Sunday, April 27, 2008

Just say no...

Or, time to do the right thing?

From the Strib:

Recruitment wars at heart of furor over two U profs

The University of Minnesota has millions of dollars riding on the fate of two star researchers.

Wooed for more than a year, Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko -- a husband-wife duo who specialize in making sense of huge volumes of health data -- agreed last fall to leave Georgia Tech for Minnesota. Now they face allegations of drawing salaries at both schools. The allegations, if true, could turn a hiring coup into a huge setback.

"This is an arms race, there's no question about it," said Dr. Frank Cerra, senior vice president of health sciences at the U. "It has risen exponentially in the last four, five years," Cerra aded. "It's all about faculty hires."

Research universities see these deals as part of the formula for success. With faculty who can win grants, a school will see its rankings improve. It will attract better students, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. That will make an institution even more attractive to top faculty. More top faculty, in turn, will mean more research money
Sounds reasonable until you examine the argument a little more closely. This is the way the Yankees do business. They have deep pockets. And the Twins?

Overall, faculty salaries are barely keeping up with inflation, according to a study released this month by the American Association of University Professors. But when it comes to elite professors, research institutions are still willing to spend money.

"One of the reasons this is becoming more and more significant is that for public universities, they are getting a smaller proportion of their operating expenses funded by state governments," said John Curtis, the director of research and public policy for the AAUP. "The costs of providing education and doing the advanced research are rising faster than then funding that is coming from the state government."

Wayne Gladfelter, the interim associate dean for academic affairs in the U's Institute of Technology, said start-up costs for a faculty member's lab can easily run more than $1 million. Faculty salaries in the college can run as high as $200,000 for a nine-month appointment. And the competition can be tough.

Actually, word came out this last week that it is about twice this figure. And much of the income of doctors in the medical school is not disclosed...

"They usually don't come alone," Cerra said. "Frequently they come with a spouse or with a half a dozen people. I can remember one recruit that came with 22 or 23 associated scientists; they come as groups.

"For an individual, $1 million is frequently a starting point for salary and start-up money. If you're doing research with a group, it could be $10 million, $15 million, up to $25 million. That's the nature of the marketplace."
These figures indicate the folly of trying to buy your way to the top...

"You must be careful in the choices you make," said Dr. Paul Ramsey, the dean of the school of medicine at the University of Washington. "It's getting more and more expensive and you want to choose well.

Who would have thought?

Earlier this month, Georgia Tech began the process of firing Sainfort and Jacko, whom Tech officials had once hoped to keep in Atlanta. In a February e-mail to an administrator, Sainfort described his spring semester workload at Georgia Tech as full and added that neither he nor Jacko had signed contracts with Minnesota.
And was this true? And is there a Regents policy against double-dipping? And have we heard anything from President Bruininks about this? He's probably in the basement of Morrill Hall waiting for the storm to blow over.

Minnesota officials, however, contend that the two signed contracts in October and are concerned with Sainfort's e-mail. Minnesota officials said Sainfort and Jacko were expected to be in "residence" on Jan. 1. Georgia Tech has said that the two signed contracts to work there for this entire school year after they signed with Minnesota.
Contend? If this is true, don't they have signed and presumably dated copies of these contracts? Haven't they been cutting them checks?

The couple's attorney has maintained that the two did nothing wrong and they look forward to speaking with the Georgia attorney general.
Nothing wrong? Remarkable...

U general counsel Mark Rotenberg spent much of the past week putting together the pieces of this case and trying to determine whether this was simply a communication or procedural breakdown or whether it was something more significant that could result in discipline and carry broader consequences.
It's not rocket science, Mark. There is a Regents policy prompted by the behavior of Tzvee Zahavy, whom we fired.

Once again, the longer this drags on the worse we look. Is there any way this situation can be salvaged? Doubtful.

Suppose we figure out a way that we can rationalize keeping these people. Do you think that in the future what they say or do is going to be construed as being in the best interest of the university?

Even Homer Simpson knows the answer to that one.

"It's reputation, it's money, it's people's lives, it's the atmosphere," Cerra said. "It all ripples."

It's also about integrity, Frank. Let's cut out the melodrama and face facts. We have a checkered history in these matters and have to make sure it is understood that we will not tolerate unethical behavior.

You do remember our sanction by the NIH? Of course you do. You do remember Dennis Polla and the NSF and the money we had to give back?

We've messed up yet again. A dean at Georgia Tech made it clear that no salary should be coming from Minnesota while these folks were being paid full time by Georgia Tech.

Much as the University of Minnesota might like to save face and keep these people, it simply is not going to be possible. Get over it and move on. The sooner the better. Are we paying them right now?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice insight into this issue. I didn't know that there was such history at U of Minn regarding shady faculty dealings. Keep up the good coverage and insights into the U of Minn side of the story. There seems to be little information coming out of Georgia Tech.

If these two remain it will be interesting to see what kind of results come from that much of an investment. Seems like a lot of $$$ to shell out. Will the dividends come?

Keep up the good work. Your commentary has been the most insightful of them all...