On a personal note

As you may have noticed, I took the summer off from my blogging though I will be resuming my occasional posts after Labor Day. I have been working on an exciting new project which I hope to be able to share details of in the coming months. I have also been preparing to return this fall to teaching at New York University’s Schack Institute for Real Estate. I will once again be offering the capstone course in the development concentration.

In addition, it’s been a summer of moves for our family. Our oldest daughter, Ellen, received her master’s degree from the University of Nebraska in quilt studies. She has moved to the Cleveland area and is the sales and marketing manager for Original Sewing and Quilt Expo which holds shows across the country each year. Our younger daughter, Annie, recently relocated from Boston to Baltimore where she is beginning a master’s program in public health policy at Johns Hopkins. Our youngest, Nick, just returned from a summer of traveling across the length and breadth of the United States helping manage Kick It 3V3′s soccer tournaments. This weekend he will be returning to Skidmore College for his senior year.

We ended our summer with the entire family gathered last weekend in Hershey, Pennsylvania, to celebrate Sally’s mother’s 90th birthday party. Marian is a remarkable woman who lives in the same house she raised her family in and is an active member of her community. It was inspiring to meet so many of her lifelong friends and neighbors during the birthday festivities.

Nick, Ellen and Annie in Hershey, PA

 

 

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MOOCs

I have to admit I hadn’t heard this term until I read a NY Times article on the phenomenon. I suppose that massive open online courses (MOOC) are the logical extension of online education. These courses consist of large numbers of participants scattered across the globe connected to one or more instructors engaged in an examination of some topic or field of study. For example, Stanford offered a MOOC on artificial intelligence that drew 160,000 students located in 190 countries. The 23,000 who completed the course received a certificate indicating their grade.

Even though course like this one have been offered without charge (and without credit), the next generation of MOOCs may come with a price tag. Udemy is one such start and is offering a mixture of free and paid courses.

These courses offer participants access to noted professors and immersion in a web of information and discussion with peers sharing an interest in the subject matter being addressed. While the courses may contain the normal trappings of an on-campus course – exams, lecture notes, reading assignments, they tend to morph into something much more free form that is a natural outgrowth of connections that crop up among participants. It is these connections that offer a very different take on higher education.

Are these course a natural reaction to the ever increasing costs of higher education? Will universities find themselves losing their best professors who come to see them as unnecessary middlemen in delivering knowledge to students? What does it mean for the billions of dollars of bricks and mortar facilities on these university campuses? As I accompanied my three children on college tours over the past decade, I couldn’t help noticing how libraries once the central feature of every campus had been relegated to secondary status behind student unions, sports and recreation complexes, and lifestyle dormitories.

To a great extent the very top tier of colleges and universities occupy a gatekeeper status of credentials for entry to becoming a member of the elites whether in business, government or academia. I suspect these institutions will withstand the competition offered by MOOCs, but will second and third tier schools be as fortunate?

Many have expressed concerns about the growing commercialization of higher education even on traditional campuses. Aren’t MOOCs the perfect expression of education in a mature capitalist economy where people vote with their feet (fingers?) and dollars. What bodies of knowledge nurtured assiduously over centuries will fall by the wayside?

I don’t want to sound like a Luddite because I generally believe the digital age has made the world a much better place and offers almost limitless possibilities for even more progress. But as someone who believes deeply in the importance of place, I am concerned about a world in which place becomes increasingly virtual rather than real.

 

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A landowner’s right to frack

Since beginning this forum several months ago, one of the biggest surprises to me is the extent of the controversy over tapping into the Marcellus shale formations for trapped natural gas. The land rush to acquire drilling rights and the ensuing energy boom throughout much of the northern Appalachian region has generated concerns in the environmental community regarding the impact of tracking on water supplies and air quality. Approximately 25,000 wells are being cracked annually and 4 million gallons of fluid were injected under pressure into each of those wells.

Hydraulic fracturing

Regulators have been caught off-guard by the explosion of activity in this area and have sought to play catch up for the past several years.

EPA has just issued the first regulations regarding air pollution emissions at fracking sites. However, the agency is prevented from addressing the more serious concerns about fracking’s impact on water because in 2005 Congress at the urging of Vice President Cheney exempted gas drilling from the Clean Water Act.

Some 200 local governments have stepped into the regulatory void and banned fracking in their jurisdictions. This movement is likely to grow with the recent New York court decision upholding the Town of Dryden’s ban on tracking there. That decision in turn generated a reaction by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York. The JLCNY’s Declaration of Landowner Rights calls for “a uniform standard for natural gas development” arguing that local bans such as the one in Dryden result in “a confusing legal patchwork that impedes private property rights, hinders progress and limits viable economic opportunity”.

It will be interesting to see how the struggle to manage this latest energy boom plays out among the local, state and federal levels of government. If history is any guide, the gas drilling industry will prefer the certainty and uniformity available only from the federal government.

 

 

 

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