Monday, January 29, 2007

Tuition Reciprocity - The Badger View

(from the Badger Herald:)

by Badger Herald Editorial Board
Monday, January 29, 2007
Over the borderline

As of late, however, U of M has been losing revenue thanks to its Sconnie students: Minnesota outpaced Wisconsin in resident tuition six years ago, and the difference between flagship universities amounts to about $1,200 per student per year. Of course, a means of compensation is built into the reciprocity agreement, and last year, Wisconsin paid $6.5 million back to Minnesota due to the growing tuition gap.

Unfortunately, the state of Minnesota didn’t give the payment to its public universities in full. And though we sympathize with the situation, it seems the issue lies within the state of Minnesota, not within the reciprocity agreement itself.

Furthermore, we can’t help but recognize that Minnesota takes quite a bit away from the deal as it stands: More Minnesota students attend Wisconsin schools than the opposite, and the University of Wisconsin System is one of the best educational systems in the country. Minnesotans also have access to UW-Madison, which lands more than 30 spots north of U of M in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings.

Dutifully reported by your humble servant, Bonzo.

This matter was also mentioned earlier under Show Me the Money.

"Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile."
Life is short, [the] art long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.

Mrs. Bonzo tries to keep Mr. Bonzo from ranting about BigU on the theory that if the Bonzos ignore it long enough, it will go away. So she tries to distract Mr. Bonzo now and then by sending him artsy stuff. Here from the LA Times is a little music review:

MUSIC REVIEW By Mark Swed, Times Staff Writer

For Deborah Voigt, less indeed is more
The slimmed-down soprano now has a compliant physique at the command of her flexible voice.

Like a character in a Mozart or Strauss opera, Deborah Voigt has undergone a transformation. She's lost weight and added glamour. At her Los Angeles Opera recital Sunday evening in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, she was a walking, talking, flirting, singing advertisement for gastric bypass surgery.

[Ouch, that hurt!]

What was immediately apparent at this recital — which worked its way through lesser-known Mozart, Verdi, Strauss and Respighi until reaching American music — is that Voigt is no fluke of nature. She is a technical singer, superbly trained. Her voice is not impressive for its bigness (although it is not small) as it is for its focus. The thrill of her high notes is that of a considerable athletic feat.

But my sense of the evening was of a singer whose real potential is untapped. Her accompanist, Brian Zeger, was just that, an accompanist. She needed someone to play off, not who plays for her, however well. She actually blew Zeger away when she sat down with him at the piano bench for an encore and rocked at the keyboard.

She also needs musical substance. Strauss and Wagner might be her meal ticket, but her soul is in American music and music of our time. Yet she is, instead, turning to trash. Now that she has the looks, she says she wants to sing "Adriana Lecouvreur," "Andrea Chenier" and other cheap Italian operas. The time has come for her to make Strauss, Wagner and Verdi relevant and to inspire new opera. She could do it.

Now this was “just” a recital. There is quite a nice picture of Ms. Voight in the review and she looks smashing in a black formal low-cut gown, but certainly she is not the extremely thin Callas who the reviewer thinks may have lost her edge by too strict a diet. The Bonzos were honored to hear Ms. Voigt sing in Chicago this last Fall where she did her performance in considerably less clothing as Salome in the Strauss opera. She also did a very convincing and credible Dance of the Seven Veils. [Bravo and two thumbs up from the Bonzos]. Some reviews:

Universally admired for her lustrous voice, charismatic stage presence and wicked sense of humor, Deborah Voigt arrives in LA fresh from her recent success as Salome with Lyric Opera of Chicago:

"A personal and artistic triumph. Ms. Voigt, who looked great, exuded confidence and won a tumultuous ovation. What matters, though, is that she sang thrillingly…I have never heard her sing with such fearless intensity." The New York Times

"Her singing was gleaming and voluptuous, its power and warm, womanly vocal quality undiminished…Voigt poured out the grueling final scene in mad exultation of opulent, radiant tone." Chicago Tribune

Now what all the fuss is about is that only a few years ago, Ms. Voigt was unceremoniously dumped by Covent Garden for being too large to fit in a little black dress.

The good news is:

Covent Garden Finally (Re-)Engages Deborah Voigt to Sing Ariadne

Not so long ago, the Royal Opera House in London caused a worldwide uproar when it released soprano Deborah Voigt from her contract to sing the title role in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. But news broke over the weekend that the company has changed its mind - now that Voigt has changed her figure.

The Times of London, BBC News and Scotland on Sunday reported yesterday that the ROH has engaged the now-slimmer Voigt to sing Ariadne in the 2007-08 season.

— Read more at PlaybillArts

Now the loss of weight (100+ pounds) was due to gastric bypass surgery. Mr. Bonzo is a little concerned about this. However, he knows at least one other person who has benefitted immeasurably from such surgery (marriage, family...) so who’s to say nay.

Right on, Deborah!

Aside: Mr. Bonzo heard the Met travelling version in ColdState about thirty-five years ago. The Met used to come out to the provinces and people would come in from OutState and from TheDakotas to GemCities by the busload to hear the opera. Usually the stars would cancel out at the last minute, but not always. As a student Mr. Bonzo could only afford the cheap seats and sat with his back literally to the wall in a huge auditorium. He heard Martina Arroyo sing in Madame Butterfly. He was amazed to learn - when he used his binoculars - that Ms. Arroyo looked like a perfectly round little butterball. [Please God, let Ms. Arroyo never see this if she is still with us...] But she sang like the proverbial angel and could be heard perfectly well in the cheap seats of a huge auditorium. Mr. Bonzo loved it. In a way it is too bad that opera singers must also look like movie stars, nowadays. In the old days it seemed perfectly acceptable to just stand up there and belt and no one cared terribly much what you looked like. Thank you, Mrs. Bonzo, for bringing back pleasant memories of ars longa.
One Can Only Marvel...

Would Alberto Gonzales be a good choice to sit on the Supreme Court and make decisions about the Constitution?

Would Don Rumsfeld be a good choice to sit on a panel investigating abuses at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo?

Would OurLeader be a good NCAA board of directors member to oversee the athletics policies for Division I schools?

[One could also ask: Would a MedSchoolDean be a good Pepsi board member, but that has already been discussed.]

Mr. Bonzo thinks not on all counts.

Nevertheless, the Daily reports

January 29, 2007

Bruininks joins NCAA board
The board of directors sets the athletics policies for Division I schools.

The board, comprised of 18 presidents and chancellors from universities that compete in Division I athletics, is the final authority on athletic policies for schools in the division.

Richard Weinberg, a faculty representative to the athletics department and a former member of a number of regional and national collegiate athletic committees, said he thinks Bruininks was appointed because of the value he places on athletics and academics.

"I think that the fact that Bob Bruininks was selected among the presidents of the Big Ten indicates their appreciation of his ability to carry the torch for what intercollegiate athletics is and what it should be about," he said.

[ Ah, excuse me sir. “Meanwhile, as the Star Tribune reported last fall, academics among the Gophers football team under Mason were at the bottom in the Big Ten, with more at-risk students admitted into the Minnesota program than just about any Big Ten school, and with graduation rates the lowest in the conference, especially among African-American athletes.” link ]

Bruininks said he looks forward to addressing a number of issues facing student-athletes, universities and their athletics departments.

"One of my key concerns will be the academic issues related to student learning, academic progress and graduation," he said. "We need to do a much better job in ensuring that our students actually graduate when they come as Division I student-athletes."

Bruininks said the high and rising costs of maintaining intercollegiate athletics programs also worry him.

"We ought to be able to compete athletically without paying somebody $3 (million) to $4 million a year to coach a football or basketball team," he said. "This is sort of an arms race in athletics."

He said the multimillion dollar price tag for recent shake-ups in the athletics department at the University was large, but he doesn't see it as uncommon.

[And is this desirable? And what does he intend to do about it?]

"No one really likes to pay excessively high salaries and no one really likes to buy out long-term contracts, but that is pretty typical of what is happening nationally," Bruininks said. "What has happened here is not excessive in relationship to these national trends."

[Ah, I’m afraid that it is excessive, and someone - OurLeader ? - is going to have to do something about it. Bruininks finds himself paying more than $3 million to one coach, Glen Mason, to leave, while needing to pay another coach probably more than $1 million to direct a football program that has shown it can't succeed in the Big Ten. Bruininks is fending off state legislators who wonder why he's paying millions for sports matters out of one pocket while seeking funding for academic programs for his other pocket. It's all the same pair of maroon-and-gold pants, of course.”
(link) Mr. Bonzo has written earlier about the salary of the new coach and his assistants.]

Perhaps the NCAA should appoint, instead of OurLeader, some BigTen university president whose athletic graduation rates for minority students are not so shameful. Northwestern or Penn State, anyone? Doesn't OurLeader have enough to do in getting our own athletic house in order and other ambitious aspirations without trying to do a job in which his credibility is already suspect?

Trying to be cheerful in the midst of craziness, I remain,

Your faithful servant,

Mr. Bonzo

Sunday, January 28, 2007

ColdState's Shizophrenic (Political) Climate

Some time ago, prior to the last election, Wonkette saith:

This is Michele Bachmann. She’s running for congress in Minnesota’s 6th district. If you want to know why she’s ten kinds of crazy, the City Pages will tell you all the details (best story: hiding behind shrubbery, spying on gay marriage rally) (ok, also, on President Bush: “awesome date,” “he’s so buff”) (yeah, also: filing police report, claiming two lesbians trapped her in a bathroom). Mainly, though, this is a crazy woman getting laughed at by an entire room full of people for saying global warming is made-up.

Now despite all the good things that happened during the last election, Michelle Bachmann actually was elected! ColdState is schizo and we elect people like Paul Wellstone (good) and Senator BlowDry (that would be Norm Coleman). And of course there is always the cross of Jesse to bear.

So what has Ms. Bachmann been up to lately? The StarTribune has a daily Letter of the Day and last week the one selected was:

Goodbye, Katherine Harris; hello, Michele Bachmann! Did Minnesotans really elect this woman?

Anyone watching President Bush leave the House Chamber Tuesday night saw the Sixth District representative make a real fool of herself. It was almost as though she expected the "Rapture" at any minute as she clung to the president's shoulder. What a contrast to the measured, rational, realistic appraisal given minutes later by Sen. James Webb.


Mrs. Bonzo forwarded a commentary about this to her brother, HarleyMan, suggesting that Mrs. Bachmann must have thought that GeorgeBoy was Justin Timberlake to which HarleyMan replied: "Who is Justin Timberlake?"

Good Answer!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wonderful Klimt piece

Mr. Bonzo loves Klimt and the Neue Gallerie. Mrs. Bonzo, an artsy type, took Mr. Bonzo to the Neue when it first opened. Lauder money makes it possible - see the recent New Yorker article on the acquisition of the golden girl (Adele Bloch-Bauer) for big bucks.

But the most interesting Klimt-related piece I've run across in a long while is to be found on a great blog, Slaves of Academe. The 21 January entry, "In the City", is highly recommended. The illustrations are beautifully selected and hopefully allowable by the fair use doctrine.

On a sad note, Mr. Bonzo reports the death of Shelby Boardman a wonderful professor of Geology at the non-Lutheran College in Northfield. Shelby was the ideal faculty member at a first class liberal arts college. Mr. Bonzo got to know him in the seventies and has bumped into him now and then ever since. He was one of the people who made Mr. Bonzo proud to be a college/university faculty member.

Shelby Boardman, a Carleton Geologist

Show me the money...

Mr. Bonzo barely knows where to begin. The new million dollar man (= football coach) has hired some assistants, a few like him from the professional ranks. According to the StarTribune:

Gophers football: U pays to attract top aides

The Gophers got the experience coach Tim Brewster desired by giving coordinators Mike Dunbar and Everett Withers lucrative multiyear contracts.

According to documents provided by the school through a data practices request, the school signed Dunbar to a three-year contract that will pay him $265,000 annually.

Defensive coordinator Everett Withers, who left a position as secondary coach with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, received a three-year deal worth $330,000 annually.

[BigU recently lost two world class chemistry professors to Ohio State[sic]. My guess is that if this money had been used for retention offers that these folks might have stayed. Ohio State @!#$$%% - the so-called football factory, this does not compute, Mr. Bonzo's circuits have been blown, going down, down, down...]

Those deals represent a new standard -- both in term and annual salary -- in assistant compensation as the program begins a new era under Brewster. None of the assistants on the staff of former coach Glen Mason had multiyear deals, and the highest paid was offensive coordinator Mitch Browning at $208,000 a year.

While at the same time the BigU wants to pull the plug on a reciprocity agreement with the neighboring Wisconsin university system:

U threatens to quit tuition reciprocity deal

The battle over tuition reciprocity between Minnesota and Wisconsin has escalated, with the University of Minnesota saying it will pull out of the agreement rather than have Wisconsin students pay less than Minnesotans do to attend the U.

Last year, 23,700 Minnesotans and 19,500 Wisconsin students used reciprocity to attend college across state lines.

[You see, the unfairness argument cuts both ways. Apparently more Minnesotans than Wisconsin residents take advantage of reciprocity. This is because Minnesota residents can pay LESS tuition to attend an, arguably, better school.]

Wisconsin-Minnesota reciprocity, which started in 1968, has become increasingly popular even as the tuition gap between the two states widened because tuition increased faster in Minnesota. The difference is especially stark on U of M campuses. Students from Wisconsin pay about $1,200 less than Minnesotans do to attend the U's Twin Cities campus and about $2,700 less to go to school at the U's Morris campus.

[So one might ask the obvious question: Why does it cost less to attend a better public university?]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Who's the right one, baby ? (with apologies to Ray Charles)

The Daily has an article today about the med school dean's hundred thousand dollar gig on the board of directors of Pepsi:

"Big Business
Medical School dean joins PepsiAmericas"

"While some are excited about the dean's decision, others fear it might raise a conflict of interest."

(This is a little awkward as BigU is a Coca-Cola franchise.)

Mr. Bonzo has commented on this earlier.

Monday, January 22, 2007

On the Road to BigU Greatness...

UD cites an opinion piece in the Minnesota Daily by a BigU undergrad, Nicholas Maxwell: "Stadium Does Not Serve Core Mission." Mr. Maxwell should be proud as UD cites this as "a nicely written opinion piece" in a precis headed "Humongous Dessert Plate for Minnesota Students" [January 21, 2007]. As someone who works at the medical school at BigU, I will only quote two paragraphs of embarrassment from the article:

the University has announced a $40 million increase in the budget for the new on-campus stadium. This represents a 16 percent increase in the project's total cost and the explanation of the source of these additional funds was also curious, "money management decisions" and "the issuance of … new debt."

Just like that, the University is willing to pony up the $40 million necessary to ensure "the stadium is not built on the cheap." Yet, back in October, when the Community University Health Clinic (a facility that actually contributes to the University's core mission of outreach by providing health care to low income families) eliminated 17 positions due to budget cuts, the University's administration was nowhere to be found with any magical "money management decisions" to save that outreach.

Meanwhile the Nobel prize winning chemist Peter Agre writes in the letters to the editor section of the Strib today from Durham, NC, where he currently works at Duke. Agre went to Augsburg, where his father was a chem prof. Augsburg is within easy walking distance of the Bonzo's residence, SmallHouse in Seward. Peter Agre's father, Courtland Agre, had earlier taught at St. Olaf and Peter was born in Northfield. I knew Courtland Agre slightly as he was still in action when Mr. Bonzo was a rookie chemist. Dr. Agre sometimes taught summer school organic chemistry (OChem as the youngsters now call it) at BigU.


"I attended Augsburg College, where my father taught. Augsburg was not exclusive, and my classmates were often from working-class families. Many of my friends from RHS [Roosevelt High School] attended the University of Minnesota which was also not considered exclusive at the time."

"One dramatic difference, however, between Augsburg and University of Minnesota and those at Johns Hopkins [from which he got an MD and spent most of his academic life] and Duke [where he now is] is the privileged backgrounds of the latter. A disproportionate number of Duke students come from prep schools, and exceedingly few are from the working class. Moreover, there is often huge family push behind students at the latter institutions and not infrequently a lot of insider pull to gain admission."

"...the hard work and personal responsibility that we learned from our parents, while attending public schools and working at after-school jobs, still carry us forward. I am reminded of the words of the late Kirby Puckett: 'It doesn't matter where you come from. It only matters how you play the game.'"

To which Mr. Bonzo can only say: "Bravo !"

The people reengineering, ah, transforming BigU might want to think a little bit harder about whether the goal of becoming an elite institution is a good idea for ColdState taxpayers.

OUCH! It just gets worse and worse...

From the Pioneer Planet - Gemini Cities other paper:

"Two-thirds of the minority athletes who came to the U between 1999 and 2002 were considered academically "at-risk" based on their weak high-school class rank and poor college entrance exam scores."

"Data collected for the report paint a generally frustrating portrait of a university opening the door to some athletes — often from racial and ethnic minority groups — whose academic histories make them likely candidates for academic failure."

"The report also urges the U to reach out more to student-athletes who've left the school without graduating to get them to return and complete their degrees."

"However, it contains no recommendations for minimum academic qualifications for athletes entering the U, nor for standards that would align the U's increasingly rigorous overall academic profile with athletics. [emphasis added bg] Officials said they focused instead on how to help students once they'd been accepted."

As Mr. Bonzo is fond of saying: "It is time to get real at BigU."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Highs and Lows in GeminiCities

Reaction to Jay Weiner's opinion piece in the Strib has started to come in. [It's time for 'U' to drop the ball. Startribune, January 14, 2007.] And it is not good. Today's Strib had the following comments in the letters section:

Should 'u' drop football?

Follow Chicago's lead

Jay Weiner is correct ("It's time for 'U' to drop the ball," Jan. 14).

Remove the burden of big-time football, and perhaps our great university can begin to match the intellectual vibrancy of the University of Chicago.


It had to be said

Bravo for Jay Weiner for having the courage to state the obvious truth about University of Minnesota athletics, with special attention to the football program.

Most of the public knows that his facts and his solution are correct, but it's impossible to find a politician with the nerve to state those truths out loud, and Weiner's column in the Jan. 14 Opinion Exchange section may be the first truly honest piece about university football ever written by a Minnesota journalist and published by a newspaper in the state.


And address the stadium

I hope University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks, the Board of Regents, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota Legislature and the taxpaying public consider seriously Jay Weiner's Jan. 14 proposal that the university drop football.

I believe that this could be the much-needed, long-overdue first step to scale back intercollegiate athletics at the university and put them in proper relation to the school's primary mission: educating our young people and serving as a multifaceted resource to the people of Minnesota.

Whether football is retained, scaled back or dropped, I also believe the Legislature should ASAP rescind its horrendous bill of last session authorizing construction -- mostly with taxpayer dollars -- of a new (and unneeded) football stadium.


On the "cultcha" front

The Bonzo's went to see a preview of the upcoming Michael Frayn play "Democracy" at the Park Square Theater. We are blessed in GeminiCities to have very good live theater. Being of low class in the culture business Mr. Bonzo had never heard of Park Square, but of course Mrs. Bonzo knew all about it. Mrs. Bonzo saw Copenhagen, another wonderful Frayn play, on stage in London. Mr. Bonzo has not see Copenhagen but has read the play. So we are Frayn fans. Having grown up in the time of Kennedy and Willy Brandt the play was fascinating to the Bonzos. The actors were outstanding, many of them being experienced actors from the Guthrie, another temple of cultcha in GeminiCities. AND the director was Jon Cranney of Children's Theater fame who has directed Copenhagen in the past with some of the same actors. The reviews are not out yet, but a la the old Siskel & Ebert show, Mr. and Mrs. Bonzo give two thumbs up. Futher information, but not a review, can be found here.

Note added (I-30-07): a mildly critical Strib review has now appeared.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Academics, football can coexist at the 'U'"

StarTribune, January 18, 2007

Here's a new spin..

"Plenty of universities with higher academic rankings than Minnesota's have managed also to build football programs that win games, excite fans and generate the long-term spirit and loyalty that Minnesota craves."

So let me get this right. Since there are schools with higher academic rankings than BigU, that can play competitive football, this must mean that we can play better football without taking a hit academically?

"Consider U.S. News & World Report's current roster of national universities. Minnesota ranks 67th -- actually 27th among public institutions. Of the 26 state schools ranked higher than Minnesota, nearly half of them produce consistently good football teams: Cal-Berkeley, Michigan, UCLA, Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Washington, Penn State, Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Georgia and Iowa. "

Now you have to understand that the Strib is a homer. Usually they don't let people in on the dirty little secret that at least one (reasonably) accurate source ranks BigU pretty low in the academic department. Most of the time other surveys are used (Florida, anyone?) to illustrate that we are "this close" to duking it out with the big boys. But in this academic ranking it is ok to be lousy, because there are other football factories higher up the academic greasy pole than us and so this proves that we can have a good football team too. Great rhetoric... And let's use whatever academic rating system is appropriate for the argumnet that we happen to be making today.

"No, the Gophers aren't likely to overcome the built-in advantages of the conference's elite three: Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. But there's no reason that Minnesota can't build a program equal to Wisconsin's or Iowa's."

Yes, let's reduce those expectations, just in case.

"Still, he deserves a chance to demonstrate his legendary recruiting ability, his skills as a coach and his influence in turning football players into actual college graduates. That's a tall order but not impossible."

I hope he does succeed - in increasing the miserable graduation rate of athletes, particularly minority athletes! Winning would be nice, too. Even NU has gone to a real bowl game more recently than the Gophs.

bg (aka Mr. Bonzo)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

This Just In - New Minnesota Football Emperor Crowned

Wow! But his salary is sub-Saban, however will we manage at BigU ? A more in depth post on the athletics situation at Minnesota will follow. For now a close approximation to what is going on here can be found in the UD post on Oregon:

SOS: Scathing Online Schoolmarm:
Dave Frohnmayer Thinks You're Stupid
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

by simply substituting Bruininks for Frohnmayer, Gopher for Duck, and Minnesota for Oregon.

"January 16, 2007 – 5:08 PM

Denver Broncos tight ends coach Tim Brewers has been tapped to breathe new life into the Gophers football program. Brewster's pay package amounts to about $1 million a year. "
(from the Star Tribune Web site)

Can BigU become GreatBigU?

Half the world's universities seem to be aiming for a spot as a "top" institution. Many of them apparently are using the same consultants or perhaps they just copy empty sloganeering from other websites. Take the phrase "ambitious aspirations" which seems, er, redundant. Google those words and up pops (in no particular order) Yale, Iowa State, Emory, University of Iowa, University of Cincinnati, Istanbul Tech, University of Addis Ababa, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, etc., etc. ad nauseum. Not to be outdone in the pursuit of buzzwords, even governments have gotten into the act - see the official website of the government of Antigua and Barbada where mention is made of ambitious aspiration.

BigU, natch, has gotten into the act. OurLeader has touted BigU's ambitious aspirations in an embarrassingly titled document: "Serving Minnesota Through World-Class Greatness."

"Starting in 2004, the University began the first comprehensive strategic planning process it had undergone in almost 15 years. Under the leadership of Provost Sullivan, the University community articulated an ambitious aspiration for the University—to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic] within a decade."

So there you go. As Captain Kirk would say: "Make it so, Mr. Spock."

Watch out Berkeley, Michigan, and any other public university you think is a good one - and I happen to think there are many. The otherworldliness of the statement is highlighted by the "in the world" part. The last I heard, Cambridge and Oxford were public universities as are a lot of other institutions outside the US. World-wide rankings of universities are few and probably inaccurate but the sad news is, at least in the Times Higher Education rankings, BigU has ranked somewhere between 150 and 200 "in the world."

OurLeader, aided and abetted by his sidekick, ET, has been manipulating a process known as "strategic planning" that is mentioned above. About ten years ago, we were reengineered at BigU and the process was a disaster. Tenure is inconvenient for administrators because it makes it hard to get rid of troublemakers. So an attempt was made to get rid of tenure. Let's just say that many of the people who were involved in reengineering and the attempt to eliminate tenure are still on the job and in some cases very high up the greasy pole.

Question from the back: "So what is it going to take to significantly improve BigU?"

Answer: Leadership and resources.

Mr. Bonzo maintains based on his 37 years of association with BigU that we have only had one president that was of the caliber necessary to lead a great university. And I am not just completely negative on administrators. When Mr. Bonzo broke into the academic game as an assistant prof at the non-Lutheran College in Northfield, he was mightily impressed by the President, the late Howard Swearer. When a president's position opened yet again at BigU, Mr. Bonzo suggested to colleagues at BigU that they really ought to consider Howard Swearer for president. The response was condescending. However could the president of a little college handle the responsibilities of BigU? [Hint: Howard Swearer was smart.] Howard's next job, by the way, was president of Brown University where I gather he did quite a good job.

I won't personally attack OurLeader's academic credentials but merely note that he has served, very competently, as an administrator at BigU for most of his academic career. Since he was provost at the time the last president flew the coop, he was selected to be acting president. When a search for a permanent president was held, he at first declared that he was not a candidate. Let's just say that he, er, changed his mind. He was then chosen in a search of "the whole world" and wonder of wonders was selected as the best of all possible candidates. (Mr. Bonzo knows that this must be hard to believe, but as a great philosopher once said: "You could look it up!")

Question from the back of the classroom: "Now it is easy to complain about things, Mr. Bonzo, what, exactly, do you propose that we do?"

1. Get Real (seriously)

We are not stupid. We being the faculty, students, and staff at BigU as well as the taxpayers of ColdState. When an administrator is nailed about the unreality of the over-the-top claims to greatness, they will usually flinch and say something like:

"But those are just aspirational goals."

We all know this! But the justification for doing certain things, if you actually were in the position to become "great" is simply not there if that goal is not attainable.

And speaking of getting real, let's hear no more of this nonsense about bringing in expensive senior faculty from outside who will somehow save us. We can't even keep the good people we've got, apparently! Hemorrhaging at the medical school is extensive. Ed Prescott left what was once a great economics department at BigU to go to Arizona State [sic] the year before he got the Nobel Prize in economics. We just lost two world class chemistry professors to Ohio State [sic] and in recent years to Wisconsin (1) and Texas (3).

As a proud graduate of BigU's chemistry department I am saddened that the institution has seen fit to let the department be robbed.

Incidentally, the administration was able to dig up approximately two million dollars for a publicity campaign in addition to about five million dollars for buyouts of coaches as mentioned elsewhere in the blog. Oh and we're also putting up a new football stadium on campus for, at last word, 250 million dollars, having abandoned the one built downtown to replace the old football stadium on campus that we tore down. I know, you think I'm putting you on, but you could look it up... Tom Moe, a former BigU athletic director, said that tearing down the old stadium - Veterans Memorial Stadium - was the worst mistake that had ever been made at BigU. For once, I have to agree with a BigU athletic director, but rubbing out General College is a close second.

To repeat: It is time to get real around here.

2. Have Some Real Faculty Input

A little charade is going on. All of the members of the committees on the panels that are supposed to write papers on reengineering, er, transforming the University were given detailed specifications in the form of a "list of deliverables" for what they were to do.

Attendance at meetings for faculty input was pitiful, because most faculty have lost faith in the university administration. Mr. Bonzo accosted one of the discussion leaders after one of these farcical events and was told that his objections seemed valid and that perhaps when there was a new administration they could be addressed.

A discussion of the General College situation at this point would just be pouring gasoline on a fire. Suffice it to say that the former Dean of General College, the eminent black scholar, Dr. David V. Taylor, was never even invited to the table to discuss the rub-out of General College. Dr. Taylor is now provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs at Morehouse. To have Dr. Taylor leave BigU is pitiful.

3. Let's get back to the business of doing what we do very well and not worry about being "the best."

Now first you have to understand the climate at BigU. It is rather like the climate for some time in DC before Bush recently got gored. To point out the idiocy is somehow to be disloyal, or against excellence, or not be in favor of motherhood and apple pie. To which I say - baloney.

I think that it is possible for a student to get a better education at BigU than at Carleton, at NU, at St. Olaf, or at St. Catherine, to mention a few institutions in which I have either been on the giving or receiving end of teaching. And I am not trying to run these places down because in many respects they are better than BigU. What BigU excels at is the breadth and depth of courses that are available to students.

Everything, just about, is here. And BigU is not just for science wienies like Mr. Bonzo. There are fantastic teachers in just about any subject you might find interesting - but you have to be savvy and entrepreneurial in locating them. Be prepared to drop courses if they are taught by turkeys unless you absolutely can't avoid it. Mr. Bonzo strongly believes that public education is the great equalizer and that BigU serves the educational needs of ColdState very well.

He has had undergrads who worked in his lab be accepted to do graduate work at Berkeley, UCSD, UCSF, Caltech, Stanford, Harvard, Cambridge... In short, if you go to BigU and do well, you can write your own ticket. Mr Bonzo has had many undergrads in his lab who are the equal of students anywhere. This is a heckuva deal for the citizens of ColdState. (Of course it helps that all of the students are above average in ColdState.)

4. And let's drop this ridiculous argument that doing anything is better than doing nothing.

I hear this all the time. Variations are: Well we have to do something because everyone else is doing things and if we don't do something we will fall behind. All sorts of craziness is being done of the dubious make-it-so, Spock type. We are in top-down rather than the bottom-up mode that will be required if real and lasting improvements are to be made.

So let me try to give an example. Suppose you walked over to the Washington Avenue Mississippi River Bridge. Would it be better to just stand there and do nothing, or would it be better to jump over the railing (as John Berryman did, sadly) ?

Doing something stupid, or in Berryman's case insane, is not preferable to doing nothing. It is worse.

bg (aka Mr. Bonzo)

Bonzos in Red Wing

One last (long) weekend before the beginning of Spring term...

Today is the first day of class at BigU. To celebrate MLK day and mourn (just kidding) the start of class, Mr. and Mrs. Bonzo spent Sunday night in Red Wing at the St. James Hotel, a very interesting historic hotel. During the summer Red Wing is usually filled with turista in search of pottery and shoes, natch. But in the winter, surprisingly even over MLK weekend, there is not much business.

The Bonzos like the St. James (SJ) because it is clean and right in the middle of town, just across from an antique store. Mrs Bonzo, an art historian and curator, is into antique stores and museums. So Mr. Bonzo often gets dragged into such places and ususally learns something, particularly when Mrs. Bonzo goes into museum mode.

Anyway, the weather did not cooperate but we have no complaints. It started snowing on the way down Sunday evening, but the drive was not too bad, snowed all night, and the next day there was an accumulation of about six inches. Also it was cold. So we stayed in and had a very good dinner at the SJ followed by a reading unit with the NYT and some old stuff from the New Yorker about Peggy Guggenheim.

Next day good breakfast, there were so few people that it felt as if you were being waited on hand and foot. An antique store unit followed. By now Mr. Bonzo has no taste and would buy almost anything; he likes it all. Mrs. Bonzo, however, has decreed that nothing may be purchased unless something at home is ditched, as SmallHouse is already packed with junk, primarily due to Mr. Bonzo. We did, however, pick up a few items.

Art Notes by Mrs. Bonzo: Mr. B. mentioned that we picked up "a few items" at the antique store in Red Wing. These included a fabulous large glass pitcher made by Anchor Hocking in the 1940s. It has narrow stripes in multiple colors that will coordinate with our diner/dinnerware. It will be accessioned into the Utility Collection & will replace Plastic Water Pitcher acc. #2003.106, which will be disposed of. We can use it as a water pitcher for the table when we have guests for dinner. The Bonzos do not give "dinner parties". The Bonzos have "folks over for dinner". This is as it should be.

Mr. Bonzo also replaced his umpty-ump year old snow shovelling boots with Red Wings. They had plastic zippers - a good thing as the metal ones eventually corrode - and thick soles. Ten to fifteen years of use had killed them though. Then we headed home for the inevitable dig out to which Mr. Bonzo actually looked forward. Mr. Bonzo has a humongous snow blower that he has only used at SmallHouse once. He acquired it when he lived in ExtraLargeHouse in the 'burbs many years ago. Last September he actually had the tires pumped up and Blue Babe miraculously fired up. So he was looking forward to trying Babe under battle conditions. Ordinarily Mr. Bonzo would have simply shoveled because there really wasn't that much snow. But if we ever get a real Minnesota snow again, Mr. Bonzo may not be able to handle it without the snow blower as he is getting long in the tooth.

Long story short - Blue Babe worked fine. So the next snowfall Mr. Bonzo will be able to begin to repay his neighbors who have often in the past cleared snow from
his front walk.

Over the weekend the Bonzos also went to a local Jewish theater production of a one woman show about Peggy Guggenheim, the late eccentric modern art collector whose palazzo in Venice now houses her collection. It was a virtuoso performance by Sally Wingert of local and even national fame. Ms. Wingert has remained very active in local theater. Kudos for continuing to do great work. She is a real pro.

Speaking of work Mr. Bonzo has to get back to his. He promises that shortly some more serious material will appear concerning BigU's march to greatness as well as the coronation of new emperors in football and basketball at BigU.



Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Med School Dean on Pepsi Board

Aurum de stercore
(gold from dung) is an interesting concept explored by Primo Levi in the Periodic Table. The story describes a consulting gig that dealt with the making of lipstick from chicken shit.

There are many other ignoble ways of making money, arguably involving less admirable means. Recently the Dean of the Medical School at Minnesota signed onto the board of directors of Pepsi-Cola.

The news surfaced locally around Christmas. Old hands at the University will know that the best time for such news to surface is either during the Christmas break or in August, because then no one is around to notice.

Once a minor hue and cry began, the Dean announced that she had thought long and hard about the distinction between tobacco money and money from a company whose product is capable of rotting children’s teeth. Turns out that she plans to be an apostle of change at Pepsi. "I really thought about that a lot," Powell told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I thought it was an opportunity for me as a health professional to have my voice heard by the leadership of a major beverage distributor with a global reach."

Others are not so sanguine.

"PepsiAmericas, a contributor to America's obesity problem, clearly wants to affiliate with a physician to enhance its own image," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "What -- other than money -- Dr. Powell expects to gain from such an association is unclear."

“Like all outside directors, Powell will be paid in cash and company stock for her board service. That includes a $30,000 annual retainer, $2,000 for each board meeting she attends and $60,000 in stock.”

There is a further dilemma for medical school faculty interested in consuming the politically correct tooth-rotting drink. Coke or Pepsi? Along with the new Twin City Federal Stadium, the University of Minnesota has a financial arrangement with the Coca Cola company for product placement. See the U’s website on the University of Minnesota Coca-Cola beverage partnership.

What’s a poor upwardly mobile medical school faculty member to do?

Concerning ethical issues raised, Dr. Powell indicated that she would resign if she could not make a difference in the activities of Pepsi. It will be interesting to see whether Dr. Powell “walks the talk,” as the late Paul Wellstone would have said.

"This could be a good opportunity for Dr. Powell to help focus on the health of children and providing more healthy beverages," said Mary Story, co-director of the U's Obesity Prevention Center.