lipton and others say faculty members were consulted about the expansion, Mark Crispin Miller, who heads N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, counters that they were not consulted during the planning process.

In the latest development, in January, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that the university must get state approval for roughly half its plan because it involves removing parkland — a decision that will, it appears, at least slow the timetable. Both sides have appealed the decision. At a news conference shortly after the ruling, Mr. Miller urged Dr. Sexton’s team to “rethink its policy” and “mend fences with its neighborhood and also with its professional body.”

The faculty group continues to fight. To help finance its agenda, it recently held an auction of donations, like a script reading by the author Peter Gethers and an acting lesson with Philip Seymour Hoffman (since Mr. Hoffman’s death, Liev Schreiber has assumed the pledge).

As Mr. Lipton attempts to seal his legacy, the board is scrambling to look more responsive to the issues that have roiled the campus and grabbed headlines. It will involve faculty and students in the search for a new president, and it has announced a drive to raise $1 billion for scholarships.

N.Y.U.’s cost of attendance is about $64,000, and it ranks among the country’s most expensive colleges and universities. On the federal Department of Education’s list of nonprofit private institutions with the highest net price — cost of attendance minus financial aid — only the New School and seven art and music academies cost more than N.Y.U. Asked about students’ ability to afford his university, Mr. Lipton responded: “We do everything we can to provide financial assistance to our students. Our students are not begging in the streets.”

As for his retirement as chairman, Mr. Lipton said, somewhat facetiously: “I am getting too old and have served too long.” Mr. Chesler and Mr. Berkley are leading candidates to replace him.

He seems certain the global mission will not change, in part because his board has been so enthusiastic. “The critics,” he said, “are shortsighted.”

Richard Chait, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and consultant to nonprofit institutions, has been watching the events at N.Y.U. unfold over the last year and sums it up this way: “If you believe youpainted the Mona Lisa, you don’t want someone to put a mustache on it.”

“At the same time,” he said, “part of what the faculty is saying is: This has been a two-man show; that is not how you run a university.”

 

February 14, 2014

How a Bard trustee and billionaire agribusinessman corrupts higher education

Filed under: bard college,Ecology,Education — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

Stewart Resnick

The deep-going drought in California presents a fundamental challenge to the ecological status quo in which agribusiness trumps the needs of ordinary people relying on water for their dietary and sanitary needs. Does the right of a billionaire farmer to have his pomegranate or pistachio plantations irrigated trump that of a working person having a glass of water or being able to flush his or her toilet? It so happens that Stewart Resnick–the billionaire in question–is on the board of Bard College, an institution with enormous pretensions to social responsibility and Green values.

But his ties to Bard are small potatoes compared to UCLA, where he is a member of the executive board of the UCLA Medical Sciences, the advisory board of the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the advisory board of the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law. The name Lowell Milken might ring a bell. He was the younger brother of securities crook Michael Milken with whom he worked at Drexel-Burnham and like his brother was charged with racketeering. Michael cut a deal with the prosecutors. He’d plead guilty if they let his kid brother go free—just the sort of person you’d want a business law department to be named after.

Stewart Resnick is a latter-day Noah Cross. If you’ve seen “Chinatown”—for my money, one of the 10 greatest movies ever made in the USA—you’ll remember that character as a water utility CEO who conspired to divert precious water resources to agribusiness. Resnick has made huge donations to the Democratic Party in California to make sure that the tap is never turned off for his irrigation pumps. And all the while Resnick and his wife Linda unleash a steady barrage of advertising and PR trying to make the case that their agribusinesses ranging from pomegranates to Fiji bottled water are good for the planet.

In doing some research for this piece, I stumbled across an article in the August 8, 2009 Financial Times that is mind-boggling in its failure to acknowledge the double-dealing of people like Resnick. Interestingly enough, it is a profile on UCLA’s most famous professor: Jared Diamond. Diamond wrote a book called “Collapse” that warned about the looming environmental crisis. His solution called for developing partnerships with companies like Chevron. In a December 5, 2009 op-ed piece in the NY Times, Diamond wrote: “Not even in any national park have I seen such rigorous environmental protection as I encountered in five visits to new Chevron-managed oil fields in Papua New Guinea.” Chevron, of course, is the same oil company that is fighting tooth and nail to prevent Ecuador from collecting on damages to farmland and water supplies from Texaco’s drilling (Chevron took over Texaco some years ago and is unwilling to be responsible for its liabilities.)

The Financial Times reports:

As he moves between fridge and table, he [Diamond] launches into his pomegranate story. “Pomegranate was one of the first fruits domesticated in the world. It was domesticated in the Fertile Crescent around 4000 BC,” he says. “A friend of mine, a very successful businessman, bought farm acreage in the central valley of California, which is the most productive agricultural area in the US. And there happened to be 100 acres of pomegranates, about which he knew very little. So he started learning about them and discovered how healthy they are, that they are full of vitamins and full of antioxidants and that they may be a treatment for prostate cancer.”

The friend, Stewart Resnick, had the capital and commercial acumen to spread the message to the US consumer. Thus did the pomegranate boom begin, and the fruit make its way to the refrigerators of 21st-century America. The story somehow captures Diamond. We have the awe of ancient civilisations, the physical explanation of the fertile soil of ancient Mesopotamia and modern California, and the accident of his friend’s financial resources and ingenuity. In this way, all things, big and small, come to pass.

I suppose if you are going to promote Chevron, the logical next step is to promote Stewart Resnick’s POM juice, an ubiquitous product on grocery store shelves. I wonder if Diamond got paid for making this commercial or whether he did it out of gratitude for all the millions that the Resnicks have lavished on UCLA. You’ll note that Diamond qualifies POM as a cure for prostate cancer with the careful “may be”. He probably knew that the authorities were about to shut down the Resnick’s bullshit advertising campaigns that centered on its “miracle” cancer-curing powers, a claim that has about as much scientific value as copper bracelets relieving the pains of arthritis, etc.

Seven days ago San Francisco CBS News reported on a major lawsuit that challenged agribusiness’s right to divert water for pistachios, pomegranates, etc. while ordinary people go thirsty.

But there is one place where there’s no shortage of water. The bountiful pomegranate, almond and pistachio fields of Paramount Farms are as green as ever.

You wouldn’t know it because you can’t see it. But there is a huge underground water reservoir on the south end of the Central valley, near Bakersfield. It’s four times as big as Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

It’s called the Kern Water Bank. And it’s majority controlled by two of the state’s biggest agribusinesses: Paramount Farms, a division of Roll International, and Tejon Ranch Company.

So guess who owns Roll International? Bingo. You got it. The fucking Resnicks. That’s the holding company for their agribusiness empire. An alliance of environmentalists is suing to break the stranglehold of Roll and Tejon on the water supplies while the Resnicks can be expected to use their influence on the courts and the politicians to maintain the status quo.

It is also of strategic importance for the Resnicks to have UCLA on their side. Just as the Koch brothers spread their millions around to get economics departments to preach the values of deregulation and a balanced budget, so do the Resnicks effectively bribe one of the country’s most prestigious universities (big-time Marxists Robert Brenner and Perry Anderson teach there) to get them on Roll International’s side.

Yesterday I got the latest news on the Resnick shenanigans from Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade paper that I have been reading ever since I went to work for Columbia University in 1991. I started reading it to keep track of IT developments but soon learned that it was a good source for news on how academia is exploited by the rich and the powerful to suit their needs. Every so often it reports on Leon Botstein’s dodgy deals, like hosting a seminar on the advanced philosophical theories of a nitwit jeweler in New York who must have donated a small fortune for that privilege.

Unfortunately, the article “For UCLA, Pomegranate Research Is Sweet and Sour” is behind a paywall but I would be happy to send a copy to anybody who requests one. The Chronicle reports:

“Drink to Prostate Health.” “The Antioxidant Superpill.” “Take Out a Life Insurance Supplement.” Pomegranates are a superfood, or at least that’s what ads told us for years in newspapers and magazines.

Those ads have now vanished. They were banned as part of a lengthy battle between the couple behind Pom Wonderful, the company responsible for the ads and the federal government. Tangled up in that dispute, in more ways than one, is the University of California at Los Angeles.

In an opinion issued last year, the Federal Trade Commission found that 36 ads and other promotional materials for Pom Wonderful products, many of which cited UCLA studies and quoted UCLA experts, were false or deceptive. An order now prohibits Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Pom’s owners, from making any disease-related claims about Pom or any product of their holding company, Roll Global, during the next 20 years unless they have substantiated those claims through at least two well-controlled, randomized clinical trials. The Resnicks appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last August.

The continuing legal battle has highlighted the complications that can arise when people have multiple relationships with a university, as the Resnicks do with UCLA.

The couple has given generously to various parts of the university. They’ve provided money to UCLA scientists to do research. They have engaged some of those same researchers to act as advisers. They paid the chief of the UCLA Health System more than $120,000 from 2010 to 2012. Two of the Resnicks’ expert witnesses at the FTC trial were from UCLA.

Last summer the university created the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy in the university’s School of Law, through a $4-million gift from the couple. The program’s founding executive director, Michael T. Roberts, worked as special counsel at Roll Law Group, part of Roll Global, for five years.

It is not uncommon for industry donors and university researchers to have more than one connection. But, says Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, an independent institution that studies bioethics, she cannot recall hearing of a relationship as multilayered as the one between the Resnicks and UCLA. Such relationships “could actually create some kind of bias or impaired judgment” in researchers, she says, but even if they don’t, “they raise this question about how independent and trustworthy the institution is.”

Well, obviously the institution is neither independent nor trustworthy. As is the case with all other sectors of the economy, the modern university is very much a corporate entity with tentacles from the Resnick’s or the Koch’s reaching into ever pore of its body.

The article continues:

Another UCLA scientist who has played more than one role with the Resnicks’ companies is David Heber, an emeritus professor of medicine and public health, and founding director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. He is on the Pistachio Health Scientific Advisory Board for Paramount Farms, a Roll Global company. He said in an email message that he is paid an annual honorarium of $2,500 for that role.

Dr. Heber also participated in studies on Pom products and pistachios, was quoted in promotional materials for Pom, and served as one of the Resnicks’ expert witnesses.

No one at UCLA Health Sciences agreed to be interviewed for this article, although a few researchers and Ms. Tate responded to questions by email.

Gosh, only $2500 to promote the Resnicks’ snake oil. I know call girls who would be insulted by such a low-ball offer.

Then there is David T. Feinberg, who is president of the UCLA Health System and chief executive of the UCLA Hospital System. The Chronicle report states:

Last May in Maryland, several students from the organization [Students Against Sweatshops] confronted Dr. Feinberg as he stood on stage to give a speech at the national conference of the Society of Hospital Medicine. One of them read a letter objecting to his and UCLA’s financial relationship with Pom.

In state disclosure forms, Dr. Feinberg, a psychiatrist, indicated that he received between $10,001 and $100,000 from the Stewart & Lynda Resnick Revocable Trust in 2010 and again in 2012, and more than $100,000 in 2011, for his role as a “consultant/adviser.”

Government is for sale. The media is for sale. Higher education is for sale. All these bastards are no different then the Chinese or Bangladeshi officials getting pay-offs from American corporations to look the other way when a sweatshop is a firetrap or workers are getting paid for 8 hours work when they are putting in 12. But at least you understand that a Bangladeshi or a Chinese bureaucrat is taking bribes on a straightforward basis. The dollars that Nike or Walmart lays on him is meant to pay for a BMW and a country house. But in the case of these UCLA professors and administrators lining up at the Resnick trough, there is the claim that they are fighting prostate cancer or saving the planet. Dante should have created a 10th circle in Hell just for them.

April 1, 2013

Nunavut

Filed under: Education,indigenous — louisproyect @ 4:19 pm

I am working on a piece for Counterpunch on Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” that was made in 1921 and generally considered the first documentary ever. I saw it for the first time at the Smithsonian American Indian Museum downtown a couple of weeks ago, with musical accompaniment by Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat singer from Nunavut, the newest Canadian province and home to both Nanook (not his real name) and Tagaq.

While getting up to speed on the background to this movie, I remembered that we had a Marxmail subscriber early on who was working on a computer science curriculum for Nunavut’s first university. I was pleased to discover that his messages to the list from 13 years ago were archived. Here’s one of some import:

Nunavut: A permanent land for nomadic people

Nunavut Arctic College is not a single campus. It is a series of Learning  Centres in 20+ communities serving a population of about 29,000 in the new  territory. There has been tremendous growth here since the Territory became  independent on April 1, 1999. The influx of people represent government people,  diamond and gold mine managers and workers, and criminals from the Vancouver  area who want to establish a claim to organising an exchange of diamonds for  drugs with those who will be hired to work in the new mines.

I’ve been in Kugluktuk aka Coppermine since August last year. The community is  situated on the edge of Coronation Bay that flows into the Arctic Ocean some  distance north. There are islands in sight, and people drive out on their snow  machines to hunt caribou or check their fishing nets for Arctic Char or other  fish. For reasons that I don’t understand I learned that the Char in this area  are the ‘biggest’ in the north. I’m not certain if that is a northern ‘fishing  yarn, or if there is any truth to the story.

Becoming the stewards of a huge chunk of ice and tundra means that culturally  there will be the political assertions of being able to ‘go back to the old  ways’ but what does that mean? Arctic communities are not so different from  other communities overseas that have been ‘left behind’ as the rest of the  country moved on and so we might begin with the question, “What language should  we use”?

In Nunavut there are two ‘principle’ languages Innuktituk and Innuinaqtun. The  minister for education visited my class and began speaking in dialect and nobody  in the class understood a word he said and asked him to use English. In the  government offices the principle language is English but the country is  bilingual and so business also has to be done in French, which only a relatively  few people speak. The outcome for the new territory is that all official  documents have to be prepared in English, French, and the Inuit dialect of  choice.

The Territory is divided into three regions: Baffin Region in the East,  Kitikmeot (meaning Central), and Keewatin, which is to the south of us.  Kugluktuk is in the Kitikmeot Region and we are the most western point on the  Nunavut map, next door, so to speak, to Northwest Territories (NWT) and for  administrative purposes the government is already going through a  ‘decentralisation process’

Just to complete the identification of the land to the west, on the other side  of NWT is Yukon Territory, while beyond that again is Alaska. In the northern  strip of Canada to the east Nunavut has territory close to Quebec but no  territory was ceded to Nunavut from that province.

As you know the land mass of the north is massive and sparsely populated. For  example, we in Canada are just about 10% of the US population at approximately  30-35 million people. Indigenous groups exist in all parts of Canada except  Newfoundland where they were exterminated some years ago. Except for Quebec  which has its own northern and aboriginal programme other native groups are  ‘looked after’ by the federal government Department of Indian and Northern  Development. When I worked in the northern part of Quebec 30+ years ago the  government person was called an Indian Agent. Names change but the history of  the years of exploitation remains.

There is a lot going on socially, politically, and economically but the ordinary  Inuit sees very little of the benefits. I’ve mentioned other aboriginal groups  deliberately because the lives of all of them are intertwined, if by nothing  else then by the forms of exploitation and history of oppression. Among these  number members of the invading, trading and praying brigade who moved like  locusts across the land sucking the living spirit out of those it exploited and  leaving the debris of abused people in their wake.

The Hudson Bay Company from the UK was concerned with furs and instant wealth.  The original banalities of the original investors (aristocracy) couldn’t see the  usefulness of Canada as a land, what they wanted was trading posts to supply the  wealth from the north. The different clergy came along too, hanging on the  coat-tails of mighty in order to establish their own bridghead. There have been  many stories told of sexual abuse of aboriginal kids who were forced away to  residential schools by the clergy. They were forbidden to use their own  languages and mistreated in different ways. Much the same as ‘disowned’ children  from England who were cleared out of the orphanages and shipped overseas to  ‘colonise’ different countries at the age of five years and up. The Christian  Brothers in Australia were the same Catholic group who did a great deal of  damage to the kids here in Canada. Quebecers suffered until the late 1960’s with  the domination of the church because the church dictated all aspect of life in  the province.

The Inuit here were nomads and they still went out ‘On the Land’ until about  fifty years ago when the federal government ordered them to be in one place. For  the people here Kugluktuk used to be a summer meeting place for a few weeks of  the year. Scattered communities, family groups lived along the coast for many  miles but the Inuit had no sense of everybody living together. They had hunting and survival skills a-plenty but they had no written language. Although they  stopped moving around, and I don’t yet know how the government compelled them to  stop their migratory traditions, people still go away for extended periods of  time. As a result of the continued extended trips on the land I’ve had men and  women in my courses that have only been to school for a few weeks when they were  very young. One 24-year-old man, a hunter, could read but he could not write and  like two or three others in the class he had no idea how to approach math.  Putting numbers down in order to perform addition of tens, or hundreds proved to  be a complex operation.

Although I was here in the north 27 years ago I was moving around more working  with people who wanted to establish retail co-operative stores. This time, being  in the classroom I have learned a little more about the impact of education on  particular individuals. The white mans education doesn’t serve too many white  people very well and yet governments impose a lousy system on people of totally  different cultures. Certainly Inuit people within their own community boundaries  have not fared too well. I am informed that the successful people who are  currently in government, or who are in business were sent ‘out’ for their  education. That does not necessarily mean to the Residential schools, but to  say, Yellowknife, NWT to stay in a hostel for a number of years before returning  home or going on to university. For the people I’ve had in my class there is the  difficulty of ‘thinking things through’. I’m a supporter of the concept of  critical theory and I like to bring to different learning groups a critical  approach to whatever we are doing. For my students here thinking in the abstract  was foreign. The stock answer to me requesting ‘some idea’ of the problem was  universally ‘I dunno…’ This was not an adult student recalling the practice of  avoidance of his or her school days. This was an honest answer; there was no  sense of connecting two separate things to create a third. Let me give a very  simple every day example. I didn’t know where we could begin because I have  learned that when a person tells me they have completed grade nine I wait to  make my own assessment because they do not have the associated thinking or  problem solving skills that should accompany that level of accomplishment.

I soon learned that three or four people had difficulty with their  multiplication tables. I had prepared a block chart, do you remember the kind of  thing, from 1 to 12 along the top and from 1 to 12 down the side and in each  square intersecting two numbers (top and bottom) the appropriate result of multiplying both those numbers. Yes, they said they understood. We were talking  later about a math problem that required multiplication. Instead of using their  new chart, they were trying to determine the answer by scratching in their  notebook the ‘many different’ possibilities to find the correct answer. Not a  single person had thought to use the multiplication chart and did not understand  me when I told them that it was a tool to assist in solving other problems. The  difficulties are many. And there is the need for employment.

I’ll write again.  Peter

March 10, 2013

A reading guide for students of Marxism

Filed under: Education — louisproyect @ 8:49 pm

A Marxist education

In early February I received this email from a Marxmail subscriber:

If I am not imposing on you —could you recommend some items to read to get some concise (assuming that is the right word to use) and basic understandings of marxism in its pure form and then the debates that either honed it or distorted it. I am new to this other than having some info from high school and reading the communist manifesto. I can follow some of the items sent to the list but the background to some of them is way above my level. Thanks for any recommendation you can make.

It has taken me a while to get around to responding to this but this does not reflect a lack of interest on my part. To the contrary, this is one of the main reasons I launched Marxmail—to help people new to Marxism get a better handle on the main concepts without enduring the sectarian nonsense I had to put up with as a recruit to the Trotskyist movement in 1967.

Despite my regrets about the 11 years I spent in the movement, I can say that I received a very good education from some very capable teachers, including old-timers who were closely connected to Leon Trotsky, like George Novack, Farrell Dobbs, and Joseph Hansen. I always had the hope that the participation of veteran Marxists on Marxmail would help new comrades get up to speed, especially since many of the discussions take the form of sharp debates. Some of the best lessons I received in Marxism were not part of an organized lecture series but debates at a branch meeting with people like Peter Camejo on the other side of a question from Larry Trainor, an older trade union veteran of the party.

Before recommending a reading guide, I want to refer you to a Yahoo mailing list I initiated in January 2008 to meet a similar request. The archives are here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/marxism_class/. Basically the format was a post from me followed up by discussion. As it turned out, there wasn’t much discussion. Looking back in retrospect, I think the attempt at an online class had mixed results. I tended to write about topics that probably reflected a bit too much of my own concerns that were often a bit abstruse. Also, the mailing list medium does not lend itself to the kind of give-and-take that you would get in a physical as opposed to a virtual classroom.

There is a very good chance that I will return to this at some point in the future but in a different format. It will probably be based on videos of me lecturing on basic concepts on a blog with people asking questions or making comments. There’s also a good chance that I will try to use Skype for online discussion, keeping in mind that you are limited to 8 people communicating at once. I really have to look into different options, including the possibility that some leftwing institution would donate the resources for an electronic classroom like the kind that MIT and Columbia University are using. In general I am skeptical about electronic classrooms but for people like us spread across 5 continents there’s probably no alternative.

Okay, without further ado, here is a reading guide for learning Marxism divided to online texts and those only available in dead trees format. I should add that Les Evans, a leader of the SWP who has since evolved into a Christopher Hitchens figure politically but without his overweening ambitions, recommended a number of the online texts to me back in the late 60s.

Online

1. Karl Marx, “Wage Labor and Capital”. Although this is an unfinished work, it is an excellent introduction to Marx’s basic economic theories written in a straightforward manner geared to the audience: the German Workingmen’s Club of Brussels.

2. Ernest Mandel, “An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory”. Like the work above, it was written as a kind of introductory text.

3. Frederick Engels, “The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”. This is actually an excerpt from a larger work, “The Dialectics of Nature”, that is not nearly as important as this part that is generally read on its own. It anticipates much of modern ecological thought.

4. Abram Leon, “The Jewish Question”.  I joined the SWP just around the time of the Six Day War in 1967 when there will still lots of illusions about Israel on the liberal left. As someone raised in a kosher home with mom a Zionist zealot one of the first questions I had for Les Evans is what was the Marxist position on anti-Semitism. He proceeded to give me an impromptu 30-minute one-on-one lecture drawn from Leon’s book. Leon, I should add, was a Belgian Trotskyist who died in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.

5, Leon Trotsky, “Their Morals and Ours”. I have always regarded Trotsky as the finest writer of the Marxist movement. In this brilliant polemic, he answers liberals who have accused Marxists of believing that the ends justify the means. Here is a sample: “Whoever does not care to return to Moses, Christ or Mohammed; whoever is not satisfied with eclectic hodge-podges must acknowledge that morality is a product of social development; that there is nothing invariable about it; that it serves social interests; that these interests are contradictory; that morality more than any other form of ideology has a class character.”

6. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism”. Some believe that this work is obsolete since it addresses inter-imperialist rivalries of the sort we haven’t seen since WWII. I would reply that the greater value of the work is its ability to unmask the connections between big banks and the state, of obvious relevance to the contemporary scene.

7. Evelyn Reed, “Is Biology Women’s Destiny?”. A good introduction to the themes Reed dealt with in a large book titled “Woman’s Evolution” that is only available in print from Pathfinder Press, the SWP publishing wing. I think the book is very much worth reading but only if you get it second hand from Amazon or from the library.

8. CLR James, “The Historical Development of the Negro in the United States”. Using his party name JR Johnson, James demonstrates the kind of analysis that made him such a strong influence on the Marxist wing of the Black Nationalist movement of the 1960s and 70s.

9. Jim Blaut, Lenin’s evolution on the National Question. This and two other chapters from Blaut’s book on the national question can be read here. Blaut was a member of Marxmail until his untimely death in 2000. I plan to scan and upload the remainder of his book over the next few months.

10. Felix Morrow, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain”. This book shows the remarkable ability of a Trotskyist to expose class-collaborationism. When I first read it, I assumed that all that was necessary in politics was to make such points. Alas, I did not understand at the time that revolutions are not made on the basis of telling workers about colossal failures but leading them in struggle to a successful conclusion. That being said, Morrow is a terrific writer.

I could obviously cite another 50 books and articles but this should be a good start.

Print only

1. Leo Huberman, “Man’s Worldly Goods”. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Huberman was with Monthly Review when he wrote this, a primer on Marxist economics geared to workers.

2. A.L. Morton, “A People’s History of England”. As you can figure out from the title, this is the British counterpart of what Zinn wrote for the U.S. but frankly more engaged with the Marxist method. Morton is great.

3. Robert G. Williams, “Export Agriculture and the Crisis in Central America”. This is an excellent explanation of how “primitive accumulation” in Central America (driving small peasants off their land and turning it into cattle ranches to supply fast food restaurants) led to the revolutionary struggles of the 1970s and 80s.

4. Michal Perelman, “The Invention of Capitalism”. Michael has written many very good books but this is my favorite. It deals with the primitive accumulation phase of capitalism and the ideology put forward to defend it.

5. Michael Yates, “Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy”. This is a critique of neoliberalism written in a super-clear fashion. Since Michael has taught workers (and prisoners) over the years, he was obviously channeling Karl Marx’s “Wage Labor and Capital”.

6. Doug Henwood, “Wall Street”. The best-selling Verso book of all time will tell you how the stock market works to the disadvantage of working people.

7. Michael Lebowitz, “Beyond Capital”. Michael has lived in Venezuela for more than a decade and provides insights into 21st century socialism based on a classical Marxist erudition.

8. John Bellamy Foster, “The Vulnerable Planet”. Although I have grown disgusted with Foster ever since he gave MR’s imprimatur to Yoshie Furuhashi’s demented blog aka MRZine, I can strongly recommend this book as about the best introduction to the environmental crisis that I can think of.

9. Mike Davis, “City of Quartz”. A dystopian take on Los Angeles by a preeminent scholar who drove a truck once upon a time.

10. Walter Rodney, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”. A brilliant and angry study of colonialism.

October 18, 2012

Death by Degrees

Filed under: Education — louisproyect @ 3:25 pm

N+1 No. 14

Death by Degrees
by the Editors

[T]he AMA owes its authority to America’s most notorious robber barons, who invented philanthropy as we know it by establishing foundations capable of long-term, organized interventions in the country’s political and cultural life. The first foundations poured money into medical schools — but only if those schools followed the example set by Johns Hopkins, which in 1893 had introduced what’s now the standard formula: students attend four years of college, then four years of medical school. Institutions that didn’t follow this model did not get donations, and they also got denounced in a 1910 report sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation. After the Carnegie survey published its “findings,” scores of medical schools — schools whose students could not afford the additional years of study now required, and nearly all of the schools that admitted blacks and women — closed.

Today, we take it for granted that practicing medicine or law requires years of costly credentialing in unrelated fields. In the law, the impact of all this “training” is clear: it supports a legal system that is overly complicated and outrageously expensive, both for high-flying corporate clients who routinely overpay and for small-time criminal defendants who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, can’t afford to secure representation at all (and must surrender their fate to local prosecutors, who often send them to prison). But just as a million-dollar medical training isn’t necessary to perform an abortion, routine legal matters could easily, and cheaply, be handled by noninitiates.

The standardization of these professional guilds benefited undergraduate institutions immensely, a fact that was not lost on university administrators. College presidents endorsed the Hopkins model and the AMA’s consolidation of medical authority for good reason: in the mid-19th century, bachelor’s degrees in the United States were viewed with skepticism by the private sector, and colleges had a hard time finding enough students. The corporate-sponsored consolidation of the medical establishment changed undergraduate education from a choice to a necessity. Where once there was indifference, now there was demand: “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” the child in the PSA says. “I want to go to college.”

full: http://nplusonemag.com/death-by-degrees

The Baffler No. 20

Adam Wheeler Went to Harvard
by Jim Newell

Wheeler came to Harvard to study English and left as a bit player in a twisted Dreiserian tragedy, exaggerated to hammy effect by a humiliated university covering its ass. He bought into Harvard’s great enabling social myth at face value: the notion that twenty-first-century meritocratic advancement is available to all through the procurement of a college diploma. Like any rational economic actor, he sought to procure a diploma from the finest college, with maximum efficiency. Wheeler’s crime, in the institution’s eyes, was that he saw Harvard degrees for what they are—items for purchase that cloak the owner with a manufactured prestige that, in our pretend meritocracy, automatically raises one’s market value upon the deal’s closing. The only thing propping up that value is the admissions office’s carefully maintained scarcity of supply—a luxury good ostensibly awarded to society’s most able. So Wheeler once more called the bluff of the Harvard admissions crew: he gave them whatever song-and-dance they were looking for, and, shockingly, came close to completing the purchase.

It’s quite apparent that Harvard administrators couldn’t merely expel Wheeler and demand he return the money when they finally noticed the obvious lies on his academic résumé. There was an urgent example to be set here, after all: enterprising young minds watching the news coverage might have reasoned that the people who run Harvard are utter morons who caught Wheeler only after a final fabrication so flamboyant that he must have wanted to get caught. With the great meritocratic ruse at last exposed in the light of day, young strivers might well give it a go themselves. Even better, forget going to Harvard—why not simply throw “BA, Harvard” on the ol’ résumé right now and start making tons of money playing financial computer games tomorrow? All Wheeler did, anyway, was spot major systemic inefficiencies and disingenuously exploit them for personal financial reward. And if Harvard is a place that would expel such a Capitalist of the Year, then it’s everyone else’s moral duty as Americans to pick up where he left off, and continue looting the place until it reaches a competitive market-clearing equilibrium: when looting a Harvard degree would no longer be worth the trouble—when Harvard, horror of horrors, becomes but one college of many!

full: http://thebaffler.com/past/adam_wheeler_went_to_harvard

September 28, 2012

Won’t Back Down; Obama’s America 2016

Filed under: Education,Film,Obama — louisproyect @ 9:00 pm

“Won’t Back Down” is a marriage made in hell between bad art and bad politics. Sitting through it at a press screening on Monday night was the most painful experience I have had since undergoing emergency laser surgery on both eyes to relieve the pressure that would have led to glaucoma and possible blindness. Halfway through the screening I began to wonder if laser surgery might be needed to relieve the pressure on my brain that this awful film was producing. With its treacly Lifetime cable TV clichés and its reckless disregard for the reality surrounding the charter school juggernaut backed by Democrats and Republicans alike, it might take months for me to get the bad taste out of my mouth, like the one that accompanies a hangover from really cheap wine. Maybe the answer is to lock myself in my bedroom and watch the collected works of Akira Kurosawa over the next week or so.

Despite some rather pro forma gestures at making the teacher’s union appear something a bit less threatening than a George Romero zombie attack, the key moment arrives when the head of the union quotes Albert Shanker: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” Although Shanker was a pretty despicable figure, that quote was apocryphal. It first appeared in a Mississippi newspaper (surprise, surprise) but without any source. In fact enemies of the teacher’s unions rather than their leaders are the ones that tend to use it. For example, New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, one of the country’s top charter school boosters along with Michelle Rhee, used it an June 2011 Atlantic Magazine article that also stated:

The traditional schools, as well as their employees and the unions, are screaming bloody murder, something vividly depicted in The Lottery, a recent documentary that shows community agitators brought in by the union to oppose giving public-school space to the Harlem Success network. But this kind of push-back is actually a good sign: it means that the monopolists are beginning to feel the effects of competition.

Furthermore, with respect to the real Albert Shanker—as opposed to the inversion made by screenwriters Brin Hill and Daniel Barnz (who also directed)—the truth is that he was one of the early supporters of charter schools as the American Federation of Teachers website points out:

In a landmark address in 1988, former AFT president Albert Shanker became one of the first education leaders to champion the concept of charter schools. Shanker envisioned teacher-led laboratories of reform that would experiment with new instructional practices. These practices would then be subjected to rigorous evaluation and, if successful, would serve as models for other public schools.

Shanker also saw charter schools as a way to empower teachers, free them from overly bureaucratic regulations, and strengthen their voice in school and curriculum decision-making. In his view, unions were essential to charter schools, because unions help create the kind of secure work environment that encourages innovation and risk-taking.

As a stand-in for the creator’s confused liberal politics, the script includes a young, dedicated and pro-union teacher named Michael Perry who becomes Maggie Gyllenhaal’s love interest at first and then ultimately her ally in privatizing the school (this is really what the struggle ultimately boils down to.) As a way of demonstrating his idealism, he is identified as coming off the Teach for America assembly line. In keeping with the failure to represent Shanker’s true beliefs (and it is no surprise that the rancid social democrat would have had good words for charter schools), there is little inkling of the dovetailing of charter schools and Teach for America. Both are “reforms” intended to break the back of a powerful and effective trade union.

The July 29, 2009 USA Today reported:

In Boston, TFA corps members replaced 20 pink-slipped teachers, says Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman. “These are people who have been trained, who are experienced and who have good evaluations, and are being replaced by brand-new employees.”

This month, he met with about 18 other local union presidents, all of whom said they’d seen teachers laid off to make room for TFA members.

“I don’t think you’ll find a city that isn’t laying off people to accommodate Teach For America,” he says.

In March, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools Superintendent Peter Gorman told board members he was laying off hundreds of teachers but sparing 100 TFAers because the district “made a commitment to this program.” Gorman noted that TFA teachers “are placed at schools with high populations of underprivileged students where the placement of personnel has proven to be difficult.”

You really have to wonder if Brin Hill or Daniel Barnz gave a shit about the truth. These are a couple of hacks that were only too happy to pick up a paycheck from Walden Media, the rightwing production company founded by billionaire Philip Anschutz who advocates teaching creationism in public schools. I can just imagine these knuckleheads sending their kids to such a place.

This is Brin Hill’s first screenplay and it really shows it. As for Barnz, he had the chutzpah to tell the N.Y. Times last February that “I am strongly pro-union”. He also stated that “wanted to recreate the thrill of past action-inspiring social dramas without being snared in partisan debate.” Working from an earlier script by Hill, Barnz clearly sought to create a movie in the spirit of “Norma Rae”, “Erin Brokovich”,  or “Silkwood”, all of which feature a working-class woman fighting against Bad Guys standing in the way of truth, justice and the American way. Showing some awareness that an Anschutz-funded project is not likely to fulfill those hopes, he has a female character on the trade union staff say, “When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?”

Perhaps there is some value to the film in that it will galvanize public opinion, and particularly that of critics, about what it represents politically. As a clumsy recitation of charter school talking points, it will hopefully serve as a wake-up call in the same manner as Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks. But it would be a big mistake to attribute its toxic message to the designs of the Mitt Romney’s of the world, including the men who run Walden Media and Twentieth Century Fox, the corporation that released it (owned by Rupert Murdoch.) The charter school movement is an alliance between conservatives and liberals, something that was perhaps lost on A.O. Scott who told his N.Y. Times readers that it “might serve as a useful counterweight to the conventional wisdom that Hollywood is a liberal propaganda factory.”

In truth, despite its ultra-right corporate backing, the movie is very much liberal propaganda. The movie was inspired by the attempt of Parent Revolution to take over a couple of schools in California. To call this outfit conservative would be very far from the truth, as the composition of its board of directors would indicate:

Maggie Neilsen

Previously, as a strategy consultant, she launched new organizations, restructured existing efforts, forged partnerships across sectors and branded international efforts.. For Sir Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela, she helped convene and advise the development of The Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Peter Shakow

Peter also has extensive national, state, and local political experience. He was a staff member in the Office of Political Affairs at the White House during the Clinton Administration, and has worked on numerous political campaigns across the country. He remains involved in the community, both as an active participant in bar activities and as President of the Board of Directors of the Tierra del Sol Foundation, a non-profit that serves developmentally disabled adults. Immediately before joining the firm, he was Vice President of Communications for a $100 million/year nonprofit based in Los Angeles County.

In other words, these are the same kinds of people that Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, is aligned with. They get their funding from the Gates Foundation, launched by a billionaire who has lavished money on Democrats and Republicans alike, just as is the case with Goldman-Sachs.

I want to conclude with a recommendation of some pieces I have written in the past about charter schools and Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media.

I first took a look at charter schools after seeing “Waiting for ‘Superman’”, a Walden Media documentary and “The Lottery”, another preachy documentary:

In Waiting for “Superman” and The Lottery, the heroes are charter school administrators like Geoffrey Canada and Eva Moskowitz who operate in New York City, and Michelle Rhee who ran the board of education in Washington. Moskowitz is an ubiquitous and truly unpleasant presence in The Lottery while the equally toxic Rhee is dominant in Waiting for “Superman”. Mostly they say that if the teachers unions were busted, an educational Messianic era would ensue. The only thing standing in the way of success in poverty-stricken Black and Latino neighborhoods is teachers enjoying protection against being arbitrarily fired–a basic right won through collective bargaining.

Canada, Moskowitz and Rhee are depicted as the champions of the plucky families who are doing everything they can to get their kids into a charter school. Canada practically guarantees that graduating from his Harlem Children’s Zone will open doors at Harvard, Princeton and Yale. It is hard not to feel for the underdogs they profess to fight for, whose main enemy appears to be an unfeeling and greedy teacher’s union rather than poverty and racism.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is called upon to make the case for protection against firing but is not really allowed much more than soundbites. She plays kind of the same role that Charlton Heston played as head of the National Rifleman’s Association in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, or a Dr. No in a James Bond movie: the sum of all fears.

And with respect to Philip Anschutz, he is a far more evil bastard than Dr. No as my review of “Amazing Grace” would demonstrate.

Thanks to my good friend and comrade Prairie Miller who was one of the founders of New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) and who hosts an Arts show at WBAI, I was able to watch Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary on Barack Obama on Vimeo, an option becoming more prevalent for film reviewers both professional and amateur like me.

Although it was not quite as painful as sitting through “Won’t Back Down”, it was not easy listening to this conservative creep for 90 minutes. Even worse was looking at him, a face that only a mother could love.

The documentary is titled 2016: Obama’s America, and is based on his 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage. According to Prairie, it “is apparently poised to overtake Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 as the most financially successful documentary of all time.” As P.T. Barnum once said, “a sucker is born every minute.”

D’Souza is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the “culture wars” in which rightwingers try to make the case that places like his alma mater and Columbia University, from which I retired after 21 mostly happy years, are the equivalents of the Smolny Institute in the summer of 1917. With other noodniks like David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes, who is given the platform in the final 15 minutes or so of the film, we are led to believe that characters like Columbia University’s Lee Bollinger and Bard College’s Leon Botstein are allied with George Soros and other liberal billionaires in a conspiracy to lead a socialist revolution in the U.S. In fact the title of D’Souza’s film is meant to warn Amuricans (as LBJ used to put it) that Obama’s reelection will culminate in a Soviet America in 2016. Christ almighty, if only that were true.

Doing a clumsy imitation of an intellectual, D’Souza tries to get to the roots of Obama’s alleged “anti-Americanism”. It goes something like this. Although Obama hardly knew his father, his mother served as a transmission belt for his anti-colonial ideas. When she was in Indonesia with her new husband Lolo, she always expressed a preference for her first husband who supposedly was for “sticking it to the man”. Lolo, it seems, was bought off by the Western oil companies doing business in Indonesia and even went so far as to go out on commie-killing missions when he was in the Indonesian army during Suharto’s dictatorship.

Once she bought her son back to Hawaii, he was put under the tutelage of Frank Marshall Davis, a member of the Communist Party who was close to Barack’s Nigerian birth father ideologically as well as his grandfather Sidney Dunham, who according to interviewee Paul Kengor (the author of “The Communist. Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor”) was some kind of Red. It all sounds rather like a half-assed version of “The Manchurian Candidate”, doesn’t it? All this led to Obama finally embracing the ideas of Edward Said, Roberto Unger (his law professor at Harvard), Bill Ayers, and Jeremiah Wright.

Like most rightwing intellectuals, I doubt that Dinesh D’Souza reads much out of his comfort zone of the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and Wall Street Journal editorial pages.

But if you read the article titled “Party of None: Barack Obama’s annoying journey to the center of belonging” by Chris Bray in the thankfully reincarnated “The Baffler”, you will discover that Barack Obama’s mother was “an employee of a thinly veiled Cold War agency, reporting to the American director of an organization with an office at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.” This hardly sounds like sticking it to the man.

As far as Frank Marshall Davis is concerned, I found his advice to Obama, as recounted in “Dreams From My Father”, a rather perceptive take on where his supposed tutee was headed:

What had Frank called college? An advanced degree in compromise. I thought back to the last time I had seen the old poet, a few days before I left Hawaii. We had made small talk for a while; he complained about his feet, the corns and bone spurs that he insisted were a direct result of trying to force African feet into European shoes. Finally he asked me what I expected to get out of college. I told him that I didn’t know. He shook his big, hoary head.

“Well,” he said, “that’s the problem, isn’t it? You don’t know. You’re just like the rest of those young cats out here. All you know is that college is the next thing you are supposed to do. And the people who are young enough to know better, who fought all those years for your right to go to college—they’re just so happy to see you in there that they won’t tell you the truth. The real price of admission.”

“And what’s that?”

“Leaving your race at the door,” he said. “Leaving your people behind.” He studied me over the top of his reading glasses. You’re not going to college to get educated. You’re going there to get trained. They’ll train you to want you don’t need. They’ll train you to manipulate words so they don’t mean anything anymore. They’ll train you so good, you’ll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit. They’ll give you a corner office and invite you to fancy dinners, and tell you that you’re a credit to your race. Until you want to actually start running things, and then they’ll yank on your chain and let you know that you may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you’re a nigger just the same.”

And finally there’s this. If Roberto Unger is supposedly a guide to the ideology of the man who is a shoo-in for another term as most powerful capitalist head of state in the world, just check what he said on Youtube in May of this year:

President Obama must be defeated in the coming election.

He has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States. He has spent trillions of dollars to rescue the moneyed interests and left workers and homeowners to their own devices. He has subordinated the broadening of economic and educational opportunities to the important but secondary issue of access to health care in the mistaken belief that he would be spared a fight.

He has disguised his surrender with an empty appeal to tax justice. He has delivered the politics of democracy to the rule of money. He has reduced justice to charity.

His policy is financial confidence and food stamps. He has evoked a politics of hand holding. But no one changes the world without a struggle.

Unless he is defeated, there cannot be a contest for the re-orientation of the Democratic Party as the vehicle of a progressive alternative in the country. There will be a cost for his defeat in judicial and administrative appointments.

The risk of military adventurism, however, under the rule of his opponents, will be no greater than it would be under him.

Only a political reversal can allow the voice of democratic prophesy to speak once again in American life. Its speech is always dangerous. Its silence is always fatal.

That is the voice of a genuine radical, not the one that the Tea Party and its house intellectuals choose as its target. Obama will surely withstand their attacks and in the next four years we can expect more of the same, an unrelenting austerity drive like the one taking place in Europe. There is a need for a documentary about Obama but it will be up to genuine socialists to make it. With Michael Moore’s shilling for Obama as some kind of man on white horse and the D’Souza’s of the world trying to knock him out of his saddle, there’s an opening for a radical filmmaker to tell it like it is. Hey, you out there, what are you waiting for?

September 26, 2012

Liza Featherstone on “Won’t Back Down”

Filed under: Education,Film — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

http://dissentmagazine.org/online.php?id=631

“Empowerment” Against Democracy: Tinseltown and the Teachers’ Unions
Liza Featherstone – September 26, 2012

“You know those mothers who lift one-ton trucks off their babies?” says Jamie Fitzpatrick, a working-class mom (played Maggie Gyllenhall), in a confrontation with a corrupt union rep in Daniel Barnz’s edu-drama, Won’t Back Down. “They’re nothing compared to me.”

It’s a “you-go-girl” moment. But real moms can’t lift trucks. And just about everything in this movie is as wildly fantastical as that image.

Fed up with her daughter’s horrible public school, Jamie learns about a law that allows parents and teachers to “take over” a failing school. Against the odds, she organizes the powerless and wins over the naysayers. The movie is inspired by real-life “parent trigger” laws, which are pushed by right-wing groups like ALEC, but backed with equal enthusiasm by progressive urban mayors nationwide. The laws allow a charter takeover if 50 percent of the parents agree to it. Charter schools are mostly non-union, and democratically elected officials have little control over them.

Won’t Back Down is liberal Hollywood’s second blast of gas on what was once a bugbear of the Right: the badness of public schools and teachers’ unions, and the magic bullet of hope offered by privatization. The first was Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for Superman. Barnz’s movie, featuring great actresses Viola Davis and Gyllenhall, is far more watchable than Guggenheim’s, but the fantasy world it inhabits is exactly the same. Its release, just on the heels of the Chicago teachers’ strike, feels eerily timely, as its anti-union talking points are just the same as those of Rahm Emanuel and the monied interests of Chicago.

read in full

September 16, 2012

RAW VIDEO: CTU Pres. Karen Lewis speaks at Union Park rally | Video | abc7chicago.com

Filed under: Education,workers — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

RAW VIDEO: CTU Pres. Karen Lewis speaks at Union Park rally | Video | abc7chicago.com.

June 25, 2012

The University of Virginia fracas

Filed under: computers,Education — louisproyect @ 7:55 pm

Over a 22 year career in Columbia University’s IT department, I naturally followed administrative affairs at other universities. I began reading Chronicle of Higher Education back in 1990 mostly as a way of keeping up-to-date with “back office” concerns, especially how computer systems were being used. After a few months, I discovered that this trade magazine could also be relied upon for useful coverage of “the culture wars”, such as Ward Churchill’s firing, etc.

When I first got wind of the forced resignation of the University of Virginia’s President Teresa Sullivan, I wrote it off as some kind of turf battle. As a kind of relic of the medieval world, universities tend to divide into fiefdoms so firings and forced resignations are par for the course. But after a while it became obvious that what happened there had a lot more to do with what’s happening in American society over the past decade or so as the corporate elites of one percent infamy tighten their control over every aspect of our lives, including the Ivory Tower.

Sullivan’s resignation was announced on June 10 and reported in the Chronicle as resulting from “significant disagreements between Ms. Sullivan and the Board of Visitors [another term for board of trustees] about how best to position the historic institution for success in the 21st century.” She had come to U. Va. from the University of Michigan, the same institution that Columbia’s Lee Bollinger had ruled before coming here. As you would expect, she was probably no different than Bollinger or 90 percent of the presidents running colleges today, people once described by Upton Sinclair in “The Goosestep: a study of American Education”:

Thus the college president spends his time running back and forth between Mammon and God, known in the academic vocabulary as Business and Learning. He pleads with the business man to make a little more allowance for the eccentricities of the scholar; explaining the absurd notion which men of learning have that they owe loyalty to truth and public welfare. He points out that if the college comes to be known as a mere tool of special privilege it loses all its dignity and authority; it is absolutely necessary that it should maintain a pretense of disinterestedness, it should appear to the public as a shrine of wisdom and piety. He points out that Professor So-and-So has managed to secure great prestige throughout the state, and if he is unceremoniously fired it will make a terrific scandal, and perhaps cause other faculty members to resign, and other famous scientists to stay away from the institution.

Sullivan, like Bollinger, spent her time running between Mammon and God at U. of Va. but apparently not fast enough to assuage “visitor” Helen Dragas, a rector of the university and a real estate developer. What? You were expecting a poet or a sculptor maybe? Dragas’s main ally on the board was Vice Rector Mark Kington, who ran an asset management firm, another prerequisite for overseeing an institution of higher learning. The third and most interesting member of the anti-Sullivan triumvirate was Peter Kiernan, who was chairman of U. Va.’s Darden Business School board of trustees and formerly a Goldman-Sachs partner. This Kiernan is a real piece of work, based on the fawning NY Times Dealbook profile from February 29th of this year written by the loathsome Andrew Ross Sorkin, infamous for his article sneering at Occupy Wall Street.

Ultimately, Mr. Kiernan, 58, says he believes we need to put aside political differences to solve our national problems and avoid losing our place in the global pecking order, a doctrine he calls “radical centrism.”

“I was really writing the book to people to say, here’s what you’ve got to do to lead the country in uncertain times,” Mr. Kiernan said, over a recent lunch at the Peking Duck House in New York’s Chinatown. “For once, I wanted to read a book that is agnostic to political parties.”

At Goldman, Mr. Kiernan – a rugged Irish Catholic with a firm handshake and a polished demeanor straight out of Wall Street central casting – was better known for his philanthropy than his politics. He headed the Robin Hood Foundation, an antipoverty group whose ranks are populated by financial titans, and led a charity bicycle ride through Vietnam in 1998, with the proceeds going to disabled veterans.

So, when you put together people like Dragas, Kington and Kiernan, the results are predictable. They will be focused on the university’s “bottom line”, and all the rest—from scholarship to teaching young people how to become good citizens—be damned. Kiernan, like Kington, resigned not long after the national media got a hold of the Sullivan story. This was obviously meant to release some steam rather than solve the underlying problem, namely Mammon running roughshod over culture.

The smoking gun in all this was an email from Dragas to Kington calling attention to a Wall Street Journal article touting the benefits of computerized classes written by John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe. (Don’t miss Doug Henwood’s interview with Moe here.) Dragas’s subject heading was “we can’t afford to wait”. The title of the WSJ article was most revealing, almost as written to illustrate volume one of Karl Marx’s Capital: “The substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive) can vastly increase access to an elite-caliber education”. While Marx usually wrote about this in the context of Britain’s textile mills, apparently 21st century capitalism has every worker in its sights, including those in the halls of ivy.

Chubb and Moe are Hoover Institution scholars. Yes, I know, you weren’t expecting that. Both are fanatical rightwingers who have targeted teachers both at the college and secondary education level. They don’t see any particular need to be at Harvard to get a top-flight education:

The fact is, students do not need to be on campus at Harvard or MIT to experience some of the key benefits of an elite education. Moreover, colleges and universities, whatever their status, do not need to put a professor in every classroom. One Nobel laureate can literally teach a million students, and for a very reasonable tuition price. Online education will lead to the substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive)–as has happened in every other industry–making schools much more productive.

One would be hard-pressed, however, to say whether they want to make a Harvard education available globally to any son or daughter foolish enough to part with their money, or to adopt a different education model altogether:

Don’t dismiss the for-profit colleges and universities, either. Institutions such as the University of Phoenix–and it is hardly alone–have embraced technology aggressively. By integrating online courses into their curricula and charging less-than-elite prices for them, for-profit institutions have doubled their share of the U.S. higher education market in the last decade, now topping 10%. In time, they may do amazing things with computerized instruction–imagine equivalents of Apple or Microsoft, with the right incentives to work in higher education–and they may give elite nonprofits some healthy competition in providing innovative, high-quality content.

As to be expected, Chubb and Moe swept for-profit school failure under the rug. If this type of institution is supposed to be a harbinger of things to come in higher education, American society will be going down the drain a lot faster than anybody expected. What places like these are best at is not educating people, but ripping them off. Through clever advertising campaigns, from all appearances the number one placement on NYC’s buses and subways, they tell working class kids—especially Blacks and Latinos—that a degree from such a school will get them a good job.

The Huffington Post reported  on what really makes for-profit institutions tick. Here’s a hint. It is not computers, but the cash register:

And despite the considerable cost, federal data show that for-profit colleges on average devote less than a third of the money that public universities do toward student instruction, and less than a fifth of the money spent on students by private non-profit institutions.

Much of the money is instead going toward marketing and recruiting new students, and to executive compensation and profits. According to securities filings for some of the larger publicly traded corporations that own for-profit schools, more than 30 percent of revenues are being redirected toward marketing efforts and administrative costs.

There is a tremendous irony in the U. of Va. crisis considering the school’s origins in 1819. It was founded by Thomas Jefferson and the first board of trustees included him, and two other former presidents James Madison and James Monroe.

In a letter written to British scientist Joseph Priestley, Jefferson declared: “We wish to establish in the upper country of Virginia, and more centrally for the State, a University on a plan so broad and liberal and modern, as to be worth patronizing with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other States to come and drink of the cup of knowledge and fraternize with us.”

We’ve come a long way from the “cup of knowledge” considering what can be found on the university’s website, even before Dragan’s vision for the future is realized. This is from the Corporate Connections page, shamelessly placed as a link on the university’s home page.

Welcome to the University of Virginia’s “Corporate Connections” gateway. This site will help you navigate through the variety of ways the University relates to and collaborates with business, industry and private foundations.

The Corporate and Foundation Relations office seeks to maximize contributions and other support to the University of Virginia from corporations and foundations, by creating, maintaining and enhancing mutually beneficial relationships between these entities and university units.

We provide an infrastructure for prospect coordination, planning, solicitation and other services that empower university units to conduct these activities in the most effective manner. Our central staff can help you get started based upon your interests and needs. Call (434) 924-4159, e-mail Nick Duke, or write: Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400807, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904-4807

Among the fruit borne from this poisonous bush is this:

Philip Morris USA Supports Medical Research and Business Leadership with a $25 Million Gift to U.Va.

This is a bit of Philip Morris PR designed to deflect attention from its primary purpose, namely to sell cancer sticks. It should be mentioned as well that the “Nick Duke” inviting emails above is none other than Nicholas R. Duke, a scion of the tobacco-growing empire. How appropriate.

In addition to the company’s support for the University of Virginia, Philip Morris USA has made significant investments in youth-smoking prevention and cessation programs and in research.

Since 1998, Philip Morris USA has invested $1 billion in youth-smoking prevention programs through its Youth Smoking Prevention department and its responsible retailing incentives.

Between 1999 and 2006, Philip Morris USA has provided grants in excess of $176 million to schools, school districts and youth-focused organizations across the United States to help them implement programs that help young people develop confidence and avoid risky behaviors, such as smoking.

Somehow the tobacco giant’s good intentions were lost on the government of Uruguay that like other subversive states in Latin America decided to put the health of its population above that of what Upton Sinclair called Mammon. From the Daily Beast:

Except over a glass of ruby Tannat wine or a sizzling tenderloin, most people pay little mind to Uruguay. But just mention this demure South American nation to the tobacco industry and watch the smoke billow. A long-burning row between the government in Montevideo and cigarette maker Philip Morris is slowly turning into the mother of asymmetric battles.

Earlier this year, little Uruguay (68,000 square miles, half again the size of Cuba), with a population of 3.5 million and a GDP of $44 billion, tightened the already drastic restrictions on local sales of cigarettes. The international tobacco colossus, with a market capitalization of $107 billion and legions of high-priced lawyers and lobbyists from Bern to the Washington Beltway, struck back, filing a complaint with the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The battlefield is minuscule, the size of a pack of smokes. But the case is starting rows over national sovereignty, free trade, and public health that show little sign of dissipating any time soon. Through it all, Uruguay has stood firm, showing it can go toe to toe with giants.

Of course, I am obliged to inform my readers that there is a certain consistency in the U. of Va.’s ties to Phillip Morris. After all, the main cash crop on Thomas Jefferson’s plantation was tobacco.

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