Friday, July 27, 2012

So, What Is The Purpose of Life
If Not to Outlive Your Enemies?

In his new memoir, Bernard Lewis, now 96, recalls his  brief, unhappy tenure as head of the Annenberg Research Institute for Judaic and Near Eastern Studies in Philadelphia--and in particular, his his experience dealing with the sponsor of the project, Walter Annenberg, who died a decade ago at 94:
 Normally [the principal fuinction of] directors of a nonprofit institution would have been to give or find funds, but as this was endowed by Annenberg, one of the wealthiest men in the United States, it was generally assumed that no fund-raising or fund-giving was necessary. Since the board was not fulfilling its normal function, it was not quite clear what their function was and how power and responsibility were to be allocated between the chief executive, me, on the one hand and the board of directors on the other.  This led to growing tension. ... [B]oards function on the principle that the directors will contribute one of the three “W’s”— work, wealth or wisdom, or they can provide one of the three “G’s”— give, get or get off. My immediate reaction was to comment that my board offered the three “I’s”— ignorance, incompetence and interference. 

One of the problems was Walter Annenberg himself. As he was providing all the funding he assumed that he would have the final say on all issues. Unfortunately he had no direct knowledge or experience of academic life but nevertheless expected to have the final say on all academic issues. I found him a difficult man with whom to work, and eventually, impossible. ... Annenberg was arrogant and peremptory and took it for granted that his wishes on all issues, even including those on which he was ignorant, would be immediately accepted and enforced. The directors, with few and rare exceptions, were deferential and submissive and just assumed that whatever he said or did was right and must be obeyed. 
 I pass over the story of the kosher kitchen, and the one about the dodgy quotation.   At last, Lewis achieves his own kind of comeuppance:
During my time at the Annenberg Center Pope John Paul II came on a visit to the United States. Annenberg decided that he, Al Wood, then chairman of the board, and I, as director of the Institute, should go to Miami to welcome the Pope. There was a gathering of about fifty people from various organizations standing in a semicircle and the Pope made the usual round, exchanging politenesses, receiving the appropriate deference from Catholics and courtesy from others. When he came to me it was different. As I have explained elsewhere, I was on friendly, personal terms with this Pope and when he saw me, he smiled, greeted me by name, said how much he had enjoyed my last visit to Castel Gandolfo and was looking forward to the next.  Al Wood, standing next to me, was beside himself. He repeated several times: “If I had not seen this with my own eyes I would never have believed it.” Annenberg saw the exchange from a distance but could not hear the conversation; he came over and demanded to know what had happened. I explained to him and his reaction was mixed. Clearly he would have preferred the Pope’s friendly gesture to be made to himself rather than to one of his employees.
 Bernard Lewis with Buntzie Ellis Churchill, Notes on a Century
(Kindle Locations 4186-4224). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

Afterthought: wait a minute,  Lewis did get his revenge while Annenberg was still alive.  But now he gets it again.

1 comment:

dilbert dogbert said...

Reading Lewis reminded me of something I read from Krugman this morning:
"By contrast, private-equity firms, such as Bain Capital, where Romney made his fortune, tend to view their client companies as cash cows, susceptible to cookie-cutter formulas from which the firms’ partners reap lavish fees, almost regardless of the outcome. Their ends and means breed an insularity, a sense of entitlement, a disposition to view all the world’s entities through a single prism and to appraise them along a single scale."