Lesson in Vanity

1/8/2010: Jim Harper from Art History has a interesting Op-Ed in the ODE today – interesting as in you’ll learn something – on Taj Mahals and despots, petty and otherwise:

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, built in the mid-17th century by the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan was a “vanity building.” It was not built for the public good, but rather at the whim of an emperor, as a grandiose and costly mausoleum for his favorite wife. As is now the case on East 13th Avenue, where access to the Jaqua Center will be restricted to a privileged caste of student-athletes, only a rarified elite got to fully enjoy Shah Jahan’s original complex.

The historical Shah Jehan was deposed in 1658 and spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest, declared incompetent to rule. And the Shah Jehan of our story is already deposed, though more gently: Dave Frohnmayer, under whose rule the Jaqua Center was conceived, has now retired. We can only hope that, with his replacement, the demoralizing inequities and unwise appropriation of resources that characterized his reign might come to a stop.

The reference to the “public good” is interesting. Knight got about $7.5 million in federal tax deductions for giving us this building, about $2 million from the state, and the value of the land UO provided was in the $5 – $10 million range. In short, he paid about $10.5 million, and taxpayers and UO paid about $17 million. Clever guy!

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