What I Will Do When I Win The Lottery

Mega MillionsThis will be my last blog post. At least, my last for some time. For I have bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket, whose face value is reportedly $540 million United States dollars. I expect to win.

That $540 Really Big Ones, because of taxes and the structure of the annuity which is actually won, works out to about $180 million cash. This is enough. I will use some of the money to feed, clothe, and shelter me and mine for our remaining years in this phase of our existence, and the rest will go towards founding a college.

Yes, a new college. I have in mind something the kind of place which is a cross between what Isaac Asimov had Hari Seldon (another statistician) found and a middle medieval institution in the scholastic tradition (a sort of How the Irish Saved Civilization scenario).

In Foundation Seldon had predicted, centuries in advance, the collapse of civilization and the loss of culture. Although all appeared now strong, he warned “the rotten tree trunk, until the very moment when the storm-blast breaks it in two, has all the appearance of might it ever had.” He placed his gathering of scholars to a far remove, a place so remote it could be forgotten, a land (planet) where (as the Chinese say) “the mountains are high and the emperor far away.”

I have been told Beaver Island is that place, but I have been leaning on Samoa, which would welcome the infusion of cash, and which is always clement, and “hidden” such that I’d bet not one politician in fifty could locate it on a map. I’m open to suggestion, here.

There is of course a difference between Trantor and the West. The collapse of the former was organic, the result of inexorable economic forces, while the dissolution of the latter is largely voluntary with many in academia not just walking but sprinting away from their birthright, willfully making Lot’s trip in reverse.

Asimov had Seldon at his trial (for no emperor likes bad news) say “truth is beyond loyalty and disloyalty.” He unnecessarily prefixed the word “Scientific” to this sentence. This does not change the truth of the proposition, but it unnecessarily limits it. Science at this new college, yes, but not scientism. Scientism is the belief that all truth can be known through science, which is a manifest falsity. Indeed, the definition falls down upon itself because the definition is not a scientific statement.

Now to what will be studied. Did you not know that there are many, more than a few, universities in this country with departments of religion which have no courses on theology, the subject which Newman called the queen of sciences? Even if you reject all of metaphysics (an impossible task logically) you should be able to defend why you do so, and even if you claim all religion a nullity you should be able to refute its real tenets and not just restate cartoon myths such as “more wars were started by religion”, etc. The point is: before studying anything, one should learn why one should study.

As for the school entertaining a “business major”:

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Actually, there will be no “departments” and no majors. There will be scholars and students, chosen for their competence and not their credentials (some of us have learned the lessons of William James). In some scholars, there will be an extreme narrowness of focus, of sublime expertise. Others will mean broad reach and catholic tastes. Scholars will be judged on their ability to guide and teach: we recognize that true original contributions to knowledge in foundational subjects are rare. Scholars may only be dismissed because of incompetence, turpitude, outright criminality, what we used to call mortal sins.

Faculty to student ratio will be 8 to 1: no higher. Students, capped at say 1,000 souls, who are admitted based on their willingness to learn and whose first goal is not a job, will face a three- to four-year ordeal of guided reading and study, with only minimal lecturing. To graduate, they will have to find seven (plus or minus one, perhaps) faculty who agree that the student has reached “competence” in a course of study which these faculty agree upon. The student must corral these faculty on his own, and all faculty must have at least one (or two, of whatever number) under his wing.

As to funding, the $180 mill’ will be enough to build and leave enough of an endowment to pay the salaries of all for a good number of years. But more will be needed, so all students, who will pay no tuition but who must work in maintaining the college (cleaning their diggings and buildings, etc.), must on their honor pledge 1% (maybe 1.5%) of their future yearly income to the college. As our students would certainly be taught the meaning of “honor”, these monies will be enough to sustain the school.

There are many more details, but the money will give me the luxury of time to contemplate them.

There. This fantasy—mine, probably not yours—was worth the one dollar it cost me for the ticket.

18 Comments

  1. Briggs,

    Lest you fancy that we owe it all to the preservationists, let me introduce you to “How the Scots Invented the Modern World.”

    It appears that Big Tobacco was the mother of this invention.

  2. Harry Seldon was a Psycho history guru. Same as a Statistician I suppose.

    Nice dream you’ve got but I’m gonna win. I think I’ll devote the rest of my life to establishing a Twinkie Museum which will honor all of the Twinkies in the world.

    Tripping over a fortune will certainly inspire the students at your university. If the faculty have a protoge quota wouldn’t they be more prone to do the corralling?

  3. Not to nit-pick, but an 8 to 1 faculty to student ratio seems a little high.

    Asimov’s vision of the reconstituted empire was one of central planning guided by the infallible second foundation. That is, Seldon was too sure of himself. Later on, Asimov changed it to one controlled by a galactic hive mind; the ultimate socialist dream.

    For your refuge, I suggest Anticosti Island. It has a low population with plenty of room to grow and a climate that would encourage monastic study. I also bet that you could get it cheap.

  4. A new college. A Twinkie Museum. Both are good things to do. I have already won the lottery of being born into a good family. So… may Mr. Briggs and DAV both win the lottery!!! ^_^

  5. You’d have to be careful if you took all that money to Samoa — the island could tip over.

  6. I’ve decided what I’m going to do with the money that *I* — not one of you other worthy but hapless gamblers — win.

    It will be the the International Academy and Museum of Ear Wax, and it will be located in a resplendent facility in mid-town Manhattan (Kansas), right next to the Rock-a-Belly Bar & Deli.

    If future big lottery winners share my vision and donate generously, we may even open a belly-button-lint wing.

    And possibly offer an MBA.

  7. Today in Inside Higher Ed by Hunter Rawlings:

    http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/03/30/essay-research-universities-must-pay-more-attention-student-learning

    It is my view that most of us engaged in education at our nation’s leading research universities focus our attention upon the wrong issues…

    Fifty years ago, when I started college, there was a widely shared view in America that the purpose of a college education was to prepare students to become educated citizens capable of contributing to society. College was in the public interest because it gave graduates an understanding of the world and developed their critical faculties.

  8. Dr. Briggs,
    Let me warn you that those beautifut tropical islands are overated and get very boring after awhile. I’ve been on more islands than I have fingers, including Samoa. I spent years on islands and the boredom can literally cause people to go crazy. We called it gong island happy. One guy had a breakdown so bad we had to fly him out in a streight (?) jacket. Some guys took up drinking big time. You need a high tolerance for boredom when you live on a small island. When I was in the Navy I was homeported at Pearl Harbor. Oahu isn’t too small, but after awhile you have seen everything and it starts to become repeticious.

  9. @Ray:

    Hence the Fijian fondness for Kava.

    I’ve had a couple of week-long vacations on the Fijian island of Viti Levu It was nice to decompress, but even the thought of living there, spending the days watching your shoes turn green (with mold) and waiting for service in the local restaurant, would be sufficient to induce madness.

    Hawai’i, even in HNL, was sort of the same for me — great for a visit, but definitely not someplace I’d want to live. No doubt there are people who love it and just can’t comprehend a mainlander’s point of view. More power to ’em! But for me…

  10. Briggs,
    Look up a place called Freedom Wyoming.
    Nice little town in a hidden valley that as near as I can tell is only accessible from Idaho.
    Wyoming has no income tax and a whopping four point five percent sales tax.
    Your 200 ish million will go a long ways there.

  11. Nice try. It has already been invented; not quite as described here, but perhaps better. See below.

    “the rotten tree trunk, until the very moment when the storm-blast breaks it in two, has all the appearance of might it ever had.” — true, trees can rot from the inside out or from the roots up, so only experts notice it. Maybe even trees like democracy. A strong storm blast can take out perfectly healthy trees.

    “Scientism is the belief that all truth can be known through science, which is a manifest falsity.” — true, truth is beyond science. Yet, what truth can be found without science?

    “universities in this country with departments of religion which have no courses on theology” — theology is more interesting than religion, and spirituality is the next big thing, religion is passé.

    “There will be scholars and students, chosen for their competence and not their credentials” — chosen and judged, too old-school. The old way is to find the good ones; the new way is to make good ones. The new way isn’t very popular yet, it’s too hard.

    “an endowment to pay the salaries” — true, it is nice to get paid. Academia is spoiled in this regard and has been increasingly since WW2. The best do “it” because they love it; the worst do it for the money.

    “The point is: before studying anything, one should learn why one should study.” — definitely not. Before, I would have said show me why I should learn this before you make me learn it. Now, I would love to learn anything on spec, as long as I can abandon it whenever I feel like it. I would probably like a hint beforehand, not a full justification. Learning is fun and you can never run out of things to learn.

    Katie — good point. degree inflation ended that idealism.

    Ray: “after awhile you have seen everything and it starts to become repeticious.” — I’ve heard that about Hawaii. Some things are repetitious and remain enjoyable, such as eating, maybe surfing, but definitely learning.

    That (non) university which comes close to what you imagine? The web/internet. A place for people to form communities to discuss/research whatever: less formal, but already better in some/many ways.

  12. Outlier:

    “That (non) university which comes close to what you imagine? The web/internet. A place for people to form communities to discuss/research whatever: less formal, but already better in some/many ways.”

    Two rare admonitions from one of my grandfathers was never to take courses i found easy – wasting my time, and always try to spend time in the company of smarter people.

    Without getting into whether there is really any challenge to the second part, I must say that I’ve been enraptured by the quality of discussion on the blogs I frequent. I think I’m spending time with the brightest bunch I’ve even had access to.

    It’s seductive. It may also have lead to impatience with time wasted by people I imagine to be insufficiently thoughtful.

    Many thanks to the people who contribute here, and especially to you Briggs.

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