New Board Of Trustees Causing Concern at the U of Louisville!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week, the U of Louisville got a new interim president — its vice president for health affairs, Greg Postel. The appointment was among the first acts by a new Board of Trustees appointed just last week by Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin. However, the appointment has caused great concern at the school with claims of undue external influence on Bevin’s part. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Those who have been following the complex situation at Louisville will recognize that Governor Bevin’s new board isn’t really new at all. Nine out of 10 of the “new” trustees were previously named to a board the governor sought to create last summer, when he used an executive order to dissolve the university’s old board and replace it with a smaller one.

Governor Bevin’s first effort is the subject of a continuing court challenge, but his recent appointment of a new board has been cleared by a new law passed this month that makes explicit his legal authority to appoint Louisville’s board.

Meanwhile, the university has been left in the uncertain position of proving to its accreditor that it has not been subject to undue political interference…

… While it is not unheard of for a governor to attempt to gain greater control of higher education in his or her state, Paul Gaston III, a professor at Kent State University who teaches about higher-education administration, said he thinks Governor Bevin’s actions are “unusual” in their aggressiveness.

A Senate bill due to be reviewed when lawmakers reconvene in February would take the powers afforded to Mr. Bevin at Louisville and extend them to every public college across the state.

Jay Todd Richey, a student at Western Kentucky University who is the chair of the Board of Student Body Presidents of Kentucky, said that he believed the new Senate bill would constitute “an undue burden on the institutional autonomy of universities, potentially jeopardizing accreditation for us all.”

This is an unfortunate situation for a venerable university and potentially all of the public colleges in Kentucky.  It will be watched closely by other state university systems.


President Trump Signs Executive Orders Okaying Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines!

Dear Commons Community,

President Donald Trump signed executive orders yesterday that okay the development of  the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.  The Keystone XL was rejected in 2015 by former President Barack Obama after a seven-year review. Trump’s orders also clear the way to continue building Energy Transfer Partners’ 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline, which has been stalled since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted construction in December amid massive protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“This is with regard to the construction of the Keystone pipeline, something that has been in dispute, and subject to a renegotiation of terms by us,” Trump said of the first action during a signing broadcast on TV networks Tuesday morning. “We’re going to renegotiate some of the terms and if they would like, we will see if we can get that pipeline built. A lot of jobs, 28,000 jobs. Great construction jobs.”

Trump then signed the second action.

“This is with respect to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” he said, introducing the leather-bound order. “Again, subject to terms and conditions to be negotiated by us.”

Another action signed Tuesday calls for U.S. steel to be used if the pipelines are built, though that may mean little in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is nearly complete. One more order aims to overhaul what Trump called the “horrible permitting process” by slashing environmental regulations. 

“If we’re going to build pipelines in the United States, the pipelines should be built in the United States,” Trump said. “We’re going to put a lot of workers, a lot of steelworkers back to work. We will build our own pipes, we will build our own pipelines, like we used to in the old days.”

The moves mark the first serious step by the new president to reverse his predecessor’s environmental gains in favor of propping up an oil and gas industry dogged by low prices, competition from renewable energy and regulations aimed at cutting carbon emissions. Republicans, who pushed Obama to greenlight both pipelines, hailed the orders as a victory. 

… House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said. “These pipelines will strengthen our nation’s energy supply and help keep energy costs low for American families.”



President Teresa Sullivan Resigns from the University of Virginia!

Teresa Sullivan

Dear Commons Community,

Last Friday, Teresa Sullivan anounced her resignation as president of the University of Virginia.  With the help of faculty, students,  and alumni, she faced down a hostile and intrusive governing board in 2012 and became a national figure.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Teresa A. Sullivan’s announcement Friday that she will step down as leader of the University of Virginia brings to a denouement one of higher education’s most turbulent and closely-watched presidencies.

Ms. Sullivan has been in office for seven years, and her tenure can be read as a laundry list of the sternest challenges buffeting college leaders during that time — the push to embrace online courses, the increasingly corporate mind-set of boards, concerns over the racial climate on and around campuses, and the fight over how best to prevent campus sexual assault.

In a written statement asking the university’s governing board to start the process of determining her successor, Ms. Sullivan did not provide a precise reason for her pending departure, but she noted that her current contract expires in 2018. A spokesman for the university did not respond to an email late Friday seeking more information about the reasons for her departure, and the rector of the Board of Visitors declined an interview request.

The university is “strong and positioned for even greater strength in our educational offerings, research programs, and health system,” she wrote. “Given this strength, UVa is well-positioned for a transition to its ninth president.”

In the summer of 2012 it seemed unlikely that Ms. Sullivan, UVa’s first female president, would be in position to write such a note more than four years later.

She abruptly resigned that June, citing a “philosophical difference of opinion” with the university’s Board of Visitors, whose rector, Helen E. Dragas, had led a campaign to oust her. Two tumultuous weeks later, after faculty, students, and alumni rallied to Ms. Sullivan’s defense, the board took the unusual step of reinstating her as president.

Her removal and comeback captured national attention beyond the realm of academe, mostly because of UVa’s prestige and history. But college professors, administrators, and governance experts paid particularly close attention to the president’s unceremonious ouster, which functioned as a cautionary tale of board overreach.

In a scathing report, an investigative panel of the American Association of University Professors said that the board’s actions demonstrated a “failure of judgment and, alas, of common sense.” The full board never met to vote on Ms. Sullivan’s forced resignation, and its leaders gave precious few details about their rationale for wanting a popular president gone.

Larry G. Gerber, who was chairman of the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance at the time of the report, said that the Virginia case highlights the folly of boards acting without consideration for bedrock principles of shared governance.

“The final authority is in the board; that’s indisputable,” Mr. Gerber said. “But the board is not supposed to act unilaterally without appropriate input, especially from faculty and other constituencies.”

What was most astonishing about Ms. Sullivan’s ordeal was how it ended. Longtime observers of higher education say that they are hard-pressed to recall an occasion when a board reversed a presidential ouster, as happened at UVa.”

We wish Sullivan well in her future endeavors.


The Internet of Things is Coming for Us!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, William Neuman, the former Andes region bureau chief for The Times,  and Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, a professor of archaeology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, had an op-ed piece warning us of the evolving Internet of things.  They opened by referring to the ancient Moche people…

“who lived on Peru’s north coast long before the Spanish conquest of the Americas. They grew corn and squash, built monumental adobe temples and were master craftsmen in gold and ceramics…

… they saw themselves living in a vulnerable world where the technology created to make their lives better was just as likely to turn against them. ..they perceived a world in which everyday objects like jugs and clothes might come to life with ominous consequences.

Moche artists painted scenes of this happening on ceramic vessels and on the walls of their temples. They appear whimsical to us today — items of clothing, weaving implements, weapons, all with arms and legs, hands and feet, some with heads and faces, on parade or engaged in battle — but for the Moche they may have represented a deep-seated uncertainty and fear about the ultimate fate of the human-created world.

In some scenes, the animated objects are docile. In one, bowls piled with food and jugs have grown legs and walk toward human figures participating in a ceremony; some helpful jugs even bend over to pour liquid into vessels.

But other paintings show a world turned upside down, where the objects have taken charge: They fight and defeat human warriors and parade naked human captives.

In an excavation in 1991 near the town of San José de Moro, archaeologists, including one of the authors of this piece, Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, discovered the lavish tomb of a Moche priestess. Her coffin had been anthropomorphized, with a mask representing the priestess’ face on top and with arms and legs fashioned from copper on the sides.

Inherent in the idea that objects have life is the more subversive concept that they also have desires; feel hate and love; seek revenge; and have the capacity to act on their own.”

Newman and Castillo-Butters then segued to the present day.

“We now live in a world where objects once again have life. We can talk to them and they can answer back, as is the case with Alexa and Siri and their digital kin. With their help we can control and organize the world around us: We can make sure our homes are safe, turn lights and appliances on or off, summon a taxi or order food from a restaurant.

Little by little we are transferring to these technologies the tasks that we used to do ourselves, and at the same time, we are giving them control over our surroundings.

The Internet of things is made up of billions of everyday devices connected for convenience to the web. Last fall, hackers attacked this network, commandeering as many as 100,000 of these devices by using malicious software that guessed at their simple, factory-set passwords, and then ordering them to send volleys of nuisance messages to the computers of a company called Dyn, which functions as a sort of switchboard for the internet. That was enough to cripple many major websites, including Twitter and Netflix. We have given life to these things, but now we know that they do not obey only us…

…The modern world is full of such opportunities for chaos, often created by humans and the increasing sophistication and technology-centeredness of modern life. A solar flare has the potential to disrupt electrical networks. A tsunami can flood a nuclear reactor. The digitalization of stock markets leads to flash crashes. Russian hackers stealing Democratic Party emails seek to influence an American presidential election.”

A bit scary but something to think about as we become more dependent upon technology to do “things” for us.


Sister Marchers Say No to Trump!

Womens March DC

Dear Commons Community,

As a protest to President Donald Trump, millions of people around the world took part in Sister Marches in Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and as far away as Tokyo, Sidney, and London.   As reported by Reuters:

“Women took to the streets in unexpectedly large numbers in major U.S. cities on Saturday in mass protests against U.S. President Donald Trump, in an early indication of the strong opposition the newly inaugurated Republican may face in office.

Hundreds of thousands of women – many wearing pink knit hats to evoke comments by Trump that triggered outrage among many – filled long stretches of downtown Washington around the White House and National Mall. Hundreds of thousands more women thronged New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston to rebuke Trump on his first full day in office.

Trump has angered many liberal Americans with comments seen as demeaning to women, Mexicans and Muslims. He worried some abroad with his inaugural vow on Friday to put “America first” in his decision-making.

Around the world, women marched in sympathy and shared outrage in hundreds of cities, drawing a total turnout that organizers estimated at more than 4 million.

The Women’s March on Washington appeared to be larger than the crowds that turned a day earlier to witness Trump’s swearing-in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. No official estimates of the crowd size were available, but the demonstrators appeared to easily exceed the 200,000 organizers had expected.

Sister March organizers estimated drawing 750,000 demonstrators to the streets of Los Angeles, and a planned march in Chicago grew so large that organizers did not attempt to parade through the city but instead staged a rally. Chicago police said more than 125,000 people attended the event.

The protests illustrated the depth of the division in the country, still reeling from the bitterly fought 2016 election campaign. Trump stunned the world by defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state and first lady who made history as the first woman nominated for president by a major U.S. political party.

Pam Foyster, a resident of Ridgway, Colorado, said the atmosphere in Washington reminded her of mass protests during the 1960s and ’70s against the Vietnam War and in favor of civil rights and women’s rights.

“I’m 58 years old, and I can’t believe we are having to do this again,” Foyster said.

Although Republicans now control the White House and both houses of Congress, Trump faces entrenched opposition from segments of the public as he takes office, in contrast to the honeymoon period that new presidents typically experience at the outset.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Trump had the lowest favorability rating of any incoming U.S. president since the 1970s.”


Womens March Chicago



Womens March Denver



Womens March LA

Los Angeles


Womens March NYC

New York City

Trump Misses Chance to Be Presidential Instead Trashes America!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial (see below for full text)  this morning criticizes Donald Trump’s Inauguration Speech yesterday as  a missed opportunity for him to be presidential and instead he offered a disguised stump speech.  The last paragraph says it all:

“Vainglorious on a podium where other presidents have presented themselves as fellow citizens, preening where they have been humble, Mr. Trump declared that under him America will “bring back our jobs” and “bring back our borders,” “bring back our wealth” and “bring back our dreams.” This country has its challenges, and we fervently hope Mr. Trump will address them. But America had dreams before Friday. It was great before Mr. Trump became president, and with his help — or, if necessary, in spite of his folly — Americans will find ways to make it greater in years to come.”



What President Trump Doesn’t Get About America

By the Editorial Board

Jan. 20, 2017


President Trump presented such a graceless and disturbingly ahistoric vision of America on Friday that his Inaugural Address cast more doubt than hope on his presidency.

Instead of summoning the best in America’s ideals, Mr. Trump offered a fantastical version of America losing its promise, military dominance and middle-class wealth to “the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”

With sweeping exaggeration, Mr. Trump spoke of “carnage” in the inner cities. He deplored all of this decline as a betrayal of America, implicitly trashing the four former presidents who sat listening behind him at the inaugural ceremony. Those presidents, Democratic and Republican, must have put Mexico first, or perhaps Sweden, or China. Offering himself as a kind of savior, the leader of a “historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before,” Mr. Trump proclaimed he would have a different priority: “America First! America First!”

Though expectations couldn’t have been terribly high, the opening moments of Mr. Trump’s presidency were beyond disappointing. He spoke to a nation in need of moving past the divisiveness that, not so incidentally, was his hallmark during the campaign. But what President Trump presented was more of candidate Trump, now more ominous in bearing the power of the White House, yet no less intent on inspiring only his base of aggrieved or anxious white Americans.

The new president offered a tortured rewrite of American history — ignoring the injustices of the past as well as the nation’s economic resilience and social achievements in recent decades.

One longed, as Mr. Trump spoke, for a special kind of simultaneous translation, one that would convert Trumpian myth into concrete fact. It might have noted, when Mr. Trump sounded like a politician from the 1980s in promising to “get our people off welfare and back to work,” that the number of people receiving federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits fell by more than 70 percent, to 1.2 million, between 1996 and 2016. As Mr. Trump spoke about the disappearance of jobs, it would have noted that the unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent in 2009, the height of the recession, to less than 5 percent.

Mr. Trump portrayed the nation’s closed factories as having needlessly hemorrhaged jobs to overseas companies. But even as production jobs fell by about five million since 1987, the country’s manufacturing output has increased by more than 86 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Trade is part of the complicated story, but so is automation.

Equally misleading was his characterization that Washington has “subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.” The United States leads the world in military spending, allocating more than the next seven nations combined, including China and Russia. Current spending, in fact, is far higher than it was before the 9/11 attacks.

Mr. Trump waxed apocalyptic in imagining the prevalence of crime in the nation’s cities. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he vowed. Crime statistics fluctuate, but they show that crime remains far lower now than in past decades. And one big factor in violent crime — easily available firearms — is not likely to be remedied by Mr. Trump, the candidate who was supported by the National Rifle Association.

There was little music in his speech, and no gentleness in his jackhammer delivery, but Mr. Trump did promise that “a new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.” Yet he said nothing about such practical needs as effective enforcement of civil rights and police reforms by the Justice Department he will oversee.

It was hard to make sense of Mr. Trump’s distorted vision of America’s past and present. But the passion was familiar in his promise to “make America great again,” as if the nation were in despair and yearning to retreat somewhere with him. The crowd cheered him repeatedly, particularly when he vowed to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the earth.”

Vainglorious on a podium where other presidents have presented themselves as fellow citizens, preening where they have been humble, Mr. Trump declared that under him America will “bring back our jobs” and “bring back our borders,” “bring back our wealth” and “bring back our dreams.” This country has its challenges, and we fervently hope Mr. Trump will address them. But America had dreams before Friday. It was great before Mr. Trump became president, and with his help — or, if necessary, in spite of his folly — Americans will find ways to make it greater in years to come.


Paul Krugman Calls Trump “Donald the Unready” on His Inauguration Day!

Dear Commons Community,

The big day for Donald Trump has arrived as he will officially take over the duties of President of the United States.  There will be bands, speeches, entertainers, and protesters. Paul Krugman in his New York Times column today calls Trump and his team “unready” to assume their  responsibilities. Here is an excerpt”

Betsy DeVos, whom Donald Trump has nominated as education secretary, doesn’t know basic education terms, doesn’t know about federal statutes governing special education, but thinks school officials should carry guns to defend against grizzly bears.

Monica Crowley, selected as deputy national security adviser, withdrew after it was revealed that much of her past writing was plagiarized. Many other national security positions remain unfilled, and it’s unclear how much if any of the briefing materials prepared by the outgoing administration have even been read.

Meanwhile Rex Tillerson, selected as secretary of state, casually declared that America would block Chinese access to bases in the South China Sea, apparently unaware that he was in effect threatening to go to war if China called his bluff.

Do you see a pattern here?

It was obvious to anyone paying attention that the incoming administration would be blatantly corrupt. But would it at least be efficient in its corruption?

Many Trump voters certainly thought they were choosing a smart businessman who would get things done. And even those who knew better may have hoped that the president-elect, his ego finally sated, would settle down to running the country — or at least delegate the boring business of governing America to people actually capable of doing the job.

But it’s not happening. Mr. Trump hasn’t pivoted, matured, whatever term you prefer. He’s still the insecure, short-attention-span egomaniac he always was. Worse, he is surrounding himself with people who share many of his flaws — perhaps because they’re the sort of people with whom he is comfortable.”

Krugman goes on to speculate what would happen during a major crisis when Trump and his advisers shortcomings will become obvious.

Hail to the Chief!


Margaret Spellings:  Academics Will Not Come to North Carolina Because of LGBT/HB2 Law!

Dear Commons Community,

Margaret Spellings, President of the University of North Carolina, commented earlier this week that the North Carolina law (HB2) adopted last March has hurt recruitment efforts at her institution.  She stated that candidates are reluctant to come to the state because the law limits legal protections for LGBT people.  Here is a recap of her remarks from the Associated Press:

“A North Carolina law limiting the legal protections of LGBT people has hampered the public universities that drive the state’s economic growth, University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings said Wednesday.

Spellings said recruited candidates have ruled out moving to North Carolina because of the law, and that she’s unaware of any academic talent embracing a North Carolina move because of the law called House Bill 2.

“I know people have withdrawn their candidacy,” Spellings told The Associated Press during an interview Wednesday. “But how many? To what effect? Were they not coming anyway? We’ll never know.”

The state law enacted in one day in March excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections. It also requires transgender people to conform to the sex on their birth certificate when using bathrooms in universities and many other public buildings.

Companies, concerts and conferences have reacted by shunning North Carolina.

A special legislative session last month to repeal HB2 fell apart and the law remains in place. The law’s defenders have argued that it is needed to protect people from being molested in bathrooms by men posing as transgender women. New Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday he continues to discuss repeal with leaders of the Republican-dominated legislature.

“They believe it’s had some unintended consequences for the state,” said Spellings, who was President George W. Bush’s Education Secretary and began leading the 17 public university campuses three weeks before the law passed.

“Obviously the legislature knows what we know. That’s why they had a special session. That’s why they are trying to come to some solution. That’s why the governor and the legislative leaders are apparently talking,” she said.

The 220,000-student UNC system is a defendant in a lawsuit filed on behalf of transgender students and university employees. The plaintiffs say requiring them to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity is discriminatory.

Spellings has said the campuses must obey the law, but won’t change any policies or enforce the bathroom requirements.

“We’re in a competitive world and our competitors have used this issue against us to some extent,” she said Wednesday. “If I’m in Georgia and I’m in a competitive bidding war for a world-class faculty member, I’m going to say, if this is a transgender or gay person, ‘Is this an environment where you’re going to live and work?’ So I think anecdotally there’s some of that going on.”



Equal Opportunity Project Study  Shows Public Universities Provide Pathways Out of Poverty!

Upward Mobility

Dear Commons Community,

The Equal Opportunity Project, a collaboration of scholars housed at Stanford University, has just completed a study on the impact of a college education based on students’ family income.  Their data illustrate the role of public universities such as Cal State, SUNY, and CUNY have had on helping individuals climb out of poverty (see example above).     Published yesterday, the study tracked students from nearly every college in the country (including those who failed to graduate), measuring their earnings years after they left campus. The paper is the latest in a burst of economic research made possible by the availability of huge data sets. The New York Times has provided a website where you can look up the data for any college.