2009年9月26日 星期六

Morals Class Is Starting; Please Pass the Popcorn

Morals Class Is Starting; Please Pass the Popcorn

Justin Ide/Harvard News Office

Prof. Michael J. Sandel of Harvard teaching at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

Published: September 25, 2009

Many of the 14,000 or so students who have taken Harvard’s wildly popular course “Justice” with Michael J. Sandel over the years have heard the rumor that their professor has a television avatar: Montgomery Burns, Homer Simpson’s soulless ghoul of a boss at Springfield’s nuclear power plant.

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WGBH Boston

Mr. Sandel's popular moral philosophy course is being shown by PBS stations and on WGBH Boston’s Web site.

The joke, of course, is that Mr. Sandel — who at one time or another taught several future writers for Fox’s “Simpsons” and shares a receding hairline with the evil-minded cartoon character — is the anti-Burns, a moral philosopher who has devoted his life to pondering what is the right thing to do.

Now Mr. Sandal gets to play himself on television, not to mention online, as Harvard and public television stations across the country allow viewers to sit in on his classroom discussions about Wall Street bonuses and Aristotle, same-sex marriage and Kant, for the next 12 weeks.

Celebrity academics are not uncommon on television, and when it comes to the Web, Harvard lags behind Duke and Stanford, whose lectures are already available on iTunes U, and M.I.T., which developed its own software years ago to make classes available.

But what is new about Harvard’s venture, more than five years in the making, is that it is the first time that public broadcasters can remember a regular college course’s being presented on television. What’s more, it is also a highly produced multimedia event, with high-definition video, interactive Webcasts, podcasts, a new book and a speaking tour.

“We looked at what other universities had done and realized that they didn’t have the full classroom experience,” said Mr. Sandel, fresh from a recent appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. (He was sandwiched between a cooking demonstration and a segment on a turtle named Lucky.)

Watching a video that looks as if it were made with a convenience store security camera, as most Internet courses do, without the slides, syllabus and other materials available to actual students, dilutes the experience, Mr. Sandel said.

So, for “Justice,” Harvard set up extra lights and microphones in Sanders Theater, a stately, stadium-style hall. The classes were recorded in high-definition with three cameras to catch the student exchanges that are an essential part of the classroom experience.

Mr. Sandel also came up with an extended process to give students the option of appearing on tape or not. As it turns out, it was hardly necessary; scarcely anyone in the class objected to being on television, bad-hair day or not.

The lectures are not being televised live; they were taped in 2005 and 2006 and first used for Harvard’s Extension School and for alumni. In 2007 WGBH, the Boston public broadcaster, became involved.

“I’ve wanted to do Michael’s course for more than 20 years,” said Brigid Sullivan, vice president for educational programming at WGBH, which is co-producing the show. She learned of the famous class when she was a student at Harvard Business School.

This time the station was awarded a grant from POM Wonderful, the juice company, to put the course on the air, while Mr. Sandel raised the rest of the money — about $600,000 in all — much of it from former students. Each 50-minute class was edited down to 30 minutes; two are shown in each television episode.

Mr. Sandel, who regularly draws about 1,000 students to the course, doesn’t engage in flashy antics or use eye-catching props. Soft-spoken and self-effacing, he is more Bob Newhart than Montgomery Burns. He has honed his arguments, classroom methods and delivery over the nearly 30 years he has taught this class.

“The difficulty in this course is in teaching what you already know,” he tells his students. “It works by taking what we know from familiar, unquestioned settings and making it strange.”

Would you switch a runaway trolley from one track to another if it meant killing one person instead of five? Would it be just as moral to push a person in front of the speeding trolley to stop it and save the five? What about a surgeon killing one healthy person and using his organs so that five people who needed organ transplants could live? Is that moral? Why not?

“In a way, the book and the course try to model what public discourse would be like if it were more morally ambitious than it is,” Mr. Sandel said. “The title is ‘Justice,’ but in a way its subject is citizenship.”

Mr. Sandel emphasizes that “the aim is not to try to persuade students, but to equip them to become politically minded citizens.”

He has apparently succeeded, at least with some. “The course changed how I think about politics,” Vivek Viswanathan, who graduated in June, wrote in an e-mail message. “Questions of politics, Professor Sandel suggested, are not simply a matter of governing the system of distribution but are connected to what it means to live a ‘good life.’ ”

Steven E. Hyman, the university provost, said that Harvard had been searching for a while to find a way to deliver academic content, but “finding dynamic yet cost-effective ways to share the classroom experience beyond the university’s walls has been trickier than one might think.”

Mr. Sandel’s proposal, he added, “can serve as a working model for the dissemination of many courses.” He declined to say how much Harvard had spent on it.

Discussion is an essential part of the course, Mr. Sandel said, which is why the Web site, justiceharvard.org, offers beginner and advanced discussion guides. The first episode deals with utilitarianism, which maintains we should always do whatever will produce the greatest amount of happiness. “But is that right?,” the guide asks.

Suppose a terrorist will not reveal the location of a bomb “unless an innocent member of his family is tortured.”

“Should it be legal for the police to torture innocent people,” the guide continues, “if that is truly the only way to discover the location of a large bomb?”

In class, affirmative action arouses the strongest feelings, Mr. Sandel said, because students, who have worked very hard to reach Harvard, believe their own merit is being rewarded. They are disquieted, he said, by the philosopher John Rawls’s idea that many of their advantages have nothing to do with merit: American citizenship, fortunate family circumstances, a society that values what they are good at, whether it is telling jokes or having a great jump shot.

He tells the class that many psychologists think that birth order makes a lot of difference in one’s work ethic and degree of striving, and then asks: “How many here are first in birth order?” There are gasps and laughter. About 80 percent in the auditorium raise their hands. “Is it your doing that you are first in birth order?,” he continues.

That moment, Mr. Sandel said, is often “a turning point” in getting students to question their own deeply held assumptions. New viewers and readers will undoubtedly find different moments when a light bulb suddenly turns on. “There is a journeylike quality to the course and the book,” he said, adding that he did not “want to spoil the sense of suspense and exploration” about where this journey leads.

2009年9月18日 星期五


清理實驗鼠籠子的工作可助人 也可害人

四﹐耶魯大學實驗室技工雷蒙德•克拉克(Raymond Clark III)因涉嫌扼死耶魯研究生Annie Le而正式受到指控。克拉克是Annie Le生前做研究的實驗室的雇員。

Associated Press
來自康涅狄格州米德爾敦克拉克現年24歲﹐警方週四在紐黑文校區以北約25英里的一家汽車旅館里將其逮捕。他自從週三早間被警方釋放後就一直待在這家旅店﹐此前警方向他出具了搜查令﹐搜取Annie Le被害案相關證物。

紐黑文警長詹姆斯•路易斯(James Lewis)說﹐逮捕令是這一個﹐此案沒有其他嫌疑。

路易斯拒絕猜測犯罪動機。但是警方稱Annie Le和嫌犯之間沒有曖昧關係﹐表示此案是一例“工作場所暴力”事件。

Associated Press
圖片左為耶魯研究生Annie Le,拍攝日期不詳;圖片右為紐黑文警方公布的一個視頻截屏圖像,顯示Annie Le在9月8日早晨走進實驗室,這也是她最後一次出現。
克拉克受到了紐黑文高等法庭的傳訊﹐稍晚他將進入抗辯流程。克拉克的保釋金為300萬美元。記者未能聯繫到他的律師大衛•達沃斯基(David Dworski)發表評論。

週日﹐警方發現Annie Le的屍體被塞在了一個地下實驗室牆壁的洞中﹐她和克拉克都在這裡工作。年僅24歲的Annie Le是耶魯大學醫學院藥理學的研究生﹐發現她屍體的那一天原是她準備舉行婚禮的日子。克拉克是一名技工﹐職責是照看實驗動物。


耶魯大學校長萊文(Richard Levin)在一份公告中說﹐克拉克的主管說在他五年的工作時間中﹐沒有任何紀錄顯示他有暴力傾向。

2009年9月10日 星期四



Harvard, Yale Are Big Losers in 'The Game' of Investing
Harvard and Yale said their endowments each lost 30% of their value in the year ended June 30, for a combined drop of $17.8 billion.

2009年9月4日 星期五

The University’s Crisis of Purpose


The University’s Crisis of Purpose

Published: September 1, 2009

The world economic crisis and the election of Barack Obama will change the future of higher education. Even as universities, both public and private, face unanticipated financial constraints, the president has called on them to assist in solving problems from health care delivery to climate change to economic recovery.

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A series of essays examining changes in the collective American experience.


Up Front: Drew Gilpin Faust (September 6, 2009)

American universities have long struggled to meet almost irreconcilable demands: to be practical as well as transcendent; to assist immediate national needs and to pursue knowledge for its own sake; to both add value and question values. And in the past decade and a half, such conflicting and unbounded expectations have yielded a wave of criticism on issues ranging from the cost of college to universities’ intellectual quality to their supposed decline into unthinking political correctness. A steady stream of books — among them “Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk” (also a PBS special), edited by Richard H. Hersh and John Merrow; Anthony T. Kronman’s “Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life”; and Dinesh D’Souza’s “Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus” — have delineated what various authors have seen as the failings of higher education.

At the same time, American colleges and universities have remained the envy of the world. A 2005 international ranking included 17 American educational institutions in the top 20, and a recent survey of American citizens revealed that 93 percent of respondents considered our universities one of the country’s “most valuable resources.”

Such a widespread perception of the value of universities derives in no small part from very pragmatic realities: a college education yields significant rewards. The median earnings for individuals with a B.A. are 74 percent higher than for workers who possess only a high school diploma.

In some respects, this is not new. Education has been central to the American Dream since the time of the nation’s founding. But in the years since World War II, it was higher education, not just instruction at the elementary or high school levels, that emerged as necessary for a technologically skilled work force as well as fundamental to cherished values of opportunity. As late as the 1920s, enrollments in the United States stood below 5 percent of the college-age population. They rose to about 15 percent by 1949, in part as a result of the G.I. Bill. They have now reached nearly 60 percent. The United States has pioneered a new postwar era of mass college attendance that has become global in reach.

But today, for all its importance to individual and social prosperity, higher education threatens to become less broadly available. By the end of the 20th century, as Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz document in “The Race Between Education and Technology,” the rate of increase in educational attainment had significantly slowed, and the United States had fallen behind a number of other nations in the percentage of its youth attending college. Goldin and Katz demonstrate how this slowdown is creating a work force with inadequate technological abilities, as well as contributing to rising levels of American inequality.

Escalating college costs have played a significant role in this slowdown, even as universities have substantially expanded their programs of financial aid. So, too, have declining levels of government support.

After World War II, the country witnessed the establishment of a new partnership between Washington and the nation’s institutions of higher learning, with the federal government investing in universities as the primary locus for the nation’s scientific research. This model now faces significant challenges. Steep federal deficits will combine with diminished university resources to intensify what a 2007 report by the National Academies declared to be a “gathering storm,” one that threatened the future of scientific education and research in America. The Obama administration has set a goal of devoting more than 3 percent of gross domestic product to research. One hopes this highly ambitious aspiration can become a reality.

The economic downturn has had what is perhaps an even more worrisome impact. It has reinforced America’s deep-seated notion that a college degree serves largely instrumental purposes. The federal government’s first effort to support higher education, the Morrill Act of 1862, which established land grant colleges, was intended to advance the “practical education of the industrial classes.” A Department of Education report from 2006, “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of Higher Education,” concentrated on creating a competitive American work force and advancing “our collective prosperity.” But even as we as a nation have embraced education as critical to economic growth and opportunity, we should remember that colleges and universities are about a great deal more than measurable utility. Unlike perhaps any other institutions in the world, they embrace the long view and nurture the kind of critical perspectives that look far beyond the present.

Higher education is not about results in the next quarter but about discoveries that may take — and last — decades or even centuries. Neither the abiding questions of humanistic inquiry nor the winding path of scientific research that leads ultimately to innovation and discovery can be neatly fitted within a predictable budget and timetable.

In an assessment of the condition of higher education in the Anglo-American world, “Multiversities, Ideas, and Democracy,” George Fallis, a former dean at York University in Toronto, deplores the growing dominance of economic justifications for universities. They conflict, he argues, “with other parts of the multiversity’s mission, with . . . narratives of liberal learning, disinterested scholarship and social citizenship.” University leaders, he observes, have embraced a market model of university purpose to justify themselves to the society that supports them with philanthropy and tax dollars. Higher education, Fallis insists, has the responsibility to serve not just as a source of economic growth, but as society’s critic and conscience.

Universities are meant to be producers not just of knowledge but also of (often inconvenient) doubt. They are creative and unruly places, homes to a polyphony of voices. But at this moment in our history, universities might well ask if they have in fact done enough to raise the deep and unsettling questions necessary to any society.

As the world indulged in a bubble of false prosperity and excessive materialism, should universities — in their research, teaching and writing — have made greater efforts to expose the patterns of risk and denial? Should universities have presented a firmer counterweight to economic irresponsibility? Have universities become too captive to the immediate and worldly purposes they serve? Has the market model become the fundamental and defining identity of higher education?

Since the 1970s there has been a steep decline in the percentage of students majoring in the liberal arts and sciences, and an accompanying increase in preprofessional undergraduate degrees. Business is now by far the most popular undergraduate major, with twice as many bachelor’s degrees awarded in this area than in any other field of study. In the era of economic constraint before us, the pressure toward vocational pursuits is likely only to intensify.

As a nation, we need to ask more than this from our universities. Higher learning can offer individuals and societies a depth and breadth of vision absent from the inevitably myopic present. Human beings need meaning, understanding and perspective as well as jobs. The question should not be whether we can afford to believe in such purposes in these times, but whether we can afford not to.

Drew Gilpin Faust is president of Harvard. She is the author, most recently, of “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.”