Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"People will think, what they want to think..."

Or, pay attention to what they do, not what they say:

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

The latest on one of our new high-profile acquisitions follows. I gather these are the kinds of people who are going to help us achieve the administration's "ambitious aspirations of becoming one of the top three research universities in the world [sic]." Since they are supposedly on administrative leave, with a minuscule salary cut, a cute trick is to declare one of them "lead faculty."

What does this mean? A "lead faculty position" has never existed before and exists nowhere else in any other unit of the university, as far as I know. Since there is no "director" of the IHI presumably staff will report to her, so clearly her title as lead faculty is a distinction without a difference. Given that Zahavy was fired for the same offense, it is unclear to me why the university hasn't been able to act sooner on this matter. Putting these folks in positions of power and responsibility, given what they have apparently done, seems to be a huge mistake in judgment on the part of OurLeaders.

Where does this leave faculty who would rather not work with these folks until these very serious problems are resolved? If faculty don't play ball, then they are "uncooperative?" This is an all too common tactic of our administration. Those of us who question OurLeaders agenda are called "doubters" or "whining dinosaurs."

What does this do to the (already bad) situation in bioinformatics and health informatics? A situation that is due to administrative neglect over at least the past ten years?

Great for morale of course.

To say "people will think, what they want to think" strikes me as another fine example of administrative arrogance.

The A word has been applied to the U administration very recently in other contexts. See:

From the Daily:

July 30, 2008

Jacko named IHI lead faculty

The professor is on administrative leave and is being investigated for "double dipping" at the University and Georgia Tech.

By Andrew Cummins

Embattled University professor Julie Jacko has been named lead faculty at the University's Institute for Health Informatics.

The announcement comes during the middle of an investigation of Jacko and her husband, fellow faculty member Francois Sainfort.

Frank Cerra, senior vice president of health sciences , said his decision to appoint Jacko lead faculty stemmed from a need to have a qualified faculty member create curriculum at the IHI.

"I think people will think what they want to think," Cerra said, in response to possible criticisms of appointing someone who is under investigation.

The investigation of the duo by the Office of the Attorney General of Georgia is still ongoing, according to an office spokesman, and findings are expected to be released this fall. The University is performing its own investigation.

The two were accused in April of working both at the University and at Georgia Tech at the same time - a violation of University policy . Jacko is on administrative leave from her position as IHI director.

The lead faculty position entails designing courses and educational materials for students, Cerra said.

Cerra said he notified faculty of his decision in an e-mail July 21. When asked when he made the decision, Cerra said it was "around" the date he sent the e-mail.

The e-mail, which was acquired by the Daily, read in part, "I have asked Prof Julie Jacko to serve as lead faculty for the Institute for Health Informatics."

However, both University spokesman Dan Wolter and Academic Health Center spokeswoman Molly Portz said Jacko was originally hired to perform those duties.

Cerra's e-mail was only clarifying Jacko's duties and wasn't an announcement of a new post, they said.

"Cerra's message was a clarification to faculty who were wondering if she was no longer in this role because of the investigation," Wolter said in an e-mail.

Additionally, Mary Koppel, assistant vice president for public affairs in the AHC , described the e-mail as a "nuance" that represented Cerra giving Jacko the go-ahead to start performing duties for the faculty lead position she was initially hired for.

A job description detailing what Jacko's duties would be upon being hired in 2007 was not provided by the AHC, after multiple requests for the document.

Both Jacko and other informatics professors did not return requests for comment on the topic.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New Wolterism

Goldy's Secret:

It's Not the Products But Problematic Purveyors

For background, see the earlier post on Goldy's Secret.

Forbes reports (7/25/08) on the Victoria's Secret (VS) situation, including another howler from the U of M's chief spin doctor, Dan Wolter:

Most lingerie sellers want their products to be sexier. Victoria's Secret wants the opposite.

The "Collegiate Collection" focuses on tamer items, such as T-shirts, tote bags and panties, branded for schools like Harvard, UCLA, Boston College and the University of Michigan

Scott Bouyack of the Collegiate Licensing Company, which represented 27 of the participating schools, said some had to overcome "a knee-jerk reaction" to the idea of offering apparel by Victoria's Secret. The University of Minnesota pulled out of the program shortly after it was announced.

"The point is not what the product is but what the company is," said University of Minnesota spokesman Dan Wolter. "There's just a sense that that's not necessarily a positive thing for young women."

Wow, Dan, it is great that you are making sure that our female students only engage in what you consider to be positive activities.

Aren't our students adults, Dan? Don't you think they are smart enough to make up their own minds?

Certainly you seem to be interested in their making up their minds to take on credit card debt - from which the U gets a cut.

Let's see:

Coke money - OK
Pepsi money - OK (at least for Deans)
JP Morgan credit card money - OK
Double Dipping money - OK

But we draw the line at our female students being sold Goldy items by VS. I propose an experiment to you Dan. Do a little survey about how many of our students (male and female) ALREADY buy things from VS. My own niece told me that she spends a considerable amount of her discretionary income on VS stuff.

One more run-through on the latest Wolterism:

1. Victoria's Secret is EVIL

2. Why? Because they sell inappropriate items.

3. They are selling totebags, sweatshirts, tee shirts and underwear of the type you could buy at TARGET, but with cute university logos imprinted.

4. It's not OK to buy the stuff in 3. (See 1).

Wow! And Dan Wolter is chief spokesperson for a university.


Maybe Dan could apply for a Regent's scholarship to take a course in ... logic?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

PZ Steps In It,
Woods Gets It

This is a case study in what academic freedom and tenure are all about.

These concepts are easy to support in the abstract, but every once in a while a case comes up that makes us think about whether we really mean all those fine words.

I am proud that both Woods and PZ are at the University. I don't think that it is a good idea to gratuitously insult sincere believers of any faith, so I question PZ's judgment in this matter. But if academic freedom and tenure are to mean anything this kind of behavior is not grounds for dismissal. Most in the academy seem to realize this, but I thank Woods for making the case forthrightly.

PZ Meyers is one of the world's best known scientific bloggers. If you don't believe this google Pharyngula. PZ is an exemplary biology faculty member at the University of Minnesota, Morris, one of the outstanding public liberal arts institutions in the ... world?

PZ has done yeoman service in battling the militant creationists. He himself might best be described as a militant atheist. He has potentially annoyed most of the Catholics in the world by desecrating a host, and some of the Muslims by ripping pages out of the Qur'an, along with pages from one of the books by Dawkins. Death threats and requests to OurLeader to fire him have ensued.

I have been struggling with putting up something about this, but another colleague at the University, the distinguished physicist Woods Halley, has done the job far better than I ever could.

Woods writes in the Daily:

The letter by JoAnna Wahlund, as well as the storm of commentary on the Web about Professor Myers, fail in every instance I have seen to make a fundamental point about the nature of academic freedom and tenure: The University does not condone nor endorse the views of tenured professors when it continues their employment, even when those views are controversial.

It is appropriate to disagree with Myers as strongly as you wish, and to publicize your arguments as widely as you can, but it is totally inappropriate to call for his dismissal. Tenure is specifically designed to protect people whose published views arouse the antagonism of some sector of society.

The reason for this protection is precisely to assure that controversial views are heard. If you hear views with which you disagree, the right response is to publicly explain why you think they are wrong - not to threaten, insult and try to shut up the individual who uttered them.

J. Woods Halley
University Professor of Physics

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Latest Word on Double-Dipping at the U
or, Business as Usual

The continuing saga of the faculty members who managed to extract simulaneous paychecks from the University of Minnesota and Georgia Tech has a new installment.

For background on this matter see: "Update on Sainfort and Jacko, Twisting, Twisting Slowly in the Wind."

Earlier this week a message went out on the electronic Rialto.

From: Frank Cerra
Sent: Monday, July 21, 2008 11:21 AM

Subject: IHI Leadership

I have asked Prof Julie Jacko to serve as lead faculty for the Institute for Health Informatcs (IHI). She is developing a workplan and will be working with you on the move of the Health Informatics program into IHI, taking a fresh look at the graduate programs, developing basic and advanced courses in informatics, and in creating a development plan for IHI, including other ideas and needs you may have. She will be contacting you about all this.

I believe IHI needs to move forward and continue its development.

Is all forgiven? Is the University's "investigation" over?


Thursday, July 17, 2008

This former Target warehouse was turned into a biomedical incubator, but it hasn't panned out for the University of Minnesota, city of St. Paul or other partners. It's in financial trouble now. (MPR Photo/Tim Nelson)

A Cloudy Future For BioScience Research in Minnesota?

University Enterprise Laboratories - A Cautionary Tale

There have been a lot of claims made lately about the abundance of new jobs to be generated by bioscience research, especially by university administrators eager to extract money for new buildings.

Yesterday's post ["People Are Our Greatest Asset, Blowing Smoke in the Here and Now"] brought forth a rather strange submission to the comments section that mentioned University Enterprise Laboratories. Today the poster's comments make a little more sense.

From Minnesota Public Radio:

Bio-science incubator falters
by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
July 17, 2008

A plan to make the Twin Cities a center for the emerging bio-science industry is faltering. University Enterprise Laboratories has laid of its staff and is trying to renegotiate the mortgage for its building in St. Paul. Its founders had hoped to spark a medical boom in Minnesota.

St. Paul, Minn. — Four years ago, University Enterprise Laboratories had great promise. Once a giant Target Corporation warehouse, it was going to be the intersection where world-class biomedical research from the nearby University of Minnesota met venture capitalists ready to help bring the ideas to market.

Now, the operation has laid off its program staff and shelved its mission, according to a memo obtained by Minnesota Public Radio.

"On the functional side, the thing is just a thriving success," said Bob Elde, dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences. "We're not worried. We're just having to do some belt tightening."

Elde and other directors are hoping to renegotiate their financing with Wells Fargo and have asked a real-estate management company to take care of the place.

It didn't start out that way.

Six years ago, a University of Minnesota researcher, Catherine Verfaillie, was heading the first stem cell institute in the country.

Her research yielded what looked like a breakthrough. It said adult stem cells might someday substitute for embryonic stem cells to generate new tissue. Genetics and materials science looked promising, too.

Off campus, business and community leaders hoped that biomedical research like Varfaillie's could help put Minnesota on the biomedical map and boost the economy.

Led by Elde and St. Paul mayor Randy Kelly, they refitted the empty warehouse on Highway 280 with lab and office space. It was supposed to be a home for private spin-offs of other university breakthroughs.

The project cost $24 million back in 2004. Corporate money from 3M, Allina and Xcel Energy helped pay for it.

Founders formed a non-profit with the U to run it and hired a start-up expert to help guide the fledgling tenants and hook them up with investors.

But shortly after UEL opened its doors, California voters approved $3 billion in state funding for stem cell research there. Massachusetts and Wisconsin also made big bets on the biomedical sector.

Even in Minnesota, attention was moving elsewhere. The University's Academic Health Center convinced the state to invest about a quarter of a billion dollars into biomedical facilities on campus. Four new buildings are slated for the East Bank in Minneapolis.

Back in St. Paul, it's proven harder than anyone thought to fill a warehouse of 21 wet labs with biomedical startups. There are some. But the hardware and lab space at UEL were expensive for shoestring scientific companies.

The tenant list instead came to include companies like Minnesota Wire and Cable and the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank. Consultants, a law firm and University administrative offices also fill some of the space. It's hard to figure out the mission by reading the building's tenant directory.

Founders, like Elde, hope they can still make UEL more than just regular real estate.

It's going to take more money to restart the startup.

But its hard to say where that money might come from. The state already put a quarter million dollars into UEL in 2006 and the city of St. Paul is already guaranteeing nearly half the project's $14 million in financing.

Added 7/25/08

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

An interested reader has sent me a link to an article that appeared earlier in the Daily (10/24/06). It is a reminder of how lack of institutional memory facilitates the pursuit of ambitious, but unrealistic, aspirations:

University lab bustles with activity and plans to expand

The lab would be built next to the current bioscience incubator building.


This article incorrectly stated in which animal an artificial blood-vessel graft technology was tested. The graft was successfully implanted in pigs.

although its doors opened just a year ago, the University Enterprise Laboratories building is already looking to expand.

Known as a bioscience incubator building, the 126,000 square-foot facility is almost 70 percent full and might be close to 85 percent by January, said Randy Olson, the building manager.

A new building might be anywhere from 80,000 to 120,000 square feet and would probably be built on an open field next to the existing one, located on an 11-acre lot along the transitway just inside St. Paul city limits.

"I took the lead in getting that whole thing going," he [Bob Elde] said.

[There is also an amusing mistake,

corrected as noted above.]

Messina said one of its featured products is an artificial blood-vessel graft, which is in clinical trials right now and was proven to be effective when implanted in ticks.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

People Are Our Greatest Asset

Or, Blowing Smoke in the Here and Now

From the Daily - published twice
July 9 and July 16

People are our greatest asset

The University must continue to find creative ways to ensure strong state support, to reduce costs and increase productivity, and to increase private and sponsored funding.

By Robert H. Bruininks

The great Yogi Berra once observed, "It's tough making predictions, especially about the future." The problem with all long-term planning is that the future is uncertain. As I've said before, all of the great minds who call the University of Minnesota home can't hope to predict state revenues, legislative priorities, or public opinion from year to year.
Here's another Yogiism to cogitate on, Bob: "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."

Somehow we still make it work. In fact, it worked quite well earlier this spring, with historic investments in the future of our institution and the state.

The biosciences are an area of enormous potential for serving humankind and strengthening our economy. This year, we took a visionary step in this promising field with the creation of the Minnesota Biomedical Research Program. It enables the University to bond for $292 million to finance four new biomedical research facilities in the east gateway district, near the new stadium. This expansion is more than bricks and steel; it will enable us to attract even more talented researchers and students. Our goal – and the goal embraced by the legislature and governor – is to make Minnesota the epicenter of discovery in biomedical science, advancing the human condition and strengthening our economy with new industries and opportunities.

"The epicenter of discovery in biomedical science" Lord love a duck.

Have you any idea what this phrase means, Bob?

You are aware of biomedical science discoveries being made in Cambridge, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego? I could go on.

In addition, the legislature and governor approved$140 million in bonding for capital projects statewide, including $48.3 million for a new Science Teaching and Student Services building on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.
In addition, the legislature and governor approved$140 million in bonding for capital projects statewide, including $48.3 million for a new Science Teaching and Student Services building on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.

And we still can't get straight the function(s) and design of the building? If people are so important, why can't we listen to the opinion of the faculty, who actually do the teaching in the building?

That's a $432 million total bonding package for the University of Minnesota. And despite a state budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, we were able to negotiate more manageable reductions to the University's state appropriations, enabling us to balance our budget while meeting our commitments to our employees and students. The 2008-09 budget approved by the Board of Regents in June includes:

• A 7.25 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students (down slightly from 7.5 percent projected a year ago),
And of course this .25 percent reduction is due to Tom Rukavina. It certainly wasn't in the administration's original plans, even before the budget cuts! If Tom hadn't raised a big fuss, who knows where the tuition increase might have ended up. Thank you, Tom.

• A general salary expense increase of 3.25 percent, plus associated fringe benefits, and
• Increases in student financial assistance.

These investments in compensation and financial aid, as well as our efforts to balance the budget and reduce the projected tuition increase for undergraduates, are important because the University's strength is its people. Some 14,000 staff members deliver critical services and support that keep the University system up and running statewide. Nearly 4,000 faculty make groundbreaking discoveries and share new knowledge with our students and the world. And more than 65,000 students system-wide amaze and inspire us with their passion, their creativity, and their hard work. These students become leaders, scholars and entrepreneurs – and also join the ranks of our greatest supporters, our alumni.

And so maybe a priority should be tuition relief?

Taken in this context, investing in people today means a stronger tomorrow. We've made great progress toward many of our strategic objectives, improving teaching, learning and student services; enhancing the ways in which we generate and share new knowledge; promoting interdisciplinary collaboration; and working to improve quality and productivity in everything we do. We are a University committed to excellence – but we only succeed when you succeed. Buildings garner lots of attention, but without students, faculty and staff, they're just shells.

And would our two, new, double-dipping, hires be an investment in tomorrow, Bob?

If you really mean what you say about buildings being shells, why are we building four new biomedical science buildings without the resources to pay people and equipment necessary for the use of the building. Or is space at the U simply an example of the ideal gas law?

We still face an uncertain future. The budget approved by the Regents included measures to address future budget reductions now, in anticipation of a sluggish economy for the foreseeable future. Experts agree that the possibility of future state budget shortfalls looms large.

The University must continue to find creative ways to dramatically reduce costs, increase productivity, and grow private and sponsored funding. Although tuition is rising less than projected next fall, tuition rates remain a serious national concern, and the University must also continue its work to ensure that higher education is affordable

Hello, Bob. You occasionally say things like this. But I don't see activity on your part that makes affordable tuition a high priority.

We've made tremendous progress in recent years:

• Roughly 12 percent of students will attend the University's campuses with free tuition through our Founders Free Tuition Program this year.
• More than two-thirds of undergraduates will see a tuition increase of less than 5 percent, thanks to scholarship and grant support.
• The University will administer more than $200 million in grant and scholarship aid to students.
• We've raised $233 million through the Promise of Tomorrow Scholarship Drive in recent years, doubling the number of scholarships we're awarding and the average amount per award.

This sounds wonderful.

But there is a big problem with this argument - costs have risen faster than aid.

According to Kiplinger our undergraduates have the highest debt load (~25K$) of any public university in the BigTen, even Michigan, and significantly higher than our competitors - Iowa and Wisconsin (~20K$), Illinois (~15K$).

Are these numbers correct? Are we going to do anything about it?

We're meeting the needs of all our low-income Pell-eligible Minnesota students – now we need to draw a bigger circle in terms of need and begin doing more for that next tier of students and their families. The University must also continue to find creative ways to ensure strong state support, to reduce costs and increase productivity, and to increase private and sponsored funding. We must also continue to preserve and develop the state's human capital – because in these uncertain times, Minnesota's greatest asset is you.

Bob, the path you have chosen is wrong. This is a land grant institution. You have managed to annoy a lot of people over the light rail issue, the tuition blackmail, the double-dipping fiasco... I could go on.

It is time to face up to the fact that your "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world" is absurd. Why don't you ask the legislature to help us stabilize tuition, and to be one of the best schools in the BigTen?

Continuing on with this top three business, in the face of reality, makes you look foolish and the rest of us naive - at best.


Added 3 pm:

I have received an anonymous comment on this post. I am uncomfortable posting as received. Therefore a redacted version follows:

"Also, just an FYI…Due to a financial restructuring, the UEL is eliminating xxx positions. The “mission-based” component of the UEL is being shelved until its financial resources are in better condition. For now, the focus for UEL will be on the real estate side of the equation only. Management of the building will be turned over to a company called The LaSalle Group. FYI…The LaSalle Group is owned by xxx"

The UEL (University Enterprises Laboratory) website may be found at:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Time for a New Strategy at the University of Minnesota?

Or, More Humility and Less Arrogance?

The following letter was supplied to me by Mr. Michael McNabb with permission to post. I have not modified the original except for including a correction from the author. Departure from plain typography - emphasis - is mine.

June 30, 2008

President Robert H. Bruininks
University of Minnesota
202 Morrill Hall
100 Church Street S.E.
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455

Dear President Bruininks:

Thank you for taking the time to read and to respond to my correspondence of May 14, 2008. I know from personal experience at the legislature with civil law legislation that the final version of a bill may not contain all the provisions that were included in the original proposal. So, it is always necessary to evaluate the results of the legislative strategy.

The 2008 Capital Request that the University presented to the legislature called for $225 million in state bonds for academic facilities (in addition to the separate proposals for $233 million for new biomedical facilities, $26 million for the Folwell Hall renovation, and $24 million for a new Bell Museum). If the original goal of $225 million represents an "A" grade, what grade does one assign to the final result of $131 million? The "cornerstone" of the Capital Request was $100 million in HEAPR bonds for the renovation and maintenance of existing academic facilities. What grade does one assign to the final result of $35 million?

[Authors correction:
There is an error in the second paragraph. The Capital Request for $225 million did include the $26 million for Folwell Hall and the $24 million for a new Bell Museum. ]

Two years ago the legislature slashed the HEAPR request from $80 million to $30 million. The cumulative effect of the failure to secure sufficient HEAPR bonds in the last two bonding sessions is clearly visible on campus. The academic infrastructure is beginning to crumble around us.

The response of the University administration was to develop and to present to the Regents an unconscionable scheme to impose a capital fee on the students, the segment of the University community that has the fewest resources. This proposal follows the staggering increases in tuition that the University has imposed on the students over the past several years to enable it to pay the bills for its operating expenses.

It will not be productive for the University to increase the financial pressures on its students (and their parents). The University needs their support to develop a successful legislative strategy.

A different attitude must accompany a new approach to the legislature. Several years ago a former state senator, who was a leader in his caucus, used the word "arrogant" to describe to me the attitude of the University administration. That remark surprised me. However, the chair of the House Capital Investment Committee recently used the same word in public remarks about the University. We have a problem here. It is more difficult to successfully execute a legislative strategy when the chair of the committee that must approve University bonding bills has the perception that the University is dismissive of the legislature.

There is a simple way to change that continuing perception of the University at the legislature. A senior University administrator should visit each representative and state senator in person and ask that legislator what the University should do to improve its performance at the legislature.

As we develop a new legislative strategy, we also need to examine our objectives for the University. A goal of becoming one of the top three public research institutions in the world is illusory as there is no recognized authority to certify that such a goal has been attained. Such talk diverts attention from the real challenges facing the University that are the consequences of the failure to secure the support of the legislature.

There is also a danger of placing too much emphasis on research. A disproportionate allocation of resources to research would have an adverse effect on the equally important task of teaching our children.

In the latest U.S. News & World Report survey (widely used despite its flaws), the national rankings of the graduate schools at the University are as follows (private and public institutions/public institutions only):

Biological sciences 34/17

Chemistry 22/12

Engineering 24/12

Research medical schools 36/18

Physics 23/14

Business 27/13

Earth sciences 21/12

Mathematics 17/7

Law 22/8

Computer science 31/18

While we should certainly strive for excellence, our goals should also be realistic and subject to objective measurement as much as possible. We need to develop an effective strategy to enlist the support of the governor, the legislature, the students and their parents to achieve those goals.

Sincerely yours,

Michael W. McNabb

University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974 University of Minnesota Alumni Association lifetime member

cc: Board of Regents

Saturday, July 12, 2008

(click to enlarge)

Latest USNews Hospital Rankings

How Are We Doing At the University of Minnesota Hospital in '08?

The news is in and it is not good. I first thought of Lao-Tzu: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

There is some question about the exact translation and meaning of the phrase. A more correct translation from the original Chinese would be "The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet."

To become "one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]" shouldn't we first improve incrementally? Become one of the better schools in the BigTen, perhaps?

But, no, OurLeader will have none of this. To suggest such a thing is to be labeled "a doubter."

"I've heard some of the 'doubters' say things like, 'I'd settle for best in the Big Ten," he [Bruininks] said. "Students don't choose the University of Minnesota for (a) mediocre future."

Such a statement certainly seems both arrogant and foolish.

Instead of focusing on a mountain a thousand miles away, shouldn't we look at our feet, analyze the situation in which we find ourselves, and make realistic plans to advance our goals? Let's see, a thousand miles in ten years, that's one hundred miles per year. In four years shouldn't we be four hundred miles? And if not, maybe we should think very hard about where we are going and how we are trying to get there?

Continuing to talk about our lofty ultimate goals, while ignoring lack of progress for four or five years, is foolish. Continuing to cry that we need new buildings, more money, and manna from heaven is not going to get us there.

In order to try to convince OurLeaders that perhaps they should consider another strategy, I have been systematically tracking progress, or lack thereof, over the past few years.

I think these results speak for themselves.

OurLeaders may argue that USNews rankings are not accurate or don't matter. They may be right about the first point, but not the second.

It is surprisingly easy, using tools on the web, for an ordinary person to locate such information. This is going to happen more and more. As with our performance on diabetes care, this situation must be improved or the money-making engine that is University Hospitals will not be churning out the cash that OurLeaders apparently think will help us finance our thousand mile journey to greatness.

Here is the official list
of America's Best Hospitals '08

The 19 institutions that achieved high scores in at least six specialties.

* 1 Johns Hopkins Hospital

* 2 Mayo Clinic - an outstanding performance - kudos

* 3 Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

* 4 Cleveland Clinic

* 5 Massachusetts General Hospital

* 6 New York-Presbyterian Univ. Hosp.

* 7 UCSF Medical Center

* 8 Brigham and Women's Hospital

* 8 Duke University Medical Center

* 10 Hosp. of the Univ. of Pennsylvania

* 10 Univ. of Washington Medical Center

* 12 Barnes-Jewish Hospital/ Washington University

* 13 University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers

* 14 University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

* 15 Vanderbilt University Medical Center

* 16 Stanford Hospital and Clinics

* 17 University of Chicago Medical Center

* 18 Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

* 19 Yale-New Haven Hospital

Being located in Minnesota is not a barrier to being among the best, witness Mayo.

Being a public institution is not a barrier either, witness UCSF, Michigan, Pitt, UDub.

Pitt is in a very economically depressed area. Why are they cleaning our clock? They even got an "A" on their report card for conflict of interest policies. (We got a D.)

"Exemplary. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has implemented a set of some of the most ambitious conflicts of interest policies in the country."
Did they just get lucky? Or could it have been ... leadership ... vision?

Question: How are we going to get from here to there?

Hint: The answer is not to simply to build new biomedical research buildings. Improvements need to be made immediately in some of the specialties above, before focusing on translational research and new therapies. These are fine buzzwords to use in research proposals, but they don't help pitiful performances in geriatrics and psychiatry and uneven performance in gynecology - even though we have a "Center for Women's Health" at Minnesota.

Question: How can we save a half million dollars a year that could be better used in our efforts?

Hint: See previous post (below).

(If you are really into MoneyBall, see: "What the h?")

(Given our situation, maybe we need to start playing MoneyBall around here ?)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Update on Sainfort and Jacko

Twisting, twisting, slowly in the wind...

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

From the Star-Tribune:

Professors disciplined for double employment

Jeff Shelman, Star-Tribune

Two University of Minnesota professors accused of being on the payrolls of two universities simultaneously will continue to work at reduced pay and responsibilities into the upcoming academic year.

The husband-and-wife duo of health researchers Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko were considered to be star hires when they were lured to Minnesota from Georgia Tech last fall. In February, the Atlanta school began the process of firing the two for being on the payroll of both schools at the same time. Georgia Tech also turned the case over to the Georgia attorney general.

In April, Sainfort and Jacko asked for and received a two-month leave of absence from their administrative duties in order to resolve their issues with Georgia Tech. That leave, which was supposed to end this summer, will now continue until Sept. 30, according to U of M spokesman Daniel Wolter.

Sainfort and Jacko recently resigned from their positions at Georgia Tech, spokesman Matt Nagel said Tuesday. The two will continue to perform their teaching and research duties at the U of M and receive their base salaries, which are a combined $469,000 per year.

The U of M has not taken any additional action against the couple. Minnesota also has a policy against holding multiple full-time positions.

"Our investigation into the matter is still underway," Wolter said. "We continue to cooperate with the Georgia attorney general and are closely following that investigative process."

The U of M, however, is not obligated to wait for an outcome in Georgia, he said.

Sainfort was hired to lead the Division of Health Policy and Management in the U of M's Academic Health Center, while Jacko was brought in as director of the Institute on Health Informatics.

The two were expected to be in position to work full-time at Minnesota beginning in January. However, in a February e-mail to a Georgia Tech administrator, Sainfort described his workload at the Atlanta school as "completely full," and that neither he nor Jacko had signed contracts with Minnesota.

The U of M contends that the two signed contracts in October 2007.

What's it going to take, Bob? Talk is apparently not cheap in this case...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Minnesota Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan

An important report has been released to the public today.

A pdf of the complete report ( 300+ pages) is available at this link.

From Minnesota Public Radio:

by Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
July 8, 2008

Minnesota needs to work smarter, and invest more, to protect the environment. That's the gist of a report presented to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources on Tuesday.

St. Paul, Minn. — It's called the Minnesota Statewide Conservation and Preservation Plan, and it's the first time this has been done: more than 100 scientists from different fields worked together to create an overall assessment of the state's environment, followed by about 60 recommendations on how to protect and restore it.

In 50 years, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness will feel more like Iowa, says Anne Kapuscinski, who directs the University's Institute for Social, Economic, and Ecological Sustainability. Climate change models show Minnesota will lose its boreal forest and that raises tough questions, she says.

"If we leave it alone, there's the risk that it would become somewhat degraded grassland with a lot of invasive species. Should we be instead trying to think of helping it become more desirable kind of savannah, or a different kind of forest but one that can tolerate warmer temperatures?"

The plan alternates between that kind of almost philosophical, nearly imponderable question, and smaller-scale advice, like put more land in conservation reserve because it'll protect water quality and provide habitat; make biofuels from perennial grasses and waste materials instead of corn, and get people to drive less by building compact, multi-use developments.

The report doesn't talk enough about the changes all of us will need to make in an environment facing so many challenges, says one member of the LCCMR, Jeff Broberg, a geologist from Rochester.

"The agricultural community needs to refocus on those conservation efforts instead of maximal profit. The development community needs to find a better way to create liveable, walkable communities that take care of their own wastewater, and their own energy uses. It's going to be a big change."

All this is going to cost more money. The LCCMR invests about $23 million a year from lottery proceeds for environmental projects. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says it will use the report as a rough framework as it plans for its budget. The plan doesn't quantify how much more the state should invest for the environment, but it points out many areas where investment is needed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Consumer Tools On the Web

Diabetic Health Care Success Variability in Minnesota

More data is becoming available on the web that should be of help in making decisions about health care.

A recent example is reported in the Star-Tribune:

Minnesota clinics vary in quality of diabetes care, report says

June 30, 2008

A new "health report card" has found that diabetics are much more likely to get their disease under control at some Minnesota clinics than others.

The report, by a group called MN Community Measurement, rated more than 300 clinics on their use of widely accepted best practices to treat diabetes and vascular diseases.

It found that on average only 17 percent of diabetics received "optimal" care in 2007, but the success rates ranged from 0 percent to 48 percent at different clinics.

Some of the highest ratings went to Fairview and Allina clinics, while some of the lowest were at clinics run by University of Minnesota physicians and those managed last year by Aspen Medical Group, which has since merged with Allina.

"The data show that where you go for health care matters just as much as what you eat and whether you exercise," said Jim Chase, executive director of MN Community Measurement, a nonprofit group.

Chase noted that some clinics have shown dramatic improvements in the past year. The clinic ratings are posted on the group's website,

The fact that the numbers vary so widely shows that "clinics across the region are not equally successful at helping patients achieve good control of diabetes and vascular disease," the group said in a statement released Monday.

But Mary Koppel, a spokeswoman for the University of Minnesota physicians, said there are other reasons that some clinics have low ratings. Many poor patients have a hard time controlling diabetes because of difficulties with access to care and healthier foods, she said. "It's important to recognize the complexity of the people coming in the door when we're doing these measurements."

What's being measured?

Diabetes patients achieve D5 success when they reach all of the following treatment goals:

1: Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) level less than 7%
2: Blood Pressure less than 130/80 mmHg
3: LDL-C less than 100mg/dl
4: Daily aspirin use for patients 41-75
5: Documented as tobacco-free in medical record.

Who's doing it the best?

Fairview Oxboro Clinic
Group: Fairview Health Services, County: Hennepin
600 W 98th St Bloomington MN 55420

Percentage of the clinics patients who achieved D5 = 48%

(566/1174 medical records reviewed)

Average of all clinics = 17%

How are UMP physicians doing?

University of Minnesota Physicians - Phalen Clinic
Group: University of Minnesota Physicians, County: Ramsey
1414 Maryland Avenue East St. Paul MN 55106

University of Minnesota Physicians - Smiley's Clinic
Group: University of Minnesota Physicians, County: Hennepin
2020 East 28th Street Minneapolis MN 5540

University of Minnesota Physicians - Primary Care Center
Group: University of Minnesota Physicians, County: Hennepin
420 Delaware Street SE MMC 88 Minneapolis MN 55455

University of Minnesota Physicians - Medicine 6 Clinic, Endocrine
Group: University of Minnesota Physicians, County: Hennepin
MMC 88 420 Delaware St SE Minneapolis MN 55455

University of Minnesota Physicians - Broadway Family Medicine
Group: University of Minnesota Physicians, County: Hennepin
1020 West Broadway Minneapolis MN 55411

Instead of worrying about becoming a "top 20 medical school," by generating increased NIH funding, perhaps the U ought to start worrying about doing an above average job for patients? Diabetes care would seem to be a good place to start.

We have a superior operation in the area of cystic fibrosis, so the argument about the clientel doesn't seem to wash.

Wouldn't it be nice for a change if just once a University of Minnesota mouthpiece, or better yet the Medical School Dean or the Academic Health Center Provost would say: "Those numbers are simply not acceptable, and we are going to do something about it, starting tomorrow."

As tools become available on the web for potential patients to use in selecting health care options, if the U doesn't become competitive in these areas, the future looks grim.