TEN days ago, one of Australia's most celebrated academics died in Melbourne at 92. His name was John Jamieson Carswell Smart, but the philosophical world and his international circle of friends knew him simply as Jack.
A month earlier in New Jersey the president of Princeton, Dr Shirley Tilghman, announced that after 11 years running one of the most distinguished and successful universities in the world she is going to retire. Tilghman, unusually for an academic administrator, has continued to teach throughout her tenure as president, and plans to return to the Princeton teaching faculty, which she first joined in 1986.
And the connection between these two?
Just that, in their very different ways, Jack Smart and Shirley Tilghman are exemplars of the academic life well lived. At a time when the morale of Australian university teachers and students - and even of some administrators - is so low, it is heartening to remember that it need not be like this. There are other ways, ways that are viable and needed.
Both Smart and Tilghman have been leaders in their respective academic fields. They have earned the respect, the loyalty, and - even rarer - the enduring affection of their colleagues and students. Neither showed any sign, ever, of succumbing to the virus of managerialism that infects 21st-century academic institutions. Throughout their careers they have both been plain speakers, gifted with a directness of utterance that is as salutary as it is rare.
In Smart's case, his plain speaking was sometimes mistaken for a lack of intellectual sophistication in an academic world fond of complexity. But not for long. His colleagues soon learnt how much harder it is to deal with difficult problems in plain language than it is to coat them in linguistic fog. But imitating his clarity and directness was another matter - you needed humility enough to learn his hard lessons of economy and precision. Fortunately, his writing was as direct and forthright as his speech, so the opportunities were many.
Born in England, and educated in Scotland, Smart became an enthusiastic Australian after being appointed, at the age of 29, to a chair at the University of Adelaide. And it was at Adelaide, and subsequently at La Trobe and then the ANU, that Smart reshaped the philosophy of mind - and helped confirm the high international standing that Australian philosophy enjoys.
Friends remember Jack fondly as a great character, and so he was, but that character was stamped with intellectual passion, and his many students came to understand how catalytic that passion was.
Before her election as president, Shirley Tilghman was a distinguished researcher, part of the US national effort to map the human genome.
Administration has not eroded her enthusiasm for research, as her colleagues now attest. Her academic enthusiasm is infectious, and all the more so for being laced with candour. Like Smart, she wears no airs, whether introducing a celebrated visiting speaker or chatting to undergraduates.
Since becoming president, Tilghman has been a visible and effective advocate for women - by doing her job so well. There is still only a handful of women heading Ivy League colleges, and Tilghman has been a model - in many ways.
She has boosted Princeton's endowment by $1.8 billion (yes, the sum is astonishing, and yes, this is a very privileged place) but she has spent money in ways that have transformed a once very white, male, establishment campus.
I remember Princeton from 1990. In 2012 it is a very different place, internationalised, dynamic, and as democratic as a meritocratic institution can be.
She has overseen a huge increase in the financial aid given to students.
Princeton, like many other tertiary institutions around the world, is savvy about online education, and necessarily conscious of the value of its ''brand'' in a market environment.
All universities, in Australia, Asia, Europe or the US, have to be savvy about ways to survive in an era of shrinking financial support. But the academic careers of Smart and Tilghman tell an older and deeper story.
Higher education is not merely a tradeable commodity. What matters most in universities is the spark and passion generated in and between particular individuals - colleagues, teachers and students - when they are given time and space enough to come together and find new ways of understanding - perhaps even improving - the world in which we all must live.