The Secretary's LS&T Powers

Washington -- While I wish the best for the Obama Administration's "Gainful Employment" regulations, this effort should not be the only Department of Education attempt to crack down on schools (for-profit or otherwise) that are abusive of their students and of taxpayers. The abuse is well documented.

The Secretary of Education has powers under current law and regulation that are tailor-made to curtail the abuses. They are called the Limitation, Suspension, and Termination (LS&T) powers. An excerpt appears below.

Recently over dinner in Washington I asked a long-time, high-level employee of the department how long it had been since these powers were discussed at the Secretarial level as a remedy for abuse. "About twenty-four years" was the answer. It's not quite that long, but clearly it's not recent. The Secretary may not know he has them.

Title 34: Education
PART 668—STUDENT ASSISTANCE GENERAL PROVISIONS
Subpart G—Fine, Limitation, Suspension and Termination Proceedings

§668.93 Limitation.
A limitation may include, as appropriate to the Title IV, HEA program in question—

(a) A limit on the number or percentage of students enrolled in an institution who may receive Title IV, HEA program funds;

(b) A limit, for a stated period of time, on the percentage of an institution's total receipts from tuition and fees derived from Title IV, HEA program funds;
***
(i) Other conditions as may be determined by the Secretary to be reasonable and appropriate.

(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1094)



Necessary Surveillance

Berlin -- A recent encounter with surveillance reminds me of the frightful days of the 1977 "German Autumn", when prominent German citizens were being kidnapped and murdered. That was the season terrorists hijacked an airplane to Mogadishu and demanded the release of the Baader-Meinhof gang from Stammheim prison in Stuttgart in exchange for the lives of the passengers and crew of the aircraft.

Annette and I dropped by her parents' home in Stuttgart one evening in the autumn of '77 before driving in her Citroen 2cv (deux-chevaux) to France. Their neighborhood was under heavy guard, as the sentencing judge who had put Andreas Baader and others in prison for life lived there. The judge was a prime terrorist target. A few days later we were in Mulhouse, Alsace, on the day the body of German industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer was found in Mulhouse in a car trunk. Soon we knew that commandos had stormed the hijacked aircraft in Mogadishu and killed the hijackers, and that the prisoners in Stammheim had committed suicide.

Or were murdered. It put a stop to the hijackings, but Schleyer was executed in retaliation by the terrorists.

Last Sunday morning in Stuttgart, March 2, 2014, I drove over to the common grave of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe. It is in a remote cemetery down the hill from Stuttgart-Degerloch. It was a chilly, misty morning; the cemetery was deserted. I found the grave, took some photos of it (a white rose had been placed on the gravestone in recent days), and played Mozart (piano concerto #23, which could bring peace even to terrorists' hearts) aloud from my iPhone. After about twenty minutes, I walked back to my car. A police car was parked in a driveway behind me. Two policemen looked at me; I thought nothing of it. I started my car, they started theirs. I turned mine off to wait for them to leave, not wanting to be followed by a police car. They didn't move. So I re-started my car and drove off. They followed me about two kilometers, through a few turns. I finally drove into a side street and parked. They drove on. Most likely there is a camera at the grave to keep track of any admirers (or accomplices) of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Good; I am not one.

In Berlin this week I decided to visit the grave of Ulrike Meinhof, who committed suicide in Stammheim prison in 1976. About that there is also considerable doubt: she slipped a note out of the prison beforehand saying that if she was found dead, it would be murder, not suicide. A fresh tulip was on the gravestone, which is in Mariendorf. Again I took photos and played the same music. Nothing from the police.

But Ulrike Meinhof still has her admirers. Last evening at a panel discussion at SPD headquarters in Berlin, marking Frauentag and commemorating the "Women 68ers", a panelist suggested women had not found their theme until a few years later, which then led to the women's movement. A heckler in the audience shouted that Ulrike Meinhof had already found her theme. The moderator cancelled the planned questions from the audience. Murder of prominent Germans at the likely hands of the RAF continued into the 1990s, at least.

Sometimes surveillance and caution are necessary.

Misplaced Surveillance

Berlin -- Germany has every good reason to be upset at over-the-top NSA surveillance, such as NSA's listening in on the chancellor's personal cell phone and spying on trade offices that have nothing to do with terrorism. But some German government agencies don't have the moral high ground either, as in recent years they have spied on individuals and organizations which in hindsight were actually performing important civic services.

Take the case of former political science professor Peter Grottian of FU Berlin, who was under surveillance by the Verfassungsschutz, the domestic security agency. His important service, despite the surveillance, was to make public the secret contracts between Deutsche Bank and two Berlin universities (TU and Humboldt). The contracts specified that in exchange for financial contributions, the bank had certain controls over the faculty and over research in applied mathematics and finance. Public outrage over the secret contracts forced the bank to discontinue them soon after their discovery.

The episode spurred the formation in Germany of Hochschulwatch, a watchdog organization devoted to making public the essential terms and conditions of public-private partnerships at German universities. Using crowd-sourcing, the organization has collected information from about 400 institutions.

There is no such organization in the U.S., but there should be. American universities are targets of so-called "soft lobbying" through which the private components of public-private partnerships seek to control appointments, research agendas, and even research outcomes. There is no auditing of these arrangements worthy of the name. The public is kept in the dark.

The moral here is that surveillance is often misplaced. Get rid of the spies and let the public do the surveillance on public institutions. Sunshine is a powerful disinfectant.

Botanischer Garten

Berlin -- Today I am at Botanischer Garten in Berlin-Dahlem, historically for me a favorite place of respite from the outrageous storms of life. It is a part of the Free University of Berlin.

Who cannot be calmed by the beauty of 22,000 living trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers -- one of the world's greatest collections -- and the sudden presence of Blaumeisen, little blue and yellow birds that alight on one's outstretched fingers.

There are spirits here, too, among them the late Edith Schwartz Clements. She was here on a visit in 1911. Young, beautiful, and accomplished (Phi Beta Kappa and Ph.D in botany from the University of Nebraska), she accompanied her husband, Frederic, who with Edith founded the discipline of plant ecology. Edith had been a teaching fellow in German at NU and handled most of the conversation with the hosts. She made friends easily with botanists across the German-speaking world; some of the friendships would survive two world wars. Her 1904 dissertation is still here in the garden's library.

Edith was a friend of Willa Cather and Louise Pound. Cather admired her botanical paintings (so did National Geographic, which published dozens of her plates) and her writing. Scholars are now looking at the influence of the Clementses on Cather's novels. Louise Pound's brother Roscoe collaborated with Frederic on the leading phytogeographic work of the time.

From Berlin, Edith and Frederic went on to Dresden, Zürich, and ultimately Cambridge, where they joined the First International Phytogeographic Expedition, hosted by Sir Arthur Tansley, who would also become a lifelong friend. They were joined in England by Henry C. Cowles of the University of Chicago and his wife. Edith took an immediate dislike to Elizabeth Cowles, whom she described in letters back to the Schwartz family as a "bromide." (The letters are gathering too much dust at the Nebraska State Historical Society; they need to be put online.)

Edith lived until age ninety-six; she died in LaJolla, California, soon after she could no longer work at her typewriter expounding the Clementsian view of nature. Last year I tried to find where her ashes are scattered, to no avail. But Frederic's ashes are buried in Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln. They were unmarked; the Clementses had no descendants. Working with the cemetery, I arranged a marker for both of them with an engraving, taken from one of Edith's paintings, of Clementsia Rhodantha, a stonecrop flower.

Today I have no agenda here in the gardens, but I will keep an eye open for Edith's namesake plant, or Edith herself, should she come around a corner.



Stuttgart Celebration

Berlin -- Three days in Stuttgart, to celebrate Charlotte Rohrberg's 100th birthday on March 1st, has spurred many memories. Some memories are painful because Annette is not here to celebrate. But Oliver and Verity came to Stuttgart to join the festivities with their grandmother and many cousins, aunts, and uncles. I unexpectedly got seated at the head luncheon table, per Charlotte's wish, which assuages things somewhat. I am grateful for being considered part of the family.

The celebration started with an informal concert by the incomparable opera singer Helene Schneiderman, a family friend. She started with Brahms, followed by Mendelssohn, then Puccini, and finished with Mahler. Before the Mahler she sang Holländer's wistful song from Der Blaue Engel:

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss, auf Liebe eingestellt, denn das ist meine Welt, und sonst gar nichts. The knees buckle.

While fresh in memory, I'll list the main celebrants: Christine & Joe, Ulrike & Martin, Uta & Martin, Klaus, Diane (from England), Reinhart, Ursel, Hans, Marianna, Heide, Bärbel, Annette S. & Nika, Hans-Peter & Freundin, Helene & Mann, and a few Augustinum neighbors.

So that the event would not be overwhelming, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren ate separately and were hidden until after lunch. Then they sang and appeared one by one: Andrea, Franziska, Tobias, Jan, Timo, Oliver, Verity, Sarah, Leah. Some grandchildren had spouses and children along. It was superbly organized.

It is a proud and accomplished family. I counted three medical doctors, two physicists, one architect, several engineers and the like, one geologist, one social worker, a couple of therapists, a writer, two government administrators, one Galeristin, and a Politologe.

Oliver and I flew in from the States early and spend the day before the birthday walking where Annette and I had walked in the fall of 1977: through Rosenstein garden (it was the year of the Stuttgart Bundesgartenschau), the Wilhelma Zoo, and the great Wilhelma greenhouses. In protected areas along the outdoor paths, blooming forsythia signaled the coming of spring, and a new beginning.