Sunday, February 27, 2005

Rules for the Icon Painter

An acquaintance of mine is an icon painter. For those who may not be familiar with icons, they are stylized representations of saints that are both beautiful works of art and objects of veneration in the Greek Orthodox (Christian) Church. My acquaintance gave a seminar at Leeds Church and shared with us “Rules for the Icon Painter.” I have given copies to the designers who work at the New Media Center and have them posted over my desk where I often read them before I begin work, especially on my book.

Before starting work, make the sign of the cross; pray in silence and pardon your enemies.

  1. Work with care on every detail of your icon, as if you were working in front of the Lord, himself.
  2. During work, pray in order to strengthen yourself physically and spiritually; avoid, above all, useless words and keep silence.
  3. Pray in particular to the saint whose face you are painting. Keep your mind from distractions and the saint will be close to you.
  4. When you have to choose a color, stretch out your hand interiorly to the Lord and ask His counsel.
  5. Do not be jealous of your neighbor’s work. His success is your success too.
  6. When your icon is finished, thank God that His mercy has granted you the grace to paint the holy images.
  7. Have your icon blessed by putting it on the altar. Be the first to pray before it, before giving it to others.
  8. Have your icon blessed by putting it on the altar. Be the first to pray before it, before giving it to others.
  9. Never forget the joy of spreading icons in the world, the joy of the work or icon-painting, the joy of being in union with the saint whose face you are painting.

Choosing a Great Mentor

Last night I gave a very well attended floor program in Letts 4S on Choosing a Great Mentor. We began by talking about great mentors we had found. Several students (they were mostly freshmen and sophomores) had found great mentors in high school. They were caring considerate teachers who related to them as whole human beings. None had yet found a mentor at AU and they were puzzled about how do this. Several told stories of faculty whom they had tried to approach, but who seemed inconsiderate or uncaring.

Its late as I write this so here is a very brief synopsis of my advice. Stop during my office hours, now held in 101 Anderson from 6:00 until 9:00 for more (but I have an appointment with a student from 8 to 9).

1. To find a great mentor, be a great mentee (that may not be a word but you get the point). Be an interesting, interested individual that a professor would want to mentor.

2. Make finding a mentor a priority – a goal – and don’t give up until you have attained it. The great mentors are out their, but don’t expect them to drop into your lap.

3. To get to know a professor who you might want as a potential mentor, find out about her or his research – by reading one of their books or articles – and seeking out a discussion about that. (Students who approach me wanting to talk about Sri Lanka, Global Modeling or the relationship between conflict and development will find a very receptive potential mentor in my office or apartment).

I have been blessed with a number of great mentors. I have all of their pictures framed in my office. In another blog, I’ll tell you about them.

I made plans to hang out with my daughter in Florida at the end of Spring break (and celebrate my birthday). This is always great fun.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bringing My Book into the World

Yesterday, my unit gave a “noontime conversation” for faculty on blogging and how it can be used in teaching. I didn’t get a chance to say much. That often happens in a time-bounded program where professors are speaking and I am the last speaker. But I did make one point. To keep up a regular – and hopefully interesting Blog – one must give it priority. When I pushed other things aside to sit down and write, I realized that two days had elapsed since my last entry. Were I not so verbose, posting every day would not be difficult. But the literary prescriptions of my brilliant, elegant, draconian mother are difficult to shake, even in my mid-sixties. I know she is up there watching.

That is why there are two posts today… to make up and, possibly, to assuage guilt feelings and letting two days elapse without a post. I do realize that the world is not waiting for my posts. It is only that I care about keeping to standards that I have set for my self and professed to others.

In any case I wanted to share a discussion from my bi-weekly counseling session, about bringing a long awaited (by me at least) book into the world. Paradise Poisoned: Learning About Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars, is the title. I made my first trip to Sri Lanka in 1987 and began serious writing in 1990. By simple subtraction, one can see that this has been an eighteen year project, though there have been another book, and many other published papers along the way.

Professors are rarely effective publicists for their books. If they enjoyed marketing and publicizing rather than writing, they wouldn’t be professors. And these days one can’t count on a publisher, especially one in Sri Lanka, to take much responsibility. I know something about launching and marketing “trade” publications. It can be a demanding enterprise and not much fun. In two relatively brief brushes with “fame” I found it to be an experience that could be, simultaneously, both superficial and addictive.

But how to take responsibility for the launching the product from eighteen year project, in which thousands of hours of my time and the time of others, research grants, and not an inconsiderable amount of my own financial resources, as well of those of others, have been invested over the years? The prospect was driving me crazy….

A one hour counseling session, really just a quiet space to clarify my own values, thoughts and feelings, helped greatly. I realized that ( a) – as with life itself – the greatest satisfaction had better come from the journey, not the destination. (b) I have done my very best and, now, the choices as to whether my book is a “success” or not are largely in the hands of others. (c) The ten days I will spend in Sri Lanka, participating in the first launch events, can be a frantic and stressful experience or they can be a time to celebrate a journey’s end with long-standing friends, colleagues and supporters.

Either I can choose how the process of bringing my book into the world will be or I can leave the choice to others and become a relatively passive instrument of their choices. My choice is to have the process be fun and a celebration. It will be intense, no doubt, but it need not be frantic or stressful.

Creating this context will be a challenge, but the goal is attainable. Check out this space in about three weeks to see how things turned out.

Seeking satisfaction in life

Readers of this blog will know that I typically begin the agenda for CTE management group meetings with a brief quotation, often from my early morning reading/meditation time. This week’s passage was from Gems of Buddhist Wisdom, from which I have quoted before.

"What does it matter if others are not grateful to you or do not care for you, as long as you know you are full of tender heartedness for others, full of loving compassion for your fellow human beings? One should never depend on others for one’s happiness. The person who expects to secure satisfaction in life from others is worse then he beggar who kneels and cries for his daily bread."

The passage struck me, and I wanted to share it, because I was reflecting on my role as faculty administrator. I recently completed my third year in my present position. My staff has achieved a number of breakthrough results and there has been ample public recognition for our accomplishments. But I emphasized that in large complex organization like a university, a climate of affirmation can often change, for reasons that have little or nothing to do with quality of the work being delivered. It is a harsh, but realistic truth that depending on ones parents, partner, professor, boss, students or “the public” for satisfaction in life, “natural though that is” is to ground one’s happiness on a fragile reed. Recognizing that we must be the source of our own satisfaction, is over the long run, to ground happiness on a more solid foundation.

I suggested to my colleagues – they are respected friends, as well - that we could take joy in the quality of our work, the quality of the service we provide and the quality of the relations that we nurture with one another, quite apart from external approvals or rewards. We need to be the source of our own “job satisfaction.”

Monday, February 21, 2005

Five books that changed my life - and more

(Hubris – even computer literate people, or at least this one, do dumb things – like composing a lengthy blog, this one, directly on the internet. It took about 45 min – after we had cleaned up from a great lasagna dinner – and when I went to post it, I received an HTML error. Salvage efforts failed and I must begin again.)

The discussion topic, before dinner, was life-changing books. This is a great way to begin a discussion with a professor. Ask him (or her) for the names of five – or more – books that have most influenced him personally, and why. Here are my top five.

Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial. This is a book about the epistemology of design and engineering or, more prosaically, it is about how engineers and designers think, even when the thinking is subconscious. Simon was one of my gurus before I read the book and even more so afterwards. One of Simon’s great skills is the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly and accessibly.

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn was a historian of science who wrote from the perspective of phenomenology. Because of this work, the term paradigm became a concept of common usage in the social sciences. Because most social scientists who used the term failed to get the point of Kuhn’s book, he died a disillusioned and bitter man…. Sad. Along with Robert Holt, I wrote one of the first articles that viewed a social science (Political Science – Comparative Politics) from the frame of Kuhn’s work. Most readers didn’t get the point of our article either, but I am neither bitter, nor disillusioned.

John Kemeny, A Philosopher Looks at Science. This book may be the clearest exposition of logical empiricist epistemology ever written. I always insisted that my doctoral students read it, even when it went out of print. Kemeny was Albert Einstein’s research assistant as a young man. Later he invented the first time-sharing computer and the BASIC computer language. He was President of Dartmouth College when it first admitted women.

Jay W. Forrester, Urban Dynamics. I have read virtually all of Forrester’s writings; like Kemeny and Simon he was a personal mentor and the one with whom I have worked most closely. Forrester invented the magnetic core memory that made modern computing possible and then developed a methodology and body of theory for representing and analyzing complex nonlinear differential equation models of social, economic and business systems. To learn more AU students can take my SIS course, Systems Modeling for Management, Development and the Environment.

Carl Lewellen and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Cheyenne Way, All of the above books are from mathematics and engineering. The Cheyenne Way is a classic ethnographic study by two of the giants in the field. One of them. Hoebel, was my teacher at the University of Minnesota. Along with economics, Anthropology was my dual minor as a doctoral student. It influenced my scholarly work less that the works cited above, but Hoebel’s work, along with other classics provided valuable field research and survival skills that were invaluable as I moved from one discipline to another in a somewhat unconventional academic career.


W. Ross Ashby, Introduction to Cybernetics

Donella Meadows and Jennifer Robinson, The Electronic Oracle: Computer Models and Social Decisions.

Mihalo D. Mesarovic, et. al., Theory of Hierarchical Multilevel Systems

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

Herbert A. Simon, Administrative Behavior.

Looking over the list, here is what strikes me. Of the authors listed, I know (or knew) seven personally and worked with four - Meadows, Mesarovic, Hoebel and Forrester, closely. Forrester was the most influential, though Simon’s name appears twice (for different reasons). Virtually all of the works fall at the intersection of mathematics, the social sciences and philosophy (especially philosophy of science and epistemology), though my recent work has not emphasized these fields. I need to think about all of this.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Office Hours in the Dorm

One of the things that has worked for my North Side faculty-resident colleague, Joe Campbell is to hold office hours in the dorm. Of course this easy for him, becuase his office is in Mcdowell.

But my apartment is a perfectly good place for meeting with students and so I am going to start holding office hours there on Monday nights, from 6 to 9. This will also be a time for me to meet with students taking my classes and wanting to see me for other purposes.

PS. Dinner this Sunday night ---- Baked lasagna, meat and vegetarian.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

What to do when you have a bad teacher

(Actually I started writing this late last night, after the Anderson Hall staff meeting, and motivated by a conversation with a student. But I actually fell asleep over my computer, before completing it. Fortunately my computer didn't fall off my lap onto the floor. So here is the completed post).

This is the title of a floor program that I am giving next Monday night and a talk I was having with a student this evening lead me to reflect on the matter.

Because I direct AU's Center for Teaching Excellence and also have contact with many students in Anderson Hall, I sometimes hear about bad teachers. Happily I hear about good ones far more often at American University.

Bad teachers expose the vulnerabilities of students at all levels - undergraduate, Masters and Doctoral, but I think undergraduates feel particularly vulnerable. There are closer to high school, where doing anything but "going along" was mostly out of the question. (Studies the Myers-Briggs personality profile test results show that secondary school administrators and prison administrators resemble one another very closely). They may have higher, less realistic expectations about what a University professor should be. They have fewer coping skills and less experience with adversity. The power differential between professor and student seems very great. When students consider raising questions about a Professor's teaching, they are fearful of the retribution the Professor may be able to exact. Sadly some bad teachers are not interested in hearing from students that they are not doing well.

On the other hand, some bad teachers welcome feedback if students can provide it in an empowering and constructive way. Deans, Associate Deans and Department Heads (at least most of them) do care about the quality of Teaching. And, then, there is always the Center for Teaching Excellence and its Director... me. All of these individuals will at least listen to the concerns of student about bad teaching, expecially concerns that are expressed constructively, and they will take action if that seems possible and appropriate.

A colleague with whom I spoke about my Monday night floor program suggested that I hand out stickers with the address and phone on the Center for Teaching Excellence. Students could then place them surreptitiously on the office doors of faculty members whom they thought needed help. The suggestion was facetious, of course. CTE's goal is go celebrate and empower good teaching, not function as "big brother."

I would welcome suggestions about ways of dealing with bad teaching that have worked ... and haven't. Send me a comment.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Thoughts on Rukkus (sp?)

Rukkus was a topic of conversation at dinner Sunday night (some great curries were missed by some). Questions were raised to which I didn't have the answer, but today I had lunch with Vice President Gail Hanson and she was helpful. I share the gist of our conversation.

Most important, this really is a trial - it is not a "done deal." Feedback from the residence hall communities is welcomed and important. There will also be several forums before the end of the semester which students can provide feedback. Your feedback can be shared with your RA or RD, with your SC representative, with me and with the head of customer service at the Office of Informaiton Technology, Terry Fernandez.

Though some students, particularly Mac and Ipod users have expressed reservations, a number have also used it extensively. Thousands of songs have been downloaded, so far. Joe Campbell and I are probably the only faculty who have access. I am not a big downloader of music, but will definitely give it a try soon, so I can provide my personal feedback.

The Center for Teaching Excellence is giving a "noontime conversation" on blogging and how it can be used in teaching a week from Wednesday, with Naomi Barron, Patrick Jackson and me speaking. This seems to have generated huge interest among faculty.... interesting.

Professor Joe Campbell spoke about the work he and RD Eric Ratner are doing on the North side and this new faculty in residence (office) program seems to be a huge success. It is to have such creative, high energy colleague involved in campus living and to have a partner with whom I can share experiences and ideas. Perhaps we can nickname Joe "dormuncle."

Next week, I am giving a floor program on "What to do when you have a bad teacher" Any ideas?

Monday, February 14, 2005

What Makes a Professor's Day

Would you like to know what really turns university faculty member on. What makes her or him feel that their life is worth while. In my capacity as Director of the Center for Teaching excellence I have spoken with many faculty - young and old - about this and the answer, from 90 per-cent or more of those with whom I speak is unequivocal. What is most gratifying to a professor, what really turns her or him on, is when a student takes an interest in a subject and does great work!

This evening, that the end of a day, I had that experience with an entire class. Because of my management responsibilities, the only course I am now teaching is called "Systems Analysis for Management, Development and the Environment" In the course, students learn a new body of rigorous theory, a new computer modeling methodology and a new world view. They apply what they have learned to an original research project of their own choosing. The course is quite demanding. It is not unusual for students to submit more (sometimes much more) than 100 pages of rigorously argued work in a semster. And the writing up of three extensive reports, to a high professional standard, is the easiet part of the course. Developing what goes into the reports is what is challenging.

Tonight I graded the first of these. The eight students in the class - it is not large this semester - completed this first modeling/ pollicy analysis assignment last thursday. All turned it in on time or early. Five weeks ago they knew little or nothing about systems analysis or modeling, or this particular programming, graphical user interface technology. They put in hours of hard work and successfully completed a demanding policy analysis exericse on an exemplar model they had programed. came up with creative policy recommendations, professionally presented, grounded in solid modeling work. It may be the best rendering of this assignment I have received in twenty years of teaching the course.

It is the end of the day but I hardly feel like sleeping. Working with smart, dedicated students of this caliber is, as I said A real turn on.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A full - diverse day

7:00 AM. I was awakened to a crystal clear morning, with sunlight shimmering off the frost in our fields, by the braying sound of a Canada Geese flock overhead. "Braying" may seem an odd term to describe the sound, but the sound could be easily mistaken for a donkey or burro. When I looked out over the field in front of our house, there were five deer grazing.

7:30 Compiling income tax data is something that it is easy to put off until the last minute. This year we vowed that we could get materials to our accountant early and it looks as if we will. With help from last year's template, the tax data was almost fully compiled before church.

10:30 Sunday service at Leeds Church. Quakers give almost no attention to the liturgical seasons of the year, but they are very important to the
Episcopalians. This is the first (or second?) sunday in Lent. The Lenten season commemorates the 40 days that Jesus is said to have spent in the desert, at the end of which he was tempted by Satan. We used the old rite in the book of common prayer (Rite 1), which always brings back memories of services in Colombo Sri Lanka's starkly beautiful Anglican Cathedral.

11:35 After service coffee hour - a gathering time for this close, small community. The snacs are so good that I usually skip lunch. Like church coffee hours everywhere, this is a time to catch up with friends, communityt projects and local gossip. The number of projects this small congregation is engaged with an any one time is amazing - even overwhelming. There will be ample opportunity to make a difference, should I choose to retire in Hume.

12:30 More work on taxes, bill paying, leaving a valentine card and gift for my wife, who is, of course, off horseback riding. Laying a fire, brining in wood and packing up for the drive back to DC

4:30 Cooking dinner for students. Lamb and three vegetable curries, which I started on friday night.

8:00 Dinner for students. Eight guests tonight including an Iraq war veteran. Interesting discussions. Dealing with bad teachers, AU's new Rukkus music system, how science programs could be strengthened at AU and other topics. Interesting conversations.

10:00 Cleanup, with the efficient help of my student assistant. There will be enough curry for the meeting of the faculty resident advisory committee on Tuesday.

11:00 Writing this blog. This "diary" format displays and obvious lack of creativity and reflectiveness - but at least I am getting something down.

11:30 Send an email reminder to CTe staff.

11:45 ( projected) Good night

Friday, February 11, 2005

A Recipe for Loving Relationships


My family practice counselor, with whom I meet more or less bl weekly, for psychological well-being "preventive maintenance" writes a periodic column entitled "Family Matters." This week she wrote about a metaphorical couple "the Valentines" to whom she had given pre-marital counseling and who returned seven years later with a threatened marriage. She offered the following four ingredients as a "prescription for marital medication." It occurred to me they might be of value, too, for younger couples with deep relationships who have not yet made a commitment to marry. Her "ingredients" follow:
  1. Acceptance of each other's indivuality and separateness coupled with a willingness to work on your own self- definition.
  2. Willingness to de-focus from your marriage and children (relationships do best when people aren't analyzing them to death) while staying connected - to spend talking when not wanting to talk and listening when not wanting to listen.
  3. Commitment to a larger vision of your marriage - including healthy confrontation - that incorporates pewrserverance even when there is reistance to change and growth.
  4. Curiousity and connection with your families going back to your grandparent's generation which gives depth and strengtrh to adulthood, especially in recognizing the patterns that need reinforcement or eradication.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"Pharmacies from Hell" and What to Do About Them

This is not going to be a very positive blog.

There are three pharmacies located in the upscale neighborhood near my University. I have an exceedingly simple prescription that needs to be filled periodically. The pharmacist's principal task is to place a label on a bottle. Both pharmacies I have tried have an automated call-in prescription system. Over the past eight months, and five or six transactions, not one as been without incident. The prescription could not be found; it was mislabled or mis priced; there should have been two bottles of the medicine, but was only one. If I did not know exactly what I was supposed to receive and what it should cost, I would have been mislead in one way or another, every time.

Hoping to receive better service, I switched to a second pharmacy. There staff kept me standing at the counter nearly 50 minutes and not because of a baclog of orders. The problem: the listing of my name and address were incorrect and it took that amount of time for the clerk to enter it correctly. There was no apology. No acknowledgement that I had been inconvenienced. No recognition that I should have a reasonable expectation of more efficient, courteous service. Nothing.

After this experience, I returned to the first pharmacy and they got my prescription wrong once again. It took only about 20 minutes of waiting to make an adjustment, but I have to return next week because the medicine needed was partially out of stock.

What to do? Skills learned in nearly forty years of travel in Global South nations and experience in obtaining necessary documents from global south government bureaucracies have proved helpful. Be patient but firm! If rage is boiling within you, don't express it! Keep smiling, but keep your place in line. If the official says "take a seat" don't - remain an unwavering presence within his or her field of vision. When you are finally served, say "thank you." You might need help from this person agian. If you have the time, fill out a comment form, if available or write to corporate headquarters. However trying to set things right in these disfunctional establishments could become a full-time occupation.

I am looking forward to my next Sri Lankan visit, coming up shortly. There, public officials may struggle with complex regulations, lack of automation and limited resources. But they are far more courteous and committed to being helpful than the sullen, indifferent lot who seem to have found postings as pharmacists and pharmacy clerks in Northwest Washington, DC. (In fairness, I did encounter one - but only one - who was civil, pleasant, and helpful).

In fact, I will be taking my prescription with me - and expecting better service.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Candlemas - an Intergenerational Activity at Leeds Church

When I am preoccupied with twenty-item "to do" list, frequent bleeps from by Blackberry, six meetings in a day and requests for "just five minutes of your time," as I am walking from event to event, nothing helps more to bring me down to earth than a Sunday morning intergenerational activity at Leeds Church. The theme of this Sunday's activity was the Gospel of Luke in the Christian New Testament, which uses light as a metaphor for the role that Christians believe Jesus played (and continues to play) in the world of human beings.

About twenty children, aged 3 through early teens, gathered around tables in the parish hall, along with a smaller number of adults - actually there was a fifth table comprising adults only. On each table was a bible and sheets of paper with the word "light" written upon it in large letters. We free associated with the word light and then read the passage from Luke (I can't remember chapter and verse). Our head of Sunday School, an energetic, empathetic and unflaggingly patient teacher, distributed sheets of beeswax and wicks to each of us and explained how to make beeswax candles. As we were crafting our candles, we were also invited to the parish hall kitchen where two other members of the congregation had prepared crepes for us - recreating a French candlelmass tradition.

At the end of our service - one of the hymns was "This little light of mine...." candles were distributed to each member of the congregation. The children gathered in the front of the church. "Torchbearers" passed among us lighting each candle. We stood, as a community, candles lit, singing a concluding hymn and receiving a blessing.

Then we formed a procession and took our lights out into the world.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Making a great city your own

My ancient car car was getting repaired yesterday morning, so in order to make my 6AM tennis game with Senior Pete I had to bike from Anderson Hall to the Arlington Y Tennis and Squash Club on the other side of the river. This seemed like at odd thing to do; getting up before 5 AM, packing my tennis utensils in a back pack and venturing out into the early morning cold darkness, with warning lights flashing to alert inattentive drivers to my presence. There were no other bikers on the roads.

But it was fun and seemed perfectly safe. The roads were free of traffic and sufficiently well lighted for me to see. There were a few early morning people to greet - newspaper deliverers, coffee shop attendants, and an occasional jogger. Riding accross the Key Bridge was especially beautiful. I didn't have to share it with anyone; it was mine alone.

I was reminded of a memorable jog one summer night many years ago. A friend and I were staying in a hotel, in the shadow of the World Trade Center, working on a book. We finshed about 1:30 AM and decided to go for a jog to unwind. We ran up the East side of the island through the Fulton Fish Market and crossed over to Penn Station. We ran down Broadway and then, through the heart of the deserted financial district. We ran right down the middle of Wall Street aty 2:30 in the morning and returned to Battery Park and the World Trade Center Complex.

Now that I think of it, I have had similar experiences in London, Paris, Delhi, Berlin, Budapest and, of course, Colombo.

The fact that no one else is doing something or being somewhere can recommend it. You can make the streets of a deserted city your own.

Closed for Demolition

For more than a decade, I have been patronizing the Indian Spices and Appliances emporium in Arlington's Ballston area. "Spices and Applances" - the store sold jewelry (jewellery - in the English spelling as well). You could walk into the store, be served by the Bengali woman and her husband who owned it, and feel for a moment, that you had been transported to India or Sri Lanka.

But the high rises were clearly encroaching on this small enclave. Sometime between my last visit and yesterday, the engulfed it. The building still remained when my car pulled up in the late afternoon snow. But there would be no garlic pickle, large dustly jars of chutny, and fresh samosas. "Indian Spices and Appliances" was surrounded by a chain link fence garlanded with menacing signs to ward of intruders and former customers. When I dialed the store's number the message was "this number has been disconnected - no additional information was available."

Sad.... and I have a dinner party to cook for on Saturday night. Curried lamb, brinjol and fresh vegetables in coconut milk. I need to find a new South Asian Grocery in a hurry !

Seizing the moment

Years ago, I was a young, utterly undistinguished, Assistant Professor of Political
Science, sitting in my small office at Case Western Reserve University. A young man appeared at my door. He was a refugee from Hungary, a engineer, who had fled the failed Hungarian revolution. I knew nothing about him, but he, apparently, knew something about me. He thought I could help him achieve his goal: a Ph.D. in political science. He also needed a scholarship.

I had no access to scholarship funds. Indeed, our entire small department had no funds at all, but I knew a colleague in the School of Engineering, Professor Mihalo Mesarovic who directed one of the world's leading control theory research institutes, The Systems Research Center. He might have money for this student, I thought, and he did.

But the funds came with a catch. Engineers were just beginning to explore social problems, Mike explained, and the Center wanted to make its mark in this area. He would give me the funds, for a year, if I would promise by the end of the year, to develop an application of multilevel hierarchical control theory (the Center's specialty) to a social problem and publish the results in a refereed scientific journal. I had not the slightest idea, really, of what this would involve, however the student needed the money, so I promised Mike I would do this. He gave my student and me an office in the school of engineering and we began.

Fortunately, I had no senior political science mentors to advise me that this was not a sure path tenure in that department. In fact the political science department fired me, in essence, three years later. By then, fortunately, I had other options.

We did develop an application and publish the results in several venues. Through fortuitous circumstances, not notable computer science skills, I became, two years later, the director of the School of Engineering's Donald P. Echman Computing Laboratory, which became the venue for applying multilevel control theory to urban problems, environmental problems (the death of Lake Erie) and then to the problematique of the Club of Rome.

That work brought me to American University as head of the University's Center for Technology and Administration. Though I failed as the Center's Director - I could not persuade that generation of University leaders that applying computer technology to managment, social and environmental problems was a promising field - I was able to join the School of International Service for what has been a rich, rewarding and varied career. And now, interestingly, I am responsible for many of AUs academic computing laboratories and services.

What would my life have been like had I not offered to find funds for that Hungarian refugee - he is now a highly successful engineering consultant - to undertake his doctoral studies?

When a moment of opportunity appears, it is best to seize it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Gift of Love

I played tennis with the Dean (we each won a set 1-6; 6-3) and witnessed a very special gift of love. A woman who had played for many years - she was a fine consistent player who was often on the courts several times per week - is recovering (we hope) from a life threatening bout with cancer. Over the years I never saw her husband on the tennis court.

This morning he was there. My friend was obviously weak. She could only hit the ball - with little force - for about five minutes. Then she would have to sit down. Her husband had brought a bag of tennis balls and was standing in front of the net. He would throw the balls to her and she would hit them. When she had it for five minutes or so, she would sit down and rest. He would go to the back of the court pick up the balls and stand in front of the net, ready to throw again when she was rested. He had nursed her through the more difficult stages of her cancer - I know from a previous conversation - and was now helping her with this phase of her recovery.