AirTalk's higher education summit

Wednesday evening, we brought together the Presidents of USC and Pitzer College, along with the Chancellors of UCLA and the state Community College system.  It was a great chance to put these four leaders in a room together to talk about the biggest challenges facing their institutions.

One of the jobs of a college CEO is to put a positive face on unpleasant trends, such as fast-rising tuition, bidding wars over “star” professors, and large cutbacks in funding for public institutions.  As expected, we heard some of that, but I was impressed that the panelists consistently acknowledged that the current model was going to have to change.

One of the biggest areas of concern is over teaching methodology itself.  Does it still make sense to teach introductory students by placing hundreds of them in a large lecture hall so that they can listen to the dot below?  Now that lecturers are competing with electronic devices, probably not.  Looking even bigger picture, is the physical campus going to downsize, as the need for traditional classrooms declines?

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Bob O'Rourke (1939-2011)

I lost a good friend yesterday – a man I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for 25 years—longtime VP of Public Relations for Caltech, Bob O’Rourke.  Bob was not only a dedicated booster of Caltech; he was always working to connect people he knew when their interests intersected.  He was a matchmaker in every area but romance (as far as I knew).

I last visited Bob about two weeks ago and, even as his body was failing, his robust personality was fully there.  He was interested in connecting me with an acquaintance of his who was doing significant philanthropic work in our area.  His mind never stopped working.

Bob also dedicated his last years to furthering research into the treatment of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, the disease that eventually took his life.  He joined me on “AirTalk” just over a year ago to talk about how he was diagnosed with the illness and little is known about its causes.

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When best laid plans go potluck

Tuesday morning on “AirTalk,” one of our planned segments completely fell apart just a few minutes before airtime.  Though that’s not unheard of, fortunately, it’s fairly rare.  We usually have at least 45-minutes to book an open segment.

Faced with a gaping half-hour hole in our show, I revisited an idea that I’d dismissed the day before from our producer, Katie Sprenger.  That suggestion, which I thought would have only limited appeal to listeners, led to an impassioned on-air and online conversation.

Katie had been complaining about spending hours cooking a turkey for her child’s daycare potluck, only to see some of the other food having been purchased at restaurants or supermarkets.  To Katie, “potluck” means it should be handmade by the participant, not purchased. 

I was surprised by Katie’s take, as I figured the quality of the food was the issue, not where it came from.  However, Katie went so far as to say it’s better to have something of lesser quality that’s personally cooked or baked than a higher-quality item that’s purchased.

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A music lover's dream

That’s what I experienced last week at the historic recording stage at Sony Pictures in Culver City.  The stage was where musical soundtracks for numerous classic MGM films were recorded, including “The Wizard of Oz.” 

I was there at the invitation of Academy Award-winning composer Michael Giacchino, who was recording the score for next year’s Disney action release, “John Carter.”  The film is adapted from a series written by “Tarzan” creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Giacchino had an orchestra of over 100 musicians, being recorded in-synch with scenes from the film.  Time-coded sections of the movie were projected onto a huge screen at the back of the room, facing the conductor. 

Given how rarely full orchestras are recorded with all the musicians together at the same time, it was particularly fun to see.  Standing in various parts of the room, with the orchestra playing around me, was an experience I won’t forget. 

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A powerless couple of days

Two of our four “AirTalk” producers, and our technical director, were still without power in their homes Friday morning, after Wednesday night’s historically high winds hit parts of the Southland.  They’re representative of thousands of our listeners who are trying to cope with outages.

Hopefully, this is a good reminder of our vulnerability to a major earthquake, which could leave us without electricity or safe running water for weeks.  With this outage, there were at least places to go that had power.  In a big quake, we’ll be on our own.

As I was working around the lack of electricity at our home, I took it as a challenge to get our household better prepared for a natural disaster.  Maybe this time I’ll thoroughly follow through.

If you’ve seriously prepared for a disaster, was there a particular event that prodded you?

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