Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why can't a woman, be more like a man?

The University’s athletics department has been sued by former golf coach Katie Brenny. What sort of internal investigation is being conducted, and how do you think the incident reflects on the athletics department?

I was saddened to see this development. I can’t comment on the case at hand specifically, but I can assure you there’s been a very strong internal assessment, and we’ll try and learn from this experience and do everything we can to make sure similar circumstances don’t occur in the future.

Two words: Jimmy Williams

I don’t have an opinion on the facts right now because it’s still very much in discussion and negotiation, but it always saddens me when things don’t work out.

You could have solved this problem in a day and saved the U a lot of bad PR.   

It's called leadership, Bob.

I’m very hopeful hat we’ll resolve this difference and move forward and learn from it.

The present Morill Hall Gang has proven incapable of learning from such horrible decisions. Hopefully the next administration will do a much better job and the U will not be left twisting in the wind for so long.  This was totally unnecessary. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Would the University of Minnesota

Academic Health Center

Support Homeopathy?

(Hint: $)


Friday, January 21, 2011

More on Unreimbursed Research

Costs at Public Universities

The UC Example

 Same Old Wrong Claim that the Humanities and Social Sciences Lose Money.

"We roughly have a $20-billion budget; $3 billion comes from the state. That's the English department, the Spanish department, economics -- that have difficulty generating the big outside grants. I love the humanities; I'm a creature of the humanities. But the engineering colleges are going to bring in more external research support, and that money's crucial." 

Mais non, c'est faux!  In fact, the big outside grants lose money, and are supported in part by cross-subsidies from high-enrollment fields in and out of the science and engineering fields that bring in big, important, and yet very costly grants. 

UC has officially acknowledged this. For example, the third sentence of a Regents's item in November 2010 reads, "The UC system incurs $600 million in unreimbursed indirect costs every year." 

A San Francisco Chronicle report on the original UCOF discussion of this issue put the figure at $720 million on $3.5 billion in research revenues, or a loss of about 20 cents on the research dollar.

The Academic Senate's indirect cost recovery report calcuates that ICR is about 25% while true indirect costs "appear to be in the 65-70% range" (p 5). 

Mark Yudof's repeated misstatement on this has at least two bad outcomes:

(1) it undoes emerging public awareness of why education is so expensive;

(2) it undoes emerging awareness among scientists that they are not huge profit centers for the university. 

Science research should have more funding, not less (as should the social sciences, arts, and humanities, which are pitiful also-rans).

But research should be fully funded and thus not damage the finances of struggling public universities.

If Mark Yudof can't be clear about this, how can we find any of the $500 million in internal savings we will need six months from now?


So What Really Happened

at University of Minnesota Pep Rally?

In an attempt to gin up support for the U at the state lege, President Bruininks presided over an annual Grass Roots (supposedly) at the Mac ealier this week. I usually attend the fun and festivities, but this year was unable to do so. Fortunately, my friend Michael McNabb attended and sent me this description:
{emphasis mine}

This evening I attended the 2011 legislative briefing  presented by the U of M at the McNamara Alumni Center.

The first item on the agenda this year was having your photograph taken while you were holding a "Because" advertising slogan.  (You had to do this in order to receive your ticket for your dinner!) 
[Added later: Michael was a good sport. His mug shot is below. Note the slogan.]

The U of M Legislative Network will send this modified mug shot to your state representative.
During the dinner a "Because" film was projected on the large screen monitor in the main hall.  There was no mention of how much the U is spending on this new public relations venture in addition to the more than $4,400,000 (yes, $4.4 million) that was devoted to the "Driven to Discover" advertising campaign.  See item (2) in Financial Stringency at One might digress here to discuss priorities in a time of "financial stringency," but we will continue with our description of the briefing.

The MC then introduced the five regents who made it to the briefing and the one and only state legislator who was in attendance.

Then Peggy Flanagan delivered an effective keynote address.  She is a member of the Ojibwe tribe, and she is the director of the North American Leadership Program for Wellstone Action.  As a young Indian woman she struggled in high school, but she blossomed at the University when her professors took an interest in her and encouraged her.  She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2002 with a major in Indian studies.  In 2004 she became the first Native American to be elected to the Minneapolis school board.  She asked the alumni to contact their state representatives.  She asserted that a face, a story, and a personal connection would be more effective with the legislators than facts and statistics.

Then she introduced President Bruininks.  He graciously acknowledged that Peggy had described an effective way to communicate with legislators through personal stories of the difference that the University has made in our lives.  He could have stopped at that point. 

Instead, we heard the following refrains:

*  Organizations rise to the level of their expectations and aspirations.  An organization that aims for less will settle for less.  He then quoted the inscription that is carved above the entrance to Northrop Auditorium.

*  In 2003 the regents decided to undertake an ambitious journey that would "transform" the University into one of the top public universities in the world.  Some may have skepticism about this goal, but is important to aspire to such a stature and not simply a ranking.  (He did not explain how you achieve one without the other.)  This transformation would be about "deep" values and would result in a sense of pride but not arrogance.

Applications have more than doubled for the freshman class.  There is a better academic profile for the freshman class.  The percentage of students who graduate in four years has doubled.  The University is awarding 7,000 degrees each year in science, math, and technology. 

In the past nine years the average price for an undergraduate education at the University has increased just 3% per year because financial aid has doubled.  (He did not describe how much of the financial aid is in the form of loans.)

*The University now ranks in the top 10 research universities in the nation.  (Apparently ranking is important.)  In 2010 the University received $823 million for research from outside sources.  (He did not discuss the costs of research.  See On The Hidden Cost of Research at )  This research creates more than 25,000 jobs each year.  (He did not cite the source for that claim.)

*The new federal legislature is discussing deep cuts in Pell grants and in research funds from the National Institute of Health.  This would change the partnership between the federal government and universities that has existed since the end of World War II.

*The future of the State of Minnesota depends on a culture of innovation.  The administration has delivered on the mission to be a top public university.

*Governor Elmer L. Anderson recognized the importance of setting high aspirations.  Anderson would use a quote from Robert Browning that a man's reach should exceed his grasp.  We must have Great Expectations and reach for the stars.  (The president did not inform the alumni that in November he told the Faculty Consultative Committee that we must first reach to be in the top three land grant universities in the nation.  See )

Michael W. McNabb
Attorney at Law

Unfortunately, the President had to face the music at the state legislature the next day.  They just said no, in committee, to his song and dance.  The same song and dance that he has been performing for years.  He even had to diss the Daily in answering questions about why he had not delivered on his promises to significantly prune administrative costs and blew the question off as being a minor contributor to our problems.

Time for a change, Mr. President?  For some concrete suggestions, please see my post on the Star-Tribune Voices blog:  Research and Educational Expenses at the University of Minnesota: Time to Put All the Cards on the Table?

Fortunately we will see no more of this president's failed attempts to make proper justification to the legislature for state investment in the U.  Hopefully, the next president will be a great improvement in this area as he has already pledged to meet with every member of the state legislature. He seems to be the kind of leader who walks the talk, judging from his record at Stony Brook and Delaware.  I look forward to his leadership in moving the University to be one of the best institutions of its kind and not pursuing the false god of "third greatest public research university in the world."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

For It's One, Two, Three Strikes You're Out!

(except at the University of Minnesota?)

A reader points out in the comments section of my previous post:

Strike One: The Minnesota Supreme Court rejects the arguments of the U of M general counsel and rules that the state Data Practices Act and Open Meeting Law do apply to the University. Star Tribune Co. v. University of Minnesota Board of Regents, 683 N.W.2d 274 (Minn. 2004).

Strike Two: The Minnesota Court of Appeals rejects the argument of the U of M general counsel and rules that the decision of the U of M provost in a student disciplinary proceeding was arbitrary and capricious and denied due process to the student. Berge v. University of Minnesota, 2010 Minn. App. Unpub. Lexis 1002 (September 21, 2010), review denied, 2010 Minn. App. Lexis 704 (Minn. S.Ct. December 14, 2010).

Strike Three: The United States Supreme Court rejects the argument of the U of M general counsel and rules that the University must make FICA (social security) payments on the stipends of medical residents. Mayo Foundation & Regents of the University of Minnesota v. United States, No. 09-837 (January 11, 2011).

I will also point out that the advice - presumably there has been some - of the General Counsel's Office on the Jimmy Williams affair and the upcoming suit by a former female golf coach has also been egregiously wrong.

Time for a new manager in the General Counsel's Office?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Once Again, University of Minnesota

General Counsel Takes It On The Chin

I've written before about this sorry performance by the U of M in trying to deny contributions to the retirement funds of residents.

See for example:

“It’s a lot of money every year out of our budget that we’d be able to either put into the pockets of the residents themselves or save,” Rotenberg said.

“We believe that our case is highly meritorious,” Rotenberg said. “We’re very pleased that the Supreme Court justices will give this case a very close look now.”

What a turkey...

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Medical Schools Must Pay Social Security Taxes for Residents, Supreme Court Rules

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday that medical schools must consider their residents as employees, not students, in a decision that will cost the institutions an estimated $700-million in federal taxes annually.

The ruling, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., ends a longstanding dispute over whether medical colleges must pay the employer's portion of taxes for Social Security and Medicare for their residents.

Colleges generally do not have to pay the taxes, called FICA, for students who work at the institutions. In the past, that policy has also been applied to medical residents at teaching hospitals, even though they often work well beyond 40 hours a week.

The case, Mayo Foundation et al. v. United States, No. 09-837, involved the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., and the University of Minnesota, which won a federal district-court ruling in 2008. In that opinion, the judge found that rules issued by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2005, excluding full-time medical residents from the student exception, were invalid because they were contrary to the law that created the Social Security system.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit overturned that decision in 2009, saying the exception for students was meant only for those who worked part time while attending classes, but not medical residents, who are basically full-time employees of the teaching hospitals.

But on Tuesday the Supreme Court said quite simply that the Treasury Department's rules about student employees are a valid interpretation of the federal tax laws and deserve legal deference.
"The [Treasury] Department reasonably sought to distinguish between workers who study and students who work," the court ruled. "Focusing on the hours spent working and those spent in studies is a sensible way to accomplish that goal. The Department thus has drawn a distinction between education and service, not between classroom instruction and hands-on training."
Yes, Counsel Rotenberg, it was all about saving the students the money.  No it was all about the U not having to pay FICA.

As one of our former residents aptly put it:

Make no mistake about this...this decision is not about hurting the residents...Basically, the U of M and most academic medical centers have been screwing residents and fellows out of their retirement benefits in order to save money.

Former U of M Resident

Former State Representative Brod 

praises Top 3 goal 

in interview for University of Minnesota

 Board of Regents Seat

Former state Rep. Laura Brod, a Republican, began her interview with a bold statement: The University of Minnesota's goal to be one of the top three public research universities in the country is "absolutely fantastic and attainable."

From a commenter on this post:

For starters, let's talk about what we'd be looking at to accomplish this goal.

The U is currently barely within the top 25 public universities under the US News rankings, the system (for better or worse) that almost everybody references.

So you'd be looking at jumping at least 20 rankings to become one of the top three. Do you know what the movement in those rankings has been, historically? Berkeley, UCLA, UVA and Michigan have pretty much been the top 4 since the rankings' inception a couple decades ago. In fact, the U is now half-a-decade into this "top three" plan and the U's overall ranking actually went down from last year to this year (from 61st overall to 64th). So good luck on making the "top three," particularly within the next 5 years as Bruininks plan promised.

What are some of the factors that influence the rankings?

One is 4-year graduation rate. UVA's 4-year graduation rate is around 75%. The U's is under 50%.

Another is student caliber. By the U's own comparison with "peer universities" it ranks at or near the bottom in median SAT/ACT scores, % of students in the top 10% of their class, etc. And these peer universities are a mix of the current top 10 publics and some outside it (e.g., Texas, OSU, etc.). 

Absent significantly cutting back on admissions, it's hard to see how the U could get a student caliber ranking to match the likes of UVA, Berkeley (where almost 99% of undergrads were in the top 10% of their high school graduation class), etc.

A large chunk of the ranking is based on reputation. Here there is little the U can do. It's not based on numbers, although having a large number of faculty members in the NAS can help (and here the U is far, far below the current "top three"). For the most part it's based on long-entrenched reputations for excellence that are difficult to shake or to overcome. The people filling out these forms have often stated that they aren't really qualified to making yearly assessments of which university is the "best," which only further entrenches the existing powers. Berkeley and UCLA will always be Berkeley and UCLA.

Just as Harvard and Yale will always be Harvard and Yale. The U is a fine university, and if this "top three" nonsense wasn't shaping spending in harmful ways it would simply be silly rather than silly and harmful. But in the pursuit of this goal, the administration has engaged in unnecessary campus construction and radically expanded the bureaucracy while raising resident tuition, dramatically lowering non-resident tuition, and gutting departments and programs that fulfill the educational mission of the university.

I couldn't have said it better...


Friday, January 7, 2011

Censoring Twain


Stop me if you've heard this one before...

The chattering classes - mostly on the left and right coasts - are all Gaga over the latest attempt to sanitize Twain.  For some background and discussion, please see:

"Censoring Twain" - on the Chronicle of Higher Education Brainstorm Blog

"Do Word Changes Alter Huckleberry Finn" - On the New York Times Room for Debate

From the Project Gutenberg Version of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn":

"It warn't the grounding--that didn't keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head."

"Good gracious! anybody hurt?"

"No'm. Killed a nigger."
"Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.

Now Twain knew exactly what he was doing here, even ET or Michelle Bachmann might get the message.

But it is complicated, as Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, who is associate dean and the Carville Dickinson Benson Research Professor of Law at George Washington University, put it:

It’s complicated, “nigger” is. I suffered through Huckleberry Finn in high school, with the white kids going out of their way to say “Nigger Jim” and the teacher’s tortured explanation that Twain’s “nigger” didn’t really mean nigger, or meant it ironically, or historically, or symbolically. Whatever. I could live my whole life fine if I never read that book again. 

His colleague, Professor Margaret Soltan at GWU noted:

“I’m a Jew and an English professor. If I were so hurt and offended by every use of the word ‘kike’ and similar slurs — in a work of art that I refused to engage with the work, I’d not only be unemployed; I’d be an idiot,” Soltan told TheDC.
“You cannot grasp Huck’s ethical transformations in Twain’s story without first grasping the truth of his attitudes as they express themselves in his speech.”
Soltan told TheDC that it’s probably a good thing if readers are offended by the term in Twain’s text because then they will have a strong understanding of the slur’s offensive implications.
“If his speech upsets you, that’s arguably all the better, since your response dramatizes the violence of the word, and the harsh reality of the attitudes it conveys,” Soltan said.
Your thoughts?


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jobs and Taxes in Minnesota

For most Minnesotans, Osceola, Wis., is a place to stop for a burger or gas on our way to or from somewhere else.

More recently, though, the quaint rural village perched atop the bluffs of the St. Croix River has become a microcosm for the global economy.

Polaris Industries, the Medina-based recreational vehicle maker that has operated in Osceola for 19 years, announced in May that it will close its plant and shift operations to Mexico. The layoffs begin in March, and eventually the region will say goodbye to 500-plus jobs that pay an average wage of about $16 an hour, plus benefits.
For decades, western Wisconsin feasted on Minnesota firms looking for cheaper places to set up shop. The Badger State dangled lower rates for everything from corporate income taxes to workers' compensation.

My comment:

This story also illustrates a point. No matter how low taxes are, they will always be lower elsewhere. So calling for cutting them to stimulate jobs is ultimately a losing proposition. Consider the fact that so-called high tax states are where the biotech jobs are, as pointed out by Thomas Lee and Bill Hoffman. Lowering business taxes indiscriminately is not the answer. Investment tax credits and investment in high-tech start ups needs more attention right now than simply cutting taxes, as there is no incentive for these cuts to be used for job creation.
posted by wbgleason on Jan. 5, 11 at 6:44 AM | 
20 of 21 people liked this comment.


Clueless in Morrill Hall 


From the Pioneer-Press:

Starting Tuesday in the legislative session, the $6.2B deficit will dominate the show.

Minnesota Republicans insisted throughout the 2010 campaign that they could erase a projected $6.2 billion deficit in the state budget without increasing taxes.
"We're going to live within our means," House Speaker-designate Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said repeatedly.

Now he and his fellow Republicans, who won control of both houses of the Legislature in November, are going to get a chance to prove it.

Republican leaders suggested [new governorn Dayton's] tax increases would be dead on arrival in the Legislature.

"We are not interested in raising taxes," said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo. 

One thing is certain: The new state leaders must balance the budget. The Minnesota Constitution requires it. 

Minnesota's two higher-education systems want more money from the state over the next two years. [sic]

The University of Minnesota will request $642 million a year, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is asking for $630 million a year.

That would mean an additional $100 million for the U, which plans to use the money to restore faculty positions, shore up student aid and keep up with rising costs. MnSCU officials say a nearly $50 million increase would help hold down tuition increases and provide up-to-date job skills to more Minnesotans.

Noting that 302 MnSCU administrators are paid more than the governor's $120,000 salary, Dayton said he wants to revamp the way both higher-education systems are administered.  

Simply put: It is irresponsible and foolish for the Morrill Hall Gang at the University of Minnesota to ask for more money under these circumstances. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

University of Minnesota 

Regents Policy

Academic Freedom

[Emphasis mine]

Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the University.  (June 12, 2009)

Occasionally readers of this blog, or the Periodic Table, Too, or Community Voices, or Brainstorm, or Twitter seem to feel that somehow my commentaries are inappropriate, e.g.

"Perhaps you have too much time on your hands if you have the time to write an article for the Strib? Perhaps you should be using your time in upgrading the education that you give your students."

Actually, I consider it to be part of my job as a faculty member and alum to speak out about what is happening at my university in order to increase public awareness about current priorities and events at the University of Minnesota.  Hopefully this awareness will lead to improvements and priority changes at our university.

This post will save time in the future by providing a convenient link for critics who don't seem to understand the concept of academic freedom.  


Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 Wish List for University of Minnesota


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cost of Research? 
Cost of Education? 
Let’s put all the cards on the table…