Saturday, July 31, 2010

University of Minnesota President

Flacks Jonathan Cole's Book

Sets Up Another

Monologue/Great Conversation ...

From MinnPost:

"One book I've recommended to a number of my colleagues is "The Great American University" by Jonathan Cole, former Columbia University provost. Not only is Cole's book relevant to our work at the University of Minnesota, it makes a compelling case for why we need a new national strategy for developing human capital and innovation. U.S. research universities play an essential role in our nation's leadership and prosperity; I've invited Cole and Bob Berdahl (another long-time higher education leader) to campus this fall for a Great Conversation on these issues."
Why doesn't President Bruininks invite some faculty members from the University of Minnesota - like Eva von Dassow - to have a "Great Conversation?" Her remarks to the Board of Regents been described as "regal and elegant" by the local media. And they have been viewed with overwhelming approbation by going on twenty thousand. If is a great university then why not get our own great faculty together for a dialogue. Or would that not be a "Great Conversation?" Maybe they would actually say some things that the administration does not want to hear? Couldn't have that, could we?

I have to say I find the title for these soirées off putting. We bring in some bright bulb from outside and sit them down with some local, often an administrator, and these sessions are described as: "Great Conversations." They aren't and the title sounds arrogant.

What do the views of a provost from a wealthy private University have to with the situation and mission of a land grant university?

Maybe because Cole will say what the president wants to hear, having read the book?

Other people have read this book the book and are not so enthralled, including Harvard econ professor, Claudia Goldin. Here's what she had to say in her review of the book in the New York Times:

But a 150-page inventory like the one Cole provides here tells us as much about why some universities are “great” as a list of names of accomplished people in a large family shows us why their family is “great” relative to others. Moreover, it does nothing to illuminate whether universities did it alone and what kind of incentives were used to enhance researcher productivity.

Private enterprise and government agencies work with universities, as Cole’s own roll call of great achievements demonstrates; they also compete with them. For example, the University of California scientist who isolated the gene for insulin founded Chiron. The cancer drug Gleevec originated in research at M.I.T. and U.C.L.A. but was produced by Novartis. The fetal scanner was produced by Physionic Engineering Inc., formed by researchers who had left the University of Colorado. Organs can be transplanted only with the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine, developed by Sandoz (now Novartis). The head-lice shampoo developed at Purdue was marketed by Nature’s Sunshine. The Hubble telescope was a joint venture among the European Space Agency, NASA and others, though the idea came from a Princeton astrophysicist. The laser came from research at American universities and Bell Labs.

Cole notes these collaborations but does little to address the numerous questions they raise. What is the optimal division of research among universities, private enterprise and the government?

Which is best for the integrity of the university? “At Columbia, we pursued technology transfer aggressively,” Cole writes. “If we succeeded, we could use the resources generated to compete effectively with wealthier universities.” [sic] but was Cole really just acting as a modern Robin Hood, or does the profit motive pervert the mission of his and other universities?

Today, the greatest threats to American higher education probably do not concern any of the things Cole discusses. Rather, they relate to the openness of the system and the academic preparedness of its students, who, as Cole acknowledges at the outset, play almost no role in this volume.

The great research universities educate a substantial fraction of all four-year undergraduates and produce more than three-quarters of all Ph.D.’s. As Cole acknowledges, “excellence in teaching and excellence in research” are “mutually reinforcing.”

But many students are finding it harder to gain access to that teaching. In 1980 average private tuition was 20 percent of median family income, but it is 50 percent today; average public tuition was 4 percent of median family income in 1980 and is 11 percent today. We have witnessed, just this past year, the vulnerability of the great California system.

Without renewed commitment to preparedness and access, the great American university may not remain great.

Let's stop trying to stack the deck, shall we Mr. President?

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