Friday, July 06, 2007

Foundation Solution & Great Apes Superiority

July 6, 2007, 6:00 a.m.

Great Apes and The Hustler Magazine Foundation University of Iowa

For some time now, Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine has been toying with the idea of a major gift to the University of Iowa. As any fund raiser knows, it takes time -- time at resorts, time playing golf and visiting over dinners -- to successfully bring home the big gifts. But I figured, hey, after all the University has done for me -- from my birth in its hospital, and through all the years since -- if I can help out in this way, why not?

The sticking point, until now, has been naming rights. Larry wanted to call the UI "Hustler University." The Athletic Department and Interim President thought this was perfectly acceptable. In fact, they were quite excited at the prospect of such a generous gift. We were even playing around with referring to our football team as "Those Hustling Hawkeyes" -- thereby diverting a bit of attention from Mr. Flynt's intended reference to his magazine.

But I've done some informal polling of the Regents, and it has been made clear to me that there just aren't the votes for that -- unless, perhaps, more money was involved. And since the Regents have the final say, and I didn't want to disappoint my donor once he was right on the cusp of such a gift, I sort of held off pursuing the matter.

Fortunately, we've now come up with a win-win solution acceptable to all: We'll keep "Iowa" in the name and, since the money was coming from the Hustler Foundation anyway, simply adopt as the University's new name "The Hustler Magazine Foundation University of Iowa." As everyone can understand, there's a big difference between "The Hustler Foundation" and a direct corporate reference to "Hustler Magazine." Brian Morelli, "Resolution Declines Blue Name; Faculty Less Opposed to Foundation Title," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 6, 2007 ("Wellmark Foundation, we think, is not the insurance company. We think there is an important difference.") But see, Editorial, "Even the Wellmark Foundation College of Public Health Won't Do," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 6, 2007; Erin Jordan, "U of I spot may sport Wellmark name; The $15 million deal would make it Iowa's only public college with a corporate-named major academic unit," Des Moines Register, July 6, 2007.

So long as the faculty doesn't blow this Hustler naming opportunity with their ivory tower idealism, the University may just find itself $137 million or more richer after the Regents' August meeting accepting the donation and the name. What a "welcome to Iowa" gift for our new fund raising President Sally Mason!

Just as a comment in this blog was the first public revelation of the renaming of one of the UI's colleges recently, so today this blog is the first to reveal this "win-win" solution in the naming of the University itself.

I was so excited about this accomplishment that I decided to celebrate with a day or so in Des Moines.

Ever since I'd first heard about it, I've always wanted to visit Ted Townsend's successful national center for great ape scientific research. I knew it was somewhere around Des Moines. But finding it turned out to be a little difficult.

I looked for the "Townsend Center" or the "Ted Townsend Center" in every local directory in hard copy or on the Internet that I could think of. Nothing.

After all, this guy has put more than $20 million of his own money into this philanthropic venture. That's more than we sell colleges for at the University of Iowa. I just assumed, since he could name it anything he chose, that with that kind of investment he'd name it after himself. Silly me.

It's called "The Great Ape Trust" and has gone from inception to operation in short order. There are a number of scientists on board, including researchers who've come from Washington, D.C., and Atlanta and found they like Iowa. There are 10 apes on premises, two buildings up and running, with more in early stages of design and construction. A major capital campaign is about to get underway, along with more formal relationships with the Regents' universities, other Iowa colleges, and a K-12 program. (My guides included a graduate student from Iowa State and a graduate of Simpson.)

Sometimes I think our only superiority in the animal kingdom is our quantity of human hubris. Virtually anything we can do there is some animal that can do it better. There are animals with superior senses of sight, hearing and smell. There are animals whose athletic prowess puts our Olympic athletes to shame -- and not just in running. Lots of animals make tools and engage in problem solving, and all have superior survival skills to us. I have earlier written here of the superiority of squirrels. Nicholas Johnson, "Governor Bill Richardson and the Natural Superiority of Women" in "UI Held Hostage Day 498 - Barbara Richardson & Friend," June 3, 2007.

This kind of respect for animals -- at least the great apes in residence -- permeates everything about the Great Ape Trust. The facilities seem quite grand compared to many "zoos" (which the Great Ape Trust clearly is not). In fact, they are superior to those we provide many of our own species in our country, where prision construction is our nation's primary public housing program. The universal single payer health care system for the apes is also far superior to that which we provide our own species. See yesterday's, Nicholas Johnson, "Sicko," July 5, 2007.

The research is represented to be, and certainly appears to be, "non-invasive." I'll leave it to the organizations that make it their business to be concerned about such things, but there are already a number that have put their stamp of approval on what's going on.

And what's going on is research regarding, among other things, the ability of the great apes (Bonobos, Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans) to engage in the one function we've always thought was limited to our own branch of the family: the creation, recognition and manipulation of symbols, otherwise called "language."

Bear in mind, these relatives of ours only differ in their DNA by 1% or 2% from us. It remains to be seen who got the better 1%.

For example, they can understand our language, but we can't understand theirs. So we have to create these elaborate sets of icons for them on touch screens they can operate at
about the speed of a touch typist. Touch an icon, it creates the sound of an English word for us, the less able species, enabling us to talk back in the English language they understand.

Nor is it totally clear who's researching whom. They are patiently trying to teach us sign language, but without really great results so far. (Sometimes they are seen to sneak off laughing after a session.) After all, how many folks do you know with normal hearing who have bothered to learn American Sign Language -- a very practical and courteous thing to do?

The Great Ape Trust has received the attention of the National Geographic, History Channel, and Nova programs. Internationally, the BBC has covered it, and yesterday a German publication, Geo, was on premises. There have been some print stories as well. But it is something that already is, and could become even more, an "Iowa brag" of which all Iowans shoiuild be knowledgeable.

Issues I see:

1. Financing. This thing can't go on forever funded by Ted Townsend. I would think it eligible for federal grants, but they are hard to come by these days. If we're serious about raising Iowans' "science IQ" state funding -- especially with ties to Regents' institutions, such as Iowa State or the Hustler Magazine Foundation University of Iowa -- might make sense. The capital campaign, if successful, certainly can help as has a $250,000 matching grant from Des Moines' "Bravo" group.
And the Trust's "membership" program can provide some funding, although it's probably much more valuable as an educational outreach effort and political base of support. (Townsend is rumored to have turned down Purina's offer of a $2 million donation in exchange for naming the Trust the "Purina Ape Chow Sanctuary." UI administrators have apparently failed in their appeal to Townsend to get him to accept the "Purina Foundation Ape Chow Sanctuary" as the name, citing the new ethical standards of the University in support of their position.)

2. Transparency. Given that the Trust is supported by the private funding of one donor, there's no requirement that the details of its operation be made any more public than they are -- which is quite a bit. But when it's trying to raise money from other sources, unless there is good reason not to, it might be useful to put budget details online along with the rest of its excellent Web site.

3. Research. I am neither qualified, nor have I taken the time, to try to evaluate the research being done: the academic credentials of the scientists on premises, their prior publications and reputations in the field, the peer reviewed publications that have come out of the Great Ape Trust during the first couple years of its existence, and how it fits with and contributes to the current body of literature. I don't think such research needs to be justified on the basis of "practical applications" -- but if there are any it would be helpful to identify them.

4. Conflicts. I have noted in another context that trying to do serious research while surrounded by visitors would be like doing hydraulic engineering experiments at another Des Moines institution: the Adventureland waterslide. One of the hallmarks of the Great Ape Trust's success so far has been its focused mission: scientific research. But zoos are popular attractions, and within them the apes and monkeys have always been especially so. Watching apes communicate with humans could become a "tourist attraction." I don't think that's what Ted Townsend has in mind (though I cannot know for sure), and I suspect it's not what the project's scientists would want. Building public confidence in, and support for, the project by permitting some visitation, while limiting it sufficiently to make research possible, is a delicate balance. The Trust has so far managed that relatively well, but the potential conflict will only increase with the project's publicity and popularity -- and the prospect of needed revenue provided by visitors.

So there you have the contrast starkly seen:

The Great Ape Trust (with no reference to "Townsend Engineering" or the "Townsend Engineering Foundation" -- or even the name of the sole private donor of over $20 million -- and no significant conflict of interest even if he did chose those names)


The Hustler Magazine Foundation University of Iowa administrators seriously advocating the selling off of its College of Public Health for a mere $10 to $15 million in exchange for naming it The Welmark Blue Cross-Blue Shield College of Public Health (with all the very serious conflict of interest issues that would raise). (Using the "Wellmark Foundation" instead was clearly a heavily resisted fall-back position.)

It's just another example of the Great Apes' Superiority. Great Apes 1, Humans 0.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the agenda of those in power could be exposed this late in the game.

Long ago the College of Medicine sold out to thee Carver Foundation. For 60 million Bob Kelch and his ilk of money-grabbing carpet-baggers patted themselves on the back for selling the name of a public college of medicine to a high bidder.

Of course the Carver Foundation benefits many things. However, selling a venerable school, at a public university seems way too mercenary.

Kelch took his ambitions and left, looking for greener (and we do mean greener) pastures and more money.

The agenda of these administrators is to honor themselves with buildings, and colleges, and books, and accomplishments. They need money, from whatever source possible. These sell-outs don't care who they get into bed with; it's all about money. They are willing to sell off a century of tradition for some filthy lucres.

Someone needs to look at the corporate financing of the captains of academia. The big names and the chairmen will list 10-20 corporate lines of financing. All at a public, not-for-profit institution.

Is it any wonder that drugs introduced by big pharma turn out to have bad side effects? The research path has been greased by the corporate dollars. And this is called 'objective'.

We all waited for the corporate 'other shoe' to drop at the Univ of Iowa. Now that the presidential search is over, the news appears to be leaking out.

Did those who would sell out the public Univ of Iowa win? Like Fethke, who apparently can go peacefully to sleep knowing he is a shill of the corporations, will the new president go to bed with big business interests?

How nice will the Wellmark-Carver-Cum and Go-Hy Vee-John Deere-Principal-Heartland University if Iowa be to attend?

After all, this is the stated goal of higher education, to produce individuals who fit right into the corporate-run profit dominated US of A.

Or so people like Gary Fethke and Dick Cheney believe.