Colleges That Are Richer Than Some Countries!

Dear Commons Community,

There are a number of American colleges and universities which have estimated endowments greater than $2 billion dollars, meaning their wealth not only exceeds that of many large companies, but that of fourteen different nations. As reported by Stacker:

“Using data from the NACUBO 2017 Commonfund Study of Endowments, Stacker compiled a list of the 50 American colleges with the most substantial endowments, each of which exceeds the total wealth of a number of nations around the world.  There are a handful of incredible locations around the world where one can’t help but feel the money that went into sculpting the grandiose ambiance. Though it used to be the case that only the likes of luxurious hotels and restaurants could synthesize these kinds of environments, stepping onto the campus of one of America’s top colleges can now have that very same effect. America’s public schooling system may be in trouble, but our top universities are anything but.  Considering not only the quality of architecture on display in many of our academic institutions, but also the commitment to funding research, investing in advanced technologies, and top-of-the-line amenities available at many colleges, it can be helpful to put some universities’ finances into context to understand the true scale of their riches.”

It will be interesting to see how U.S. Congress’ plan to tax university endowments plays out.



Michigan State University to Pay $500 Million to Settle with Victims of Larry Nasser!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that Michigan State University will pay $500 million to settle with the victims of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, the university announced yesterday in  a news release.

Nassar, a former Michigan State professor of osteopathic medicine and team physician for USA Gymnastics, was convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of young women and girls, and hundreds of lawsuits, representing 332 victims, were filed against the university.

Michigan State will pay $425 million now and put $75 million in a trust fund for anyone who alleges in the future that Nassar sexually abused them, according to the release.

The settlement applies only to Michigan State and “MSU individuals sued in the litigation,” the release states.

“This historic settlement came about through the bravery of more than 300 women and girls who had the courage to stand up and refuse to be silenced,” said John Manly, a lawyer representing the survivors, in a written statement.

In March, John Engler, the university’s interim president, told state lawmakers that money for such settlements would probably be drawn from tuition and state funds, The Indianapolis Star reported.  But some Michigan lawmakers criticized Engler’s plan to use taxpayer dollars to help pay for settlements.

A university spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an inquiry about where the money for the settlements would come from.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the university’s long-term credit rating this month because of the “heightened financial risk” from the number of Nassar-related lawsuits.

What a sad chapter in the history of this university.


Education Secretary Betsy Devos Visits New York City Schools with Only Religion on Her Mind!

Dear Commons Community,

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent the past two days touring New York City schools but the city’s public schools, with their 1.1 million students, were not among them.  Instead, Ms. DeVos visited two Orthodox Jewish schools, and offered her strongest comments to date in support of public funding for religious schools in a meeting with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and other Catholic dignitaries.   

Ms. DeVos has yet to visit a district-run school in New York, and her choice of institutions to visit drew a terse statement from the city’s Department of Education. “An investment in public education is an investment in the future of our city and country,” the department’s press secretary, Toya Holness, said. “Secretary DeVos is welcome to visit N.Y.C. public schools and see the phenomenal work we’re doing in the nation’s largest school district.”

The trip is the latest effort by DeVos to press what she says is her top priority as education secretary: to expand school choice, including programs that allow public funds to be used for private school education.

DeVos visited the girls school Tuesday, where she spent several hours in classrooms and having lunch with students. Among the officials she met was Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, which is an Orthodox Jewish organization that advocates for public funding of private Orthodox Jewish schools and Hasidic Jewish yeshivas.

On Wednesday, DeVos visited the boys school.

She also delivered a speech at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, which supports charities that work with the children of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. During the address, she quoted Pope Leo XIII to underscore her oft-stated sentiments about government being a problem rather than a solution to problems — in 2015 she said “government really sucks” — and her opposition to virtually any government involvement in how schools educate children.

Like Smith, I believe that the best solutions to public problems are found in the home, between neighbors, in houses of worship and in communities. Those closest to the individual in need are best positioned to serve because they know one another.

Secretary Devos visit to New York underscores how out of touch she is when it comes to public education in this country. 



President Trump – Nobel Peace Prize Candidate – NOT!

Dear Commons Community,

When I left for my trip to the Mediterranean earlier this month, a group of Republican House members were circulating a petition for Donald Trump to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. When I returned last night, the Gaza Strip was the scene again of violent protests on the part of Palestinians.  These protests were fueled in part by President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.  As reported by the New York Times yesterday:

“Across the Gaza Strip on Monday morning, loudspeakers on minarets urged Palestinians to rush the fence bordering Israel, where they were met by army snipers. At least 60 were killed and thousands injured, local officials said — the worst day of carnage there since Israel invaded Gaza in 2014.

Hours later, a beaming Ivanka Trump helped unveil a stone marker etched with her father’s name on the new American Embassy in Jerusalem, keeping his campaign promise to officially acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. An audience of 800 religious conservatives and right-wing politicians from both countries sang “Hallelujah.”

“What a glorious day,” exulted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two scenes, only an hour’s drive apart, illustrated the chasm dividing Israelis and Palestinians more than at any moment in recent history.

For generations, both sides of the conflict have been locked in competing, mutually negating narratives, with only sporadic flickers of hope for peace despite the efforts of a long list of presidents and secretaries of state.

Now, with the militant Hamas movement hanging on to control of Gaza, and Mr. Netanyahu backed by President Trump, neither side is even listening to the other, and the Palestinians have lumped the United States together with Israel as an overt adversary.

Responsibility for the violence on Monday rested “squarely with Hamas,” said Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, for “intentionally and cynically provoking” Israel by urging Palestinians to storm the border fence. “Israel has the right to defend itself,” he said.

In Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, deputy chief of Hamas, blamed the United States for inciting the violence by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, reversing decades of American policy and defying international consensus. “The American administration bears responsibility for all consequences following the implementation of this unjust decision,” he said.

The two sides were in equally different worlds when speaking of how the embassy opening would affect the moribund peace process.

Palestinians, who hope to see the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, see the embassy move as an abdication of any vestige of American impartiality in determining the region’s future. Since Mr. Trump announced the move in December, Palestinian leaders have flatly rejected the idea of peace talks under American auspices.”

I think Mr. Trump has just lost key votes among members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.




Port of Amalfi

Dear Commons Community,

Amalfi may be a case that the best was saved for last as far as beautiful small Mediterranean towns are concerned. Amalfi is nestled in a small mountain chain and its port provides this attractive welcoming to ships. Many houses appear to be just hanging off the cliffs that rise from the center port area.

The major point of interest as it is in so many southern European towns is the cathedral.  In Amalfi, the main square and shopping area forms a piazza around what is referred to as the Complex of St. Andrew in Amalfi. The Complex includes a cloister, a garden, a crypt, a museum, the bell tower, the old and new cathedrals. The buildings combine  Romanesque and Baroque styles of architecture.

This was our last evening of the cruise. We leave shortly on our fifteen hour journey by ship, bus, plane, and car service for home.  My next posting will probably be on Wednesday when I am back in the States.

Ciao, Amici!


Amalfi Cliffside Homes

Complex of St. Andrew of in Amalfi

Garden Adjacent to the Cloister

Sunset on Our Last Evening

Nightfall on Our Last Evening on the Ship

Bay of Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii!

Bay of Naples – Sorrento

Dear Commons Community,

We arrived on the Italian coast this morning and are staying on board ship in the Bay of Naples just outside of Sorrento. The views of the Bay are fine examples of the sea and mountains that dominate this part of the Mediterranean. Sorrento is a beautiful romantic city that rests on a cliff overlooking the Bay.

We spent three hours touring Pompeii which was destroyed by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The entire city was covered in ash in a matter of hours and all life ceased and was frozen in time. The most striking feature of the excavated ruins is its size – over 120 acres, much of which is still not unearthed. On our tour we went down Pompeii’s main street, saw the amphitheater, a gladiator training ground, baths, houses, and the forum from which there is a magnificent view of Mt. Vesuvius. There are also the images of ash-covered bodies that have been preserved by a process of drilling holes into the harden ash and pouring plaster into the cavity where the bodies have since disintegrated.

It was a lot to take in!


Mt. Vesuvius from the Pompeii Forum

Ash-Covered Slave

Pompeii Main Street

Pompeii Gladiator Training Ground

Pompeii Garden


Marina Corto – Lipari

Dear Commons Community,

We spent the day on Lipari, the largest island of the seven Aeolian Archipelago islands. It is green and lush and nestled among a number of volcanoes including Stromboli and Vulcano.

The main port, Marina Corto, has a beautiful quaint quality that welcomes and beckons as you come into the harbor. Lipari has been conquered by the Greeks, Romans, and Barbarossa who ravaged the island in 1544 and took most of the population especially all of the women captives and sold them as slaves to the Ottomans. Before and during World War II, Mussolini used the Lipari Castello to imprison his political opponents.

We took a motor coach around the entire perimeter of the island and the views of the Mediterranean and the hills and mountains that permeate the landscape provide spectacular scenery.  Pumice and obsidian can be seen in large quantities on hillsides and in gardens.

We concluded our visit with a walk through Lipari’s old center and lunch at a café in the Marino Corto.


Lipari Castello

                                                                                       Lipari Old Town

View from the Hill Area


View from the Beach

Trapani, Sicily!

Fishing Piers in the Trapani Port


Dear Commons Community,

Trapani is an old port town in Sicily. We walked through its historic center that houses many small churches and palazzos. The streets are very narrow and cars cannot fit on many of them, making them ideal for walking.

While there are several large churches and cathedrals, some are rather small with enough space to seat no more than fifty or so parishioners. One of these churches (San Guiseppe) is being used to restore sculptures for the other churches. In the cathedral and in several of the larger churches you can see the results of these restorations. In the Chiesa del Purgatorio, there are life-size, very colorful statues depicting the stations of the cross. They rest on platforms covered in purple bunting. The platforms with the statues atop are used as floats during Holy Week processions that wind through the streets of Trapani.

We finished with lunch overlooking the fishing piers at the foot of the port.


Street in Trapani

Workers Restoring Statues at San Guiseppe Church

Restored Statues in Chiesa del Purgatorio


Agrigento – Valley of the Temples!

Temple of Concordia

Dear Commons Community,

We arrived at Porto Empedocle, Sicily,this morning and spent much of the day at Agrigento which is home to the Valley of the Temples, which is one of the largest collections of Greek temples in the world. Originally there were at least twenty-one temples in what was then the city of Akragas. Ten of the twenty-one temples have been discovered. They all represent the Doric style which do not have any ornamentation on the top of the columns. In addition to housing the temples, the Valley has orchard after orchard of olive, almond, pistachio and pomegranate trees.

The four major temples on the site are:

  • The Temple of Hera
  • The Temple of Concordia (it is not known who this temple was dedicated to and was given the name “Concordia” by the Spanish.
  • The Temple of Hercules (the oldest temple – built in the 6th century B.C.
  • The remains of the Temple of Zeus (probably the largest Greek temple ever built in the world measuring 112 by 56 meters.

The guide Giovanna had an incredible repertoire of information on the history, architecture and culture of the Greeks at the time the temples were built.




Temple of Hera

Temple of Hercules

Remains of the Temple of Zeus

Modern Bronze Sculpture of Icarus

Orchard of Pomegranate Trees

The Island of Gozo!

Ggantija Temple (Exterior Wall)

Dear Commons Community,

We spent the day on the island of Gozo just northwest of Malta. It has spectacular views of the Mediterranean as well as several points of interest.

Our first stop was Ggantija in Xaghra, free standing temples built and developed between 3600 and 2400 BC making them among the earliest planned structures in the world, older than the Pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England. The exterior stone slabs weigh several tons and the outside walls are up to six meters high. In addition to the exterior remains, several apses (rooms) are still intact.

Dwejra located in the southwest corner of Gozo provides some of the most beautiful scenery on the island. Hidden behind the towering cliffs is a huge natural pond of shallow water (the Inland Sea), which is fed through a narrow tunnel in the cliff face. This tunnel links it to the deep blue Mediterranean.

Whenever you drive along the coast of Gozo you will likely see watch towers built by the Knights of St. John.  They served as a communications system to alert authorities of any type of invasion.

Our last stop was Xlendi, a village situated in the south west corner of Gozo. We had lunch overlooking the Bay of Xlendi.

All very beautiful!


Ggantija Interior

Ggantija Interior



Watch Tower

Bay of Xlendi