Center for Ethics

by Henry on July 6, 2010

The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has decided to “close down”:http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=140864242594644&ref=ts its “Center for Ethics”:http://www.ethics.utoronto.ca/ for budgetary reasons. This is a _really_ terrible decision. I spent two very happy years at U of T. When I was there, the university had superb faculties in political theory, philosophy and legal theory, but had difficulty in building bridges between them (the university, for a variety of historical and organizational reasons, is quite decentralized). The Center for Ethics opened shortly after I left – I’ve been following its work ever since. It has brought these faculties together and built a genuinely world class institution. I know that other universities view University of Toronto’s Center for Ethics as a model to be emulated. Now, the U of T is proposing to junk it summarily, for entirely short sighted reasons.

If this goes ahead, I can’t help but think that it’s going to seriously hurt the University’s international reputation. When universities face tough budgetary times, they have to make hard decisions. But they should not gut their core strengths and competences. It is indisputable to anyone in the field (and to sympathetic outside observers to me), that the Center gives a body and an organized presence to one of the University’s most important areas of strength. Below the fold, I have a letter that I’m sending to the relevant university officials (President David Naylor [david.naylor@utoronto.ca], Provost Cheryl Misak [cheryl.misak@utoronto.ca], Dean Meric Gertler [meric.gertler@utoronto.ca]). I suggest that other people who are disturbed by this write letters to these officials too (be polite but clear). There’s also a Facebook protest group “here”:http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=140864242594644&ref=t, which has gathered nearly 450 members in less than 24 hours.
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Nothing succeeds like success

by Henry on July 6, 2010

The discussion in the comments section to my last post has turned to the old disagreement over the respective contributions of innate quality (however you want to try to measure it) and external circumstances to economic ‘success.’ Matthew Salganik and Duncan Watt’s research on cultural markets provides some very interesting insights into this question. “This paper”:http://research.yahoo.com/pub/2844 is the best overall survey of their findings that I know of. What they do is to set up a set of discrete artificial cultural markets, in which large numbers of experimental subjects listen to pop music, and rate it for whether they like it or not. All of these markets have the same music. Most of them have an effective recommendation system (in which subjects can see which are the more popular, and which the less popular tunes); two do not provide this information. Subjects are randomly assigned to different markets.
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