Saturday, May 21, 2011


Just as Bob had a secret dream about the LLM tax program at NYU, I have dreamed since grad school of getting an English PhD at Columbia University. I can't remember how that dream originated, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that Columbia is the home of the Pulitzer Prize.  These days I figure my getting a PhD at Columbia is about as likely as my winning one of those Prizes, but it was still fun to finally see the campus in New York City.  The fifth oldest university in the United States, Columbia was established in 1754.  It is ranked 8th in the world by Academic Ranking of World Universities.  Columbia alumni, faculty, and staff have won 97 Nobel Prizes, more than any other university in the world.  An interesting bit of trivia is that the school is the birthplace of FM radio and the laser.

I love the engraved names above the columns--Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, and Vergil--but where is Socrates?

The next stop on our Great Universities Tour was Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701, it is the 3rd oldest university in the U.S.  Yale has a $16.7 BILLION endowment, the second largest academic library in the world, and 49 Nobel laureates.  Wow. Yale was ranked 10th in 2010 by Academic Ranking of World Universities, although U.S. News & World Report ranks it 3rd. As far as beauty goes, in our books it is tied for 1st place with Oxford University in England. Oxford is a bit more grandiose, but nothing is run-down at wealthy Yale. It oozes old money, not old buildings. We definitely took more pictures at Yale than at any other university we have visited.


Next stop: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, founded in 1861 just down the road from Harvard University.  (It is incredible to think of the brain power in that section of Massachusetts.) MIT has a mere 77 Nobel Laureates and 50 National Medal of Science recipients affiliated with the university and was ranked 4th in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities in 2010.  I had no idea.

I loved this huge sculpture in front of one of the buildings at MIT:
Alchemist by Jaume Plensa, on loan to MIT for one year in honor of their 150th anniversary

It reminded me so much of this awesome self-portrait Andrew created in high school:
Plensa's sculpture was created in the last year or two.  I'm pretty sure he stole his idea from Andrew.

Our last stop was Harvard, founded in 1636 and the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S.  Harvard is ranked as the top university in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, and appears in the Top Ten (and usually the Top Three) of just about every list out there.  It also has the largest endowment of any university in the world ($27.4 BILLION in September 2010, and that's after a catastrophic $12 billion loss in 2008-2009) and claims to have the largest academic library in the world.

Harvard can (and does) boast among its alumni 8 U.S. Presidents and 62 living billionaires, the most of any university in the country on both counts. It is, however, associated with only 75 Nobel Laureates, which places in a mere 5th in Nobel rankings in the world (topped by Columbia, Cambridge, University of Chicago, and MIT), although 19 of those winners have been or have become faculty members.  Its alumni list reads like Who's Who in America and includes, among many other well-known personages, John Hancock, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, W. E. B. DuBois, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, T. S. Eliot, John F. Kennedy, e.e. cummings, Pierre Trudeau, Leonard Bernstein, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Yo Yo Ma, Tommy Lee Jones, George W. Bush, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama.

Seeing all these beautiful campuses and learning about their programs and their contributions to society has made me wonder why I never considered going anywhere but BYU.  I remember getting all kinds of college solicitation material from campuses all over the United States in the mail, but I never took any of it seriously.  I think getting into Ivy League schools was a little easier in 1978 than it is today, but I suppose our economic situation was a limiting factor, and in those days no one from my hometown ventured much further than Idaho for college. Going to the University of Utah for grad school seemed plenty exotic to me.  Now, however, I can understand the draw of this elite education. Wouldn't it be fun to audit a class or two at one of these great universities?  I would appreciate it so much more now than I would have at age 18.

I end with some fun quotes about Harvard.  Apparently there is more than one way of looking at the school.

Woody Allen: "Harvard makes mistakes too, you know.  Kissinger taught there."

Lyndon B. Johnson: "I don't believe I'll ever get credit for anything I do in foreign affairs, no matter how successful it is, because I didn't go to Harvard."

Frank Lloyd Wright: "Harvard takes perfectly good plums as students and turns them into prunes."

William F. Buckley: "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University."

John F. Kennedy: "It might be said now that I have the best of both worlds, a Harvard education and a Yale degree."

Dave Barry: "Harvard University, according to the directory of the American Society of Colleges and Universities, is a 'type of weevil.'"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Bob and I have been on a Great Universities travel kick. I think it started back in 2003 when we took Sam and Andrew to New York City. Bob had always harbored a secret desire to attend the LLM program at NYU (which has the top tax law program in the U.S.), and so he wanted to see what the campus looked like. It was unlike any university we'd ever seen before. Its main campus is next to Washington Square in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, and it almost looks like just another New York City block of skyscrapers. Without the NYU signs, I don't think we would have even noticed we were walking through a university campus. Although it was established in 1831, it looks very modern. It has been ranked as the 29th best university in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, but has many programs in the U.S. top ten for their category. For example, their philosophy department is ranked 1st in the United States. Unfortunately, if we took pictures I can't find them, so I had to pilfer these from the internet:

Then Andrew was admitted to UCLA in spring 2006, and we started spending more time at that campus. UCLA is currently ranked 4th in the world by the High Impact Universities rankings, 11th in the world by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and 13th in the world (and 11th in the United States) by the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The year Andrew was accepted, U.S. News and World Report ranked the UCLA art program as the 3rd in the U.S.  While UCLA is a relatively young university (established in 1919), it oozes culture, tradition, history, and academic excellence.  We love the classic architecture and the open spaces:
These steps remind me of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Seeing UCLA made us want to see more, so when we went to England later that summer, we visited Oxford University, the second oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world (established around the 11th century).  Not only is it incredibly beautiful, both in its setting and the actual buildings themselves, but it is so loaded with history and famous alumni that walking across the huge campus feels like walking through a world history book.  Among its thousands of distinguished and famous alumni are (just to name a few) John Wesley, Samuel Johnson, Percy Shelley, Adam Smith, John Locke, Lewis Carroll, Aldous Huxley, Oscar Wilde, William Gladstone, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, J.R.R. Tolkien, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and Rupert Murdoch. The university has had 57 Nobel Prize winners and was ranked 10th in the word in 2010 by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, although other ranking systems place it as high as 5th.

Dining Hall, Christ's Church (Setting of the dining hall for the Harry Potter movies)

Like our visits to NYU and UCLA, strolling across the Oxford campus whet our appetites for future visits to other great institutions of learning.

It took a few years, but we've continued our Great Universities Tour this spring, starting with visits to Stanford and Berkeley in February. Our personal tour guide was David Cannon, Bob's brother, who has degrees from both schools.

STANFORD, established in 1891, is another very beautiful campus.  We were there on a Sunday afternoon and the place was very quiet in spite of the fact that it has 15,000 students.  I think they must have all been in their dorm rooms frantically studying for Monday's classes.  After all, 51 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, the U.S. News and World Report ranked its undergraduate program 5th in the nation in 2009, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities ranked Stanford 3rd in the world in 2010. I'd say that's a pretty competitive university. 

From there we traveled north to BERKELEY, established in 1868. I always connect Berkeley with the radical politics and protests of the 1960s, so I was surprised to learn it is ranked 2nd in the world overall by the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Berkeley faculty, alumni, and researchers have won 66 Nobel Prizes, 43 MacArthur Fellowships, 20 Academy Awards, and 11 Pulitzer Prizes.   A fun bit of trivia is that Berkeley and its researchers are associated with six elements of the periodic table: Californium, Seaborgium, Berkelium, Einsteinium, Fermium, and Lawrencium.  But who cares about scientists? I love Berkeley because Gregory Peck is an alumnus. The campus was much noisier and more active than the Stanford campus, but possibly because the State High School Speech Tournament was going on, the same one that Sam attended twice during his high school speech years. It was fun to picture him walking around the campus, feeding on the energy of hundreds of other young, accomplished high school kids.

COMING NEXT: The Ivy Leagues