Fran Miksa

I learned this week of Fran’s passing, adding another sad event to a difficult time. Fran was a great colleague and first-class scholar, one of the few here I knew by reputation before I took a position at UT. His passion was information organization, a subject he explored with zeal and determination to get beneath the rather moribund manner of its treatment in LIS. I consider myself to have received an education on this from him just through conversation and reading some of his later work that was far better than I might received in any class.

As a new dean, Fran welcomed me to the school by taking me out for drinks at my first ALISE in New Orleans. At the time he liked bourbon and cigarettes, so we might have indulged a little that night as we got to know each other. It sealed a friendship that lasted until his retirement and I know how committed he was to helping us evolve into a modern information school that emphasized scholarship, ideas, and research as befits its location in this university. Along the way he might have ruffled a few feathers in his determination to improve the doctoral program and to hold colleagues accountable to higher standards of research productivity, but I found his company and his support invaluable throughout.

Fran did not have an easy life but he made my life easier and improved the world around him continually. Students who made it through his courses or who graduated under his supervision talked of ‘surviving Miksa’ as a badge of honor, and indeed some had it printed up on t-shirts! He was smart enough to intimidate some but witty enough to disarm anyone. I consider it an honor to have worked with him and to have known him. Adieu Fran.

Remembering Bill Powers


I was saddened this morning to learn of the untimely death of Bill Powers, former president of UT with whom I had the pleasure to serve for almost a decade. University presidents are a magnet for attention and criticism, and in the public realm have to navigate difficult waters involving lawmakers, donors, alumni, athletics, as well as their own faculty, staff and students. One wrong utterance and people stand ready to pounce, to label and to blame for all sorts of personal and professional failings. The job is relentless and often thankless, requiring long hours, sacrifices and a thick skin.

There will be formal obituaries and memorials, but when I think of Bill, I remember one particular instance above others that sums him up. When UT was being harangued (and there is no other word for it) by a legislature that showed limited understanding of how a great university should function, he was called before officials to explain our research mission. One interrogator took him to task for our apparent obsession with knowledge, and, in an effort to ridicule spending state funds on humanities scholars, asked him if the world really needs yet another paper on Shakespeare? Without missing a beat, Bill answered ‘Yes’.

In that simple answer, I learned a lot about the man leading our institution. He went on to explain how scholarship worked and how any one paper might eventually lead to understandings that change the world, but we might not realize it upon first publication. The full answer was correct but the short affirmative initially stumped the questioner and landed a blow for the faculty at a time when local officials seemed determined to turn us all into job-trainers and contract workers.

I had the pleasure of recounting that story to Bill when the deans held a private lunch to recognize his retirement. There are many other stories, some of which probably can’t be told in public, but they amount to the same. He loved UT, was fond of athletics, and yes, he liked a drink with his colleagues, but above all, he loved and lived for the intellectual freedom and great scholarship that a research university provides. I used to tell him he was not really a lawyer, he was a philosopher, and I believe it. His view of the university and its mission, the necessity of delivering on the social contract our organizations uphold, educated me as a dean and influences my thinking still. Thank you Bill. You leave a permanent mark on higher education.

Gary Hoover on Reading and Information

Enjoyed the interview with Gary on Roger Dooley’s site this month as part of his regular Brainfluence podcast. Gary has close to 60,000 books in his personal library and has fascinating tales to tell of the information industry. And of course, though he talks about his time at the UT, where he was the scholar-in-residence at the School of Information for several years.

Bribes to fake poll results? Are people really that stupid?

Don’t answer that second one. News this week that someone at Liberty University (there’s two words that warrant deconstruction here) took bribes to fake the results of polls in order to suggest Trump was more popular than the data suggested. The Chronicle of Higher Ed has coverage, here’s a sample:

 

President Trump’s former top lawyer paid Liberty University’s chief information officer to manipulate online polls in an effort to raise Trump’s profile before his successful presidential campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The news shows a deeper relationship than previously reported between the president and employees of the university, a private Christian institution located in Virginia and led by Jerry L. Falwell Jr., a prominent Trump ally.

The Liberty technology administrator, John Gauger, also created a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, to promote the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, according to the Journal. “Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference,” the account’s description read on Thursday.

In one post reviewed by The Chronicle, the @WomenForCohen account shared a photo of Cohen, Falwell, and his wife. “Love to see good #Christian people on board the #TrumpTrain #Liberty #Trump2016,” the account wrote. The Journal reported that a female friend of Gauger operated the @WomenForCohen account.

Full story here: 

The only disagreement between briber and recipient seems to be how the money was received. Gauger claims he received a plastic bag of cash (how gauche!), which Cohen emphatically denies, claiming it was a check. Imagine…as if that’s the issue!  Netflix…we need you.

Editorial board uprising at Elsevier over charges

The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-owned Journal of Informetrics resignedThursday in protest over high open-access fees, restricted access to citation data and commercial control of scholarly work.

Today, the same team is launching a new fully open-access journal called Quantitative Science Studies. The journal will be for and by the academic community and will be owned by the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics (ISSI). It will be published jointly with MIT Press.

The editorial board of the Journal of Informetrics said in a statement that they were unanimous in their decision to quit. They contend that scholarly journals should be owned by the scholarly community rather than by commercial publishers, should be open access under fair principles, and publishers should make citation data freely available.

 

See the full story here

 

Elsevier reports that they ‘regret this decision’….I bet they do. Long live the revolution!

PSU Admin invoke weak charges against junior faculty member

The so-called “Sokal-squared” hoax took an unfortunate turn when the PSU administration brought disciplinary charges against the most vulnerable party to the research, Assistant Professor Peter Boghossian. Invoking somewhat flimsy charges of breaching IRB regulations on research, this story will run and run, but not for the right reasons one suspects.  Stay strong Professor, some of us are watching.

New Year, New (old) Books

Interested in seeing what’s now entered the public domain with the passing of copyright law? Here’s a good intro and set of links, courtesy of Motherboard. Can it be true that prior to this it was easier to get materials from late C19th than from the early C20th? Do you recognize any of those works and more importantly, do you care? You might, if you think about what it means to have access and when you understand that annually, from here, we will witness the extending release of C20th works into the public domain. Ah, the  world wide web…remember that idea?