Volume 11, No. 3 Duke University November 1999
Rojstaczer on Tenure
President's Address to Faculty
Ed Levin on Complexity
Possum's Random Readings
by Stuart Rojstaczer
The annual meeting for untenured faculty consists principally of a panel discussion about the tenure process. On the panel are members of the committee that make tenure decisions (the APT Committee, where the letters stand for Appointment, Promotion, and Tenure or "Almighty Police of Tenure" depending upon whether you have tenure) and some of the deans and senior university administrators. Every year we hire a few tens of new tenure-track faculty and it usually takes six years before you can be considered for tenure, so there is a potential audience of about 200 for these meetings. Of course, many of these people have already attended at least one meeting like this and don't feel compelled to come every year.
Seated with me in the audience that year were about fifty untenured faculty members. I looked at them, quiet, nervous, and attentive, wearing their name tags on their jacket lapels and dresses. Most of them looked younger than I, but not too much younger. The academic job market had become frighteningly competitive beginning in the 1980s. As a result, students took longer to finish their dissertations, and universities like mine had the liberty to hire faculty with considerable experience. The era of the twenty-something assistant professor (the title usually given to untenured professors) at universities across the country was mostly a thing of the past. Some of them were dressed with an eye for fashion. Others had chosen to wear the uniform of the eastern academic (tweed and khaki for the men, dark, longish, knit dress with some tasteful jewelry and perhaps a scarf for the women). Others made no statement at all in their dress but like me simply looked unstained, unwrinkled, and recently bathed.
In seven years time, less than twenty five of these fifty bright, young (by contemporary academic standards), ambitious faculty would still be at the university. A few, by a mixture of luck, hard work, and talent would become stars in their field and move to universities with loftier reputations. Others would move to universities of similar or lesser caliber for personal reasons (such as to be closer to a spouse with a job in another city). But most of them would leave before their tenure decision (because they became convinced they would not get tenure), or because of a negative tenure decision. Tenure is the one critical judgment by a university of your ability. Either you are promoted to a lifetime position or you are fired. It should be noted that university administrators don't use the word fired. Rather they use the phrase "let go," as in "Professor X was denied tenure and let go." It was no wonder that nervousness and anxiety filled the room.
The meeting began with addresses by some of the panel members about the nuts and bolts of the tenure process, including criteria for tenure. In discussing the role of teaching in the process one of the panel members (a senior administrator) said, "You are all likely good to excellent teachers, and your ability to teach well is a given. What will separate you is your research." Obviously, the statement about teaching was patently false. This obtuse way of communicating information is common of university administrators, and it is one reason why I never want a job in administration. I fear that I would be surrounded by people who talk like this or (worse yet) begin to talk like this myself. But I digress. Research was the key to success.
In the audience of untenured faculty was someone who I came to know fairly well. He was a nice guy, loyal to the institution, who loved students. They dropped into his office at all hours of the day seeking help, and in the following five years he won a few teaching awards. At the end of six years of service, he was denied tenure on the grounds of insufficient quality of scholarship and insufficient quantity of research dollars. In many ways it was sad to see him go, but by focusing so heavily on teaching, he chose to not play the game by the rules. He should have taken to heart what was being said at this meeting. The rules of the game, good or not, were being laid out in front of us.
The final and longest address came from one of the deans. He was a tall and rail-thin man with the mien and dress of the eastern urbane academic. He waxed philosophical about the tenure process. I could feel my eyelids getting heavy, but I forced myself to listen. "The awarding of tenure is a lifetime commitment on the part of the university," he said. "We have to be absolutely sure that the faculty member will be an asset to the university. We cannot afford to award tenure to someone who has simply done well. We can only award tenure to those who clearly stand out. We may make a mistake in our judgment. However, it is important that when we make a mistake it is not one where we award tenure to someone who turns out to be of marginal intellectual value to the university. If we award tenure to such a person we will have to live with that mistake for decades. So when we err, we tend to err in not awarding tenure to those who subsequently may prove to be an asset to another university."
He continued in a similar vein. We had to stand out above the crowd of scholars in our field. Even if we did so, there was a chance that the university would make a mistake and deny us tenure. I didn't understand the purpose of what he was saying. Clearly, he wasn't trying to be inspirational. Perhaps he was simply trying to scare the hell out of us. After this speech, it was time for an open question and answer period. But the final talk, as bleak as it was, left the crowd highly reluctant to ask any questions. Asking a question might be interpreted as a lack of self-confidence in your abilities or your status. And if you were labeled as unconfident, how could you stand out in a positive way? So first, there were a couple of basic questions from the crowd. When was the first progress review? The answer, during the fourth year. How does the first review differ from the tenure review? The answer, the tenure review requires letters from outside scholars and a careful evaluation by the APT committee.
Eventually, the anxiety of the faculty began to come out a little at a time. "What if you have a nonsupportive chair?" someone asked. The answer by one of the panel members was convoluted. Given the dark mood, I was tempted to interpret the lack of clarity in the answer as an indication that a nonsupportive chair was a definite problem. Increasingly, the session felt like group therapy. "My department doesn't seem to value the type of research that I do, even though they specifically hired me for my different approach to examining problems in my field," another stated. As far as I could tell, she wasn't asking a question, but was simply foretelling her own doom.
EdNote: Stuart Rojstaczer, the Director of the Center for Hydrologic Science and an Associate Professor of Hydrology, can be reached by email at http://www.duke.edu/~stuart or at email@example.com
Annual Address to the Faculty
by President Nannerl O. Keohane
Presented to the Academic Council
October 14, 1999
In many speeches these days, there is a great deal of millennial hype. Perhaps in reaction to all that florid rhetoric, I will go back to the basics in this address. I ask you to think with me about our purposes in the work we do together. What do we value most at Duke? What are we trying to accomplish?
A small number of ideals have brought scholars together across the decades, and sometimes made our lives together worthy of the much-misused term "community." In my inaugural address at Duke seven years ago, as some of you may recall, I organized my thoughts around the image of one of the most beautiful of all scholarly communities, the Rockefeller Foundation retreat center on Lake Como in Bellagio, Italy. Many of you have had similar experiences at other scholarly retreat centers such as the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Gordon Seminars for chemists and other scientists, or our own National Humanities Center in the Research Triangle Park. These places are "communities" only in an evanescent sense, for the participants are together for a brief period; but during that time, intense and pleasurable reflection, in isolation from other more mundane concerns, can create strong intellectual bonds.
Ironically, it is sometimes harder to create such bonds among scholars in a university like Duke. We are together far longer, and must therefore contend with the typical irritations and frustrations of long-term assemblages of human beings. The ideals of scholarly community tend to get lost amidst personal jealousies and rivalries, organizational turf wars, and contention over scarce resources -- space, faculty positions, money to support research or create new centers and programs. At a scholarly retreat center, there is no reason or room for such contention, since there are plenty of resources to support everything one might want to do, and the group doesn't stay together long enough to allow serious interpersonal tensions to arise.
Universities are far more complex than retreat centers. We all face the challenges of that complexity every day. My purpose this afternoon is to remind us of some of the reasons all of us are here, so that we can more often cut through the complexity and keep our eyes on our real goals. Most of us chose our profession because we are curious about the world, because we like to know things. My own favorite example of this is a conversation with my youngest son when he was two and a half, riding behind me on his bike seat many years ago on the way to his day care center at Stanford. He asked non-stop questions throughout the trip, and at one point, as I was trying to navigate a particularly tricky intersection, I said distractedly, "I don't know, Nat!" And then he said, with considerable irritation, "I don't want to live in a family where the mommy doesn't know things." No surprise that he's now finishing his Ph.D. Most of us were probably kids who pestered our parents with questions, wanting to know how the world worked, and why.
This is our distinctiveness as a profession. Scholars are not better people than those who choose other vocations; what sets us apart is our restless curiosity about the world, or some specific part of it. That curiosity made us enjoy intellectual challenges in college, and got us through the traumas and insecurities of graduate school. Our curiosity became fierce and focused. Fierce, because the more we learned about our chosen subject, the less satisfied we were with the conventional answers, even those on the frontiers of our discipline. Focused, because more and more our energies were concentrated on solving these particular problems, tackling these particular anomalies, that intrigued us. Identifying the anomalies, trying out ways of tackling them, was both exhilarating and frustrating, and deeply absorbing.
Max Weber has a wonderful essay on "Science as a Vocation" that I often quote to graduate students; it's well for more mature scholars to remember the truth of this insight as well. Here's one of my favorite passages, with apologies for the gender-specific language:
"A really definitive and good accomplishment today is always a specialized accomplishment. And whoever lacks the capacity to put on blinders, so to speak, and to come up with the idea that the fate of his soul depends on whether or not he makes the correct conjecture at this passage of this manuscript may as well stay away from science. He will never have what one may call the 'personal experience' of science. Without this strange intoxication, ridiculed by every outsider, without this passion . . . you have no calling for science and you should do something else. For nothing is worthy of man as man unless he can pursue it with passionate devotion."
Such fierce, focused curiosity is not necessarily the road to happiness. Identifying gaps in our understanding and seeking to resolve them are risky activities. We may choose the wrong problem, or define the problem in the wrong way. Even defining it well, we may not hit on a way to solve it. Others may get there first. So often we can be frustrated, and much of the time we will be confused -- not because of lack of intelligence, but as a result of being on a frontier where no one knows the answer. For the active scholar, confusion is a way of life.
So we plunge into the confusion in the faith or hope that we can make it understandable. There is a hubris about scholarship, the desire to turn chaos into order, and a hubris also in the very fierceness of intellectual passion. It was not accidental that Dr. Faustus was an intellectual. Our moral quality is put at risk by our vocation: it can make us singleminded, sometimes egocentric, impatient, hypercritical, insensitive to other people.
Such is not promising material from which to construct communities. Living together successfully requires compromise, attention to the needs and priorities of others -- not virtues that are exemplified or rewarded in the life of scholarship as I have just defined it. It is not surprising that faculty politics are sometimes so contentious--not always, as the old saw would have it, because so little is at stake. Sometimes a great deal seems to be at stake, in creating or preserving the essential conditions for scholarly activity, as defined by many different scholars with divergent views on what those conditions might be, and little awareness of or interest in such pragmatic sticking points as constraints on resources or the equally pressing needs of other parts of the university.
The scholar's characteristic mindset also has complex implications for the teaching part of our profession. When we teach, we have to reach out to people who not only have less knowledge, but who have mostly not honed their curiosity to the same point of focused fierceness. Graduate students often have done so, or are eager and ready to do so, and that is why teaching graduate students is one of the most rewarding and absorbing activities for committed scholars. It's not just that scholars like to replicate themselves, but that we sense a true partnership in these discourses, or at least the frequent possibility that it will be there.
Teaching undergraduates or professional students, however, often requires engagement with people who have a less intense commitment to the life of the mind, and more pragmatic reasons for their programs of study. If we bring our own intensity to the classroom, we may be able to light the intellectual kindling they provide with the focused lens of committed scholarship, and the results can be brilliant. We can also burn them, if we expect them to share our intensity; sometimes they find this scary. But nobody can demonstrate a more pure, intense intellectual passion than an undergraduate who is truly "turned on" by a course, by an idea, by a question that absolutely must be answered.
In practice, we have to worry less about burning students with intellectual intensity than about hiding that intensity in the classroom in order not to raise the temperature too high. The risks of offering intellectual engagement and having it rejected, or not comprehended, and the energy and art required to offer such engagements seriously, are great enough that we often settle for an easier path in the classroom. But if we do not display some of our own fierceness, our dissatisfaction, our confusion, we are cheating students of the experience that is at the core of our own identity as scholars. To lead them out of Plato's cave, we cannot expose them immediately to full scorching light; but they need some glimpses of it, so that they do not mistake the shadows--our distillation of the intellectual struggles of generations of scholars past and present--for the reality.
Having these points in the back of my mind for the past month or so as I prepared for this address has made me especially attentive to ways in which we as a university sometimes live up to these ideals. Let me give you just two examples. A few weeks ago, at a regular meeting of the Deans Cabinet, the major agenda item was the presentation of an early draft of the "Campus Master Plan" that we are now working on, to help us think about the physical layout of the campus and how we best preserve and enhance it for future generations. Much of the plan is about such crucial but decidedly non-intellectual issues as pedestrian pathways, possible building sites, and, of course, parking. But right in the middle of the draft, in discussing possible new facilities for student life, our off-campus planning consultants quote from the 1994 report of the Task Force on the Intellectual Climate at Duke, chaired by Professor Peter Burian. This document was provided to them along with other resources, as background for their work.
The consultants note that "the Task Force produced an eloquent report that can serve as a source of guidance for the physical master plan," and quote from it as follows:
"if intellectual, not merely academic, life is the core of the institution, we should reasonably expect all major university activities and facilities to be shaped by their relation to that core. . . . The university sends signals about what kind of community it believes itself to be and what it expects from its members by the way it organizes and regulates its residences, eating facilities, and the like."
I choose this example first to assure faculty members who served on this and similar task forces that their work is not forgotten, that it endures to help enlighten our planning and decisions as a university; and second, to remind us that there are powerful connections between our intellectual aspirations and the way we organize our life together outside the classroom. In our current discussions about residential space on West Campus, we are demonstrating our belief that how students live and work and play and learn together matters. The way space is organized and deployed on campus says a lot about our intellectual character and goals. The distinctive and precious advantage of a "residential university" is that the campus provides multiple opportunities to advance a student's education, in the deepest sense. Like most institutions, we have not taken full advantage of those opportunities across the years.
My second example is a vivid instance of faculty members sharing something of their own focused curiosity with one another and with students in the initial symposium sponsored by the new University Scholars Program, entitled "What is Knowledge?" It's hard to get more basic or direct than that about our purposes as a university, and the organizers of the symposium were clearly risk takers. Their boldness, and their conviction that such conversations are fundamentally what we are all about, were rewarded by an exceptionally stimulating two hours in which four faculty members from engineering, physics, political science and art history talked about what constitutes knowledge in their fields. They sparked a great discussion among those present and gave everybody a great deal of material for many future conversations. The response from the students was equally passionate and focused, and the intellectual engagement in that session was truly inspiring.
Of course most of our time at Duke, or any university, is not spent in such sunlit uplands, whether we are faculty members, students, or administrators. Faculty members have to engage also in the more routine parts of the profession, whether it be grading, peer-reviewing yet one more grant proposal, or convening in a committee to allocate scarce departmental space or research funds. For students, the university is not only a place for intellectual engagement and insights, but also home, for some period of their lives. For undergraduates, the university is classrooms, libraries and laboratories, yes -- but also a hotel, dining room, provider of creature comforts. It is a site for partying and for adolescent angst, for volunteering in the community and starting a new club to make the world a better place or add another line to the resume. It is a platform for their future careers, a place where grades and other identifiable markers have to matter. It is also a place where lifelong friendships are formed with special intensity.
It is important for faculty members occasionally to share in these extra-curricular joys and sorrow, to interact more informally with students, so that the whole Duke experience can be seen as educational, rather than perpetuating a sharp distinction between the life of the mind and all other undergraduate pre-occupations. The impact this can have for good is hard to overstate, and it can richly repay the time and energy required. Again, let me give a couple of recent examples.
Over homecoming weekend in late September, I met with many alumni of different Duke generations in many different settings. Two encounters stand out with special clarity. This homecoming included the Hall of Fame ceremonies, held every 2-3 years to honor Duke athletes who excelled in their sports and graduated at least ten years ago. The four athletes who were honored that night spoke at length, and with passion, of the importance of their undergraduate years. They said very little about wins and losses and the hoopla of fame; instead, they all spoke about the importance of their teammates, their debts to their coaches and professors, and the impact of the whole Duke experience on their lives.
The next morning I was part of a very different ceremony, at least on the face of it: the tenth anniversary of the Women's Center at Duke, with a special focus on the twelve women who brought that center into being by their ardent advocacy and persistent activism. I had been told in advance that, quite unlike the athletic champions, these women were pretty bitter about Duke, a place they had found unwelcoming and even hostile. In fact, the event was one of the most upbeat and exhilarating celebrations I have ever attended. The women were amazed and deeply pleased that the Center they asked for -- the center with a library, an art gallery, a full-time staff, robust programming, a safe and richly supported space for women, the center they (and others at the time) regarded as an impossibly bold stretch, a familiar negotiating ploy -- asking for the most in order to get at least a part of it -- all of this and more had come to pass, and become a normal part of Duke University. As one of them said afterward:
"I, like many in the group, felt at times disconnected from Duke. Not any more. The weekend made us all feel so appreciated, so proud, and so connected to the long line of powerful, challenging women that have attended Duke, both before and after us."
The women thanked faculty members who had supported them, and paid tribute to those administrators who, though initially uncomprehending, paid heed to a carefully researched 76 page report showing the need for a Women's Center, and in the end, helped to establish it. Most of all, these women honored their own partnership, explicitly celebrated how it had brought them together across boundaries of race, sexual orientation and class to work for something they believed in and to become powerful together. And in her remarks, a speaker for the group said that the fact that they cared enough to give so much of their time, talent and energy to trying to make it a better place may well have meant that in the end, they loved Duke more than fellow students who sailed through the place in a more conventional fashion.
These achievements, these two very different forms of success at Duke, are part of what makes the university powerful, in addition to the thirst for knowledge that is at the center of the scholarly life. Those of us in the administration, in all the many jobs that go under that all-purpose rubric, are responsible for the support of all these different activities, for sustaining and advancing a place where they can all flourish -- even the ones that may, at first, seem to many people un-Duke like, irritating, and radical. Administrators do this -- along with many other much more routine and practical activities -- in a spirit which must needs be quite different from the fierce and focused curiosity that is the hallmark of faculty endeavors. It's a spirit of problem-solving, of trying to bring all the pieces of a complex puzzle into some kind of ordered form, holding all the parts of a very complicated institution in some kind of uneasy harmony so that everyone here can get their jobs done, so that the essential supports are in place to enable the real work of the university to move forward.
This is an endeavor that brings its own rewards, and it is important to the university that it be done well, by people who understand the academic enterprise and deeply honor it. It's important, too, that those staff members who keep the place on track be valued for their own contributions, and occasionally thanked for things that go especially well. Many of you do remember to do that, and I can tell you that it does matter to them. And perhaps most important, in the midst of all the complexity of this fascinating institution and its multiple activities, those of us faculty members who have been "seconded" for a time to administration should not forget how the passion for scholarship feels, nor its crucial role at the center of our work. At Duke, while I am president, we will not forget.
THE ASSUMPTION OF COMPLEXITY
by Edward D. Levin, Ph.D.
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
The common scientific assumption is that there are simple laws that ultimately explain the workings of the universe. Scientific research is an endeavor to discover these laws. The typical experiment is to simplify a system under study, so that the effect of the simple laws can be clearly seen. It is not surprising that for such simple systems, simple laws do hold true. However, for more complex systems, these simple laws may not serve as well. Things are always more complex than they at first seem.
The first reaction to the statement that simple laws do not necessarily hold for complex systems is that it is just a matter of applying the simple laws on all the simple components of the complex system, that with sufficient computational power we could always determine the ways by which simple laws ultimately determine a complex system. However, there is more to complex systems than just the numerosity of interacting components. The interactions of the components create new components which differ in nature from the constituents that make them and not only are influenced by the components which make them, but also influence these elementary components and also affect external components and other complex structures in the system.
By simplifying the system, we can clearly determine elementary laws, but these laws are only fully in force in elementary systems and are only a portion of the determinant of complex systems. The act of simplifying the system eliminates the complex structures, so that their contribution is not appreciated. For example, cells are made of molecules and the laws governing molecules certainly have important roles in determining the system of a cell, but in the operation of a cell the complex structures that the molecules make affect the molecules of the cell, molecules outside the cell and other complex systems. The organization and operation of a mitochondrion is indeed influenced by the action of molecules, but essential to the cell's function is the mitochondrion's action on molecules.
This is not just a matter of "the whole being greater than the sum of the parts". The whole in this case becomes an operator in itself. The operations which result, interact with but do not necessarily follow the simple laws of the more elemental parts. In some cases the result can be in direct violation of the simple laws, such as the concentration of energy by biological systems.
Rather than only making the assumption of simplicity and restricting our search for the elementary laws, we can also make the assumption of complexity and search for the interactions of complex systems, that there are many levels of organized systems in our world that interact with elementary components and each other, and we are one of them.
EdNote: Ed Levin may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
FERRET: Transgressive Deconstructions
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, nonaddictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.
May you have a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2000, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only "AMERICA" in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual orientation of the wishee.
By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher.
This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.
HERNANDEZ, BERNSTEIN, O'MALLEY, KOWALSKY & LUMUMBA
EdNote: This little satire was discovered on the Internet and sent to the FF by Howard Clark (Engineering).
Adventures in Noble Thinking
And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection. It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. . . . Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
--Charles Darwin, concluding The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859)
POSSUM (Passim): Random Readings & Culture Studies
THE WOMEN'S REVOLUTION DEVOURS ITS OLD
"[Betty] Friedan's rapid rise and fall suggests a larger, seemingly inevitable pattern, whereby the visionary founder, scripting the future, must in time be cast off as a fogey, captive to the past. So the integrationists of the civil-rights era-the James Farmers and John Lewises-would be elbowed aside by their Black Power successors, the Stokely Carmichaels and Huey Newtons. And Friedan, once the rampaging polemicist of the picket-fence set, would soon find herself scorned by the burn-the-house-down types-the Redstockings, New York Radical Women, and all the rest. She was easily caricatured by a newer and angrier generation as a kind of Joan Crawford of feminism, the aging star pouting in her trailer. Revolutions devour their old. . . .
The political assuredly isn't personal: at best, the struggle for equality brings about higher wages; at worst, it leaves women stranded without alimony. It sometimes seems that we have merely exchanged one costume for another, aprons for suits, and the results have not always approximated the dream of liberation. Indeed, they often look like the old curses of loneliness and overwork in new guise. But there is yet to be a political or social movement that can accommodate the vagaries of personal fulfillment, which are always idiosyncratic and unheeding of the party line. 'People didn't trust her to speak for the group,' [Gloria] Steinem complained of Friedan. 'She always spoke for herself.' It was meant as a reproach, but it could also be read as a tribute to Friedan's irrepressible individuality, and to the elusive nature of desire. What do women want? Ask them one at a time."
--by Daphne Merkin, The New Yorker (6/14/99, 82-84)
THE BIG MONEY
Colleges say they hike prices because their own costs keeep rising, but that's misleading. Colleges, like all nonprofits, raise all the money they can and then spend it. Understanding that revenue ultimately drives college costs should make parents suspicious. Colleges argue, for example, that because tuition doesn't cover what schools spend, each student is getting a multithousand-dollar 'subsidy' from the institution. But this assumes that the current way of doing things is optimal or efficient and that all the money a college spends is relevant to its students' education. . . .
What we're left with is a higher-education establishment that consumes $200 billion each year, in part delivering a superb education and in part relying on an explosion in student indebtedness to bankroll activities and research having little to do with undergraduate learning. . . . Once you get past the top 20 percent of research being done, the rest is-how shall I put it?-idle, tenure-earning junk with little or no social value. . . . Cracking down on dubious research would go a long way toward making college affordable for the masses. After all, if, say, a quarter of faculty time is spent on research, and 80 percent of it is rubbish, you could shed 100,000 of today's 550,000 full-time professors without students noticing."
--Matthew Miller, New York Times Magazine (6/13/99, 48-49)
SECRETS OF THE BIRDS
"Most male birds-97 percent-don't have penises. Instead, they rely on internal plumbing and gravity to deposit sperm. Stranger still, biologists at the University of Sheffield in England discovered that the red-billed buffalo weaver has a penis, but it's fake. During the buffalo weaver's half-hour-long copulation ritual, the male stimulates the female with his phony phallus. Meanwhile, he transfers sperm through the adjacent sex organ. The additional stimulation may encourage the female to take up more sperm."
-Discover (8/99, 12)
THE MIND-BRAIN CONNECTION:
"[Einstein's] brain was 15 percent wider [than normal] in both hemispheres, thanks to one centimeter more growth in the inferior parietal lobes--a region implicated in visual interpretations, mathematical thought, and imagery of movements."
-Christian Reed, Scientific American 9/99 (26)
THE PRESIDENT'S "POLITICAL SCIENTIST"
Harold Varmus, who has been the director of the National Institutes of Health for the past six years, . . .may be the most effective backstairs politician the Clinton Administration has produced. The N.I.H. is a federal agency that employs thirteen thousand scientists, encompasses twenty-five institutes and centers, and is the leading source of funding for biomedical research in the United States--and, therefore, the world. When Varmus was appointed, in 1993, he had neither political nor administrative experience. He had spent the previous twenty years as an increasingly celebrated medical researcher, whose efforts were concentrated mainly in his own lab, and in 1989 he had shared the Nobel Prize with Michael Bishop for his findings on cancer-causing genes. Since going to the N.I.H., however, Varmus has achieved a series of political victories that will affect scientific policy for many years to come and, at least by implication, may change the entire understanding of health, disease, and the limits of the human life span.
The N.I.H. has become one of the rare government institutions that politicians of both parties actively praise. When Varmus became the director, the N.I.H. had just reduced the number of research grants it offered, because of the federal deficit. Since then, the N.I.H.'s budget has grown more substantially than almost any other category of federal spending. Its annual budget was just under eleven billion dollars when Varmus arrived. Now it is almost sixteen billion dollars. . . . Varmus extolls a commitment to basic science, which emphasizes grappling with the fundamentals of nature, such as how a particular gene functions or when and why a cell dies. . . . Varmus is keenly aware that a governmental commitment to invest ever-larger amounts of money in such unplannable, long-term research violates the basic principles of politics. But he has relentlessly argued for its importance in a stream of speeches, appearances at congressional hearings, and informal meetings with politicians--and many senators and representatives now express the concept as if it were their own.
Varmus's advocacy comes at a time when the secrets of biology, principally in the area of genetics, are being revealed at an unprecedented rate, and many say that his presence at the N.I.H. is a historic match of person and opportunity "In general in public life, appointing one individual doesn't make a huge difference," Donna Shalala, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who recruited Varmus for his present job, said recently. "But this appointment was absolutely crucial. It may turn out to be the most important legacy of the Clinton Administration."
--James Fallows, The New Yorker (6/7/99, 66)
POPULATION & ECOLOGY:
"World population has increased from 2.5 billion in 1950. . . to six billion today, . . . and the world has over that period lost 20 percent of its agricultural land and 25 percent of its topsoil; extinction rates are now about 1,000 times their historic levels and rising."
--Tim Beardsley, Scientific American 9/99 (31)
THE POPULATION IMPLOSION:
"Fifty years from now the world's population will be declining, with no end in sight. Unless people's values change greatly, several centuries from now there could be fewer people living in the entire world than live in the United States today. . . . In almost every country where people have moved from traditional ways of life to modern ones, they are choosing to have too few children to replace themselves. This is true in Western and Eastern countries, in Catholic and secular ones. . . . World population won't stop declining until human values change. . . . [V]alues, not biological imperatives, are the unfathomable variable in population predictions."
-Max Singer, The Atlantic Monthly /8/99, 22-24
THE FUTURE OF IMMIGRATION:
"In 1996, a more or less typical year, there were 916,000 legal immigrants plus an estimated 275,000 who came illegally. . . . Of the legal immigrants, 65 percent entered under family reunification programs and 13 percent under employment-based preference programs; 14 percent were refugees or asylum seekers. . . .The U.S. Census Bureau's latest projection. . . puts the U.S. population at 394 million in 2050. Of the 122 million increase between now and then, 80 million would be added because of immigration."
-Rodger Doyle, Scientific American 9/99 (28)
"Percentage of Americans who believe that 'adultery can sometimes be good for a marriage': 22
"Change since January in the membership of the U.S. Communist Party: +4,000
"Percentage of the poverty level for a family of three earned by a full-time minimum-wage worker: 82
"Amount the World Bank spent last year to gild the ceilings of its Washington headquarters: $400,000
"Total value of all Japanese capital held in no-interest savings accounts or cash: $5,544, 889,025,400
"Ratio of the size of New Jersey to the number of square miles of Brazilian rain forest cleared since 1994: 1:3"
-Harper's, 6/98, 17
The Faculty Forum is published monthly by the Academic Council of Duke University.
Editor: Victor Strandberg (English). Editorial Advisory Board: Matt Cartmill (Biological Anthropology & Anatomy), Howard Clark (Biomedical Engineering), Buford Jones (English), Seymour Mauskopf (History), and Kathy Rudy (Women's Studies).
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