Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who's dismantling

the Ivory Tower?

"It’s hard to find a day we aren’t inundated by the news of more financial troubles for the University of Minnesota and higher education in general. It’s hard not to feel students’ educations are being left on the bench in place of a profit-driven administration"
From an outstanding column by Nora Leinen in the University of Minnesota Daily.

There is an excellent book on this topic by UC Santa Barbara English prof, Christopher Newfield, published by Harvard U. Press, "Unmaking the Public University."

The answer to the question about who is dismantling the Ivory Tower (and why) may be found there.

Just one example:

"I also show in Part III how privatization has distorted the universities accounts, thus underestimating the contribution of cultural fields to the university and of the university to society.

Though most universities insisted that the university be allowed to engage in self directed non-commercial activity, they increasingly kept the books as thought basic research would lead to commercial benefit. They also kept the books incorrectly, which resulted in disfavoring the humanities and social sciences while obscuring the little-known fact that externally funded scientific and technological research requires subsidy from internal funds that are generated in part by teaching enrollments in the human sciences."

This book should be required reading for the Morrill Hall Gang.

“I am deeply concerned about the notion that if we spend much less, that we can somehow weather these storms and still deliver the same quality of education, President Bruininks said in the Daily article.
This has already happened, at least according to the students who are here.

"As for commitment to quality education at an affordable cost? Meaningless drivel. The administration has flatly failed on its promises of excellence and affordability." Daily (13 Oct 2009)

There are solutions to these problems. Ask your colleague Gordon Gee at Ohio State and change the University's behavior at the legislature.

Leadership matters.

Also align the goals of the University with those of the citizens of the state. Are they interested in an affordable, high quality education? Or do they believe that more sand should be pounded down the rat-hole that is the third best public research university in the world fiasco? For shame! You know the answer to this question.

For some suggestions on how to get out of this mess, please see an old rant that is relevant even today:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Just What We Need - More Dr. Guptas?

Mayo Clinic, which is just down the road from us and supposedly a great collaborator, has just announced a program to send students off to J-School at ASU in Phoenix? I wonder if they talked to the folks at the U of M J-school?

From the ASU web-site:

Mayo Medical Students to Study At Cronkite School

Two leading institutions in their respective fields – Mayo Clinic and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication – are joining forces to give future physicians intensive cross-platform journalism training.

The Mayo-Cronkite Fellowship will bring students from Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn., to Phoenix following their second year of medical studies for a condensed one-year master’s program at Arizona State University’s (ASU) nationally recognized journalism school.

Mayo-Cronkite Fellows will return to Rochester for their final two years of medical studies following the year-long immersion in journalism. Officials anticipate enrolling the first Mayo-Cronkite Fellows in August.

The new dual-degree program is part of Mayo’s interdisciplinary approach to medical education. “Mayo Medical School is pioneering a fundamentally new way of educating physicians for the 21st century,” said Dr. Keith D. Lindor, dean of Mayo Medical School. “Our reason: We see health care challenges ahead that will require far more creative, interdisciplinary problem solving from physicians than ever before.”

“We’re very excited about this new collaboration that brings together national leaders in their respective fields of study,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan. “The Mayo-Cronkite program will produce leading physicians who have the ability to tell important, complex and nuanced medical stories to wide audiences on any platform – print, broadcast or online. That is a rare and powerful combination of skills.”


This development raises a lot of questions that the University of Minnesota should consider. What, exactly, is the long term relationship going to be between Mayo and the U of M? Did Mayo explore the possibility of a program like this with the U, which has an excellent J-School?

And of course do we need more Dr. Guptas? Does it really make sense to use a year for very many med students for this purpose? Couldn't the time be better spent on ethics, evaluating evidence, health disparities, multicultural health issues or a wealth of other worthwhile topics?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Memories of Dr. Cerra

Frank is a very likable guy. Quick with the quip and the smile.

Very rapid responses to emails and he obviously reads his own.

Any time I've asked to see him, he's agreed. Even at 7 am.

Unfortunately I disagree with him on a lot of things. Just search for Cerra in this blog. I got 43 hits.

But I hope Frank has a happy retirement - he deserves it!

In his honor I repost a little story that appeared here some time ago - when the University of St. Thomas was considering starting a medical school:

Friday, July 6, 2007

Bonzo Nights or

A Midsommer Nights Dreame

Mr. Bonzo always has trouble getting a good night’s sleep on the Fourth of July. The firecrackers remind him of gunshots and wars, and people he knew long ago who died in battle unnecessarily. They still do.

This Fourth was no different except for a party featuring Filipino cuisine at the house of some friends, Tom and Andy. Maybe it was the cuisine or the pear cider or Mrs. Bonzo and the lovely Linda, but Bonzo, who rarely dreams, had a dream. Maybe it was a hallucination, who knows? Rough notes upon awakening needed to be sanitized and converted to what passes for Bonzo English.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Tom and Andy, young brothers who have established an up-and-coming non-profit organization, enter the large industrial complex of Gopher Boat and Docks (GBD). They are here to visit their Uncle Frank and his business associate, Aunt Debby, in order to have lunch with them at the Village Walk, a nearby restaurant.

A guard escorts them to Uncle Frank’s big office in the Dock Rehab Building. Frank is the VP for R&D at GBD. Inside Uncle Frank and Aunt Debby have been engaged in a heated discussion about how to reverse the submarining fortunes of “the Docks” as they like to refer to their business.

Frank is sitting behind a computer, holding a Diet Coke in one hand, and a mouse in the other. “The Docks used to be a very good operation, we coulda been contenders, but lookaddis now, we’re number thirty-eight and sinking. Whadda we gonna do about dis, Debby, huh? Youse duh technical director of duh Docks division, howbout youse commin up wid a scheme dat puts us back up to, let's say for grins and giggles, number twenty. Our Prez has told duh stockholders dat duh company overall is going to be number tree in the woild. Ain’t dat a yuk? He knows that it will be difficult for Docks to go from thirty-eight to three, but can yuh have a work plan, as dem consultants like to say, by the foist of November? Twenty is about as lowball as we can get away with. After all, Legal is at twenty. Dey are tryin to make us look bad.”

Debby, gulped her Pepsi hard and responded: “Well of course I can do that Frank. As you know, for the right price, I can do anything. Why don’t I contact that consulting firm Frick and Frack? You know them, they’ve done a lot of work for us. They are an ethical consulting firm and their motto is: ‘We can help you justify anything short of larceny.’ I’m sure they can come up with just the plan to get us from thirty-eight to twenty in five years. They can also justify the numbers and come up with a laundry list of new buildings and personnel we need to give those bonzos over in Finance.”

Frank responds with a puzzled look: “Ah, Debby, don’t get all ethical on me. Do we have to use Frick and Frack? They are pansies. Always tellin us we can’t do stuff because we’ll get in trouble.”

To which Debby responded: “Now Frank, you know that we have been in trouble before with those folks from Not Invented Here. That was larceny and we can't do it again. Heads rolled over that one. You'll recall that my predecessor Goliath Black had to resign his Directorship and took a pasteurization position in the skunkworks. Talk about Scooter skating! Goliath was way ahead of his time. Occasionally you still see him skating around in his little white coat. At least Frick and Frack have kept us out of further trouble with Not Invented Here."

Frank, who has been busily integrating the discussion into his latest powerpoint presentation, replied: “Dats why I hired youse Debbie. Youse did not just fall off the turnip truck even though youse came from Kansas. Youse always knows the right consultants to finger. Managers here at The Docks need that skill. That’s why we are where we are today, doin what it is we do, thinkin creative and outtada box, marchin toward greatness, building new buildings, prioritizin our ambitious aspirations, followin da mission, followin da mission, followin da ..”

“Frank, Frank,” Debby said smiling and interrupting, “Your recording is stuck, turn it off and save it for those chumps over in Finance or maybe the dockworkers.” “You’re preaching to the converted, I know how to talk the talk and avoid walking the walk - just like you.”

“Like I said,” Frank replied, “dat’s why I hired youse.”

At this point Tom and Andy arrive and knock loudly.

“Uncle Frank, Uncle Frank, we’re here and ready to walk to the Walk.” said Tom in a loud voice.

“Come in, come in, youse two, I am just finishing up a business discussion wid your Aunt Debby. It's our general policy not to walk to the Walk, that's for the little people like youse, so howabouts we orders out. What would youse guys like? We usually have beluga and Veuve, but whadda youse guys want?” Frank graciously inquired.

“Well, Uncle Frank, our tastes are not quite as expensive as yours, if you don’t want to walk to the Walk, perhaps we could have your personal assistant or Aunt Debbie’s chief of staff phone it in? “ said Andy.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Frank graciously responded, “I think I’ll have a General Tso’s chicken with a side of spaghet wid marinara. Howzabout you, Debbie?”

“I’m on a diet Frank, the Rochester diet, I’ll just have a yogurt and a round fruit.” said Debbie.

“And youse boys, youse are so hot to walk to the Walk, whaddaya want?” inquired Frank graciously.

“Well,” said Andy, “I know that Tom wants some Singapore curried noodles and I’d like some egg rolls and a cup of sweet and sour.”

“What’s wid you boys? Here youse has duh chance for a nice fancy lunch and you wimp out on us. You got to get up to duh piggy trough when youse got da opportunity. Youse knows the saying about lean years an fat years, capish?” Frank graciously responded. He then summoned his assistant, Teri, to phone in the orders.

“Well boys, while we’re waitin for the grub, you gots anyting on your little minds to talk about?” Frank inquired graciously. “Maybe youse would like a pop while we’re waitin, you know, chill duh pipes so we can make jubjub. Whadill it be? Coke or Pepsi? Ah boys, the eternal question. Youse knows I'm sort of a philosopher and thats one of the subjects I devote my freetime to contemplatin. Sortalike 'To be, or not to be?' By the way, I’d kinda 'preciate it if youse would keep it on the qt that we got Pepsi in here. Duh Docks is a Coke only establishment, but your Aunt Debbie here got a gig wid Pepsi and so she likes to have a can now and then.”

“Uncle Frank,” replied Tom, “you know that stuff is bad for you. Rots your teeth. You finally quit smoking and now you're into drinking pop. What kind of example is that for the children? And Aunt Debbie, what are you doing drinking the stuff. You should know better. With your new bionic parts, you’re in a lot better shape than Uncle Frank. “

“Actually, boys” responded Debbie, “I hate the stuff.” “But for a hundred grand I’ll take a swig now and then. Just like those non-smoking movie stars who will smoke in a film if the price is right. This reminds me, Frank, did you know the contract renewal for pop at the Docks is coming up? I was thinking of challenging the Prez to an arm-wrestling match. If I win it’s Pepsi, he wins - Coke. What do you think?”

“Now Debby, youse got tuh watch out. I know you’re feelin all perky with the new bionic parts, but you got to remember that Our Prez Ruby is a jock from way back. Why he was the captain of his high school crew. It breaks his heart that GBD keeps coming in last in the annual BoatWorks Regatta. He keeps muttering: ‘We’re number one, we’re number one.’ Besides youse godda watchout for conflict of interest. Howse would it look if we allasudden went over to Pepsi, with you on the board of directors and knockin down a hundred grand last year? I tink we butts out.”

Turning to Tom and Andy, Frank graciously said: “So like I was sayin, boys, whats on youse little minds?”

“Uncle Frank,” Tom responded, “As you know we have started a non-profit organization, The Alliance for Edisonian Studies. Our goal is to encourage people to fend for themselves, to learn new entrepreneurial techniques always of course in an ethical fashion. Unofficially we call our operation EthicsRUs. We even have the Tomb of the Unknown Entrepreneur on one of our campuses. You really ought to come over and see it. It’s quite a sight.”

“Well tank you boys, but I godda be frank with youse, pardone the little punyay. I hear rumors on the street that I don’t like... Something about you gettin into da ring with GBD. I’m sure this can't be true, right? This talk is all just a liddle misunderstanding?"

“Well, er, uh,” stammered Andy, "that’s why we are here today seeking your wise counsel about our plans for the future. We wouldn’t want to do anything without running it by you, Uncle Frank, so that’s why we wanted to see you.”

“I am flattered that youse bright boys would seek my wise counsel, but of course that’s the right thing for youse to do. Tiny brains consult big brains, capish? Anyting else would be, ah, not very smart and might lead youse to have a liddle, shall we say...accident?” responded Frank, graciously.

“Well Uncle Frank,” continued Tom, “we were thinking about starting up a little entrepreneurial operation in the, uh, canoe business.”

“WTF, Tommy” responded Frank graciously. “Yuh knows dat duh Docks turns out canoes. Yuh wouldn’t want to compete wid us. Dat might be dangerous to yer health. I wouldn’t want to have to worry about youse. Youse is my own flesh and blood.”

“But Uncle Frank,” Andy replied in a hopeful tone, “You’ve told us before that canoes are a minor piece of your action. The big dough is in yachts and destroyers, you said. Your researchers in the skunkworks are topnotch engineers and designers. Why you even told us that canoes are a nuisance. We’d be taking the burden of producing canoes away from you so that you can concentrate on big boats and make that R&D pay off. Maybe you could become the third largest operation in the world if you didn’t have to worry about the piddly stuff? How about it Uncle Frank?”

“The answer is no, boys. I am shocked, shocked dat youse would think I’d let you get away wid dis. First of all, building a canoe factory is going to cost youse a lot of money which you ain’t got. Second you would be duplicating existing facilities, and not only that but MY existing facilities. And third, as I said before, this would be dangerous to your health.” Frank graciously responded.

“But Uncle Frank,” Andy pleaded, “We were just over at Midwest Mountaineering and the canoes are flying off the shelves, except for the expensive Kevlar ones that you make. The low priced aluminum and polymer canoes are out of there as fast as they can bring them in. The manager told us that we could make a killing and that he could sell everything that we could produce. Also, we’ve found an old factory cheap that would allow us to get into the business pretty reasonably. So, how about it?”

“Boys, you harda hearing?" Frank graciously responded. “Building more canoes ain’t gonna solve the problem. We already got enough canoes. Since folks don’t buy our Kevlar canoes, then there’s obviously no canoe shortage. Let em paddle Kevlar or else shut up about this shortage. Besides, if we used the canoes we got in the right way, we wouldn’t need any more. Dat’s why we are where we are today, doin what it is we do, thinkin creative and outtada box, marchin toward greatness, building new buildings, prioritizin our ambitious aspirations..”

“So boys, I’ll leave youse wid someting to think about in your tiny liddle brains since youse asked me for my wise counsel. I tinks you should figure out a way solve this canoe problem. Notice that I said problem and not shortage. So why don’t you start turnin out what I’m gonna call canoe quarterbacks. Aint dat creative? But dat’s what I do, after all. Dat’s why all of the Docks reports to me, including your Aunt Debbie. Dats why dey call me da decider. Anyhoo, dese canoe quarterbacks can make sure that the canoes are being used efficiently so that this canoe problem goes away, capish?” Frank graciously asked.

“But Uncle Frank,” Tom replied, “There IS a canoe shortage and this quarterback stuff is just your typical blowoff. No one in their right mind would start a canoe quarterback school. What if we were to start building canoes specifically designed for children, how about that?”

“Nope,” responded Frank graciously, “We’se already in dat business and are building a new factory. Unfortunately there is another group of unethical thugs already in the business. Dey are ALSO building a new factory, so we sure as shootin don’t need you boys into da mix. “

“So Uncle Frank,” said Andy, “Does this mean you are duplicating the children’s canoe factory by building another one? You just told us that we shouldn’t build a canoe factory because that would duplicate your operation. Somehow this seems contradictory?”

“Nah, not at all boys,” Frank graciously responded. "I do a lotta readin. I'm a particular fan of Alice in Wonderland - dat's my favorite book. Somewhere in dere it says, and I'm gonna have to paraphrase: 'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.' Don't youse guys ever forget dat. It's a powerful concept. Can get you outta lot of tight squeezes, shall we say."

“OK, boys, it's comin up on nap time, so I’ll make youse an offer youse can’t refuse, walk on over to the Walk and have your lunch there. Dat General Tso’s and spaghet wid marinara is on me. I’m gonna have my usual lunch of beluga and Veuve after my nap. Tink about whad I said and stop back when you have come to your senses. Don’t take too long to decide or I’ll have to send over my tailor, Angelo, to fit youse for Portland overcoats. Ha, ha, ha, boys. Don’t go all white and faint on me. That was just a little of my famous humor and good cheer, capish?” Frank graciously said while escorting Tom and Andy to the door.

Outside Tom and Andy walked to the Walk as the color slowly returned to their faces. “Wow, that was a close one” said Tom, “good thing we’ve already talked to Frick and Frack. They've run the numbers and we're in the canoe business. They’re also going to take out Angelo. Since that wouldn't be larceny, it's not against policy. It makes you feel proud to do business with consultants who believe in ethical behavior.”
Biotech is a Tough Game

Those at the University of Minnesota who claim that biotech will be our salvation should keep the following in mind:

Thomas Lee reports:

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota– VitalMedix Inc., a promising drug company spun out of the University of Minnesota, has shut down and will liquidate its remaining assets, according to sources and documents filed with U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Monday because it could not attract enough investors, said CEO Bill Brown, blaming a weak economy that has scared off venture capital firms across the country.

“Early stage capital appears to have been abandoned by the capital markets,” Brown said. “I consider this to be a business failure, not a technology failure. VitalMedix had to spend so much time trying to raise money that the technology was not getting developed.”

Unable to raise enough money in Minnesota, VitalMedix moved across the river to Hudson, Wisconsin where it hoped to find angels willing to exploit the state’s generous tax credits for early stage investors. The start-up also hired Brown and John McDonald, two former top executives at MGI Pharma, to find capital.

The company soon became a rallying cry for supporters of a long elusive Minnesota angel credit that could make the state more competitive with Wisconsin and other 26 other states with similar incentives. A bill establishing a three year, $40 million credit is advancing through the Minnesota legislature and will likely pass this year.

Wisconsin’s tax credits helped VitalMedix raise $800,000 in angel money on top of the $600,000 in bridge loans the company secured in Minnesota, Brown said. But it was not nearly enough. Brown estimated the company ultimately needed $15 million to advance the technology to a point where it could be sold to a large pharmaceutical manufacturer, including $6 million just to move the drug from animal studies to a Phase I human clinical trial.

In many ways, VitalMedix embodies the unique difficulties for inventors of a novel drug therapy to convert their ideas into real markets. Getting federal approval for drugs is even tougher than medical devices, though investors say it’s increasingly difficult to earn a return on either product. Early stage drug firms often die because they can’t afford to develop the technology to a stage where a larger venture capital firm or a pharma company would be willing to assume the remaining risk.

The university will continue to develop Tamiaysn with the help of federal research money, said Doug Johnson, head of the university’s Venture Center who also sits on VitalMedix’s board of directors. The school owned about a 20 percent stake in the company. [!]

The likely scenario is to eventually license the drug to an outside pharma company, he said. The real question, though, is how long that will take. And of course, how much money that will cost.


The U's strengths have been in the sciences and engineering in the past.

This should be kept in mind when the administration makes what they like to refer to as investments. I think that the four new medical sciences buildings were a mistake but strongly support the nano building that hopefully will come on line in a couple of years.

Green chemistry/biochemistry as well as green energy production is one of the true strengths of the university that should be developed. The U has left the chemistry department holding the bag on retention packages and as a consequence we have lost some excellent people to Texas, Wisconsin, and (gasp) tOSU.

The Morrill Hall Gang seems to be weak on science and engineering...

Hopefully that will change. Leadership matters.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dr. Frank Cerra Announces His Retirement

As Medical School Dean and

Academic Health Center VP

at University of Minnesota.

A letter from President Bruninks arrived via email:

February 24, 2010

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing today because our long time leader and colleague, Senior Vice President and Dean Dr. Frank Cerra, has informed me that he plans to retire from his position effective December 31, 2010.

The rest of the letter may be viewed at The Periodic Table, Too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The GAMC 38

GOP House Members Who Voted

for GAMC

Jim Abeler
Paul Anderson
Sarah Anderson
Michael Beard
Laura Brod
Tony Cornish
Greg Davids
Matt Dean
Randy Demmer
Bob Dettmer
Connie Doepke
Keith Downey
Rob Eastlund
Pat Garofalo
Steve Gottwalt
Bob Gunther
Rod Hamilton
Joe Hoppe
Larry Howes
Tim Kelly
Mary Kiffmeyer
Morrie Lanning
Jennifer Loon
Tara Mack
Doug Magnus
Carol McFarlane
Denny McNamara
Mark Murdoch
Bud Nornes
Joyce Peppin
Tim Sanders
Peggy Scott
Marty Seifert
Steve Smith
Paul Torkelson
Dean Urdahl
Torry Westrom
Kurt Zellers

Zellers and Seifert are most interesting.

Once the over-ride vote has been taken I'll revisit this issue. In the meanwhile, I'd suggest that these folks get hold of a copy of Profiles in Courage and read it. Except for Jim Abeler who has already proven that he is willing to do the right thing for citizens of the state despite political arm-twisting and thuggery.
Latest on Possible Code Violations

at the University of Minnesota's

Northrop Auditorium

I've put an earlier post up on this matter. So far, the City of Minneapolis has begged off because of the Vatican-like nature of the U. I did receive a helpful response from the Minnesota Attorney General's office and am pursuing some of the available options. One of them includes a complaint to the person at the University who is legally responsible for code violations.

For further details please see:

Code Violations at Northrop Auditorium?

It would be in the best interests of all concerned to see that this matter is taken care of as soon as possible. Large numbers of people are in Northrop for events and people are working in the building every day. If there are problems with Code, they need immediate attention. Further foot dragging is inappropriate.

According to Cultural Czar Steven Rosenstone:

"The University is very concerned about the fragility of the building. Northrop is egregiously out of compliance with code and life-safety requirements and code officials could close the building at any time."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Are we really interested

in job creation in Minnesota?

Solution is obvious

As the Boston Globe pointed out today:

A Fact-Stimulus Created Jobs.

"Stimulus opponents [TeePaw..], often motivated by strictly ideological or political concerns, have repeatedly claimed that the bill didn’t create a single job that the economy wouldn’t have created anyway. This isn’t true, and it should be beyond the bounds of political debate to claim it."

So we should immediately pass a bonding bill that WILL create jobs, no matter what TeePaw and other ideologues claim.

Are we to take "on faith" that a tax cut might stimulate job creation, while ignoring the fact that an economic stimulus, in the form of a bonding bill, will actually cause job creation?

It is time for the remaining rational GOPers to join the DFL in overriding the ill-advised decisions of Governor Pawlenty. They are not in the best interests of the state and serve only to advance his presidential ambitions. Pawlenty's sins will be laid at the feet of the next GOP candidate for governor. So continued bad behavior by the GOP in the legislature is actually helping to elect a DFL governor. And of course the GOP faces the prospect of shrinking even further after people come to their senses and realize that the GOP in the legislature made Pawlenty's bad decisions stick.

You can't have it both ways folks. Vote yes on GAMC one day and no on an override veto later. This is simply dishonest. The people are not as stupid as you seem to assume. Nor are they as heartless...

I've voted for GOP candidates in the past and hope to in the future. But someone in that party needs to read the book Profiles in Courage.

Fiscal responsibility actually means something and it isn't Do Nothing - which seems to be the present GOP gospel.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

At the University of Minnesota:

Cost Effectiveness Is a Sometime Thing?

"We looked at the cost-benefit ratio and didn't think it was worth it," said Sharon Allen, a professor of family medicine and community health who is course director of "Physician and Patient," the class where students get their first chance to interview and examine patients.

Numbers From the Data Planet Data Base:

Possible sources for funding?

Deborah Powell $427,780

Associate Vice President for
New Models of Medical Education

Lindsey Henson $330,000

Vice Dean for Education

"will facilitate the implementation
of MedEd2010
, the medical school
initiative to transform medical education." (from U's website)

Roberta Sonnino $260,200

Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs

(This was previously a half-time position)

MaryJo Kreitzer $178,295

Director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing

(Dr. Kreitzer is a fan of homeopathy.)
So with very little effort, more than a million dollars in medical school administrator salary can be identified. There is more where this came from.

Since we don't have a full time Dean, we've got a full time Executive Vice Dean and a bunch of other deanlets. And the ex-dean has a job as VP for new models of medical education [sic] - whatever that is. This is the result of a coup that took place last year in the medical school and a re-organization that left Dean Powell without a job, but only temporarily.

This re-organization was touted as saving administrative dollars,
but that doesn't seem to have happened:

"The goal here is to first and foremost to consolidate and strengthen leadership in the medical school and to achieve cost savings." U Spokesperson Wolter
Show me the money!

Is the same cost-effectiveness criterion being applied to these positions as was used to decide to make the change to virtual, rather than real, pelvic exams?

In light of the numbers above, claiming that saving $150,000 is cost-effective is a joke. The reaction has been uniformly negative: from patients, from current and past U of M med students, and from docs and med students at other institutions. For once the U should admit that it made a mistake and do the right thing.

But weary negligence is apparently de rigueur at the U of M medical school...

See, for example:

Med2010 - the Pause That Refreshes
Med School Postpones Major Curricular Changes

Old Story - Still No Answers
Is the U Ever Going to Do Anything About Double Dippers?

Something is Rotten In the State of Minnesota

And a truly pitiful excuse for foot dragging by the now dean of the med school:

"We're not violating a legal statute"
(How about first do no harm?)

Apparently, at Minnesota:


Speaking Truth to Power

State Representative Alice Hausman

on Governor Pawlenty's

Bad Faith Negotiations

One of our best state representatives has an opinion piece on this topic in the Star-Tribune:

Compromise on bonding will work only if the governor is serious

The Feb. 18 Star Tribune editorial suggested the Legislature should trim the amount of the bonding bill by $300 million in order to meet Gov. Tim Pawlenty's demands for a more modest bill.

Unfortunately, Pawlenty is more invested in maintaining his political position than he is invested in Minnesota's future.

If he had Minnesota's best interests at heart, he would have answered me directly when, at a meeting in his office Wednesday evening, I looked him in the eye and asked, "What size bill can we agree to write that you will sign?"

The governor had no response.

I proposed to him almost exactly what your editorial suggested; a bonding bill $125 million smaller with perhaps six or seven projects he specifically wanted removed to make it more acceptable to him. But then I added, "But you're not willing to do that."

He didn't deny it.

If someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time, goes the saying. Time and again Pawlenty has shown us he views negotiation as a one-way street. With vague responses and shifting demands, he forces us into a position of negotiating against ourselves, and worse, against Minnesota's best interests. Compromise by definition is a two-way street. Parties start from a position they assume they will move from in order to reach an agreement each can live with. However, the governor's position in negotiation has always been "Do what I want or I'll do what I want.

State Economist Tom Stinson has told us repeatedly that last year's bonding bill, combined with federal stimulus dollars, helped keep this recession from turning into a depression, saving and creating thousands of Minnesota jobs. A jobs-focused bonding bill this year, reflecting equitable compromise from both the Legislature and the governor, would build on that momentum in a responsible, affordable way.
Representative Alice Hausman is an outstanding public servant. Let us hope that the same can be said of our next governor, be (s)he a Republican or a DFLer. Governor Pawlenty had better hope his national ambitions pan out - when the consequences of his poor decisions and leadership come to pass, he will not be able to run successfully for dogcatcher in the state of Minnesota.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

University of Minnesota Medical School

Changes Pelvic Exam Lesson For Medical Students

Money for Alternative Medicine, But
We Don't Have Enough For Real Medicine?

Coke (and Pepsi) are the real thing at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Plastic pelvic exam models, not so much.

The gang that couldn't shoot straight is back in town.

Fresh from the endorsement of homeopathy by the Director the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota comes the latest example of foot in mouth disease:

From the Strib:

Historically, the students have practiced on paid demonstrators but the university has recently switched to mannequins in an effort to save money.

Each year, the school spends more than $150,000 to hire and train the practice patients.

Starting this semester, however, second-year students will learn the lecture material online and will use the mannequins for their pelvic training.

Assistant Professor Dr. Jan van Dis tells The Minnesota Daily that many students think the change will diminish their education, but she says there's no way to know if that's true.

[How about a little common sense? Also, Dr. van Dis might want to check the medical education literature on this one. Nice study done at Northwestern...]

She says the university will study the change and could switch back if it doesn't work.

[And how will that be decided?]

To no one's surprise, the reaction has been almost 100% negative. There are now 70 comments on this short article and they are well worth reading to see how this new action by the U is perceived.

Once again, you have to ask yourself:

What are these people at the med school thinking?

From the comments on this article:

Women's Health Care
Why am I not surprised that the health care industry thinks that practice could be taught on a mannequin? Are they doing the same for prostrate checks? Every woman is build differently and the fact that they think a cookie cutter doll could cover off on a multitude of shapes & sizes is insane! OY!
posted by horse2 on Feb. 18, 10 at 7:05 AM |
74 of 75 people liked this comment.
And how will you tell if it doesn't work?
posted by kuan on Feb. 18, 10 at 7:07 AM |
71 of 71 people liked this comment.
I agree with Sara626. Tough times or not, there are many things these students will not be learning because of having to use mannequins. I am more than happy to have my tax dollars pay for "real patients".
posted by rushja on Feb. 18, 10 at 7:43 AM |
58 of 60 people liked this comment.
This is news?
Really? Isn't there something more important happening in the world that you could cover?
posted by demlover on Feb. 18, 10 at 7:55 AM |
4 of 94 people liked this comment
Maybe it is a question of priorities?
Would you rather spend money on the Deborah Powell Women's Health Center at the U or to pay actual people for realistic training in this important area. A no brainer...
posted by wbgleason on Feb. 18, 10 at 7:56 AM |
32 of 33 people liked this comment.
I go to med school in Chicago. Since there are 7 med schools in the Chicago area, we all use the same paid "patients" to practice our male and female exams on and thus share the training costs (and, for these brave patients, it gives them a lot of chances to make some money). Maybe the U could look into renting another school's patients? Perhaps it'd be cheaper to fly in 30 standardized patients from Madison or Chicago rather than paying for all the training themselves? I can't imagine going into 3rd year without having real practice in male and female exams - I feel bad for the U students. I guess they could always do what the Candians do and use anesthesized patients going into surgery for practice! (Bad idea)
posted by d44332211 on Feb. 18, 10 at 8:21 AM |
38 of 41 people liked this comment
I went to the U in the early 70's. There were no mannequins, no models; we started supervised on a few patients then were on our own - generally the exams were checked by a more experienced physician. (To all those now 60-somethings who had clumsy pelvics in '72-'73, we're sorry, we were trying our best.) Since then, I've taught other procedures with mannequins. They are ok to teach the rudiments; the basic anatomy, what goes in which hand, what is the sequence, etc, but mannequins do not replicate human tissue. I would rather learn this absolute beginner stuff on a mannequin than a person, but real skill comes only with a lot of practice in real life. I've never worked with a model, but I would think they would be able to give valuable feedback that a patient would not feel comfortable giving. charlie md
posted by carl5100 on Feb. 18, 10 at 8:51 AM |
43 of 43 people liked this comment.

I attended the U of MN med school in the 1990s. I remember learning these exams. Every woman's anatomy is different. You also have to learn to apply the right amount of pressure to the speculum. IMHO, use of mannequins will diminished the students' learning.The paid volunteers gave good feedback. You can't learn these on mannequins. Women, would you want a medical student or resident perform a pelvic exam on you if they've only practice on plastic models?
posted by mch651 on Feb. 18, 10 at 12:15 PM |
17 of 17 people liked this comment.

Students worried too!
I am a current med student at the U of M, and the students are highly worried about this too. For clarification, in past years, students would practice on the plastic mannequin, then work with a standardized patient. Real patients aren't trained to give feedback regarding speculum pressure or location of the ovaries, whereas the standardized patients provide this input. This is detrimental to our education, and while the med school is facing huge budget cuts from the state, I'd like to see what the administrators are doing to maintain the education of MN doctors.
posted by ummedstudent on Feb. 18, 10 at 1:18 PM |
8 of 8 people liked this comment.

I'm a medical student at the U. Our class was one of the last to be trained using both mannequins and real people. I can tell you I felt very confident the first time I did a pelvic exam on a real patient and I would not have felt that way without this workshop. I am saddened to here another frustrating example of the wasted time and money of our medical school. It should not cost the medical school $150,000 to run this training. This should be obvious to everyone reading this article. If you had any idea the number of deans who do the same exact job in the medical school you would be shocked. They promoted a project called Med 2010 for >2 years and thought it would be revolutionary. The problem was that they didn't come up with any specific plan and gave it up. The cuts new dean Lindsey Henson is spearheading are scary for the future of the school. Its a shame the medical school can't get their act together. Did you know the U has the most expensive tuition of a state funded medical school in the country?

A medical student from Chicago mentioned that there are seven medical schools in the Chicago area. This is brilliant-- there's lots of competition and in fact, his medical school provides real patient-actors to work with. Here the medical school has no competition. Many people, including me, chose the U of M because it's located in the Twin Cities where all my family and friends live. $150,000 for the exam? On a per student basis that's $880-- it would have taken me 20 minutes with a real patient. (That's about what it took with the male.) Are we paying our patient actors $2500 per hour? I suspect there is some waste in the system.... Competition within the Twin Cities is the only real fix. Legislators get to work!

And the coup de grâce:

No money for real education

I'm a current student who was directly effected by this cost saving move and I can say it is a terribly short sighted move by the med school. ... my colleagues will be much less confident and more apt to make painful mistakes when we have to (and we all will) do the pelvic exam for the "first time" on a real patient. This cost saving act is particularly ridiculous given the Med school thought it was a good idea to rent a bunch of buses and bring us to a local quack factory (alternative medicine school) but not fund real educational opportunities.

For once it would be nice to see the medical school administration publicly admit that they have made a mistake and back off on this new policy.

Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Director of University of Minnesota

Center for Spirituality and Healing

Writes Approvingly of Homeopathy?

From the Daily:

As a scientist [sic] and nurse, I read with great interest an article that appeared in the medical journal Chest (Frass et al., 2005). This is a peer-reviewed scientific journal read by many physicians and surgeons. It is published by the American College of Chest Surgeons (no slouch of a group). The article describes a study (a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial) comparing critically-ill patients on mechanical ventilators in Intensive Care Units who received a substance called potassium dichromate with those who did not.

It was found that the patients who received potassium dichromate had less thick, stringy tracheal secretions and were able to get off the ventilator more quickly and out of the ICU. Clinical outcomes like that are important.

Potassium dichromate is a homeopathic remedy.
Not so fast, Director Kreitzer:

From a letter to the editor of Chest, the journal Director Kreitzer cited:

"It surprises me that CHEST would publish an article (March 2005)1 on the effect of a therapeutic agent when in fact the patients received none of the agent mentioned in the title of the article.

It is not mentioned in the title, but reading the article reveals that the 'potassium dichromate' was a homeopathic C30 dilution. That is a dilution by a factor of 10^60 [ten raised to the sixtieth power], and for those of us who believe in the Avogadro number, that means there would be one molecule in a sphere with a diameter of approximately 1.46 × 10^11 m. That is close to the distance from the earth to the sun. To describe this as “diluted and well shaken,” as the authors do, is the understatement of the century. The fact of the matter is that the medicine contained no medicine."

"The authors will doubtless claim some magic effect of shaking that causes the water to remember for years that it once had some dichromate in it. The memory of water has been studied quite a lot. The estimate of the duration of this memory has been revised2 downwards from a few picoseconds to approximately 50 femtoseconds. That is not a very good shelf life."

"It is one thing to tolerate homeopathy as a harmless 19th century eccentricity for its placebo effect in minor self-limiting conditions like colds. It is quite another to have it recommended for seriously ill patients."

That is downright dangerous.

David Colquhoun, FRS
University College of London

Letter to the editor: Treating Critically Ill Patients With Sugar Pills
David Colquhoun, FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society)
doi: 10.1378/chest.06-2402 CHEST February 2007 vol. 131 no. 2 635-636

Third greatest public research university in the world? In your dreams. Not while this kind of junk science is spoken of with approval by someone in the Academic Health Center. And, please, don't try to drag in hand washing and infection. This is simply intellectually dishonest. The role of microbes in infection is well understood and involves no magic.

Homeopathy is simply absurd as anyone who has taken general chemistry and understands the concept of dilution and molecules should realize. However, as long as NIH has $ for alternative medicine, I guess this kind of stuff will be tolerated in our evidence-based medical school? I wonder who will be the first person to get a Nobel Prize in homeopathy?


Magic, anyone?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Absurd Claims

and Idle Speculation

Applications up 10 percent to the University of Minnesota

(according to Provost Sullivan this is due to the improving academic reputation)

From the Strib:

Provost Thomas Sullivan told the Board of Regents on Friday that applications to the university system were up 10 percent over last year.

That's about 45,000 applications to the system and 36,000 applications to the Twin Cities campus alone.

Applications from Minnesota are up 6.4 percent while applications from outside the state are up 12 percent.

Sullivan says university officials are attributing the increase to what he called the improving academic reputation at the university

a) There is this thing called a recession, Provost Sullivan, and it is driving up applications to college everywhere.

b) Would that increase in out of state applications have anything to do with the fire-sale on out of state tuition that is going on in the neighborhood near you? Please see:

"On Maximizing Tuition Revenue at the University of Minnesota"

(Alternate title: "If you can't compete on quality, compete on price?")

c) Apparently students who are presently at the U don't buy into these supposed academic reputation improvements:

"As for commitment to quality education at an affordable cost? Meaningless drivel. The administration has flatly failed on its promises of excellence and affordability." Daily (13 Oct 2009)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Statement on Faculty and the Budget

Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure

University of Minnesota

February 8, 2010

The Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure met with Vice Provost Arlene Carney on Friday, February 5, to discuss matters related to tenured and probationary faculty appointments and the budget decisions that will need to be made in the near future. Three sections of the tenure code bear directly on the discussions. Vice Provost Carney was emphatic in telling the Committee that the University would follow the requirements of the tenure code, which are transparent and ironclad. (The tenure code can be found at

1. Section 4.5 of the code governs salary reductions:

"4.5 Reduction Or Postponement Of Compensation. If the University or a collegiate unit is faced with financial stringency that does not amount to a fiscal emergency, the president may propose a temporary reduction or postponement in compensation to be allocated to faculty in accordance with a mathematical formula or similar device. If approved by the Faculty Senate or the appropriate collegiate assembly, respectively, and the Board of Regents, the recurring salary of all faculty members in the University or in the designated collegiate units shall be reduced temporarily in accordance with the formula or device. The reduction may not continue for longer than two years, unless renewed by the same procedure." [Emphasis added.]

Vice Provost Carney pointed out that discussions or implementations of furloughs are covered by Section 4.5. Any institution-wide faculty furloughs (for faculty not in a bargaining unit) will need approval by the Faculty Senate. Both Professor Miksch and Vice Provost Carney noted that Vice President Carrier promised that any furlough proposal would be brought to the Committee on Faculty Affairs for discussion as well.

2. Vice Provost Carney reminded the Committee that the University cannot terminate or lay off tenured or probationary faculty without invoking the fiscal-emergency language of Section 11. The University is nowhere near invoking Section 11 and no one is discussing implementation of a "fiscal emergency."

3. Section 7a of the tenure code deals with post-tenure review. It should be clearly understood that neither the Provost nor any other central officer has anything to do with initiating post-tenure review. It must be initiated in a department: A department chair/head and an elected faculty committee must look at a faculty member's record and agree that the performance falls below the department's goals and expectations. If the chair/head and the elected committee agree, a letter goes to the faculty member setting out a plan and allowing at least a year to complete it. After that, if the department chair and elected faculty committee agree the person did not meet the goals and expectations, they may jointly ask the dean for special peer review, which requires appointment of a special 5-member faculty committee, one selected by the faculty member and four by the unit. This process has no involvement of the Provost or central administrators (unless the initial unit is also a college, such as the Law School, and the dean's special review is done by the Provost).

Any claim that the central or collegiate administrations are going to begin using post-tenure review more often or in summary fashion to remove tenured faculty is false, as that is not permitted by the tenure code. The Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee has been reassured that the intent of requiring units to spell out the standards for post-tenure review is an attempt to protect faculty members from vague standards, to make the standards more transparent, and to comply with the due-process provisions of Section 7a of the tenure code.

Anyone who has questions about these provisions of the tenure code should feel free to contact either of the co-chairs of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, Professors Barbara Elliott ( or Karen Miksch (

Adopted unanimously February 8, 2010. This statement has been endorsed by Professors Marti Hope Gonzales and Michael Oakes, chair and vice chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Is Northrop Auditorium

at the University of Minnesota


Today I mailed out a letter to the Attorney General of the State of Minnesota. In it I quote Steven Rosenstone, VP of Cultural/Scholarly Affairs [sic], who states that Northrop is egregiously out of compliance with code and that there are life-threatening issues. If this statement is true, then it seems that the University should close Northrop until these problems are fixed.

I'm sure Dylan would not want the house to come down, literally, during a performance...

Dear Attorney General Swanson:

I write concerning possible violations of code at Northrop auditorium as well as what has been claimed to be life safety issues:

“The University is very concerned about the fragility of the building. Northrop is egregiously out of compliance with code and life-safety requirements and code officials could close the building at any time.”

Steven Rosenstone, Vice President for Cultural/Scholarly Affairs
University of Minnesota

This statement was made by VP Rosenstone and recorded in publicly available minutes of the University of Minnesota Senate Committee on Finance and Planning, January 25. 2010.

These claims by a university official are shocking. If true, then the University should immediately close Northrop until it can be gotten up to code and life-safety issues addressed. To do otherwise is irresponsible.

I first contacted the City of Minneapolis to report these possible code violations. There I was told that since the building belongs to the State of Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis could not do anything. They suggested that I contact your office for help in this matter.

I trust that your office or some other appropriate agency will pursue this matter as soon as possible and I look forward to a response concerning this matter.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

“Every 20 nickels makes a buck,” Pfutzenreuter said.

(Pfutzenreuter is the chief financial officer at the University of Minnesota)

Really gives you confidence, doesn't it?

From the Daily:

In preparation for another long season of planning the budget, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks has released a preliminary framework to guide departments as the financial guessing game moves forward.

In a Jan. 26 announcement, Bruininks asked academic and support units to work on slashing their budgets by an average 2.75 percent for fiscal year 2011. The actual amount could be “tweaked,” University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said. Some areas could be cut more and others less.

Bruininks’ preliminary budget plan also includes a 2 percent pay increase for all employees, based on merit or bargaining contracts.

[What? This makes no sense.]

Furloughs are on the table, but nothing has been decided.

[So we're going to have pay raises and furloughs, maybe? Is that like bread and circuses?]

The University’s Office of Human Resources is currently assessing scenarios that would let the University save money through the mandatory days off, while making it fair for all employees, said Joe Kelly, human resources chief of staff.

[Except those that got laid off?]
Sort of reminds me of the old who's on first routine. The Morrill Hall gang has this act down to a science.

Time to face the music at University of Minnesota?

(Or are the lambs just being prepared for slaughter...)

From the Daily:

Last week, University President Bob Bruininks e-mailed faculty and staff an update on the University of Minnesota’s budget process.

In his message, Bruininks warned of a further 2.75 percent cut to both academic and support units that already absorbed a larger cut this year. He also reaffirmed plans to increase tuition by 7.5 percent, though a portion of that will be offset this year by federal stimulus funds. In a welcome departure from past statements, however, there was acknowledgement of growing resistance to tuition increases.

The budget cuts may require further reductions in staff or salaries. To the extent that staff furloughs must be implemented, they should be done in such a way as to impact students as little as possible. This will require focusing them away from front-line staff, teaching assistants and faculty and instead toward administration, managers and back-room functions.

This weighting would help correct for massively unbalanced recent growth. In the past decade, administrative staff has grown by 75 percent while faculty increased by only 14 percent. This disparity means that administrative salaries are fully one-third the size of teaching salaries.

Though any budget cut will be painful, the University’s leaders have a responsibility to implement it in a way that keeps the University’s essential focus on teaching intact.

My comment on this article - from the Daily web-site:

A couple of questions for the Morrill Hall crowd:

What, exactly, is going to happen to tuition when the federal stimulus money is no longer available?

How much will tuition go up that year? Will the portion that has been covered in the past be added to an additional increase?

A little honesty now about questions like this would be appropriate from people who will not be around to face the music when the full tuition bill finally comes due.


What is the true educational cost for a U of M student for one year and how much of that is covered by tuition + the state's contribution? Tuition money should not be used to subsidize ambitious aspirations, other than educational ones.

It is always interesting to see what our friends in Wisconsin are doing:

From the Associated Press:

"Other states have been more subtle in their budget balancing attempts.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is in the first year of a four-year tuition increase plan aimed at improving quality. In addition to statewide tuition increases of about 5.5 percent, in-state students at UW-Madison will pay an extra $250 a year each year.

This year, tuition went up by $617 to $7,296 or about 9.2 percent, but financial aid increased at the same time.

Still, few are complaining because the extra money -- $100 million in the first four years and $40 million each year afterward -- is reserved for providing more classes, improving student services and increasing need-based financial aid."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

University of Minnesota and developers

plan $20 million venture fund

to anchor major science park

This sounds interesting...

From Thomas Lee in MedCity News:

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — The University of Minnesota is teaming up with private developers to establish a major venture-backed commercialization hub next to the school’s Biomedical Discovery District.

Construction could begin in 2011 on The Minnesota Center for Life Science Technology Commercialization, a 60,000-square-foot building designed to convert ideas and technology from the university biomedical researchers into viable start-ups. A key component to the center is a $20 million private venture capital fund that will support the companies.

The center is the first step in establishing the Minnesota Science Park, a planned $750 million, 500,000-square-foot series of facilities adjacent to the Biomedical Discovery District on private land jutting southeast from the TCF Bank Stadium on the east side of the Minneapolis campus.

“The development of this public-private partnership represents recognition of the value of our innovations,” Mulcahy said. “People want close access to our people and technology. It will plant a firm anchor in the area and increase the density of companies in close proximity to the U. These are essential elements of an innovation ecosystem. You don’t have to look very far to see the potential,” a reference to the University of Wisconsin’s successful research park across the Mississippi River in Madison.

The key words from Mulcahy’s remarks are “close,” “proximity” and “density.” Minnesota has tried to build incubators before but with little or no success. Bianco [Bianco is spearheading the project.] should know: He was the first CEO of the University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL) in St. Paul.

The $20 million facility, which opened in 2004, was meant to jump-start a “biosciences corridor,” by commercializing technologies from the U. But UEL suffered from several problems. The facility was located at least 20 minutes by car from the main Minneapolis campus, precluding easy interaction between investors, researchers and entrepreneurs. At the time, the U’s tech transfer office was in disarray, which meant UEL had nothing to incubate. Finally, the UEL had no money, relying instead on corporate contributions and rent from tenants that had little or no connection to the school.

However, major obstacles remain. Facing state budget cuts, the U has limited financial resources. In order for construction to start, the school must lease a good portion of the commercialization center and commit tech transfer and research assets to the facility. So far, the university and developer have not reached an agreement.

“Construction planning can begin at anytime once we have agreement on where the [money] will come to create the space and co-locate those assets in one location,” he continued. “If we get this agreement, it would likely be nine months to having a spade in the ground.”

Mulcahy is cautiously optimistic.

“There’s nothing there yet,” he said. “But it’s an important step in the right direction. I like to think that this could be the start of big things for us.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

More on MoreU

Sunshine is the best disinfectant...

Rosemount, Minn. — The University of Minnesota has big plans for UMore Park, 5,000 acres it owns south of the Twin Cities. The university hopes to build an environmentally friendly community on the land, one that could be home to 30,000 people in a few decades.
The university's UMore Park proposal is massive in scope. Essentially, the university wants to build a new town from the ground up near Rosemount, about 20 miles south of the Twin Cities.

Right now, the eight-square-mile piece of land, which the university bought for $1 from the U.S. Army half a century ago, is essentially abandoned. One portion holds massive concrete ruins left by the Gopher Ordnance Works, a short-lived World War II-era gun powder factory. Most of the property though is farmland the University currently uses for research.

The first phase of the UMore Park development is actually under that farmland. An estimated 380 million tons of gravel sits under the soil, a valuable resource the U wants to mine starting in the summer of 2011.

That plan clashes with work done by some of the university's own researchers.

Lois Braun, a research associate at the university, is studying hazelnuts and whether they might make a good alternative crop in Minnesota. It turns out her research plot sits right on top of hundreds of millions of tons of gravel.

"Apparently that vein of gravel runs right up through here," Braun said. "It happens to coincide with the land that is the best farmland out here."

Braun figures that within a few years her plot, and the research plots of other researchers, will be dug up as the area is mined for gravel. She questions whether that activity is worth the loss of land.

"It's part of the legacy of the people of Minnesota, to have this land to research the future of food production," she said.

The gravel mining might mean a healthy profit for the U. Within a few years the school could pull in $3 million to $7 million annually from the operation. Concerns about the project haven't been limited to the effects of mining on research at the site.

"It's very important to us to be contributing money to the university, as opposed to taking money away," Muscoplatt said.

So far, the university has put more than $9 million into the plan. Muscoplatt said gravel mining revenue means the project will pay that money back by next year, and start providing revenue to the university.

We've heard some real hype about all this. e.g.

"Bruininks said he didn't know of a university in the United States that was doing something [MoreU Park aka Muscoplat's Folly] as 'courageous and innovative.'" (Daily - 6/13/08)

"Regent David Metzen said he thought the future of the project is the most important decision to face the University in the last 15 years." (Daily - 6/13/08)

And Lois Braun is not the first U of M person to point out some bad signals in all of this:

Ann Forsyth did some work on UMore Park planning when she was director of the U of M's Metropolitan Design Center. She left the university last year and now works at Cornell University.

"There are these huge contradictions about it, and there are these unrealistic ideas that it can both make money in the short run and be a model community," Forsyth said.

Forsyth said a model community would be much more practical near the university's St. Paul campus rather than in Dakota County.

"It would have to be a fantastic development to counteract its location," she said. "There is no way you're not going to have a number of traffic concerns coming out of it. Unless it is highly designed and then it becomes very expensive.

For further information, please see an earlier post:

Exactly how long is the UMore Park Craziness Going to Continue?

We will see how all of this pans out. Unfortunately those responsible for the mess will be long gone by then. Too bad it is so easy to speculate on someone else's nickel. The University of Minnesota should not be in the gravel mining business or land development. That is not our mission.