Sentences to ponder

by on February 20, 2013 at 10:35 am in Education | Permalink

The president of Caltech, Jean-Lou Chameau, announced Tuesday that he would step down from the leadership of the prestigious science- and math-oriented campus in Pasadena at the end of the current school year and become head of a new and well-endowed university in Saudi Arabia.

Here is more.  The school is:

…the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. The graduate-level school enrolled its first students in 2009 and, in English, educates men and women together, to the dismay of some Islamic fundamentalists. It was founded with a $10-billion endowment from the oil-rich Saudi royal family.

The current endowment of Caltech is about $1.9 billion.  It is believed that Chameau will be receiving a raise in pay.  By the way, KAUST seems to have no social sciences or humanities.

1 Andrew' February 20, 2013 at 10:45 am

“It is believed that Chameau will be receiving a raise in pay.” So cynical. Maybe he’s going for the love of the science? Or maybe he believes he can do a lot of good taking the CalTech education to the people. Did you ever think about that?

2 pubis February 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

don’t be a tard

3 Andrew' February 20, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Okay pubes.

4 pubis February 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

It’s pubis.

5 Andrew' February 20, 2013 at 12:56 pm

As in “pubis on my Coke”?

6 Ray Lopez February 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Andrew’, that was a very KAUST-ic comment. Hey, I’ve seen a Saudi Arabian college of some sort near George Mason as I recall…let me Google it..found it! (“In 1988 a major reorganization resulted in the consolidation of the remaining branches into the main office in Washington, D.C., which was renamed Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the USA. “). So KAUST is presumably a step up from this DC institution.

7 Non Papa February 20, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Yeah, but it’s not like KAUST (or Caltech, for that matter) is bringing “education to the people.” They’re highly selective, are graduate-only, and are planning to max out at 2,000 students and 1,500 researchers. Including faculty, administrators, and staff, non-students will probably outnumber students.

8 Non Papa February 20, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Oh god, I took the bait.

9 Andrew' February 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Nah, I like your comment. It’s just so funny how what is so tacitly obvious is so often the opposite of the notions people express that we aren’t even aware of it.

10 susan schmidt February 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm

See this story about KAUST and their recruitment of US university scientists. “Saudi Money Shaping US Research.”

11 IVV February 20, 2013 at 10:50 am

Just a quick style point: It’s Caltech, not Cal Tech.

12 Jon February 20, 2013 at 10:59 am

Jean-Lou Chameau has shown himself to be a very adept administrator. This is a big win for KAUST.

13 Euripides February 20, 2013 at 11:51 am

It reminds me of line form a movie, “Show me the money!!” Say it loud with me right now, right there from your cubicle, let everyone hear it.

14 Todd February 20, 2013 at 11:54 am

If the $10 Billion figure is correct, that would be on par with MIT and larger than all but Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford in the U.S..

15 JWatts February 20, 2013 at 12:17 pm


Wow, that sounds incredibly expensive.

Endowment: $10 Billion Size: 650-800 students

16 JWatts February 20, 2013 at 12:18 pm

{slaps head} Darn I missed the obvious joke.

I should have said: Wow, that sounds incredibly well endowed.

17 charlie February 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm

I am curious why the Saudis are educating chinese, mexicans, pakistanis, egyptians and presumably indians. Also could be big in Indonesia.

Isn’t the STEM success of the IIT model based on lack of expensive facilities?

18 ChE February 20, 2013 at 12:44 pm

I graduated with a STEM phd from MIT in 2009. KAUST was recruiting very aggressively, with big salaries, generous start up funds for labs, tax-free arrangements, and first class tickets for travel back to your home country. None of my American classmates took the bait, although Chinese and Indian nationals showed interest.

19 mkt February 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Sounds analogous to Texas A&M recruiting from the MIT econ program in the 1980s. They had oil money which they dangled in front of the candidates. Most weren’t interested but they did snag a few … of the ones I knew I think only one stayed at Texas A&M, and he’d gone there as an undergrad.

20 Barkley Rosser February 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm

KAUST is the baby of the current king, for whom it is named. He spent a considerable amount of political capital to make sure that it would be coed and that people of opposite gender could be in the same rooms and classes with each other. This may sound like a joke, but in other higher ed institutions that are coed, there is gender segregation in classrooms and women are not allowed at all in certain facilities such as libraries (you know what will happen in the stacks if they are let in). Not clear how well its funding will hold up once the 89 year old Abdullah passes on though.

21 James February 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Not only does it have no social sciences or humanities, it’s math department is very heavily applied. At GMU, they at least make you take some pure math minor in your PhD to balance things out.

22 Jonathan February 20, 2013 at 1:07 pm

It’s just over 20 years since Benno Schmidt left the presidency of Yale to move to the Edison Project. Pondering that move as a harbinger of immense changes in public/private education would have left you still pondering 20 years later. Let’s see a few more moves before I’m ready to announce a trend.

23 Marc February 20, 2013 at 1:08 pm

The legal structure to the endowment has some unique attributes that serve to maintain the school’s stature as independent. The funding, in fact, was irrevocably moved to an offshore entity such that the government cannot get the money back. Yes, it has a board with evident “biases”, but it includes women and westerners. (Don’t know details about the land on which university sits, however.)

They make a very big deal about the fact that it is an independently operated, and remote “city-state” of a campus, and in that location, there is essentially gender equality. I believe (not certain) women may actually drive cars on the campus?

24 mkt February 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Could this university become the core of a charter city?

25 jjl February 21, 2013 at 4:00 am

Very astute, depending on what definition of “charter city” you’re using… KAUST is a few km from KAEC ( and there are rumors of them building a train between the two. The cost of that city will be about $86 billion. So KAUST (at a price tag of $20bil + $10bil endowment) will presumably be a research component of that.

26 Paul McKaskle February 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm

CalTech, while it has extensive graduate programs, is also very much an undergraduate institution. Also, until sometime after the ’60s it, too, had no social science or humanities majors. (I had a good friend who went there in the ’60s and the closest he could get to social sciences–which he discovered was his real interest after he enrolled–was electrical engineering. He eventually ended up as a lawyer.)

27 IVV February 20, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Also, no women, back then.

28 FXKLM February 20, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I’m guessing KAUST won’t be doing much in the way of alternative energy research.

29 JWatts February 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I’m not sure the Saudi’s won’t go big into Solar at some point. At this point they burn oil for electricity including water desalination plants, so solar directly displaced oil that can easily be exported.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Saudi Arabia is one of the few markets on the planet that could manage profitable solar power.

30 James Davies February 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm

From the article Tyler linked above:

“Chameau’s wife, Carol Carmichael, a former Georgia Tech researcher, also worked at Caltech as a lecturer in environmental science and engineering and helped on projects of energy sustainability. She reportedly will go to Saudi Arabia with him, but a Caltech spokesman said he did not know whether she would teach there.”

31 jjl February 21, 2013 at 4:03 am

Yeah, why would the kingdom want to do any research to accompany their $109 billion investment in solar energy (focus on PV & CSP)? Answer: a good 1/3 of their oil is currently used in-kingdom, and if they don’t move to alternatives then within a few decades they’ll be using almost all of it internally.

32 David H. February 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

With an endowment like that, you’d think that they could afford at least token economics, philosophy, etc. departments. Even though Caltech has no grad program in philosophy, they have a pretty great philosophy faculty, who are in demand in Ph.d. granting phil departments, but simply won’t let themselves be poached away from Caltech. It seems like a no brainer that Kaust’s first move as chancellor would be to assemble a set of (very inexpensive) social science and humanities departments. It would do a lot of good for the culture of the campus, if nothing else.

33 Millian February 21, 2013 at 6:22 am

Poach an American engineer, and he can teach the same stuff, whether in California or Saudi Arabia. Poach an American philosopher, and you may get more than you bargained for, if you are a believer in ultra-conservative Islam.

34 Bill February 20, 2013 at 3:07 pm

You guys seem to worshipping administrators, as if they invent, create or teach.

Is there a Nobel Prize in Administration?

35 JWatts February 20, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I don’t see anybody worshiping administrators, but I do sense some anger in your post.

36 Bill February 21, 2013 at 2:19 am

I just don’t get the significance of an administrator transferring from one school to another. Just a hood ornament.

37 Jack Fraser February 20, 2013 at 4:51 pm

No, you just get the equivalent cash prize every year when you win.

38 Thor February 20, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Didn’t Niels Bohr do a lot of “administrating” and “facilitating” while working on the Manhattan Project? Keeping egos in check, and noses to the grindstone, stuff like that.

39 Bill February 21, 2013 at 2:22 am

Bohr probably added value beyond being an administrator. Who was his administrative assistant who probably did the administration?

40 James Davies February 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Caltech got it’s start in a very similar fashion. It poached George Ellery Hale (founding American astronomer), Aurthur Noyes (chemist) and Robert Millikan (Nobel laureate in physics) to really get its science/technology research going in the early 20th century.

And while Caltech *only* has a $1.9 billion endowment, it brings in $350 million in research funds every year. And those research funds are based on Caltech’s scientific track record, something that didn’t happen overnight.

That said, I’m glad to see the Saudi royals funding science and technology. Now if they’d just stop funding religious fundamentalism.

41 Paul Johnson February 20, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Who needs social science or humanities when you have your Wahhabi beliefs to inform all of your decisions about human life?

42 zbicyclist February 20, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Biblical archaeology mostly undermined the bible. No sense taking the same chances re the Koran.

43 A Berman February 20, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Read “The Dictator’s Handbook”. Universities in authoritarian regimes never have good humanities departments because independent political thinking is dangerous to the regime.

44 Joe February 20, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Chameau has a non-monetary incentive too. Caltech is shrouded by expensive, developed real estate. They struggle to expand the campus, which makes it difficult to build new labs and gather more researchers. I presume Chameau will have a much freer hand to in building this new university.

45 Zach February 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm

“A fool and his money are soon parted” is the phrase that springs to mind.

For a research university, is the endowment really such a big deal? It’s not like that money supports research directly. Most programs have a very strong “eat what you kill” philosophy, with individual researchers applying for their own grants.

High salaries are a good way to attract talent, but are people really planning to stay? A lot of those deals are structured with a big payout after three or four years (long enough so that people can’t go back to their former schools). Also, Saudis have a bad reputation of paying more money to people from certain countries (like America) than others (most of the Middle East and northern Africa). You can really set off researchers from the smaller countries by mentioning this.

If I were running things, I’d try to be a regional power first. Hire younger people who aren’t established and can’t leave as easily. Try to be a magnet for regional researchers and build influence by having a big visiting program. Pay fair salaries to people from Muslim countries who might actually be interested in sticking around.

Somehow, Israel manages to do quite well with only modest resources. Shouldn’t you duplicate that before you start shoveling multiple billions out the door?

46 ad*m February 20, 2013 at 10:39 pm

No Israeli scientists need apply obviously. But because it is so much more important to push the “involuntary sterilizations in Israel” meme, no need to dwell on the former.

47 Douglas Levene February 21, 2013 at 12:54 am

During the last great wave of wealth creation in the United States, the billionaires of the day created many of today’s finest universities, e.g., Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Rockefeller, Chicago. Alas, the wave of wealth creation over the past 30 years has produced no great new universities in the United States. This is a pity. We could have had a Gates U., Jobs U., Buffet U., Ellison U., Dell U., Koch U., Walton U., Bloomberg U., Soros U., and Brin U. Yes, many of those men have given generously to various causes, including schools. But none of them thought it worthwhile to endow a new university. There may be an oversupply of higher education writ large in the US, but there is always room for another first rank research institution, and the US would have benefitted greatly had they chosen to follow in the paths of their predecessors.

48 Larry Siegel February 21, 2013 at 1:54 am

Ah, yet another reasonably intelligent comment from a man who can’t spell the name “Buffett.”

49 ezrfa abrams February 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm

not quite preciesly right
go to the corner of Main street and Vassar in Cambridge MA
on one corner is the Whitehead institute for biomedical research, a large building
On another is the Koch cancer center
On another is the Picower/MGovern brain research institute
on the 4th is a large building for Amgen or Novartis

Next to the whitehead is the Broad
etc etc
so, it is true todays zillioniairs have not been giving like before, but on the ohter hand, we now have a lot of universitys, so they have been funding res earch institutes

50 Axa February 21, 2013 at 7:49 am

It seems Mr. Buffett believes in people making career choices. Instead of donating to institutions, he set up a foundation to manage 2 & 4 year college scholarships

51 Dcdrone February 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Evidence of further decline of the cal-state system. soon even the flagship UC campuses may be affected.

52 Sparks February 21, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Lots of bad stuff going on with California’s public education system, but this isn’t one of them. Caltech is a private school, not part of the Cal State system.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: