Saturday, June 05, 2010

Mystery and ignorance reign in Knight's Duckdom

The Oregon’s public system of higher education is fomenting a mystery.

Billionaire Phil Knight is writing the plot and has no desire for the mystery to be solved — which is a mystery within a mystery.

Worse, the president of the University of Oregon, Richard Lariviere, considers Knight's machinations a mystery too.

Does Lariviere, who is supposed to know what's happening, care?

Not a bit.

It gets worse, as a front page story in today’s Oregonian describes. The entire state board of higher education is equally clueless.

In this know-nothing atmosphere, according to the story, Lariviere Friday browbeat the board into approving, on a day’s notice, a Knight donation (for an undisclosed, mysterious amount) to build a 80,000 square-foot operations center for ... what?

The Duck football team, of course.

How refreshing that Phil, the Beaverton sneaker mogul, has his priorities straight. His OWN priorities.

Oh, and the board agreed that Knight decides who gets the design and construction contracts for the facility, which will be built on public land.

Lariviere’s cudgel with the state board was this: If you don’t accept this gift, Knight may confer his bounty elsewhere.

Say it isn’t so.

Meanwhile, a story immediately above this one on the front page informs the mystified reader that students going to the seven Oregon University system schools next fall will be paying, on average, 6.2 percent more for tuition. That brings the cost of public higher education (including room, board, books and tuition) to about $20,000 a year per student.

And while the increase isn’t the highest in the nation, deep down in the story we learn that the Oregon University system has been judged as failing because it “skimps” on aid to low-income students.

Unless, apparently, they happen to play football.

And to think that all this is happening in the middle of a collapsed economy where intellectual breakthroughs are needed just a tad more than touchdowns and conference titles.

Inquiring minds might ask why the university is building grandiose football facilities while students, with fewer and fewer resources, are being forced to pick up more and more of the education tab and being saddled with greater and greater debt?

The answer and the values behind it remain mysteries, unless you happen to be one Phil Knight.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Memo to oil engineers: lower expectations

One problem with the methods used to staunch the hemorrhaging of oil into the Gulf is that names if the approaches have suggested they will work.

Just to review: We have had blow-out preventer fixes (that fixed nothing), a containment vessel (that didn’t contain), a “top kill” plugging (that did nothing of the sort).

Next up is some kind of dome that is supposed to capture and divert the oil (we can only hope.)

The names have raised expectations so that when they failed, the failure seemed all the worse and the engineers that much more helpless and foolish.

The names also underscore the technological arrogance that got us in this fix to begin with.

What’s needed here is a little (make that "a lot of") humility.

Here are three sample names that might help, even if the methods don’t.

The “Cross-your-fingers” containment method.

The “What do we know? We’re new at this” plug approach.

The “It’s at least worth a try” capping device.

Imagine the surprise, the sheer joy, if one of these actually worked!

And if they fail? Well, at least we’d been warned.

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