Monday, October 22, 2007

Big Week at BigU

Win some, lose some

Despite last week’s lack of new posts, it was not a quiet week in Lake Wobegun [sic]. Mr. B. did not post last week, however, because he wanted the situation at BigU to sink in. One of the best science bloggers in the business, Pharyngula, aka my own colleague PZ Meyers at the excellent U of M, Morris, campus was kind enough to cite my post in giving his opinion: "Depressing News from My University," wherein he writes:

"UMM recently hosted the University of Minnesota board of regents, and we got a look at the status of the whole U of M system. It's not a happy story. We have an administration with ambitious goals (that's good), but they seem to be a bit divorced from reality — they want to turn us into one of the top three public research universities in the world. That sounds like a great 50 year plan, but I'd rather see an ambitious and feasible 5-year goal, myself."


"The ultimate problem is declining investment in education, both in higher ed and our source of students, the Minnesota public schools. Rather than touting grand dreams, it might be wiser of our administrators to highlight the deficiencies in the support our government is giving us, and get them to quit taking the UM system for granted."

[ET, Chairman Bob, hello - are you listening? Do you really want a dialog or do you just want to continue on your merry way, with the volume of the propaganda machine turned up full blast?]

Regular readers will recall that the last post dealt with the miserable ranking of the U compared to our self-selected peers in a number of factors related to the administration's “ambitious aspiration” for BigU to "become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic].”

Sigh… Denial - It’s not just a river in Egypt.

So what else happened?

This week Leo won the big one, Mystic Lake casino made a 12.5 million dollar donation to BigU, the “little green guys” ran over the Gophers, and yet another example of denial surfaced at BigU.

Leo Hits the Ball Long

Leo is of course Professor Leonid Hurwicz, who is an emeritus member of the economics department and this year’s Nobel Prize winner in economics along with Professors Maskin and Myerson of Princeton and the University of Chicago. Another recent economics laureate with Minnesota connections is Ed Prescott who left a few years ago - in the middle of the academic year - due to an apparent tiff with BigU’s administration. Ed moved to Arizona State where he subsequently received the economics Nobel Prize. Mr. B. notes without further comment that BigU’s economics program has recently hired a large number of new profs.

By all accounts Leo is a modest man and a great teacher. Thus it would appear that work of the highest quality can be done at BigU, despite the fact that we are not currently one of the top three… (You know the drill.)

Little Green Men Stampede Over Gophers

BigU’s football team is struggling this year. Mr. B. was once an ardent Gopher fan, but he has recently lost interest because of the disgraceful performance of the revenue producing teams in graduating student athletes. We are at the bottom of the BigTen. Until we are at least in the respectable middle, enthusiasm will be hard to generate. Mr. B. was an undergrad at Northwestern, so he knows how tough playing football can be in the BigTen. But NU has been to a real bowl game more recently than the Gophers, despite having high academic standards and the best graduation rate in the BigTen.

We have won a single game thus far this year and last weekend we lost to some little green men, approximately the term applied by our football coach to the North Dakota State University Bison who stampeded over the Gophers. Most of the Bison are from Minnesota. I read somewhere recently that the newest NDSU class has more Minnesotans than North Dakotans. It was a home game but the ratio of NDSU fans to Gopher fans must have been about 3/2 in favor of NDSU. The Bison are in a football division below the BigTen and have fewer athletic scholarships. So a loss to them was quite a disappointment, given the large amount of money that was spent last year in order to try to get things in order for future opening of the new, expensive, stadium that will need to be filled. The Bison have now won 20 games in a row, their last loss having been to the Gophers a year ago. NDSU apparently has a great coach who knows how to play the people available to him to best advantage.

$ for Twin City Federal Stadium and

Student Scholarships

The Mystic Lake Casino is a tribal operation that generates a lot of revenue. Alex Bonzo used to work there during summer vacations while he was attending college, so Mr. B. has a soft spot for the casino, even though he is not a gambler. They gave the U 10 mil for the naming rights (which will not be exercised by the casino, but rather the tribal owners) for an area near the front of the stadium. They also donated 2.5 mil that the university is going to match for a student scholarship endowment for native Americans. That should generate about 250K/yr for students which is great. You can’t lose them all.

Disingenuous or Merely Being a Good Cheerleader?

Our provost sent out an odd blanket email last week in which he raved about how wonderful were the ACT scores of our incoming freshman as well their class rank in high school:

“Also featured in local newspapers, and on local radio and television, is the Twin Cities campus's incoming freshman class, which is the best prepared, highest achieving...”

“The Star Tribune's article “U's freshman class has its ACT together” succinctly points out such facts as the class's elevated ACT scores, the increase of students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class.”

Mr. B. is not so sure that citing ACT scores or class ranking is a good argument that we are making progress toward entering the upper echelons. Honesty would seem to require admitting the following:

Our 2006 ranking for Exceptional Students:

Top 10% of High School Class: 10th

Average ACT Score: 10th

2-Year Retention Rate: 10th

6-Year Graduation Rate: 11th

The self-selected peer group consists of:

University of Florida

University of Illinois

University of Michigan

The Ohio State University

Pennsylvania State University

University of Texas

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Washington

University of Wisconsin

I would prefer that we compared ourselves with the other BigTen schools, Northwestern excepted, since they are our actual competition and struggle with the same realities we do. The fact is that even as we improve so does our competition,
the so-called Red Queen effect.

Another little problem may be found in the athletics department. There is much chatter about the outstanding recruits who will soon be flooding BigU due to the salesmanship of our new million dollar football coach. Whether he can actually coach is still an open question, see "little green men" above. But he is in good company with OurLeader and ET, since talk, rather than performance, seems to be in vogue at BigU, see "Disingenuous" above.

One of the new recruits, a 4* - meaning that he probably is an outstanding football player - apparently has an ACT score of 13. Sound like business as usual? Maybe OurLeader should look into this...

Don't hold your breath.

From the Land of the Green Giant with neighboring little green men,

Ciao, Bonzo

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