Rosslyn Chapel, Hadrian’s Wall and Abbeys!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday we spent the entire day touring south of Edinburgh.  

Our day started with a stop at Rosslyn Chapel, made more famous by Dan Brown’s mega-best seller, The DaVinci Code.  Some scenes for the movie were shot on location in the cellar vault.  The main area has lots of interesting sculptures and figures. Before The DaVinci Code, the number of yearly visitors was approximately 34,000 (2001).  Since 2006 – the year the film came out – the  yearly average is more than 150,000.

Below is a photo of the ruins of Melrose Abbey, built in the 12th Century. An outside grave supposedly contains the heart of the Scottish king and hero, Robert the Bruce.

We then crossed the border between Scotland and England to visit to the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall built in the 2nd century. It ran horizontally across from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire.  According to our tour guide, the wall originally was about 18 feet high and 9-feet across for most of its 73-mile length.  Along the wall, the Romans built fourteen forts.  The ruins of one these (Housesteads Fort) are depicted in a photo below. 

The last stop on the tour was the ruins of Jedburg Abbey built in the 12th Century.

We learned a lot of history today!


Interior of Rosslyn Chapel


Melrose Abbey


Hadrian’s Wall

Ruins of Housesteads Roman Fort


Ruins of Jedburg Abbey

Walk Along Canongate!

Dear Commons Community,

After lunch, Elaine and I went for a walk along Canongate, the lower third of the Royal Mile in Old Town. The photo above is Calton Hill taken from one of the lookouts just down from Canongate.  Calton Hill has a number of monuments to the likes of Robert Burns and Horatio Nelson.

Below is a rooming house built in the 1490s where the Protestant reformer John Knox supposedly lived for a while and died.  Tolbooth Tavern with the large clock hanging on its rightside was built in 1820 and remains a very popular pub.

The University of Edinburgh has a campus on Canongate that houses several schools and programs including the Old Moray House, the School of Education and the Centre for Open Learning.  Behind the campus is a famous plateau known as Arthur’s Seat.  It was described by Robert Louis Stevenson as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design”.

The next photo below is Canongate Kirk (kirk is another name for church).  It was built in 1688 and ordered by King James VII.  Outside the kirk is a bronze statue of the poet Robert Fergusson who died prematurely at the age of twenty-four.

A fine afternoon of walking.  Tomorrow we are off to Hadrian’s Wall and the Rosslyn Chapel.


John Knox House


Tolbooth Tavern


University of Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat


Canongate Kirk


Statue of Robert Fergusson


On CUNY-TV Tonight and This Week: “CUNY’s First Fifty Years:  The Triumphs and Ordeals of a People’s University”

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague and co-author, Chet Jordan and I taped an interview in August for CUNY-TV’s EdCast, hosted by Linda Hirsch.  The subject of our interview was our new book, CUNY’s First Fifty Years:  The Triumphs and Ordeals of a People’s University.  Former President of Brooklyn College and Interim Chancellor of CUNY, Christoph Kimmich who reviewed it said:

“The CUNY story is a great story and the authors tell it well.  They pull together the University’s evolution and growth, track the benchmark decisions and the major crises, and explore its interactions with politics. Not too much arcane detail and generally enough background to satisfy readers who are not CUNY junkies.  Familiar though the story is for me, I still came across things that were new to me.  All in all, the authors accomplished much of what they set out to do: a character sketch, with illuminating vignettes of the major players and landmark events along the way. ”  – Christoph Kimmich

The progam will air tonight, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. You can find further information at:


Loch Lomond, Kelpies, Highlands, and Stirling Castle!

Dear Commons Community,

It was a full day of touring with visits to Loch Lomond (above), the Kelpies, the Highlands, and Stirling Castle.  Loch Lomond is one of Scotland’s truly beautiful lakes, a bit like New York’s Lake George in the Adirondacks.  Tom Weir (below) was a well-known Scottish mountaineer, environmentalist, writer, and television broadcaster, associated with preserving the beauty of Loch Lomond.

At 30-meters high, The Kelpies are the highest horse sculptures in the world.  The Kelpies represent mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength and endurance of 10 horses.  They also represent the lineage of the heavy horses of Scottish industry such as Clydesdales that pulled the wagons, ploughs, barges and coalships that shaped the geographical layout of the area. 

The Highlands of Scotland are the mountainous region in the north.  The mountains are majestic and also edge beautiful valleys where sheep and Highland Cattle graze.  A side note: our tour guide, Amy, referred to the shaggy, horned critter in the photo below as a “Heelan Coo” not as a “Highland Cow”

The last stop on the tour was Stirling Castle, the home of the Scottish kings and queens such as Robert the Bruce, James III, and Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Quite a day of sightseeing!


Tom Weir Bronze with Loch Lomond in the Background!


The Kelpies with Elaine in the Foreground!


Sheep and Highland Cattle Grazing in a Valley!


Stirling Castle – Home of the Scottish Kings and Queens!


Bronze of Robert the Bruce with Stirling Castle in the Background!

Evening in Edinburgh Old Town!

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern

Dear Commons Community,

After dinner last night at a pub called, Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, we went for a stroll through the Old Town.  The photo immediately below of the white building and bluish dome is the Bank of Scotland established in 1695.  The other photos are of other popular sights and streets in the town.  On corners, you can find bagpipers playing for contributions.

Tomorrow we are off to the Highlands.


The Bank of Scotland

Bank Street

Edinburgh Castle

Camera Obscura Museum

At Fraser Suites in Edinburgh!

Dear Commons Community,

Elaine and I arrived in  Edinburgh this morning. We are staying at the Fraser Suites in the heart of the Old Town just a few yards from High Street.

We took an afternoon walk along High Street, part of  The Royal Mile, the main thoroughfare of the Old Town.  St. Giles Cathedral, old bronze sculptures, and some narrow alleyways  characterize this pedestrian, cobblestoned street.


High Street


St. Giles Cathedral


High Street

Bronze of Walter Scott

Bronze of Adam Smith


Old Alleyway

Amid Backlash Harvard Rescinds Invitation to Chelsea Manning!

Dear Commons Community,

Amid a backlash from several CIA officials, Harvard University announced early this morning that it will rescind its invitation for Chelsea Manning to be a visiting fellow during its upcoming academic year. As reported by The Huffington Post:

“In a blog post, Douglas Elmendorf, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School, called Manning’s fellowship designation a “mistake.” Manning had been invited to spend a day at the Kennedy School under the mantle of visiting fellow, a title that he said was used to “describe some people who spend more than a few hours at the school.”

“We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any fellow,” Elmendorf said. “However, I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility.”

The university’s decision to withdraw the fellowship invitation followed a day of public pressure. CIA Director Mike Pompeo called Manning an “American traitor,” and said he would withdraw from an appearance at the Kennedy School’s John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum. Former CIA Chief Michael Morell also resigned his role as a senior fellow at Harvard over the Manning invite.

“You have traded a respected individual who served his country with dignity for one who served it with disgrace and who violated the warrior ethos she promised to uphold when she voluntarily chose to join the United States Army,” Pompeo wrote.

Manning, 29, served seven years in prison for sharing classified information with WikiLeaks, the largest breach of such intel in U.S. history. The remainder of her 35-year sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama in January and she was released in May.

Harvard originally announced the news of Manning’s fellowship on Wednesday, touting her as the Kennedy School’s “first transgender Fellow.”

The university offered an apology to Manning, and still plans to invite her to spend the day at the school, Elmendorf said.

“I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation,” Elmendorf stated. “This decision now is not intended as a compromise between competing interest groups but as the correct way for the Kennedy School to emphasize its longstanding approach to visiting speakers while recognizing that the title of Visiting Fellow implies a certain recognition.”

A sticky-wicket for Harvard.  Below is former Acting CIA Director Morrell’s letter and justification.


Pelosi and Schumer Say They Have an Agreement with Trump on DACA!

Dear Commons Community,

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) say they and President Donald Trump have “agreed” to pass legislation to protect the nation’s 800,000 Dreamers from deportation. According to Pelosi and Schumer, who dined with Trump last night, the proposal would not include a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  As reported in the New York Times:

“The Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi, said in a joint statement that they had a “very productive” dinner meeting with the president at the White House that focused on the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. “We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides,” they said.

In its own statement, the White House was far more muted, mentioning DACA as merely one of several issues that were discussed, including tax reform and infrastructure. It called the meeting, which came a week after the president struck a stunning spending-and-debt deal with the Democratic leaders, “a positive step toward the president’s strong commitment to bipartisan solutions.”

But the bipartisan comity appeared to have its limits. In a tweet, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, disputed the Democrats’ characterization of Mr. Trump’s stance on the border wall. “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” she wrote.

Mr. Schumer’s communications director, Matt House, fired back on Twitter: “The President made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement.”

While Democratic leaders sought to frame the Wednesday dinner as a victory for their priorities, Republican votes will be needed for any immigration overhaul. Hard-liners in Congress were flummoxed by word of a potential deal on DACA, one that could push some of Mr. Trump’s electoral base away from him.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, wrote on Twitter that if the reports were true, “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.” The website Breitbart, run by Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, had the headline “Amnesty Don.”

Some Republicans were more receptive. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent critic of the president, said on Twitter: “Kudos to @POTUS for pursuing agreement that will protect #Dreamers from deportation.” The young immigrants are often referred to as Dreamers.”

This is the another big plus for bi-partisanship.  Kudos to Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer!


Cornell Tech Uses Art to Stir Imaginations!

Dear Commons Community,

When Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City opened its doors for the first time this semester, faculty, students and visitors were treated to various works of art designed to stir imagination and innovation.  The New York Times has an article today featuring the artwork at Cornell Tech carefully commissioned to help students and faculty to immerse and to think.  Here is an excerpt from the article.

“Since the first crop of engineering graduate students arrived last month at the brand-new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, many have been busy decoding the diagrams in Matthew Ritchie’s dynamic mural rising up four stories in the atrium of the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center, the main academic building.

This is not lobby decoration tacked on as an afterthought. From the early design stages, Thom Mayne, the founder of Morphosis Architects, and his team integrated the mural and four other immersive installations in the cafe and unexpected “discovery rooms” throughout the new building: an art program engineered to provoke creative thinking. “The entire building is designed to spur imagination and innovation and sometimes unintentional interactions,” said Patricia Harris, chief executive of Bloomberg Philanthropies.

More than 1 percent of the building’s overall budget of $130 million (funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the city) was invested in new artworks by Mr. Ritchie, Michael RiedelMatthew Day Jackson and Alison Elizabeth Taylor, as well as in the restoration and relocation of a historic 50-foot-long mural by Ilya Bolotowsky. This canvas had hung in the Coler-Goldwater Memorial Hospital razed to make way for the Cornell Tech campus.

Cornell University and Technion — Israel Institute of Technology formed the partnership of Cornell Tech in 2011 and won New York City’s competition to develop an applied-sciences campus. As part of the deal, in which the city provided funding and land, Cornell Tech agreed to preserve three large-scale paintings in the derelict W.P.A.-era hospital. An Albert Swinden mural has been installed in the new Bridge building adjacent to the Bloomberg Center, and a Joseph Rugolo work will find a home in the next construction phase.

The Bolotowsky canvas — an abstract composition of geometric shapes in a soothing palette of blues, pinks and beiges — had wrapped around a circular room in the hospital and required Mr. Mayne to accommodate a similar space in his floor plan. “This helped us think about how we could have other hidden rooms as an element of surprise,” Ms. Harris explained.

These enigmatic spaces include Mr. Jackson’s “Ordinary Objects of Extraordinary Beauty,” a continuation of his series called “Study Collections.” The small trapezoidal meeting room is lined with shelves displaying natural and found objects — like bones, ceramics and branches — as specimens. “The things these students will dream up are at the cutting edge of the application of new science,” Mr. Jackson said. “I wanted to present a room where they could sit and think about the material resources available on earth and what they’ll do with them.”

The students will be unplugged while they’re contemplating. Andrew Winters, senior director for capital projects at Cornell Tech, said there are no outlets or wiring for electronic devices in the room, to encourage people to sit and talk. Part of the art program is to help students, faculty and researchers “get away from what they’re doing day to day,” Mr. Winters said. “Facebook and Pixar offices have secret rooms for people to go do yoga or sleep. We tried to elevate that a little bit.”

The architects at Cornell Tech have thought deeply about how to use art to stir minds!