You can’t turn your back on anybody.

Take Harvard University, for example, an institution one might think of as a temple of virtue. It turns out that Harvard has been using the trade-mark laws to get control of common expressions. The university has an pending application, for example, to register the phrase “Managing Yourself.” The rationale is that the phrase is used by the university in promotional campaigns for one of its schools, and Harvard doesn’t want someone claiming a prior right to the words. As if.

If that sounds overly cautious, consider the fact that the university has filed a trademark application for the expression “The world’s thinking” based on the idea that the school may want to use those words in the future.



Among the items so highly treasured in Cambridge is the line “Ask what you can do,” used by the Kennedy School of Government in a variety of campaigns. Those words were, of course, a high point in the presidential inaugural address of a Harvard alum, and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is said to be raising its corporate eyebrows over alma mater’s decision to nail down the clause.

There’s no word on whether Harvard has checked with the heirs, if any, of the Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran, who wrote a remarkably similar “ask not” formula in his 1925 work entitled — cough, cough! — “New Frontier.”

Is it all very innocent? One Harvard professor, Harry Lewis, takes at least philosphical exception, expressed in the Boston Globe as follows: “Universities should not be in the business of locking words down. We’re in the business of enlightening the world. To lock down common English phrases seems to be antithetical to the spirit of what universities are supposed to be about.’’

Meanwhile, if Harvard intends to go on registering phrases for which it hasn’t yet found a use — well, Yogi, watch your back.

You can read the Globe’s account of this matter at the following link:


Where our mouth is

July 15, 2009

education_clip_art_3President Barack Obama proposes to spend $12 billion on American community colleges over the next 10 years.

I’ve lost count of how much money this administration plans to spend, and while my instincts have been saying “Ahem!” for months, I endorse this idea in concept — as far as it goes. After listening to a discussion of deficit spending the other night on the Charlie Rose show, I’m convinced that I am the last person to ask whether we should turn off the presses at the mint or put them into overdrive. From what I can tell, those are both good ideas, or — to put it another way — no one knows.

Anyway, the administration argues that this money would not add to the deficit, because it would be offset byending subsidies to private student-loan companies and banks. What impact the end of subsidies would have on the borrowing and banking public, I am not aware. Whenever government says that a spending initiative isn’t going to cost anything, I reach back to check for my wallet.

Deficit or not, Obama proposes to allocate this money for construction, on-line education, and competitive grants. As long as money is no object, those are worthy causes. There is also a provision for performance-based scholarships and for resources to help colleges to better plan schedules around students’ work demands.

extended_home_01I have taught on and off at community colleges for years, and I have been teaching at one since the newspaper industry  noticed my obsolesence. Every class I teach introduces me to more men and women who are operating under punishing stress because of their inability to pay tuition and fees, support themselves or their families, and devote the time and energy necessary for a real learning experience. I have had students, sometimes on the verge of tears, tell me that they cannot afford to buy a textbook — and don’t get me started on the price of books and the shell-game of “second editions” — or that they cannot afford to buy a PC or laptop computer to use at home, or even commonly used word-processing software for the ones they have. Frequently, these are the very laid-off or undertrained folks that the President says must be prepared for the future demands of business and industry. If they’re really the point of this program — and as long as we’re going to rob Peter to pay Paul — let’s think first about how that money can fill the basic needs of these eager, talented, strung-out students.