大学排名与独中教育

十月 29, 2008

英国《泰晤士报高等教育》公布新排名,大马各大高等学府再次无缘前两百。这教育期刊自2004年起,每年便就世界各所大学的表现来进行评估排名。国大与马大曾榜上有名(前两百),但自去年起就名落孙山。一如往昔,各种相关争议再次纷至沓来。

这〈泰晤士报高等教育增刊─2008全球顶尖大学排行榜〉不尽是没缺陷。该份报告衡量大学的优劣,主要取决于大学好些资源投入的多寡,以及像是奖项荣获、雇主口碑与论文质量数量的评比。可作为高等学府立身最终的目的——知识的传授,却没具体的触及。或许诺贝尔奖得主任教大学能给予研究方向上不少宝贵的指导,但更多时候他们会忙于自身研究而无暇兼顾学生的需要。这是美国许多赫赫有名的高等学府所蕴有的问题。

如今,经合组织(OECD)期望通过新的评估方式来解决上述排名的根本缺陷。就如Andreas Schleicher(经合组织教育研究主管)所指出,与其假定大学投入更多的资源就必然有更好的成效,或是仅通过些代表性的绩效来评估,着重学生学习的结果将是更佳的衡量方式。这将于2010年首次推出的排名,其审核方式与经合组织在小学中学教育的评估方式雷同:抽样检测学生在特定科目上的程度。

这新的评估与排名企图解决这难题:纳税人在教育上的花费是否物有所值。这绝对有必要。完整清晰的评估,能及早让决策者看清人民的竞争力和受教程度,减少不必要花费,更好解决教育的问题。但,或许不仅是各国需要这般检测评估来认清他们的教育体系,大马六十一间独中也深需这一套。

华社向来不余遗力支持独中的教育。多少年来,他们不间断给各大独中投入资金维持其运作,让该些学府授予华人子弟中华文化与各科学问。但作为华教的最大资助者,尽管投入大笔的资金,华社却常时对华教教育的成效毫无所知。慈善与公益事业若是只有投入而没有任何的监管,对其发展从来就没好处。新加坡肾脏基金(NKF)的经历是最好的教训。

与国中生相较,独中生整体程度是否较为优?与其它各国学生相较又如何?各个独中是否经营良好,花费妥当,可有改善的空间?在相同资源的投入下,哪间独中培育出了较高素质的学生?哪间独中因不善经营而浪费了诸多资源?这些问题华社都没答案(印象上或几个个案的评比不能为作为这些问题完整的答案)。

还不仅如此。华社没法评估任一时候某一独中学费涨得是否恰当与应该,教师是否获得合理与应有的待遇。前者关乎所有华裔子弟能否平等入学独中受教,使独中不至于变相成了贵族学校;而后者则是决定性因素影响华教师资的优劣。

数字与评估能监管。而华社的资源从不曾无限。一个独立的评估组织和一份年度的评估报告,若能如经合组织所提出的审核方式来执行,这必将给华教具体拓出前进的道路。报告里头坚实的统计数字能减少许多无谓的纷争,像是学费的升涨。举个例来说,拿一间独中过去数年学费的升调,与当地过去几年物价指数的变化相较,能清楚一窥学费的涨幅是否处于可接受水平。

没有什么比数据更能说清事情的全貌。

刊登于东马《联合日报》

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联合报
二零零八年十月七日

普通话文教育该如何与时俱进?这是一个庞大而复杂的题目,有谓宜调高授课时数者,有谓宜增加文言文比例者,有谓宜「统整」教学属性者。这里头就能够粗分成两个主张了,一个我姑且称之为「锻炼派」,强调普通话文的基本训练,还是要从熟习传统经典、丰富行文炼意的能力做起,求其薰沐积累,渐进有功。另一个我称之为「拼贴派」,强调重新类化固有的分科学习,以学习旨趣勾合不同科目的知识属性。

就其荦荦大者而言,两个家派所坚持的纲领都无可非议。但是,一旦落实到第一线的教学,师生与家长又都随时面对着升学竞争,无论多么具有理想性格的纲领都不免沦陷于考试机器的碾磨。从这个残酷的现实面来看:「锻炼」一派所强调的授课时数、古文比例似乎无助于纾解学生的压力;而「拼贴」一派显然也无能自拔于那些花样层出不穷的评比竞技,最后仍然是以通过考核目的为惬心贵当,而孩子们还是要背着大书包、拎着小提琴、从英语教室或作文教室赶赴心算班。

在全球茫茫学汉语的大潮之中,我曾经应新加坡教育部之邀,去为那儿的中学生以及老师上了几天的课。大同小异的一份教材,也搬到南桃园的几位国中小学校长的读书会上分享与推广。这份教材原就是一篇一万两千字的散文,标题是「寒食」。

从一首〈寒食诗〉(「春城无处不飞花」),介绍唐代诗人韩翃和他的妻子柳氏的聚散离合,以及藉一诗而任官的韩翃究竟如何无奈地粉饰了唐德宗的历史形象。故事自然也旁及于安史之乱,点画出中唐以后的动乱和割据,同时也溯及汉桓帝日封五侯、大用宦官的背景。然而「寒食」的丰富属性尚不止如此,这个历来被曲解为晋文公强迫介之推任官,以报其割股疗饥之恩的故事根本是个误会,寒食节真正的来历是基于防范火灾、维护城居者公共安全的考量而订定的─如果我们不肯在客观知识的面前偷懒,还可以顺藤摸瓜地发现:古代的中国在一年之中居然有三个「大风起兮」寒食节。

通过这样一篇不需要任何一个附加页脚和章节附注的散文,一个接着一个有着丰富情节的故事以「寒食」为核心而辐射于历史、地理、文学、气象、民俗、政治和公民等诸科的知识属性。当我自觉又完成了一场精采的演讲之后,那十几位热情的小学校长却提出了一个非常现实的问题:「在第一线教学现场上的老师们能像你一样说故事吗?」

乍听之下,我还以为这是对我能言善道的一点恭维,然而我立刻从校长们诚挚的忧虑之色上看到了真相:多年以来,我们的师范教育者也好,改革师范教育者也好,恐怕从来没有积极培育过人们曲尽起伏说故事的能力。我要问的是:不能说故事的老师跟不会握方向盘的司机有甚么两样呢?

我们一向把听故事当消遣,说故事的人还不如杂耍演员眩眼呢。也正因为大部分的人不讲究说故事,当然就不能从叙述的结构里体会客观知识之间迷人的关系,也就寖失了深邃的联想与好奇,到了这个地步,通过锻炼派和拼贴派之鼓吹,来「加强某某学科能力」反倒成了不得已的时尚。

这信贷危机

十月 19, 2008

自由放任的资本主义鲜少落入四面楚歌的苦地,但次房贷之后它就不曾脱离那窘境。国会山无奈通过7000亿配套(TARP),保尔森打算入资大银行,美国近几周国有化经济体的速度,似乎更甚委内瑞拉总统查维斯。德国那鲁莽的财政部长宣称美国将不再是金融大国,厄尔瓜多总统认为美国的经济模式正是末期病发。法、中、俄等国则借机冷嘲热讽,不忘暗示他们的经济体制其实更优良。

另外,有无数民意简单地把这危机归咎于自由放任资本主义的贪婪和无知,好像这美国本来就该死。AIG高级执行员在集团获保后的豪华旅游,也给这危机增添反讽的效用。如今不仅是放任资本主义的宝座被动摇,美国民众对挽救各大金融机构的举措也各存异议。

但金融史早已给我们上过这堂课:大型金融危机终究得仰赖政府砸下大笔人民的花绿钞票,或入资银行或购买呆账,才能脱离险境,且行动越早越果断效果越好。就举几个例子来看。上世纪二十年代的经济大萧条,美国花了十年才恢复元气,当时政府在危机爆发后的第四年才有果断的行动。更近些,日本同样也用了十年方能从金融危机中复苏。该国政府当时优柔寡断的举措,最终给人民招致近24%国内生产总值(GDP)的高昂损失。另一方面,瑞典政府于90年代的金融危机中,迅速接管国内数间金融机构,却让该国得以在较短的时间内脱离困境。

如今,美国政府即将投入总值约7% GDP的资金来挽救经济,价格不菲但也不尽高昂。数据显示,挽救一国的体制性金融危机一般要用去纳税人相等于该国16% GDP的资金,美国现今的拨款并不算离谱。美国民众对将耗去的钱财有理由哀嚎,但什么都不做只会给彼此带来更漫长的伤害。

财政部、联储局和各大国的中央银行不是为力保银行家而拨出庞大的款项。自雷曼兄弟垮台后,银行间相互借贷的利率急剧攀升,金融市场上的资金自那时起便洛阳纸贵。过高的相互借贷利率让资金流动不再如往常般运转,金融市场逐渐失去其应有的功用。各个银行开始谨慎的放贷,企业难以获得贷款致使公司日常运作受影响。这连锁效应发展下来将造成整体经济进入停滞的状态。

抵押债权凭证(Collateralized Debt Obligations,简称CDO)与信用违约互换(Credit-Default Swaps,简称CDS)本为分散信贷风险而诞生。它俩曾是精巧的金融衍生品,用以保障借贷者,减少银行给呆账所设的储备金,进而推动更频密的借贷活动。但不切实际(过于乐观)的风险评估,特别在次房贷,致使许多CDO在房价下跌后成无价的废纸。而成堆因房价下跌所致的信贷违约,让提供CDS的企业(例如AIG)没能偿还合约要求的报偿,CDS的购买方也遭受相应的损失。

次房贷问题爆发后,银行间开始猜忌彼此资产的情况。过去疏松的条例允许CDO与CDS逃离不少的监管,甚至隐身于银行的资产负债表,因此危难时期金融市场充斥着未知:没人知晓各个银行抱有多少CDO与CDS这烂苹果。所以银行不愿轻易地放贷,只因对方(另一间金融机构)底细摸不清。还不仅如此,由于CDO与CDS过于错综复杂致使损失的评估异常的困难,好多银行没法摸清自己的状况,需要向其他银行借贷来防不时之需。

国家决策者的梦魇就这样地发生:银行家为要阻吓彼此借贷所以抬高借贷的利率。近乎停滞的金融市场迫使政府,或通过购买呆账来减缓金融机构的损失,或入资银行来给予他们足够的资金去放贷,以期重新回复金融市场正常的运作。疏通阻塞的金融市场——而不是拯救贪婪的金融业,才是各国救市的重点。

显然,美国未来有必要加强管束那放任不羁的金融业,但这自由放任的资本主义也不全是混蛋。这金融大国较为自由的资金市场,在推动科技的发展与创新上扮演举足轻重的角色。因为信贷风险藉由许多金融衍生品给分散开来,市场拥有较多的游资,所以投资者愿意冒险投身新的科技的研发,并最终推动经济的发展。这是他国所没有的优势。

历史一再上演这幕剧:当资金价格低廉时,金融泡沫便缓缓而生。不同时代这金融泡沫藉由不同的管道而生起,今天这一轮它的主角是华尔街。随着巴西、俄罗斯、印度和中国(简称BRIC)的崛起,美国作为金融大国的地位必然逐渐地式微。这场危机不过是旧问题重演,和资本主义走向尽头没关系。


刊登于2008年10月18日的东马《联合日报》

nucifera: 那些字句in bold真是精彩极了。

………………………………………………………………………..

From: The New York Times
Published: October 14, 2008

I have a friend who regularly reminds me that if you jump off the top of an 80-story building, for 79 stories you can actually think you’re flying. It’s the sudden stop at the end that always gets you.

When I think of the financial-services boom, bubble and bust that America has just gone through, I often think about that image. We thought we were flying. Well, we just met the sudden stop at the end. The laws of gravity, it turns out, still apply. You cannot tell tens of thousands of people that they can have the American dream — a home, for no money down and nothing to pay for two years — without that eventually catching up to you. The Puritan ethic of hard work and saving still matters. I just hate the idea that such an ethic is more alive today in China than in America.

Our financial bubble, like all bubbles, has many complex strands feeding into it — called derivatives and credit-default swaps — but at heart, it is really very simple. We got away from the basics — from the fundamentals of prudent lending and borrowing, where the lender and borrower maintain some kind of personal responsibility for, and personal interest in, whether the person receiving the money can actually pay it back. Instead, we fell into what some people call Y.B.G. and I.B.G. lending: “you’ll be gone and I’ll be gone” before the bill comes due.

Yes, this bubble is about us — not all of us, many Americans were way too poor to play. But it is about enough of us to say it is about America. And we will not get out of this without going back to some basics, which is why I find myself re-reading a valuable book that I wrote about once before, called, “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life).” Its author, Dov Seidman, is the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical corporate cultures.

Seidman basically argues that in our hyperconnected and transparent world, how you do things matters more than ever, because so many more people can now see how you do things, be affected by how you do things and tell others how you do things on the Internet anytime, for no cost and without restraint.

“In a connected world,” Seidman said to me, “countries, governments and companies also have character, and their character — how they do what they do, how they keep promises, how they make decisions, how things really happen inside, how they connect and collaborate, how they engender trust, how they relate to their customers, to the environment and to the communities in which they operate — is now their fate.”

We got away from these hows. We became more connected than ever in recent years, but the connections were actually very loose. That is, we went away from a world in which, if you wanted a mortgage to buy a home, you needed to show real income and a credit record into a world where a banker could sell you a mortgage and make gobs of money upfront and then offload your mortgage to a bundler who put a whole bunch together, chopped them into bonds and sold some to banks as far afield as Iceland.

The bank writing the mortgage got away from how because it was just passing you along to a bundler. And the investment bank bundling these mortgages got away from how because it didn’t know you, but it knew it was lucrative to bundle your mortgage with others. And the credit-rating agency got away from “how” because there was just so much money to be made in giving good ratings to these bonds, why delve too deeply? And the bank in Iceland got away from how because, hey, everyone else was buying the stuff and returns were great — so why not?

“UBS bank’s motto is: ‘You and us.’ But the world we created was actually ‘You and nobody’ — nobody was really connected in value terms,” said Seidman. “Parts of Wall Street got disconnected from investing in human endeavor — helping business to scale and take up new ideas.” Instead, they started to just engineer money from money. “So some of the smartest C.E.O.’s did not know what some of their smartest people were doing.”

Charles Mackay wrote a classic history of financial crises called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” first published in London in 1841. “Money … has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. To trace the history of the most prominent of these delusions is the object of the present pages. Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

And so it must be with us. We need to get back to collaborating the old-fashioned way. That is, people making decisions based on business judgment, experience, prudence, clarity of communications and thinking about how — not just how much.

By Bill Gates, 2007

President Bok, former President Rudenstine, incoming President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, parents, and especially, the graduates:

I’ve been waiting more than 30 years to say this: “Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree.”

I want to thank Harvard for this timely honor. I’ll be changing my job next year … and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my résumé.

I applaud the graduates today for taking a much more direct route to your degrees. For my part, I’m just happy that the Crimson has called me “Harvard’s most successful dropout.” I guess that makes me valedictorian of my own special class … I did the best of everyone who failed.

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But I also want to be recognized as the guy who got Steve Ballmer to drop out of business school. I’m a bad influence. That’s why I was invited to speak at your graduation. If I had spoken at your orientation, fewer of you might be here today.

Harvard was just a phenomenal experience for me. Academic life was fascinating. I used to sit in on lots of classes I hadn’t even signed up for. And dorm life was terrific. I lived up at Radcliffe, in Currier House. There were always lots of people in my dorm room late at night discussing things, because everyone knew I didn’t worry about getting up in the morning. That’s how I came to be the leader of the antisocial group. We clung to each other as a way of validating our rejection of all those social people.

Radcliffe was a great place to live. There were more women up there, and most of the guys were science-math types. That combination offered me the best odds, if you know what I mean. This is where I learned the sad lesson that improving your odds doesn’t guarantee success.

One of my biggest memories of Harvard came in January 1975, when I made a call from Currier House to a company in Albuquerque that had begun making the world’s first personal computers. I offered to sell them software.

I worried that they would realize I was just a student in a dorm and hang up on me. Instead they said: “We’re not quite ready, come see us in a month,” which was a good thing, because we hadn’t written the software yet. From that moment, I worked day and night on this little extra credit project that marked the end of my college education and the beginning of a remarkable journey with Microsoft.

What I remember above all about Harvard was being in the midst of so much energy and intelligence. It could be exhilarating, intimidating, sometimes even discouraging, but always challenging. It was an amazing privilege – and though I left early, I was transformed by my years at Harvard, the friendships I made, and the ideas I worked on.

But taking a serious look back … I do have one big regret.

I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world – the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.

I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences.

But humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.

I left campus knowing little about the millions of young people cheated out of educational opportunities here in this country. And I knew nothing about the millions of people living in unspeakable poverty and disease in developing countries.

It took me decades to find out.

You graduates came to Harvard at a different time. You know more about the world’s inequities than the classes that came before. In your years here, I hope you’ve had a chance to think about how – in this age of accelerating technology – we can finally take on these inequities, and we can solve them.

Imagine, just for the sake of discussion, that you had a few hours a week and a few dollars a month to donate to a cause – and you wanted to spend that time and money where it would have the greatest impact in saving and improving lives. Where would you spend it?

For Melinda and for me, the challenge is the same: how can we do the most good for the greatest number with the resources we have.

During our discussions on this question, Melinda and I read an article about the millions of children who were dying every year in poor countries from diseases that we had long ago made harmless in this country. Measles, malaria, pneumonia, hepatitis B, yellow fever. One disease I had never even heard of, rotavirus, was killing half a million kids each year – none of them in the United States.

We were shocked. We had just assumed that if millions of children were dying and they could be saved, the world would make it a priority to discover and deliver the medicines to save them. But it did not. For under a dollar, there were interventions that could save lives that just weren’t being delivered.

If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. We said to ourselves: “This can’t be true. But if it is true, it deserves to be the priority of our giving.”

So we began our work in the same way anyone here would begin it. We asked: “How could the world let these children die?”

The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and their fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system.

But you and I have both.

We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism – if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities. We also can press governments around the world to spend taxpayer money in ways that better reflect the values of the people who pay the taxes.

If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world. This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world.

I am optimistic that we can do this, but I talk to skeptics who claim there is no hope. They say: “Inequity has been with us since the beginning, and will be with us till the end – because people just … don’t … care.” I completely disagree.

I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with.

All of us here in this Yard, at one time or another, have seen human tragedies that broke our hearts, and yet we did nothing – not because we didn’t care, but because we didn’t know what to do. If we had known how to help, we would have acted.

The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.

To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact. But complexity blocks all three steps.

Even with the advent of the Internet and 24-hour news, it is still a complex enterprise to get people to truly see the problems. When an airplane crashes, officials immediately call a press conference. They promise to investigate, determine the cause, and prevent similar crashes in the future.

But if the officials were brutally honest, they would say: “Of all the people in the world who died today from preventable causes, one half of one percent of them were on this plane. We’re determined to do everything possible to solve the problem that took the lives of the one half of one percent.”

The bigger problem is not the plane crash, but the millions of preventable deaths.

We don’t read much about these deaths. The media covers what’s new – and millions of people dying is nothing new. So it stays in the background, where it’s easier to ignore. But even when we do see it or read about it, it’s difficult to keep our eyes on the problem. It’s hard to look at suffering if the situation is so complex that we don’t know how to help. And so we look away.

If we can really see a problem, which is the first step, we come to the second step: cutting through the complexity to find a solution.

Finding solutions is essential if we want to make the most of our caring. If we have clear and proven answers anytime an organization or individual asks “How can I help?,” then we can get action – and we can make sure that none of the caring in the world is wasted. But complexity makes it hard to mark a path of action for everyone who cares — and that makes it hard for their caring to matter.

Cutting through complexity to find a solution runs through four predictable stages: determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and in the meantime, make the smartest application of the technology that you already have — whether it’s something sophisticated, like a drug, or something simpler, like a bednet.

The AIDS epidemic offers an example. The broad goal, of course, is to end the disease. The highest-leverage approach is prevention. The ideal technology would be a vaccine that gives lifetime immunity with a single dose. So governments, drug companies, and foundations fund vaccine research. But their work is likely to take more than a decade, so in the meantime, we have to work with what we have in hand – and the best prevention approach we have now is getting people to avoid risky behavior.

Pursuing that goal starts the four-step cycle again. This is the pattern. The crucial thing is to never stop thinking and working – and never do what we did with malaria and tuberculosis in the 20th century – which is to surrender to complexity and quit.

The final step – after seeing the problem and finding an approach – is to measure the impact of your work and share your successes and failures so that others learn from your efforts.

You have to have the statistics, of course. You have to be able to show that a program is vaccinating millions more children. You have to be able to show a decline in the number of children dying from these diseases. This is essential not just to improve the program, but also to help draw more investment from business and government.

But if you want to inspire people to participate, you have to show more than numbers; you have to convey the human impact of the work – so people can feel what saving a life means to the families affected.

I remember going to Davos some years back and sitting on a global health panel that was discussing ways to save millions of lives. Millions! Think of the thrill of saving just one person’s life – then multiply that by millions. … Yet this was the most boring panel I’ve ever been on – ever. So boring even I couldn’t bear it.

What made that experience especially striking was that I had just come from an event where we were introducing version 13 of some piece of software, and we had people jumping and shouting with excitement. I love getting people excited about software – but why can’t we generate even more excitement for saving lives?

You can’t get people excited unless you can help them see and feel the impact. And how you do that – is a complex question.

Still, I’m optimistic. Yes, inequity has been with us forever, but the new tools we have to cut through complexity have not been with us forever. They are new – they can help us make the most of our caring – and that’s why the future can be different from the past.

The defining and ongoing innovations of this age – biotechnology, the computer, the Internet – give us a chance we’ve never had before to end extreme poverty and end death from preventable disease.

Sixty years ago, George Marshall came to this commencement and announced a plan to assist the nations of post-war Europe. He said: “I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation. It is virtually impossible at this distance to grasp at all the real significance of the situation.”

Thirty years after Marshall made his address, as my class graduated without me, technology was emerging that would make the world smaller, more open, more visible, less distant.

The emergence of low-cost personal computers gave rise to a powerful network that has transformed opportunities for learning and communicating.

The magical thing about this network is not just that it collapses distance and makes everyone your neighbor. It also dramatically increases the number of brilliant minds we can have working together on the same problem – and that scales up the rate of innovation to a staggering degree.

At the same time, for every person in the world who has access to this technology, five people don’t. That means many creative minds are left out of this discussion — smart people with practical intelligence and relevant experience who don’t have the technology to hone their talents or contribute their ideas to the world.

We need as many people as possible to have access to this technology, because these advances are triggering a revolution in what human beings can do for one another. They are making it possible not just for national governments, but for universities, corporations, smaller organizations, and even individuals to see problems, see approaches, and measure the impact of their efforts to address the hunger, poverty, and desperation George Marshall spoke of 60 years ago.

Members of the Harvard Family: Here in the Yard is one of the great collections of intellectual talent in the world.

What for?

There is no question that the faculty, the alumni, the students, and the benefactors of Harvard have used their power to improve the lives of people here and around the world. But can we do more? Can Harvard dedicate its intellect to improving the lives of people who will never even hear its name?

Let me make a request of the deans and the professors – the intellectual leaders here at Harvard: As you hire new faculty, award tenure, review curriculum, and determine degree requirements, please ask yourselves:

Should our best minds be dedicated to solving our biggest problems?

Should Harvard encourage its faculty to take on the world’s worst inequities? Should Harvard students learn about the depth of global poverty … the prevalence of world hunger … the scarcity of clean water …the girls kept out of school … the children who die from diseases we can cure?

Should the world’s most privileged people learn about the lives of the world’s least privileged?

These are not rhetorical questions – you will answer with your policies.

My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here – never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

When you consider what those of us here in this Yard have been given – in talent, privilege, and opportunity – there is almost no limit to what the world has a right to expect from us.

In line with the promise of this age, I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue – a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. If you make it the focus of your career, that would be phenomenal. But you don’t have to do that to make an impact. For a few hours every week, you can use the growing power of the Internet to get informed, find others with the same interests, see the barriers, and find ways to cut through them.

Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.

You graduates are coming of age in an amazing time. As you leave Harvard, you have technology that members of my class never had. You have awareness of global inequity, which we did not have. And with that awareness, you likely also have an informed conscience that will torment you if you abandon these people whose lives you could change with very little effort. You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer.

Knowing what you know, how could you not?

And I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent and your energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities … on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.

Good luck.

毒奶粉与次房贷

十月 12, 2008

次房贷危机爆发近一年,许多情况至今仍不见改善。在美国,几经波折后,国会山终于通过7000亿的救市配套,尽管没人知晓它能力挽多少的狂澜。大西洋的另一岸,情况也不看俏。短短三天内,欧洲七国就出手挽救了五间银行,多数以入资的形式来进行。这轮金融危机或许真是made in USA,但它如今已成了全球的问题。

在中国,三聚氰胺的问题还持续地延烧。更多小孩因肾结石而死,也有更多小孩的肾脏被发现有问题。另外,陆续有更多的食品或乳制品被验有三聚氰胺的成分。如今,这毒奶粉的雪球越滚越大,在不同区域演变至不同程度的信心危机——乳制品的信心危机。还不仅如此,各国百姓现在开始抗拒中国货,特别是食品与药物类商品。

这食品安全问题已不是第一次。一年前,中国出口至美国的宠物食品被发现含有三聚氰胺,招致美国史上规模最大的宠物食品回收。当时在巴拿马,约有一百人因服用含有二甘醇的药物而死亡,出事的药品盒上写着中国制造。另外,希腊和波兰同期也先后于中国生产的面筋和米饭蛋白中,找到三聚氰胺的踪迹。为此,中国政府当时赶紧颁布新的食品药物监管法,严办郑筱萸(药监局原局长),作为日后食品药物安全的保证。

但保证失效得极快。今年七月十六日,甘肃省政府禀报中国卫生部,指出好些婴孩患有肾结石,全都食用同一品牌的奶粉。但,除九月一日当局表明这不寻常现象的确源自某品牌奶粉,就不见进一步行动。八月二日,北京奥运前六天,纽西兰Fonterra接获中国三鹿相关问题的通知(Fonterra拥有三鹿集团42%的股份),并于之后数星期尝试谁服当地官员进行公开回收,最终却不得要领。直至九月十一日,三鹿才大规模于中国各地回收产品,总重700吨。

事后中国中央政府宣称,在这危机中他们反应果断且迅速,尽管外界不知那迟来的回应——七月十六日至九月十一日彼此间隔近两个月——该如何被视作是迅速的。显然,北京奥运前夕问题已浮现,官方却迟至残奥快结束时才有所行动,人们有理由相信,这“迅速”的回应是为了一个完整的京奥和残奥。

这显然不明智。毒奶粉危机与美国次房贷,在好些层面其实长得怪相似。都因疏松的监管而起,企业赚走了不薄的盈利却丢给了社会巨大的负担和问题。只是中国当局选择了掩盖,理由很堂皇:同一个世界,同一个梦想。尽管我们不曾梦想melamine能够这样敲打我们的生活。

如今,美国政府已准备就绪。未来的日子,纵然不能根除次房贷危机,那七千亿也总能缓和问题的扩张。未来更严苛的管制也将重建信贷的信心。但在中国,未来的任何保证,却再也难以挽回消费者那逝去的信心,还有已故的婴孩以及受创的心灵。给京奥砸下的无数人民币也全付诸流水。更可悲的是,京奥的辉煌配以三聚氰胺的噩梦,无奈早已形成一部充满反讽的闹剧。

正如麦凯恩所言:仅说“相信我”是远远不足的。

刊登于2008年10月9日《联合日报》,自由言论版