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greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement

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Shouldn't the best universities be in the best cities?

Can we agree that the best universities in America are Harvard and Stanford. Can we also agree that the top cities are Los Angeles and New York? Wouldn't one expect that the best universities would be in the best cities? Wonder why they're not.

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  • Jun 23 2013: The best universities will be where the best long-term strategy for employing talented teachers/professors exists. The most talented teachers will draw the most talented students, assuming the freedom of choice and academic competition. The most talented students will likely learn the most and perform the best in the workplace, either as employees, entrepreneurs, industry leaders, artists or similar stand-outs in their chosen field of study or profession. As competitors and employers analyze the differences in the best employees, and are able to attribute some of these differences to the quality of the college education received, then the reputation for being the best university grows. It is the reputation gained by the opinion of these customers (in this case employers) that makes a difference. The rest is mostly personal opinion.

    The location no doubt makes a difference in a top teacher's decision about where to teach, but it is probably not top on the list. Were I a top teacher, I would want to balance other information with location, such as: Where my time was going to make the biggest difference to students? Where was my best opportunity to become a better teacher through education and further study? Where is the best pay to lifestyle benefit offered? Where am I going to be the happiest? and possibly, 'Where am I most likely to grow and advance as a teacher/researcher?'

    Many of these are the same questions facing top students and leaders of other industries as they make career choices. How these questions are weighted is largely personal preference.
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      Jun 23 2013: This is, in my opinion, an astute analysis. The one area which I think is somewhat skewed is that the research opportunities a position affords would be an extremely high priority, and often the highest priority, for a top professor/scholar, particularly one whose work requires substantial physical facilities. The opportunity to become a better teacher is probably less of a priority than the opportunity to teach students with a lot of interest and potential in the person's field.
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        Jun 23 2013: Fritz, see what you think of my reply to Robert here.
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      Jun 23 2013: but still, wouldn't one think that the most stimulating workplaces for a top teacher would be in, or near, the most stimulating cities, Boston and San Francisco, which Harvard and Stanford are near, are great cities, but I don't think anyone would claim that they have the same number of top creative people, in many fields, as L.A. and New York.
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        Jun 23 2013: I would much rather teach in Cambridge or Palo Alto/SF than in LA or NY.
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          Jun 24 2013: Now, Fritzie, you are understanding that I didn't word my question perfectly, when I said in LA or NY I meant in or near. So you would prefer to be near Boston or SF? Care to say why?

          My mom was pointing out that when these universities were established, century and more ago, perhaps Boston and SF were more important than LA or NY. That might partially answer my question, but I would still think that as LA and NY became important, the academic elite would gravitate there. Perhaps read my answer to Billy Zhang here, and share your thoughts?
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    Jun 23 2013: Personally speaking, university needs a relatively qiuet place so that it can devote itself to academic research, rather than the bothersome commercial elements. Thus, good universities shouldn't always in the developed areas.
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      Jun 23 2013: Yes, thanks, Billy, well, I didn't necessarily mean in, I should have said in, or near. What I'm getting at is, Stanford is the best university on the West Coast of the States, and it is near San Francisco. San Francisco is a great city, but not as great as Los Angeles. Logically, I would expect Stanford, the greatest West Coast university, to be near Los Angeles, the greatest West Coast city. What do you think?
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        Jun 24 2013: Do you mean that such stimulating cities will make the university more attractive to the talents in many fields ,which do benefit the university in many ways. Well, it's indeed a factor that people take into consideration when they are about to attend universities. And I think that such excellent universities have already considered the academic atmosphere and the economic advantages so that they choose second-tier cities as the ideal location, such as San Francisco. Because such cities' economic strength is strong enough to provide the universities with all the facilities they needs meanwhile the commercial elements in the cities won't cause too much interference to the normal academic research in the universities.
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          Jun 24 2013: Yes, exactly, that such stimulating cities will make the university more attractive to talent in many fields. You keep saying, B, that commercial elements potentially interfere with research. Can you tell me what you mean here, I see commercial elements more intertwined with research, that they stimulate each other, most commercial activity begins with research, and most research is done with an eye to the research having commercial usefulness.
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        Jun 24 2013: Sorry, I haven't express myself clearly. I totally agree with your idea that economy and academic research can stimulate each other in many fields. What I refer as "commercial elements" here are bothersome things like commerical advertisements and free vip cards for karaoke bar, which will distract our attention on some level. Maybe I'm somewhat overstating the bad effect. But I truly don't want to see such things everywhere in my university.So, I still think that university should keep a distance from the commercial things to ensure a fine academic atmosphere.
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          Jun 24 2013: When you mention those bothersome things, Billy, do you mean that they appear on campus, or that they appear in the community around the campus? I have visited a number of campuses, and I have found that they are all "clean." For example, USC is a well-known university right in the urban part of Los Angeles. The campus itself is "clean," it is not flooded with bothersome promotions, but of course if you walk into the area around it you will see many advertisements.
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        Jun 24 2013: yeah, right on the campus, though there may not be too much. Maybe the rules in your university are more strict than those in mine. In the campus, you can see trade marks on the court, commercial advertisement board beside the road and sometimes you can even see salesman distribute leaflets in front of the canteen....I fell sick when seeing such things. I sense that maybe it has something with the commercial environment around the campus and how I wish that the god could take such things away..away
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          Jun 24 2013: Well, okay, Billy, I'm sorry you're experiencing it that way. What I'm getting at in this conversation is a little different. If you look at our west coast of United states, you will see that the best university is Stanford, which is near San Francisco, about four hundred miles north of Los Angeles. And you will see that the top city is Los Angeles, in terms of how creative and productive and influential it is. So my question is, wouldn't a person expect the top university to be located near Los Angeles rather than near San Francisco? It's not a question of whether they are in the city or a few miles from the city, it's more that where you have the top university you would think it would be near the top city, but in this case, for some reason, it is not.
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    Jun 23 2013: On what basis those ranking are done ?
    What makes an university best , similarly what makes a city best ?
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      Jun 24 2013: Salim, in my case it's based on the having lived in the United States for 53 years, having talked to and met all kinds of people and been exposed to all kinds of information about different cities and universities, having actually attended Stanford. There could be other ways to make a judgement.

      What would make a university best? Probably the amount of creativity and productivity emerging from it, the talent and intelligence of the people there, and their work. Similarly with a city, one might add the physical environment of the city, some people love Los Angeles for the weather.
  • Jul 6 2013: I think you might be confusing best cities with biggest cities. Surely there are better cities in the US than los angeles.
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      Jul 6 2013: well, I live here, and I love it, think of what Los Angeles has, the movie industry, music industry, beach, ocean, and surfing culture, fashion influence, interesting desert ambience, original Disneyland, architecture influence. With New York, you can mention that literature is really centered there, and the modeling industry. I don't see other cities having anything that matches those two.
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    Jul 6 2013: I can't agree with either of your premises so go ahead, put Stanford and Harvard where you want. I wonder why on earth anyone would want to do that.
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      Jul 6 2013: Well, Linda, what cities in the U.S. do you think are better than NY and LA, and what universities better than Stanford & Harvard?
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        Jul 15 2013: Depends on your definition of best. I think Chicago and San Francisco are the best cities. I think the best universities are the ones that educate entire states, not high income hyper-ego students. But maybe that is your idea of best.
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          Jul 19 2013: Well, Linda, I posed this as a question, not as a debate, but may I ask why you think Chicago and SF are the best? They are great cities, but gee, when I think of L.A. as the national and even world capitol of the music and movie industries, and New York tops for modeling and publishing, I can't quite place Chi-town and San Fran in the same league.

          High income hyper-ego students maybe, but super-creative and productive definitely. When you say the best universities are the ones that educate entire states, do you mean state university systems, such as the University of California system that includes UCLA. Very respectable, but not the same level of creativity and contribution as a Stanford or Harvard. Gee, think of the American presidents that went to these, I know Bush Jr. went to Harvard and Obama taught there.
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    Jun 24 2013: Like many industries education tends to form enclaves where the major players are close together. (silicon valley) (bicycle factories in Taiwan). If I was a top educator I would be attracted to an area where there were many possible employers to maximise my ability to negotiate good pay and conditions.
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    Jun 23 2013: There is no logical, necessary, connection between the competitive/comparative ranking of a city and the institutions of higher learning located in that city. You also have the problem of using the very elusive quality called "best" in the equation. Students need inexpensive housing and food which the "best" (L.A., N.Y.C.) cities do not provide. College towns are typically not industrial/commercial/cultural/economic hotbeds. So, no, the "best" colleges and universities do not need to be located in the "best" cities.
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      Jun 23 2013: well, e, I did mean in or near. Yeah, I don't know about the cost-of-living argument, I lived in Redwood City near Stanford after I graduated, and I've lived in various parts of L.A., and I found the cost of living about equal.
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    Jun 23 2013: I don't think there is consensus those are the top two universities or the top two cities. If you look online at university rankings, you will see some variety rather than just those two. If you look at the most livable cities, you will also see different answers.

    Why should the best universities be in the "best" cities? Stanford is an hour from San Francisco. Princeton is an hour from NY, as is Yale.Their separation from intense urban distraction is part of their atmosphere and appeal.

    Oxford and Cambridge are not in London but not far from it either.

    To many people, a city is more livable if there are not lots of college students pouring in daily or all over the place. Others love college towns best.

    Of course Los Angeles and New York do have great elite universities. For example, UCLA is in Los Angeles and Columbia is in New York.
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      Jun 23 2013: Well, F, when I said "in," I meant in or near. But although Princeton and Yale are great schools, isn't Harvard still a cut above, creme de la creme? Harvard is near Boston, a great city, but surely most would say New York is even greater, that there is even greater creativity and influence there (TED, for example, is HQ'd there). I still would have expected Harvard to be in or near New York, logically. Do you still maintain not?
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        Jun 23 2013: I think different people would call it differently among these schools. I think many people would consider New York more of a creative hot bed than Boston, with the noteworthy exception of the universities in Cambridge- both Harvard and MIT, plus a nearby technology corridor.

        You went to Stanford. Didn't you think the beautiful, secluded Mediterranean style "Farm" offered a great ambiance for learning Could you imagine transplanting that campus into NY or SF?

        Would you have preferred a really urban campus?
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          Jun 24 2013: Well, again, Fritzie, I apologize for wording my question a little too loosely. When I said "in," I did mean in or near. As an 18-year-old, I didn't think about this question too much. I enjoyed being near San Francisco, but for me it is unusual, because I was born and grew up in Los Angeles, thus SF was a welcome change, this wouldn't be true for most of the students at Stanford.

          Probably now, if I were a professor and could teach at two excellent universities, one being near San Fran and one being near LA, I would choose LA, because it's really exciting here. You have the film industry, the music industry, the interesting/beautiful desert ambience, we have a big effect on the fashion industry with our beach style, you have your beaches and beach culture, you have the original Disneyland...it's a long and exciting list, it doesn't seem San Fran can really match it.
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        Jun 24 2013: Those who prefer sunny beaches and don't mind the traffic and air quality issues may well prefer LA. Those who prefer the climate and natural beauty close at hand in San Francisco will prefer the latter. You may have a strong preference for LA and i for the SF Bay Area, but the point in that is that people might call that one differently.

        Are you in LA proper then?
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          Jun 24 2013: Well, I agree, Fritzie, but I think I'm talking about what the majority of elite professors would prefer. I mean, there may be one top professor in the world who would prefer that a great university be located at the North Pole (for example), for whatever reason, but the majority would not. Would you agree that the majority would probably prefer LA to San Fran, or do you still think not?

          I live in Glendale, a separate city on the east and north border of LA. This is where I mostly grew up, my mother and sister live here, my brother lives a city further east, in Pasadena. I have lived in Los Angeles, I lived for three years in the Hollywood area (a lot of people think Hollywood is a separate city, but actually it's just an area within Los Angeles) and I lived for ten years in an area called Westlake, about a mile west of downtown LA. I feel extremely blessed to have grown up in SoCal and be part of the vibrant life here.
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        Jun 24 2013: I lived many years there. When I went to college I used to tell people I came from near the La Brea tar pits.

        I don't know what the majority of professors would prefer between the two.
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          Jun 24 2013: I'll have to think about it. I don't know what they would prefer, either, I suppose when I talk to some I can ask, I'm just guessing LA based on the attractions I've mentioned in this convo, doesn't that kind of make sense?

          It's conceivable to me that a top professor might not feel they have to be at the very top school. For instance, someone who is capable of getting hired at Harvard might be content to teach at, say, Princeton, if, for example, they preferred the location, they might feel that the students are nearly as good as Harvard's and good enough for them.