Cromnibus Hypocrisy

Washington -- Congress has passed the Cromnibus (The Continuing Resolution plus Omnibus appropriations act), to much disdain from those who know the wretched provisions in it. A sleight-of-hand move of higher education money in the bill is perfectly described in a news headline: "Tom Harkin Wants To Take Money From College Students to Pay Reviled Loan Contractors."

Advocates for financially needy students have heaped abuse on Senator Harkin for this. I couldn't agree more that this is a bad provision. But on reflection, two things bother me even more than what this provision will do.

First, Senator Harkin has long been a champion of protecting the interests of financially needy students. This must be taken into account. He has often stood alone, courageously taking on the for-profit schools that have misused federal tax dollars and ruined the lives of countless cynically exploited students and their families. He has done this in the face of many of his Congressional colleagues who take campaign contributions from this unverschämt industry; these contributions are almost totally recycled federal tax dollars. He has also made accrediting bodies do their job, through his Senate hearings that publicly shamed them. We are all in his debt for this work. Thank you, Senator Harkin.

Second, some of those jumping on the bandwagon of criticism of this provision have little or no moral high ground from which to object, however odious the shift of funding may be. The American Council on Education wrote this about Harkin's taking some $300 million from a Pell grant surplus account for the benefit of loan collectors:

[W]e oppose any efforts to weaken this proven, successful program by depleting the current surplus. With Pell Grants projected to return to significant shortfalls in the near future, stripping existing funding will needlessly endanger the near-term health and stability of the program. Congress has cut federal financial aid repeatedly over the last few years. Benefits have been eliminated, and students are paying more for their federal student loans. Students cannot afford to continue subsidizing other areas of the budget. We urge you to support America’s students and reject any proposals that would weaken the Pell Grant Program.

This is hypocrisy. If anyone has weakened the Pell program over the years, it is much of the membership of ACE. Many colleges and universities, by manipulating their own institutional aid, routinely repackage Pell grants, taking financial aid away from low income students that the program is supposed to help, thereby capturing the funds for other purposes. This amounts to billions of dollars annually, many times over the amount at issue in the Cromnibus act. Are students being forced to subsidize other areas of the budget, as ACE claims? Yes, indeed. But it is the ACE membership itself that is a far greater culprit than the Harkin provision, when one looks at the shifting of subsidies within college budgets. Are students being required to take out more student loans? Yes, but ACE needs to look in the mirror as to who is behind this.

Moreover, ACE has been noticably absent from helping with any of the heavy lifting involved in curtailing for-profit school abuses and reforming accreditation. They have let others do the work and take the heat.

And why does ACE continue to use the word "proven" with regard to Pell grants? Because repeating it over and over will make it so? It will not; the program has never been rigorously evaluated by the Department of Education. Many attempts by economists and others, over decades, have failed to conclude that the program is the success often claimed. No one wishes more than I do that these studies are wrong, but the evidence just isn't there to back up the claims for the program. Finally, ACE, of all organizations, should be more careful with its use of language. Sloppy use of the the word proven is often evidence that the user does not understand the philosophy and methods of science. This should be beneath the nation's leading higher education association.

Germany Struggles with Its History

Berlin -- Germany still struggles with its history, and not just the Nazizeit.

The state of Thüringen, after recent elections, is trying to put together a red-red-green governing coalition; that is, two parties of the left (SPD and Die Linke) along with the Greens (die Grünen). But to some it is unthinkable that the leader of the government might be a member of Die Linke, in that he has ties to the old East German state, the DDR. The president of the entire federal republic, Joachim Gauck, is weighing in, saying it is going to be hard for those of his generation to agree to seeing such a person come to power. The SPD in Thüringen is polling its membership to see if it will accept being in a coalition with a member of Die Linke as its head.

Others, including a friend of mine in Berlin with impeccable credentials on the left, say there was an election and Die Linke should be allowed, in a democracy, to take leadership. I tend to agree; there's nothing like having to take responsibility for governing in a coalition to make people and parties face real issues rather than forever carping from the ideological sidelines. It can also be a good way to clean up a tainted past.

Meanwhile, in the middle of Berlin a new palace is rising, a reconstruction of the palace of the Kaisers. It is a huge edifice and will soon be the talk of the world. What is Germany trying to do, bring back the Prussia of Frederick the Great? Indeed, the palace is just down the street from the benevolent gaze of a statue of Frederick that dominates Unter den Linden boulevard. I remember in the 1990s when the new palace was proposed. The building on the site at that time was the former East German Palast der Republik, the parliament and cultural center of the DDR. It had to go, not just for symbolism but because it was riddled with asbestos. The new palace was just to be a reconstruction of the palace that was torn down by the Soviets in the 1950s, a nice tourist attraction if nothing else.

Technically, the new palace project is called the Humboldt Forum. The building will serve as a scientific and educational conference center, named for the Humboldt brothers (after whom nearby Humboldt University is also named). Inescapably, it will also glorify German science. With such a colossal building, it is going to be tempting for the German government to use it for diplomatic goals as well as educational and historical purposes. This may all be for the better. Germany has been a responsible world power now for several decades, but the country must be ready for raised eyebrows as attention starts to be drawn to the completion of a splendid new palace of the Kaisers.

Now if only a few Euros could trickle down from the palace to complete the construction work around Kottbusser Tor, in my neighborhood, which has been a mess for years and years. This is where the world meets: Turks, Germans, Britons, French, Eastern Europeans, Americans, Africans.... Finishing up the project would signal that Berlin also cares about the diplomacy of the street.

Upcoming 25th Anniversary

Berlin -- A week from today will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I remember being present on the day it fell. Tumultuous times.

Today, Sunday, November 2, 2014, I got up with the sun, walked a block and a half to where the wall once stood, crossed over Bethaniendamm at Melchior Strasse into former East Berlin, bought three breakfast brötchen at a little bakery, and walked back home back past the great St. Thomas Church in the former West. A remarkable walk in that it was so ordinary. Twenty-five years earlier (or fifty years earlier, for that matter) such a walk would have been impossible.

On Christmas day of 1963, Paul Schultz, an eighteen-year-old East German, tried to cross at the same spot and was shot by border guards as he was about to jump from atop the last barrier into the West. He died that evening at Bethanien Hospital, a block away. The guard who shot him was rewarded with a new briefcase and wristwatch by the East German government.

Is history's verdict about the wall (or about anything in our lives) up to those of us who are still around to write the last chapter? Yes, I'd say. And perhaps it is our duty to intervene to make the last chapter a happy ending, to the extent such an ending is possible. How should we write the last chapter of the wall's demise? A celebration of the ordinary and the mundane seems appropriate to me, like my walk this morning. For others there are still scores to settle and lives to avenge. So be it.

Glad to be Away

Berlin -- For me it's a good time to be in Berlin on this November 1, 2014, as I have successfully avoided Halloween hullabaloo in the States and will avoid U.S. election day on Tuesday. I voted early before coming here. Weather's been much better here, too. The grounds and gardens at Sans Souci yesterday were incomparable. My daughter and I walked eleven kilometers altogether, through train stations and palace promenades, every step a delight.

Had I been in the Washington suburbs last evening, I would have given the trick-or-treaters peanuts in the shell, as usual, not candy. This year I would also have been tempted to give them a copy, for their parents, of Mark Bittman's op-ed "Two Rules for a Good Diet." It's sad to see so many little obese children asking for candy and junk food.

I'm not ruling out some election day surprises on Tuesday that I'd like to be around to witness, but where I live in Nebraska and Maryland, there haven't been any real surprises for years. Both are essentially one-party states where office holders are simply not held accountable. Nebraska state government, under Republicans, has witnessed several years of ineptitude and scandal in its human services and corrections departments, but the Republican candidates for state offices are all ahead in the polls. Maryland state government is about to be headed by a Democratic candidate, currently lieutenant governor, who failed miserably last year in setting up Maryland's health insurance exchanges. But he won the Democratic primary over a similarly weak candidate, so he's likely a winner in the general election.

It's past time to look more critically at our election institutions that lead to such situations.

The election surprise I'm really hoping for is in Oregon, where better food labeling is on the ballot and has a chance, despite millions of dollars being thrown against it by Pepsico, Monsanto, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, and the like, whose favorite holiday is probably Halloween.

POST-ELECTION UPDATE: Apparently a lot of Marylanders felt as I did (see above), and did not turn out for the Democratic candidate for governor as predicted. He lost. The Democratic congressman for whom the party gerrymandered a district almost lost as well. Maryland may be heavily Democratic, but voters pay attention. In Nebraska, party label was everything, and Nebraska government will be the lesser for it.

Food labeling in Oregon lost by the narrowest of margins. Big Ag ran an astonishing disinformation campaign against it, successfully. The hope for better food labeling might rest in consumer choice rather than ballot initiatives.

Undermining Pell, Redux

Washington -- The New America Foundation has published a second round of analysis of how tuition and financial aid policies help or (increasingly) hinder low-income student access to higher education. In Undermining Pell Volume II, Steve Burd writes:

For years, colleges complemented the government’s efforts by using their financial aid resources to open their doors to the neediest students. But those days appear to be in the past. Over the past several decades, a powerful enrollment management industry has emerged to show colleges how they can use their institutional aid dollars strategically in order to increase both their prestige and revenue.

Worse yet, there is compelling evidence to suggest that many schools are engaged in an elaborate shell game: using Pell Grants to supplant institutional aid they would have otherwise provided to financially needy students, and then shifting these funds to help recruit wealthier students. This is one reason why even after historic increases in Pell Grant funding, low-income students continue to take on heavier debt loads than ever before. They are not receiving the full benefits intended.

Overall, too many four-year colleges, both public and private, are failing to help the government achieve its college-access mission. They are, instead, adding hurdles that could hamper the educational progress of needy students, or leave them with mountains of debt after they graduate.

Will this new analysis, which demonstrates the problem is getting worse, have any more impact on Congress and the Department of Education than the first one did? Probably not. After the first study, I offered a blog criticizing Congress for creating a financial aid system that invites colleges to manipulate federal funds away from help for the low-income. Which resulted in an invitation to me by authorizing committee staff to visit the Hill for a chat. I was told I was wrong about staff not reading the report; they did. But I was also told that Congress would take no action because there was nothing Congress could do in the face of the powerful Washington-based higher education lobby.

Having once been a part of that lobby, as well as Congressional staff and Department of Education staff, I disagree. American higher education is sufficiently in trouble such that another business-as-usual, chummy legislative reauthorization of the Higher Education Act with the senescent, out-of-touch higher ed lobby will likely accelerate the already alarming growth of student indebtedness, a national problem affecting the whole economy. Moreover, many colleges during the next six-year reauthorization period will find themselves unable to keep up with the enrollment management and money laundering schemes tolerated if not encouraged under current federal law, and will be faced with shuting their doors.

It is no secret that many who toil at colleges and universities -- likely a large majority -- are troubled by the behaviors they believe they are forced into by the very success of their control of Congress: chasing rankings prestige at the expense of their missions; loading up the financially-needy with debt while awarding so-called merit aid to the dubiously (but well-off) meritorious; selling their institutional souls to outside funding sources. Occasionally a college president will shout "Stop us before we kill ourselves!", but no one in Congress is really listening.

The New America Foundation proposes mild carrot-and-stick adjustments to current federal law as a way to address the problems. These measures are better than nothing, but Congress would be better advised simply to face up to the failures of its current programs and act boldly to reform them.

Discovering Golden Treasure

Lincoln -- The goldenrod on our prairie northwest of Lincoln has been in full flower this month. Bright orange Monarch butterflies on bright yellow goldenrods make for irresistible photo opportunities.

So we had a smartphone photo of a local goldenrod handy when visiting the Bessey Herbarium in Nebraska Hall last week. Exactly which species of goldenrod was it, we asked. Turns out it was Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida). The oldest such specimen in the herbarium's collection dates from September 18, 1873; it was collected in Lancaster County by none other than the early Nebraska naturalist and professor Samuel Aughey, promoter (and perhaps originator) of the "rain follows the plow" theory and a great favorite of railroad companies.

But it was another goldenrod specimen in the collection, Tall Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea), that convinced us we had discovered golden treasure. Tall Goldenrod is the Nebraska State Flower. In the herbarium, in a special cabinet, is the actual speciman that the Nebraska Legislature had before it when it made the designation in 1895. The backing paper has a note from Charles Bessey himself verifying it. The speciman was collected in Holt County in 1893 by Frederic Clements. This was the year Clements and Roscoe Pound crossed northern Nebraska, collecting plants for their subsequent publication Phytogeography of Nebraska, a work of far-reaching influence well beyond the borders of the state and nation.

The Bessey Herbarium is a remarkable place with both a current and historic collection but it receives scant support from the University and State. Its budget was cut severely in 2003 and funding has not been restored.

Nebraska's Good Time Fiasco

Lincoln -- Yesterday I watched, via the Internet, the Nebraska Legislature's entire (morning, afternoon, and evening) televised hearing at which a special committee took court-compelled testimony from Department of Corrections' employees and others to try to get to the bottom of a prisoner sentencing scandal.

The Nebraska Supreme Court determined in early 2013, in State v. Castillas, that the Department's way of calculating "good time" was incorrect. Some prisoners were being released too early. Department officials did nothing to change their method until the Omaha World-Herald discovered the problem over a year later and made it a headline story for months. Or so the scandal has unfolded. The State has since been attempting to round up the released prisoners in question and make them spend over 2000 additional man-years in prison at a cost to taxpayers of perhaps 50 million dollars.

Several state senators on the committee sensed that responsibility for the fiasco might rest at the feet of the Governor, who wanted to reduce prison overcrowding but also wanted to cut state budgets and taxes, hence no new construction to house prisoners and no compliance with the holding of the Supreme Court. Or that responsibility might rest at the feet of the Attorney General, whose office is understaffed and did not properly coordinate with the lawyers at the Department of Corrections.

But it became clear during the hearing that something else was at work: run-of-the-mill bureaucratic bungling. A call was not returned; an email attachment was not read; false confidence was placed in the idea that someone else was on top of the matter. When state senators began to piece together what the committee chairman called a comedy of errors, they were merciless in their condemnation of the employees. The employees did not help their cause, as most of them pointed fingers at each other. Polite senators said the testimony was unbelievable; one impolite senator called the Department's record administrator a fool, and baited the Department's former general counsel into trying to get him to admit he was incompetent.

The Attorney General himself decided to join the fun the next day, calling the legal staff at the Department of Corrections incompetent.

As a former Nebraska state employee, I'm not going to join the condemnation. Yes, the records administrator seems to have had one promotion too many into his position of responsibility, but the others do not deserve to have their names muddied forever. They were solid citizens who worked day after day, year after year, making state government work. They were public servants in the best sense.

Twice (long ago) I was a department head in state government. Every day I knew that something might go horribly wrong, and I might be held accountable because I chose to work on one stack of paper late into the night rather than another and something would fall through the cracks. But that was a risk I took every day, and I was prepared to take the consequences. If I was compelled to appear before a legislative committee, however, I would have behaved a little differently than the employees did yesterday. I would have said yes, I was culpable, and to every name I was called by a state senator, I would have said "at least" in regard to my action or inaction as related to the fiasco. I would have said I was there to take my medicine. If it meant rebuilding my life elsewhere, so be it. My words would not be cheeky; I would mean it.

One employee, Sharon Lindgren, almost did that. Clearly she was marginal to the whole affair, but took her medicine. Because heads had to roll, one was hers. She retired rather than being fired by the Director of Corrections (who, incidentally, was not disciplined himself). A senator asked why she did not fight the impending dismissal, if she was telling the truth of her limited involvement in the fiasco. She said she was not a wealthy woman and did not have the resources to employ counsel for the long appeal process and that she had her pride; if the Department did not want her services, she did not feel she could do a good job there. She is an experienced, capable attorney. It's a loss for the State.

In her last act as a public servant, Sharon Lindgren also opened up a line of inquiry that the committee would do well to pursue. What if the Nebraska Supreme Court decision was not thoughtfully made, and the Department of Corrections was right to resist implementing it immediately? After all, implementing it was a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose proposition. It would be costly; prisoners who had been released and were doing well would have their lives disrupted; dangerous criminals who did not want to return would resist, perhaps violently; crowding in the prisons would intensify; implementation might set off a litigation nightmare. State senators seemed to think there was no option but to implement the Supreme Court holding immediately, and berated those who did not do it, but were there no other options?

Sharon Lindgren informed the committee that in at least one case, Payan v. State, the Attorney General's office advised the Department of Corrections not to comply with a Supreme Court decision. She disagreed strongly with that advice and told everyone she knew that the advice was wrong, to no avail. If this is true, it is ironic, to say the least, that the Attorney General is calling Ms. Lindgren incompetent. Be that as it may, is there no way the executive branch could have brought an action to determine if the Supreme Court was fully aware of the consequences of its decision? True, the judicial branch may have quickly slapped down such an action but given the circumstances and what was at stake, I would not blame the Governor and the Attorney General for such leadership. After all, they are both elected officials who head the co-equal executive branch. This is not Andrew Jackson saying "John Marshall has made his decision, let him enforce it." (Which he actually didn't say, but might as well have.) Moreover, the way the Department of Corrections had been administering "good time" prior to the Supreme Court's 2013 decision had a legal rationale, the committee learned from a former records administrator, it just wasn't the one the Supreme Court eventually picked in its holding. And when a reader actually pores over State v. Castillas, it can be read so as to deal only with a mistake of a trial judge; there is no mention of how the Department of Corrections makes its computations. I look in vain for any clue that the author of the opinion (or his clerk) researched the whole matter concomitant with the implications of his holding.

If the executive branch is more interested in pointing fingers than leading the state out of this mess, there is always the legislative branch. A special session could deal with the Supreme Court's decision in any number of ways to mitigate its effects. If the Governor won't call one, the legislature can vote to call a special session itself.

One upshot of the fiasco so far, especially after the hearing yesterday, is that state employees will see how their careers can end in ignominy, with no one to defend their years of underpaid, overworked service. It will send a message to those who might think a career in state government is for them: Think again.

Theodor L. Steiger's Years in Lincoln

Lincoln -- In the previous post I mentioned the name Theodor L. Steiger, whose communication with Henry Chandler Cowles, the noted botanist and ecologist of the University of Chicago, is in the Chicago archives of the Cowles collection. Steiger spent several productive years in Lincoln, for which he should be better remembered. While he was conducting research on prairies with his mentor, Professor John Ernst Weaver of the University of Nebraska, he was also pastor of a church in Lincoln's South Bottoms, home to a German speaking population of Volgadeutsch immigrants. Steiger's son later made a major contribution to astrophysics.

Steiger did extensive research in 1927 and 1928 on Lincoln's nearby Nine Mile Prairie and its environs, which at that time encompassed about 800 acres. He had emigrated from Switzerland to San Diego, California, in 1910, at age seventeen. He and his wife Bertha, also Swiss, had two children: Mari, born in South Dakota in 1921 when Theodor taught at Redfield College; and Walter, born in 1923 in Colorado. The family came to Lincoln where Steiger was invited to become minister at Ebenezer Congregational Church at 8th and B Streets. He simultaneously sought his doctorate in botany at the University of Nebraska, which he received in 1929.

In 1930, doctorate in hand, Steiger became a public advocate for keeping Lincoln's newly established Pioneers Park as native prairie:

It took nature thousands of years to produce this grassland. It is a living witness to the countless ages which elapsed before the white man began to sink the glistening plough into the ancient sod. Not enough of it is left today to convey to future generations an appreciation of the prairie. Are we going to permit its complete extinction in favor of the dull and unimaginative blue grass sod?

Steiger left Lincoln in 1931 with a fellowship from the National Research Council to study Swiss meadow vegetation at the University of Zürich. He returned to the United States to teach at Sul Ross College at Alpine, Texas, in the Big Bend region, then joined the botany faculty at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. After World War II, he spent two years in Greece working on agriculture projects with the United Nations Relief and Restoration Administration, UNRRA. He returned to the United States in 1947, researched New Hampshire grasslands, and discovered a new orchid, to be named Spiranthes Steigeri Correll. In his retirement, he returned to the ministry with the Unitarian Church. His son Walter, who attended his father's South Bottoms church as a child in Lincoln, studied physics at MIT and at the University of Cincinnati and joined the faculty of the University of Hawaii, where he became known as the grandfather of Hawaiian astronomy for bringing space observatories to Hawaii's tallest mountains.

Rivalries Among the Founders of Ecology

Lincoln -- Nebraska, in particular its state university, can rightfully claim to be the home of the academic discipline of ecology. Elsewhere on this blog I have written about Frederic and Edith Clements and their legacy at the University of Nebraska.

If there is another locale and institution that could make a rival claim it would be the Chicago area and the University of Chicago. It was here that Henry Chandler Cowles made his studies of the Indiana Dunes in 1898 and led a department that produced many of the leading ecologists of the twentieth century.

Frederic Clements and Henry Cowles were contemporaries and collaborated on international botanical excursions. They and their wives participated in the first International Phytogeographic Excursion, which took place in the United Kingdom in 1911. They were co-organizers and leaders of the second IPE when it toured the United States in 1913.

This month I visited the Henry Chandler Cowles collection in the archives of the University of Chicago to look more carefully at the Clements/Cowles relationship, especially to see if there was evidence of a rivalry that may have influenced the development of ecology as a discipline. Evidence in other collections, namely the letters of Edith Clements from the 1911 excursion, makes it clear that the two couples were not on the best of terms. This apparently carried over even beyond the grave.

Henry Cowles actually had a strong Nebraska connection that could have been the basis for a better relationship. He began his teaching career in the 1890s at Gates College in Neligh, Nebraska, before moving on to the University of Chicago. During his career he was well acquainted with Nebraska botanists and ecologists. The Cowles collection contains friendly correspondence from T.L. Steiger (who worked with Clements' protégé John Weaver on the prairies around Lincoln) and Raymond Pool, another Clements student and longtime chairman of the Nebraska botany department.

But Frederic Clements and Henry Cowles were opposites in many ways. Clements was a driven man whose intense work ethic was influenced by hyperthyroidism; Cowles, especially in his prime teaching years, was jolly and led memorable class excursions. One account has Cowles running the aisles of a train in Montana barefoot with a liquor bottle in hand. This would have annoyed Clements, an outspoken teetotaler, to no end. Roscoe Pound once described Frederic Clements as a man with no redeeming vices.

Both scientists wrote poetry. Clements' early poetry was earnest in the style of Robert Browning; Cowles began writing devout Christian verse, based on sermons he attended as a young man, but as an adult he wrote doggerel that delighted Chicago students and faculty. Clements was an avowed atheist, whose own grand theory of nature could itself be called a religion, and saw himself as a nature poet.

Edith Clements was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska. She was also a teaching fellow in the German department. She conducted herself as a scientist on the international excursions and frowned on Elizabeth Cowles' way of forever making small talk among the traveling parties. Edith Clements, in letters now at the Nebraska State Historical Society, called Elizabeth Cowles a "bromine".

The rivalry between the two men shows up in an apologetic 1935 letter to Henry Cowles from Sir Arthur Tansley, the eminent British ecologist. In an earlier Festschrift publication Tansley had called Frederic Clements "the greatest individual creator of the modern science of vegetation" but privately he wrote to Henry Cowles, "I should have said that Clements 'had made a unique and indispensible contribution to the theory of vegetation rather than that he is the 'the greatest individual creator, etc.'" [Box 3, Folder 1]

On Henry Cowles' death in 1939, many letters of condolence were written to Elizabeth, including a touching one from Raymond Pool in Nebraska, but none came from Frederic or Edith Clements. Or at least none is in the collection.

What is noteworthy about the Henry Cowles collection is what is missing. It is a fairly large collection of over twenty linear feet, but it seems not to contain any records of the interactions between the Clementses and the Cowleses. There are good records of other travels, but none from the IPEs of 1911 and 1913, historically the most significant.

Perhaps some of the missing records are at the Library of Congress, which has considerable documentation of the development of the discipline of ecology. But according to daughter Harriet Cowles, Elizabeth took many of Henry's papers after his death and put them on the curb as garbage (at 5722 Blackstone in Hyde Park), thinking no one would have an interest in them. That may not be the whole story. Elizabeth may have been systematic in what was retained and what was destroyed so as to limit future generations' ability to examine conflicts among the founders of ecology. Early correspondence and love letters between Henry and Elizabeth, which were not thrown out, show them to be adept academic in-fighters when it came to Henry's career. Henry writes Elizabeth in 1901 that if his colleague Chamberlain is promoted over him, he "will raise a deuce of a row." [Box 3, Folder 5]

Why is this important? Both Cowles and Clements revolutionized the study of nature with their theories of orderly plant succession, sometimes called "dynamic ecology." Because Clements published much more than Cowles, the theory came to be known as the Clementsian paradigm. When this theory came under attack by Henry Gleason, who argued that nature was far more chaotic than orderly, Cowles largely remained on the sidelines. It could be argued that this was because Gleason had been a student of Cowles at the University of Chicago, but so had Victor Shelford, who collaborated with Clements on extending the Clementsian paradigm to all biology. Or perhaps Cowles wanted to emphasize his own differences with Clements over the direction and details of plant succession, which were significant. But the answer may be that Frederic, Edith, Henry, and Elizabeth just didn't get along.

The battle between Clementsian and Gleasonian views of nature goes on into this century, unfortunately with too little enlightenment from the Henry Chandler Cowles collection.

Nebraska Nutrition

Lincoln -- If I lived here year-round perhaps I'd get used to it: all the overweight people, that is.

Corn fed, indeed. Corn syrup fed, high fructose version, is more like it. I simply don't remember there being such an epidemic of obesity when I was growing up in Nebraska, or even when I lived here a quarter-century ago.

No one seems much to care. Three of us recently stopped at a truckstop restaurant on West O Street in Lincoln. Two "sides" came with each meal. I asked for greens. "We don't have greens," the waitress said. "Nobody orders them." Last month in Omaha we stopped at a diner not far from downtown. Same thing, no greens. At a nearby booth sat two young women who could have been the sisters of those fat twins in the movie Nebraska. They were both pushing 300 pounds. At a nearby table a grandpa and grandma, both wide-bodied, were treating their three young granddaughters, still wispy-thin delights, to lunch. The grandfather ordered them all extra french fries and taught them to dip their fries in a sundae, a green, foamy tower of liquified sugar in which he was indulging himself. "This is the way to eat your fries, yum-yum."

I asked the Omaha waitress how a diner could not have greens. Every diner I ever knew had canned green beans, or peas and carrots, or cole slaw. Those choices almost defined diners. She said I could have a salad, which I ordered. But it had no green in it, only the greying innards of a head of iceberg lettuce with a dressing that was probably thickened and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

The irony in this is that the University of Nebraska in Lincoln was once the home of one of the nation's great nutritionists, Ruth M. Leverton, who promoted food labeling and recommended dietary allowances (RDAs). More recently, unable to resist the fashion of public-private partnerships, UNL has started to combine its Food Science program with that of ConAgra, a private company that is a leading opponent of food labeling initiatives nationwide. So much for the tradition of Ruth Leverton. The UNL chancellor has said that ConAgra is the "perfect collaborator" for the state university. He may well be right in a way not intended.