What Do Women Want?

September 30th, 2013

This post contains an excerpt of my remarks on the acceptance of the Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award, September 26, 2013.
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Leaving the Comfort Zone

July 5th, 2013

Three years ago, the College of Arts and Sciences, HKUST, and Peking University entered into a trilateral partnership. The idea was to create research and teaching collaboration among the three institutions that can be enduring. The Jefferson Global Seminars is part of that effort. I want to thank Philip Zelikow, Associate Dean of Graduate Academic Programs in Arts and Sciences, for creating this program with stellar curricular content; and James Lee, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at HKUST, who worked hand and glove with us to make it all possible—administratively, financially, and above all, intellectually. - MW
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Our Honor

March 6th, 2012

In the late fall of 2010 as the economy was beginning to recover from a crisis that destroyed so much of the wealth of the middle class, a number of documentaries and docudramas appeared that asked probing questions about the causes of this catastrophe. One such film was Inside Job, about the culpability of the nation’s elites—not just on Wall Street and Capitol Hill but at research universities, in faculty offices of “thought leaders” who influence policy. In this film professors appeared as technocrats, publishing papers whose economic analysis benefited the corporations where they served as consultants. Read the rest of this entry »

Money on the Liberal Arts

January 4th, 2012

At an academic panel in Atlanta on the morning of the Virginia-Auburn bowl game, an alumnus posed a question that has been posed many times, and with increasing frequency: Given all the national emphasis on the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), what did I think was the prospect for the liberal arts at the University of Virginia? Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense Education—or, Rules of Thumb for Life

August 23rd, 2011

In remarks this week to the College’s Class of 2015 and their parents, I spoke about the complex and venerable concept of common sense and its vital place in higher education.

George Santayana, one of America’s greatest philosophers, was also one of its finest cultural observers. In an essay that discusses materialism and idealism in American life, he describes an encounter with the president of Harvard, where he had long been on the faculty. As they walked together, the president asked Santayana how his classes were going. Santayana said fine—the students are intelligent and keen. The president stopped, turned to Santayana, and said, “I meant, how many students are in your classes.” Read the rest of this entry »

Leadership at Midlife

August 16th, 2011

This week, I spoke to an orientation meeting of Arts & Sciences department chairs and program directors. Plucked from the faculty ranks, they are creatively taking on the immense and complex challenges of the College while helping to redefine what it means to be an academic leader in the twenty-first century.

The orientation for department chairs and program directors is the last event of the summer, and the first event of the academic year, the cockcrow heralding a new day, a new season, a new year. So at this time I always find myself excited, and full of hope. Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Perfect

June 8th, 2011

On May 30, Jim Tressel, one of the most successful coaches in the history of Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, resigned in the wake of an NCAA rules violations investigation. It was big news everywhere, but especially in Ohio, where college football couldn’t possibly be any bigger. The Tressel episode is only the most recent case study on the perils of big-time sports at American universities. Storied football programs and the immense funding they both generate and require have put universities like Ohio State on the national map. Yet Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard, argued in a book titled “Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education” that college sports, long expected to boost alumni giving, are not in fact good money-makers, especially at universities not near the top of the national football rankings. Instead, Bok says, they exploit students who are often admitted with low grades and test scores and are then given too little time to study. Still, he adds, competition among universities and colleges has kept up the pressure for more aggressive athletic programs, often undermining their educational values. Read the rest of this entry »

At Tackle, Chester Pierce

January 31st, 2011

The last post of my blog, tracing the early days of racial integration on Grounds (“The Desegregrated Heart”), sparked a number of fascinating recollections and discussions from our alumni. One was an exchange between two Psychology majors—Tom Pettigrew ’52 and Brawner Cates ’67—about the first integrated football team to play south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Scott Stadium, 1947. On April 15 of that year, Jackie Robinson played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves. On October 11, Chester Pierce, an African-American, played tackle for Harvard against Virginia. It was the practice at that time for integrated college teams to leave their black players at home when they played in the South. Read the rest of this entry »

The Desegregated Heart

January 17th, 2011

On the occasion marking the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., we might pause to reflect on the early days of integration at the University of Virginia, going back now six decades. It was in 1950 that Gregory Swanson, a black attorney from Danville, successfully sued to gain admission to the Law School. For years, African-American scholars had been seeking admission to the graduate program, going all the way back to 1935, when Alice Jackson of Richmond applied to the graduate school in French. She was sent away, as others later would also be, accompanied by a state scholarship to study at a northern university of her choice (in this case, Columbia University). But Gregory Swanson took a different tack, and actually enrolled at the University, if only for a brief period. One of the changes he made occurred to the mind and heart of Sarah Patton Boyle, social activist and author of The Desegregated Heart, published in 1962. Read the rest of this entry »

A Passage to China

March 29th, 2010

Humen—Mouth of the Tiger—is where the Pearl River flows into the South China Sea. This is also where the Confucian commissioner of the Qing court, Lin Zexu, tried to turn back the barbarians—the private merchants importing opium from Britain—by dumping two and a half million pounds of opium into the sea. This story never ceases to animate the Chinese; the driver of the mini-van carrying our small delegation of three from the College, pointed to the sea and shouted, “aa-pin!,” Chinese for opium.

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