Sucking down

This morning’s Observer column

Before he hit the jackpot with YouTube, Jawed (like Hurley and Chen) had made a pile from his earlier involvement in PayPal, the online payment system bought by eBay in 2002 for $1.5bn. His share of the $1.65bn paid by Google for YouTube will reportedly be less than theirs, but it should still be sufficient to fund a private squadron of F-16s. And yet the lad chooses to bank the cash and return to considering ‘algorithms for edit distance on permutations’ and other arcane matters engaging students on the Stanford CS300 course. His one concession to the events of the last week was to cancel the seminar he had been scheduled to give on Thursday on ‘YouTube: from concept to hyper-growth’.

If Jawed has started a trend, who knows where it will end? Traditionally, university professors in elite US institutions find students a tiresome distraction from important work like private consulting, appearing on television and testifying before Congressional committees. For these superprofs, the really important people – the folks they have to suck up to – are rich alumni who have made good in the corporate world. But now a terrible prospect looms – US academics may in future have to pander to their students. Perhaps it will eventually become known as sucking down?