Friday, November 30, 2007

Update on OurProvost’s Blog

Openness, Transparency, and Two-Way Communication

Hold Those Thoughts...

I had hoped that the University of Minnesota community might finally have a conversation about where the university stands, where it is going, and what are attainable goals, given our limited resources and land grant mission.

Earlier today, Sharon Reich Paulsen, the Chief of Staff for Provost Tom Sullivan, informed me via email that the Provost lacks sufficient time for blogging.

She suggested that an experimental blog started by the Daily recently might be adequate venue for communicating with the University community. She noted that Jerry Rinehart would be participating.

With all due respect to the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, this does not seem to be an adequate replacement for a community conversation with OurProvost.

Thus I replied:


Dear Sharon Reich Paulsen,

Thanks for your kind response.

I am aware of the blog at the Daily. I don't think this is going to get sufficient traffic to generate the dialog that I feel is badly needed. If you look at the letters to the editor section of the Daily, participation is pitiful for a university of this size. The Daily has even been forced to solicit letters. A far cry from the way things were when I was an undergraduate or even ten years ago.

The Provost's site appeared to be a place where a dialog could be held and taken seriously. From what I have seen, and I have been blogging on University matters for a year, it seems to me that there is a deliberate attempt to deny dissenters a podium. I hope that is not the case.

I am disappointed that Tom does not have time to follow through on what I thought was a very good idea.



ps. Since I have already posted an announcement that Tom's blog was open, and encouraged people to participate, would it be appropriate for me to let people know that Provost Sullivan apparently will not be doing this due to lack of time?


In reviewing the notes in my blogger folder I also ran across the following. It may still be posted on OurProvost's website.

Provost’s Academic Update

September 7, 2007

Since my last academic update in April of this year, you will notice three major changes in our communications.

First, the very abundant and newsworthy academic awards will be showcased in an awards email, which will be sent at the end of each semester.

Second, to set the stage for two-way communication — a key element identified by faculty focus groups in the University culture task force — I will be starting a blog.

Finally, the Provost’s Academic Update will focus on substantive, academic news from around the campus with focused information about strategic positioning impacts.

On September 7 a blanket email was also sent by OurProvost to faculty, staff, and students:

To set the stage for two-way communication--a key element identified by faculty focus groups in the University culture task force--we're also introducing something new. I realized my messages might have more impact if I used a 21st century messenger--a blog. I invite you to read and participate as my blog goes live in the coming weeks.

With best wishes for a wonderful year,

Tom Sullivan
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost
Julius E. Davis Chair in Law

I trust that other means will be provided to facilitate this key element of two-way communication as requested by faculty. What would Abraham Lincoln do?



University of Minnesota Provost Launches Blog

Hold That Thought...

[But see NOTE below. Apparently the site is not functional and may not ever be.]

Mr. B. notes that Tom Sullivan's long awaited blog has a first entry. It is entitled "Conversations with the Provost."

From the blog:


[The material below, that was posted on the Provost's blog as of yesterday, has now been removed. The site has reverted to its former status as an empty suit.]


In the spirit of strategic positioning, and exploring new methods of communication, I have decided to launch a blog. I plan to make biweekly entries into the blog, on such topics as:

  • Law (as former dean of the Law School and a faculty member, this is of particular interest to me)
  • Art and design (a personal passion)
  • Travel (currently, I am planning a trip to Italy)
  • Twin Cities Culture (we are so fortunate to have such resources as the Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra)
  • The strategic positioning effort, “Transforming the U” (of course!)
  • Academic initiatives and trends
  • Other personal observations
We’ll moderate blog submissions for relevance and redundancy, but we hope for a free exchange of thought, thought-provoking, and wide-ranging entries. We hope our experiment with a blog will be successful, but we need your help. Please join the conversation!

Mr. B. encourages readers to monitor this blog and contribute as appropriate. He has already submitted a comment about Provost Sullivan's ambitious aspirations for the university to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]. Bonzo suggested that being in the top half of the BigTen would be a more appropriate and attainable goal. We will see whether a conversation on this topic ensues.



Note: 9:30 am 11/29

Apparently OurProvost's blog is not quite open for business. I answered the call for conversation last night and was rewarded this morning with the following email:

Web Admin to bgleason

"While your comments and willingness to dialogue are appreciated, you were commenting on a draft blog entry that was only temporarily published for demonstration and review purposes.

We're continuing to edit the first entries, and will keep your comment available for consideration once the Provost's blog is officially launched."

OurProvost's blog does not appear to have been a solo effort. Blogs take time and it is good to see that he will have help and not have to do this by himself.
Ciao, Bonzo

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The University of Minnesota Makes The Chronicle (Again)

The Chronicle of Higher Education Comments on a new endowed chair at the University of Minnesota:

Novemer 28, 2007

U. of Minnesota Endows Chair Honoring Professor Who Brought Costly Fame

Now that’s burying the hatchet.

More than a decade ago, the famed University of Minnesota transplant surgeon John S. Najarian was at the center of a federal criminal trial and research-misconduct controversy that ultimately cost the university $30-million and immeasurable damage to its reputation and its scientific enterprise. This week, the institution created a new endowed professorship for research on organ transplantation that will bear his name. Dr. Najarian’s colleagues, friends, and patients committed more than $1.5-million toward the chair, and the university will add $500,000, officials said.

“What happened in the past happened, and the chair is not about that,” Frank Cerra, the senior vice president who oversees the university’s academic health center, said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Dr. Najarian, he said, had “saved thousands and thousands of lives by his contributions to clinical medicine. The chair celebrates those clinical contributions to humanity, and I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.”

The Najarian controversy surfaced in 1992, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration alleged the university’s surgery department had been inappropriately manufacturing and selling an anti-rejection drug called anti-lymphocyte globulin, or ALG, which had never received federal approval for mass production. Dr. Najarian, who was acquitted on federal charges, was later forced out of his position as chair of the surgery department but remained as a clinical professor.

In 1998 the university paid what was then the largest settlement of its kind — $32-million — to resolve charges of fraud and misuse of federal funds. —Goldie Blumenstyk

Der Chef Hat Gesagt

Mr. B. has previously posted on the efforts of the University of Minnesota Medical School to raise money: "How much is a good name worth?"

The Pioneer Press has also recently outlined, in more detail than will be found below, details of the Najarian situation.

From a blanket email, The Brief:

November 28, 2007

Our drive for increased philanthropy has generated news lately – both for the success of efforts to fund the John S. Najarian Surgical Chair in Clinical Transplantation to celebrate his contributions to that field, as well as for efforts to seek significant donors for the Medical School and its priorities.

Funding the mission here at the University has become an increasingly complex and competitive enterprise. Public funds remain critical to our operations – and are declining as a percentage of overall revenues. Sponsored research dollars are now coming through a wider variety of sources – many requiring significant management for potential conflicts. And maintaining clinical income for our health professional schools will require significant investment in infrastructure to remain competitive in the consumer marketplace of health.

That’s why philanthropy becomes increasingly critical as the path to providing the margin of excellence that can distinguish this institution and its health professional schools. As you read stories concerning efforts by the Medical School to seek philanthropic dollars, know that that effort is part of a careful plan to ensure long-term success and strength for the core mission – educating tomorrow’s physicians to improve community health.

– Frank B. Cerra, M.D.
Sr. Vice President for Health Sciences

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Drug Rep Doc

Mrs. B. pointed out an interesting article in the NYT.

A colleague at BigU also has a pointer to the article on his blog.

The gist of it follows. Read the whole thing if you get a chance. Fascinating.

If I gave talks to primary-care doctors about Effexor, I reasoned, I would be doing nothing unethical. It was a perfectly effective treatment option, with some data to suggest advantages over its competitors. The Wyeth rep was simply suggesting that I discuss some of the data with other doctors. Sure, Wyeth would benefit, but so would other doctors, who would become more educated about a good medication.

A few weeks later, my wife and I walked through the luxurious lobby of the Millennium Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. At the reception desk, when I gave my name, the attendant keyed it into the computer and said, with a dazzling smile: “Hello, Dr. Carlat, I see that you are with the Wyeth conference. Here are your materials.”

She handed me a folder containing the schedule of talks, an invitation to various dinners and receptions and two tickets to a Broadway musical. “Enjoy your stay, doctor.” I had no doubt that I would, though I felt a gnawing at the edge of my conscience. This seemed like a lot of money to lavish on me just so that I could provide some education to primary-care doctors in a small town north of Boston.

At the end of the last lecture, we were all handed envelopes as we left the conference room. Inside were checks for $750. It was time to enjoy ourselves in the city.

Once I returned to my Newburyport office from New York, a couple of voice-mail messages from local Wyeth reps were already waiting for me, inviting me to give some presentations at local doctors’ offices. I was about to begin my speaking — and detailing — career in earnest.

How many doctors speak for drug companies? We don’t know for sure, but one recent study indicates that at least 25 percent of all doctors in the United States receive drug money for lecturing to physicians or for helping to market drugs in other ways.

Regardless of how I preferred to think of myself (an educator, a psychiatrist, a consultant), I was now classified as one facet of a lunch helping to pitch a drug, a convincing sidekick to help the sales rep. Eventually, with an internal wince, I began to introduce myself as “Dr. Carlat, here for the Wyeth lunch.”

The drug rep who arranged the lunch was always there, usually an attractive, vivacious woman with platters of gourmet sandwiches in tow. Hungry doctors and their staff of nurses and receptionists would filter into the lunch room, grateful for free food.

As the reps became comfortable with me, they began to see me more as a sales colleague. I received faxes before talks preparing me for particular doctors. One note informed me that the physician we’d be visiting that day was a “decile 6 doctor and is not prescribing any Effexor XR, so please tailor accordingly. There is also one more doc in the practice that we are not familiar with.” The term “decile 6” is drug-rep jargon for a doctor who prescribes a lot of medications. The higher the “decile” (in a range from 1 to 10), the higher the prescription volume, and the more potentially lucrative that doctor could be for the company.

Naïve as I was, I found myself astonished at the level of detail that drug companies were able to acquire about doctors’ prescribing habits. I asked my reps about it; they told me that they received printouts tracking local doctors’ prescriptions every week.

The American Medical Association is also a key player in prescription data-mining. Pharmacies typically will not release doctors’ names to the data-mining companies, but they will release their Drug Enforcement Agency numbers. The A.M.A. licenses its file of U.S. physicians, allowing the data-mining companies to match up D.E.A. numbers to specific physicians. The A.M.A. makes millions in information-leasing money.

I realized that in my canned talks, I was blithely minimizing the hypertension risks, conveniently overlooking the fact that hypertension is a dangerous condition and not one to be trifled with. Why, I began to wonder, would anyone prescribe an antidepressant that could cause hypertension when there were many other alternatives? And why wasn’t I asking this obvious question out loud during my talks?

At my next Lunch and Learn, I mentioned toward the end of my presentation that data in support of Effexor were mainly short-term, and that there was a possibility that S.S.R.I.’s were just as effective. I felt reckless, but I left the office with a restored sense of integrity.

Several days later, I was visited by the same district manager who first offered me the speaking job. Pleasant as always, he said: “My reps told me that you weren’t as enthusiastic about our product at your last talk. I told them that even Dr. Carlat can’t hit a home run every time. Have you been sick?”

At that moment, I decided my career as an industry-sponsored speaker was over. The manager’s message couldn’t be clearer: I was being paid to enthusiastically endorse their drug. Once I stopped doing that, I was of little value to them, no matter how much “medical education” I provided.

Recently, a rep from Bristol-Myers Squibb came into my office and invited me to a dinner program on the antipsychotic Abilify.

“I think it will be a great program, Dr. Carlat,” he said. “Would you like to come?” I glanced at the invitation. I recognized the name of the speaker, a prominent and widely published psychiatrist flown in from another state. The restaurant was one of the finest in town.

I was tempted. The wine, the great food, the proximity to a famous researcher — why not rejoin that inner circle of the select for an evening? But then I flashed to a memory of myself five years earlier, standing at a lectern and clearing my throat at the beginning of a drug-company presentation. I vividly remembered my sensations — the careful monitoring of what I would say, the calculations of how frank I should be.

“No,” I said, as I handed the rep back the invitation. “I don’t think I can make it. But thanks anyway.”

A sordid story. But Drs. Furcht and Clohisy are on the case at BigU. So is my colleague, Gary Schwitzer. See comments at the end of this post. Good luck to them.

Ciao, Bonzo

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's Sauce for the Goose...

I must say that the Pioneer Press has some pretty good ink-stained wretches scribbling away. A recent insightful article deals with the medical device industry in Minnesota and what we used to call payola. In our state payola is now of public record in the pharmaceutical industry, why not for medical devices?

From the Pioneer Press:

Minnesota is tough on the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to reporting financial relationships between companies and doctors. It's a different story when it comes to the homegrown medical device industry.

As a matter of law, drug companies must disclose to the state Board of Pharmacy payments in excess of $100 that they make to physicians for research or consulting work. But the statute doesn't, in general, apply to medical device manufacturers.

The focus on drug companies prompted an official with New York-based Pfizer Inc. to pointedly ask during a health policy forum this month in Minneapolis: "How can you defend that logically?"

One audience member got a laugh with his explanation: Minnesota is home to a lot of device companies.

But as questions about payments from medical device companies to doctors swirl this fall, manufacturers here are nervous that state lawmakers again will take up the transparency topic. The worry is that public reports about the money given to particular doctors could lead physicians to opt out of consulting arrangements that are vital to the development of medical devices.

"Certain kinds of transparency are good for our society, as well as patients," said Don Gerhardt, the chief executive officer of LifeScience Alley, a St. Louis Park-based trade group for medical device companies. "However, there are kinds of transparency ... that could be detrimental to the development of improved technology."

When the state law requiring pharmaceutical company disclosures was passed back in 1993, payments from device companies to doctors weren't on the radar screen, said Matt Entenza, a former DFL leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives who helped draft the bill.

At the time, Entenza was working in the office of former attorney general Skip Humphrey and was involved in several health care litigation cases involving drug companies. Those cases suggested that doctors were receiving thousands of dollars worth of free trips and gifts from pharmaceutical manufacturers that did nothing to improve care, but helped companies make sure that expensive name-brand drugs were being prescribed, Entenza said.

"We had a lot of information about the huge dollar amounts going to doctors from pharmaceutical companies," said Entenza, who is the board chair and founder of Minnesota 2020, a public policy group in St. Paul. "We did not look at device companies."

This fall, however, there's been a spurt of interest in device company payments.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced a bill that would require disclosure of payments to physicians from both drug and device manufacturers. Grassley asserted that "patients shouldn't be in the dark about whether their doctors are getting money from drug and device makers."

With all the questions swirling, the topic surfaced earlier this month when experts gathered in Minneapolis for the 28th Minnesota Health Care Roundtable, a biannual conference on health care policy. The topic for the day: "Doctors and Drug Companies: Is medical advice for sale?"

Just over halfway through the event, John Swen, a Pfizer vice president, asked why Minnesota required transparency from drug companies, but not other interested parties such as device manufacturers, health plans and others with financial interests in the health care products selected by physicians.

Maybe the U of M should add medical devices to their conflict of interest docket?

Ciao, Bonzo

Monday, November 26, 2007

How Much Is a Good Name Worth?

University of Minnesota Medical School Name For Sale

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155–161


added, Wednesday 29 November

We've made the Chronicle of Higher Education:

November 27, 2007

University of Minnesota Medical School Seeks Big Donor

Who wouldn’t want $150-million? Officials of the University of Minnesota Medical School, in pursuit of just such a donation, will offer the school’s naming rights for the right price, says the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

The medical school is running "more than $8-million in the red," according to the news report, because of cuts in state support.

______________End of Addition_________________

The Pioneer Press reports on the latest efforts at financing BigU’s ambitious aspirations:

Is med school name worth $150M? The U may find out
Short on money, officials seek an unprecedented gift

Pioneer Press

Article Last Updated: 11/22/2007 10:21:15 PM CST

Officials say no deal is imminent, but they are considering what the medical school name might fetch. The school's dean, Dr. Deborah Powell, mentioned the $150 million figure at a recent university faculty meeting where she also lamented the lack of "major philanthropy" in Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota regularly names buildings after donors in exchange for big gifts. It agreed to name the new campus football stadium for TCF Bank in a $21 million sponsorship deal. But selling the name of Minnesota's public medical college could be a much trickier and politically charged issue.

Would Minnesotans object to removing "Minnesota" from the school's name in exchange for cash? It's not clear. Officials, though, say the school is running more than $8 million a year in the red.

"Without philanthropy, we cannot get the resources we need to advance the medical school," Powell said. "I've certainly talked to (university President Robert Bruininks) about how wonderful this would be for the medical school ... a very large, unrestricted gift."

There's no benefactor waiting in the wings, and the university has never received a gift even close to that size.

Medical school leaders trace their financial problems to funding cuts by the Legislature earlier in the decade.

The school also has fallen out of the top 20 among medical schools in the crucial chase for National Institutes of Health grants, which make up roughly a quarter of its funding.

The school is the second-most expensive public medical school in the nation, so a big jump in tuition likely would not be an option.

Officials talked about making a special request to the Legislature in 2008. Powell, in an August memo to faculty, cited a "structural deficit of $29 million over the next three years" and called a special funding request "an opportunity we have to seize." That plan, though, appears off the table right now, in part because the 2008 session is focused on capital bonding issues.

There's been a small rush the past few years to rename medical schools in honor of big donors. The University of South Dakota renamed its medical school for St. Paul native Denny Sanford following a $20 million donation.

At New York's Cornell University, $100 million in 1998 from banker Sanford Weill got his family name on the medical school. A $200 million gift in 2002 from music mogul David Geffen prompted UCLA to rename its medical school in his honor.

NIH money increasingly is awarded for "translational research," science that can move from basic discovery to clinical trials to market. The universities of Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin won NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards grants this year. Minnesota did not. Officials have reapplied and are seeking a $70 million grant.

"Rather than let the medical school fail, absolutely we will be pursuing sources of funding," Koppel
[spokeswoman for the university's academic health center, which includes the medical school] said. "It's a struggle to retain the name and the ownership with inadequate investment."

As Mr. Bonzo has pointed out in the past, there seems to be a disconnect between the ambitious aspirations of BigU's administration and the wishes of the citizens of ColdState. The unexpurgated reactions to the Pioneer Press article are given below:

The U of M Medical School should not be a "sell-out" and name it after a drug company. What an insult to the pioneering minds to have graduated from there - let alone the gusty researchers at the U of M that have come up breakthrough after breakthrough... But ever since the University of Minnesota Medical Center "sold it's soul" to Fairview in 1997, I wouldn't be surprised if it happened. I guess being a "world-class" medical center doesn't add up to much, anymore...pity.

It does not surprise me that the Medical School would sell out its name. It has been apparent for some time now that anything or everything is for sale at the 'U' including the truth. Maybe the Psychiatry Dept. should be re-named "Elli Lilly Hall"

Who are we kidding? This IS a done deal. Bruininks and his ilk would sell the naming rights to their mother's grave if they thought it would make a buck.
This is just one more step in the University turning into the Wal-Mart of academics.
As for you, PP, I can't believe you're so naive not to see this release for what it is, on a Friday, over a holiday weekend. This story is the trial balloon to see how the public will react so the PR machine at the U can sculpt their message accordingly. Wise-up.


... and the story has a secondary function to troll the national waters for potential, large donors.


Would this be on e-bay ?


Now if Tammie Hall should her stuff it would be called hooking, but not like in hockey.


Ugh - this selling out of educational institutions is sickening


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Modest Man Notes That the Meter Is Running

The Daily has another puff piece today.

Selections are given below.


Provost Sullivan talks Minnesota and modesty

Sullivan was behind Strategic Positioning, the plan to make the "U" a top university.
By Ahnalese Rushmann

Edward Thomas Sullivan thinks people at this school are way too modest.

"A lot of people don't understand what a great university this is," said the University Senior Vice President and Provost of Academic Affairs, who goes by "Tom."

Yet, even as a middle-schooler in northern Illinois, he said he was inspired by mentors to go into teaching.

"I had a spectacular English teacher in eighth grade," Sullivan said.

"In high school, a particularly magnificent biology teacher."

Bruininks, whose office is down the hall from Sullivan's, said the provost's "rare blend of leadership qualities" makes him one of the best in the nation.

"He was always being regarded as being one of the top deans of law schools in the United States," he said.

Bruininks said he and his top administrators remind him of Abraham Lincoln and his staff, whom he called a team of independent-minded people with strong views and personalities.

"(Sullivan) is modest but also decisive and assertive in making decisions," he said.

Three years ago, the University set a goal to become a top-three research institution worldwide, he said.

"The meter's running," Sullivan said, adding the University needs to be bolder and take more risks.

Sullivan's extensive experience hasn't gone unnoticed by other schools, who have sought him out for vacant president positions in the past.

He said he's currently not being considered for any presidencies, and downplayed past offers with a little of his own Minnesotan modesty.

"That happens to many people," he said, "that's not unique to me."

Despite inquiring schools' calls, Sullivan said he wants to stay in Minnesota and at the University.


Reminds me of the Winston Churchill quote: "He is a very modest man with a great deal to be modest about."

Ciao, Bonzo

Friday, November 16, 2007

A recent article appeared in the Minnesota Daily concerning OurPresident's salary.

November 13, 2007

Bruininks fifth best paid in Big Ten

Mr. B. has also recently posted on the latest rankings of BigU.

This led me to wonder if there was any correlation between salary and performance. Although making judgments about the actual compensation of university presidents is (deliberately) difficult there seem to be a few generalizations that can be made about the above plot.

1. If anyone is being underpaid in the BigTen, it would appear to be the presidents of Illinois and Wisconsin. They are Michigan's closest competitors and yet, compared to the rest of the BigTen schools, their compensation seems oddly low, especially Wisconsin.

2. OurLeader is being well compensated considering Minnesota's position in the BigTen rankings.

Note: I have omitted Northwestern, the eleventh BigTen school, because NU is not a public university.

Things have changed quite a bit since these numbers became available. Iowa and Ohio State have new presidents and so next year's results may be somewhat different. There does seem to be a trend that the most recently hired presidents are more highly compensated.

Ciao, Bonzo

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An English Professor's Opinion on Redshirts

Mr. B. has previously
posted on the St. Paul production of Redshirts at the Penumbra Theatre as well as a Washington Post review of the same play at the Roundhouse theater in Maryland.

Margaret Soltan, the author of University Diaries, recently attended the play and has posted her reaction to it.

A few choice words:

UD's basically impressed by the play, but she agrees with the reviewers who say that the author tried to pack much too much - plot, character, idea - into it.

And they're really keen [the players] on English lit too. The funniest scene in the play -- and it's a smart, well-written play -- is a poetry-analysis practice session with coach, when the guys try to make sense of Emily Dickinson:
My nosegays are for captives;
Dim, long-expectant eyes,
Fingers denied the plucking,
Patient till paradise,

To such, if they should whisper
Of morning and the moor,
They bear no other errand,
And I, no other prayer.
The many ways the guys say what the hell? are hilarious, and UD loved it.

The English professor is a thankless role in this sort of drama -- if she doesn't care, she's contemptible; if she does, she's a scathing schoolmarm destroying the school and the players' prospects. As this character pursues sanctions against team members for cheating, one of them says to her: "You think the coach is gonna let a pissant professor knock out his game? He makes two million dollars a year."

The play concludes a bit awkwardly -- its plot meanders and never finds enlightenment -- so that UD doesn't leave the theater with the aesthetic payoff she'd have liked. But the heart of the thing is pure, with a pure appraisal of the inhumanity at the heart of Division I university football.

[What the hell? is bolded in the original. I've bolded the other two sentences.]

Ciao, Bonzo

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Albert Vinicio Baez (1912-2007)

Mr. B. used to be a fairly serious crystallographer and may not be quite finished in that area. As a crystallographer I belong to the AIP, American Institute for Physics, and get as a consequence the journal Physics Today. This is always a good read and beats the party organ of the American Chemical Society, another scientific organization to which I belong. I facetiously refer to the ACS weekly as Comical & Engineering News.

Mr. B. is quite the fan of both Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. They were an item in the day - and still are. I clearly remember having heard that the father of Ms. Baez was a physicist, and a damned good one, but never took the time to look him up.

Physics Today (November 2007) has his very touching obituary from which I quote:

Albert Vinicio Baez, a pioneer in X-ray optics and co-developer of the X-ray reflection microscope, died of natural causes in Redwood City, California. In addition to being a noted physicist, Al was a passionate humanitarian and educator.

After World War II, he decided to switch from mathematics to physics for his PhD. With Paul Kirkpatrick as his research professor, he wrote his thesis, "Principles of X-Ray Optics and the Development of a Single Stage X-Ray Microscope"; he received his PhD in 1950.
In 1948 Al and Kirkpatrick developed the theory of using grazing-incidence mirrors to focus x rays. For their focusing geometry, they envisioned two such mirrors mounted perpendicular to one another to overcome limitations of conventional optical systems. Unfortunately, developing a usable instrument was not possible because high-quality mirrors and intense x-ray sources were not available. However, the focusing geometry, named in the research team's honor (the Kirkpatrick–Baez configuration), is now widely used at synchrotron facilities and in some astrophysics experiments to produce high-intensity, focused x-ray beams smaller than 1 µm2 with a wide energy bandpass.

During a brief stint at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo, New York, in 1950, Al found he was uneasy doing operations research for a classified US Navy project. He soon moved to the University of Redlands in California, where he continued his research on x-ray optics.

Al was a Quaker and had a passionate interest in science education. In 1951 he combined the two when he went to Iraq for a year under the auspices of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to help establish the departments of physics, chemistry, and biology at Baghdad University. With his wife, Joan, he coauthored the book A Year in Baghdad (J. Daniels, 1988), which recalls the challenges of raising three daughters in a startlingly different environment.
In 1956 Al returned to Stanford, where he began working with MIT physics professor Jerrold Zacharias, who had formed the Physics Science Study Committee. The PSSC was an effort to reshape the way physics was taught in high schools. In 1958 Al moved his family to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and began working at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory.
From 1961 to 1967, Al was the first head of the division of science teaching at UNESCO in Paris, where he helped develop projects in the basic sciences in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Arab states. He made a series of almost 100 films on physics principles for the Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation from 1967 to 1974. He wrote an undergraduate physics textbook, The New College Physics: A Spiral Approach (W. H. Freeman, 1967). Additionally, he was a chairman of the commission on the teaching of science for the International Council of Scientific Unions and of the commission on education for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Al liked to tell how surprised he was when, as he was registering for a physics conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1963, he was asked, "Are you the father of [folksinger] Joan Baez?" His daughter had just been on the cover of Time magazine. From then on, it was often the first question he was asked—even at physics conferences.

A lifelong pacifist, Al opposed both the nuclear weapons buildup of the 1950s and, later, the Vietnam War; he worked with many peace and humanitarian programs. After his retirement, he served as president of Vivamos Mejor North America (Let Us Live Better), which strives to improve the quality of life in Latin America through science-based education and community development projects.

When Al gave talks to students, he often mentioned the importance of the 3 Cs—curiosity, creativity, and compassion. His many friends felt that he embodied those qualities, and we miss his stimulating ideas and gentle ways.

Al Thompson
Berkeley, California

George Castro
San José State University
San José, California

Ring them bells, Al, ring them bells.

Bill Gleason 
How Green Was My Valley... How Readable is My Blog

The Blog Readability Test

Mr. B. stumbled upon an interesting site that purports to evaluate the readability of a blog and assigns an educational level that would allow the reader to understand postings. Naturally I tried this with a few of the blogs that I read regularly. I report the following results merely to indicate the spread of readability among several very good blogs. Elementary School Junior High High School College Post-Grad Genius

The sweet spot seems to be high school level, but this is not an exhaustive survey. Just for fun.


Although the general rankings seem reasonable, I question whether an elementary student could understand one of my favorites, A Gentleman's C, written by the Angry Professor with assists from the Angry Baker and the Angry Kid. Although the language may be simple, the topics and discussion are er, shall we say, often adult.

Also I pumped in a web-site that is currently an empty template for OurProvost and out popped the opinion that the blog was college level. Kind of hard to imagine the basis for this conclusion since there aren't any posts yet.

Caveat lector.

Full Disclosures: The PT is rated College level. I stumbled upon this readability site at Brian Leiter's blog.



Sunday, November 11, 2007

University of Minnesota Dead Last in Self-Selected Comparison Group In
Latest US News Rankings of National Universities (2008)

Addendum (bonzo/12 November):

Although I found these numbers only yesterday, a friend has pointed out that they have apparently been available since August 16th. Sorry.

This post may look eerily familiar. Mr. B. has recently posted on BigU's less than outstanding performance in the latest rankings of world universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement. Unfortunately, the latest results from US News are remarkably similar. In fact if you compare the two rankings directly, about the only serious discrepancy is the interchange in ranking of Illinois and Texas. The U of M is clearly dead last, by a fair margin, in both rankings. For those who have not seen the earlier post, the institutions below are the ones self selected by the University of Minnesota as our targeted peer group.

21. University of California—Berkeley
25. University of California—Los Angeles2
25. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor2
38. University of Wisconsin—Madison 4
38. University of Illinois—Urbana - Champaign 4
42. University of Washington 6
44. University of Texas—Austin 7
48. Pennsylvania State University8
49. University of Florida 9
57. Ohio State University—Columbus10
71. University of Minnesota—Twin Cities11

We are tied for #71 with Virginia Tech, the University of Delaware, and Michigan State [sic]. These results should be truly embarrassing to OurLeader and OurProvost. They are fair warning of an impending train wreck.

Once again it should be obvious that the administration's chest-pounding about "ambitious aspirations" to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic] is a smokescreen. The longer we keep this up, in the face of the facts, the more foolish we look.

It is long past time to have an honest discussion about where we stand at the University and what we can do to be the best institution possible for the citizens of the state given our resources. Oh, and if the administration wants an ambitious aspiration, how about moving into the middle of the BigTen? Given the current sorry state of affairs, this will be difficult enough. Let's put some serious distance between Minnesota and Michigan State before worrying about catching up to Michigan and Berkeley.



Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer Hits the Trail

8:04 am

Norman Mailer has died and UD, an English professor and great fan of Mailer's, has a post that will certainly surpass my little remembrance.

But first I have to go over to the lab, turn off a reaction, and do a few other things.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

University of Minnesota Dead Last in Self-Selected Peer Group
In Latest Times Higher Education (2007) Rankings

We have been subjected to endless Orwellian propaganda about the University of Minnesota becoming one of the "top three public research universities in the world [sic].” The latest Times Higher Education Supplement ranks world universities, including places like Oxford and Cambridge. We don’t do very well and in fact are dead last compared to our self selected peer group. This is actually in pretty good agreement with data earlier posted.

University of California, Berkeley 22

University of Michigan 38

University of California, Los Angeles 41

University of Texas 51

University of Washington 55

University of Wisconsin 55

University of Illinois 73

Pennsylvania State University 90

The Ohio State University 120

University of Florida 135

University of Minnesota 142


Addendum (12 November)

A reader has pointed out - via direct email - that the University of Minnesota was ranked 187 on the list last year. From which one might conclude that tremendous progress had been made?

The Times people have apparently been tweaking their system to try to get reasonable numbers. The fact that their ratings of the "selected ten" are similar to the ones in US News
tells me that they may have finally reached a reasonable ranking system. If these numbers are to mean anything they CAN'T change by forty places in one year. Many of the Asian universities (Malaysia) have been complaining bitterly that their rankings have changed drastically since the last ones were published, again pointing out how unlikely this is. They are right, unless the criteria have been tweaked, which I believe is what happened. It will be interesting to see if there is much change next year.

From "Whither Rankings" in the Star (Malaysia):

(November 11, 2007) USM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dzulkifli Abdul Razak says the university tries to remain as consistent as possible.

“We hope THES-QS will stabilise their criteria so that we know what we are doing,” he adds.


Is it really credible to continue on with this
"ambitious aspiration" to "become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]?" OurLeader and OurProvost have no clothes. Let's admit we have some serious problems here and concentrate on fixing them. Let's also commit to getting the University of Minnesota at least to the mid-point of the BigTen rankings. That will be a difficult enough task. Rah, rah, rah for Ski-U-Mah and a new football stadium are not the answer.

In the hope that our administrators will soon get real,

Ciao, Bonzo

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Gopher Who Became a Louisville Slugger

Gopher Gleanings from Jim Chen

Jim Chen, a former University of Minnesota law school professor, now dean of the law school at Louisville, has a recent post on MoneyLaw: Gopher Gleanings. There is a very nice graphic in the post that includes a play on demand version of the Minnesota rouser. Apparently Dean Chen is quite the HTML jockey. Mr. B. can only give a hint of what is in store for the interested reader by posting the hockey playing gopher. I am forced to concede HTML superiority to a lawyer. How embarrassing. My sister and nephew - both lawyers - will find this amusing.

On a more serious note Jim has a few words to say about the opinion piece by OurProvost - "Universities as Places and Spaces of Imagination" - and the speech of Dr. Faust upon her recent inauguration as Harvard president - "Ambitious Imaginings." Mr. B. has previously posted on these works.

The Periodic Table is cited in Jim's post as is my esteemed colleague at the Morris campus, PZ Meyers, the blogger currently known as Pharyngula. Jim accurately notes: "There is, not to put too fine a point on it, a whiff of sarcasm in The Periodic Table's review of Provost Sullivan's ode to tenure and academic imagination." To which I plead guilty, as charged.

Let's hope that soon we can have a realistic conversation about "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]." We need to put this nonsense behind us and chart a course that will lead us to being in the top half of the Big Ten.

Skating Sioux?
The Daily Gets It

Mr. B. has previously posted on the University of Minnesota's double standard with respect to the University of North Dakota athletics:

Fighting Sioux? Absolutely Not!

Skating Sioux? Well, OK...

or, When It Comes Down to Money Versus Integrity -
At BigU We Take the Money and Skate

From today's Minnesota Daily:

It's well known that a Sioux and Gopher hockey game will most likely sell out, attract media attention and make a pretty penny for both teams involved. If the University believes so strongly in the "hostile and abusive" nature of UND's mascot, then they should stick to their guns and make a real statement. The fact that the University makes exceptions in its morality when money and attention is at stake underscores the hollow policy it instituted against the Sioux.

We believe that each mascot case should be looked at individually, as it is impossible to make a blanket statement that all mascots that represent ethnicity are offensive. But the University's too convenient exception to its own policy shows their real concern to be the purse, not the principle.

Write on. Bonzo

Monday, November 5, 2007

Inspiring Words at the University of Minnesota from OurProvost?

Universities as places and spaces of imagination

"The very depth and breadth of a great university can ensure that 'imaginative leaps' occur both within and across disciplines."

OurProvost (aka E. Thomas Sullivan or ET) has one of his hortatory pieces in the Minnesota Daily.

I assume that he wrote it, but it could easily be the product of the marketing firm responsible for Driven To Discover.

The topic is imagination and its importance at great universities. This is a straw-man topic that university administrators use as pontification opportunities. It is unlikely to generate any argument, let alone an actual intellectual exchange or, to use adminspeak, conversation.

The piece sounds like what a candidate for the presidency of a research university might say or write. It is necessary for an administrator to accumulate a portfolio of these feel good pieces, even if they are in the Minnesota Daily rather than the Washington Post or the Chronicle of Higher Education or other sand boxes where the big girls and boys play (e.g. Mark Yudof).

OurProvost goes through the usual drill. He mentions Einstein, Hurwicz, Phillips, Dewey, MacNeice, and Atwood. This is a signal to us that he is a well-read and educated man, even though he is a lawyer, and a serial ex-LawSchoolDean. Unfortunately the piece is marred by an irritating overuse of quotation marks. For example: "imaginative leaps," "accidents," and "primary function." There is an amusing blog devoted to poking fun at this practice: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

Also, included in the piece is an ode to tenure. This is a signal to faculty that OurProvost is OK, we (the faculty) are OK, and not to worry. Ten years after the fact the University of Minnesota administration is still trying to recover from collateral damage due to the tenure wars. Thus a genuflection to tenure is de rigueur.

The piece ends with the type of rhetorical question that professional politicians use. Are motherhood and apple pie good things? Am I being too enthusiastic about these issues? I truly value your opinion on these matters...

OurProvost asks: "Am I overvaluing the value and role of the imagination in universities?"

Naw, I don't think so...

By the way, to see this genre done right consult the Harvard presidential inaugural address of the historian Drew Gilpin Faust entitled "Ambitious Imaginings."

Sound familiar?

Ciao, Bonzo

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fighting Sioux? Absolutely Not!

Skating Sioux? Well, OK...

or, When It Comes Down to Money Versus Integrity -
At BigU We Take the Money and Skate

For some time the University of Minnesota has been castigating the University of North Dakota for UND's nickname, the Fighting Sioux. Fine. They have recently decided not to play in the sandbox with North Dakota, except for hockey. This is not the first time that money has trumped principle at BigU. We have to pay for Twin City Federal Stadium.

Ciao, Bonzo

From the letters to the editor of the StarTribune:

Money over ethics
Why is it acceptable that the University of Minnesota compete against the University of North Dakota in hockey but not other sports? I would suggest that revenues from the hockey program, specifically games with the longstanding rival UND, trump Minnesota's willingness to stand on the moral high ground in opposing the use of Native American nicknames and logos.

If it is a good policy for football, basketball, etc., then it should be across the board.


Fear of failure

Can you spell hypocritical? If the Fighting Sioux nickname is offensive, then hockey should be excluded also, period.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Ambitious Imaginings
Inaugural Address of Drew Gilpin Faust as Harvard Presdent

Mr. B., foolishly perhaps, thinks that the writings of a president are a good indication of the job that person is likely to do. Thus it was a pleasure to read the inaugural remarks of Dr. Faust. Most of her remarks are applicable not only to Harvard but to other great universities in the US, especially the University of Minnesota.

opinion piece by OurProvost ["Universities as places and spaces of imagination"] recently appeared in the Minnesota Daily. The contrast between the two pieces is striking.

Excerpts from Dr. Faust's address are quoted below, the whole address may be found at the link:

Unleashing our most ambitious imaginings

President Drew Faust

Yet universities like Harvard and its peers, those represented by so many of you here today, are beloved by alumni who donate billions of dollars each year, are sought after by students who struggle to win admission, and, in fact, are deeply revered by the American public. In a recent survey, 93 percent of respondents considered our universities “one of [the country’s] most valuable resources.” Abroad, our universities are admired and emulated; they are arguably the American institution most respected by the rest of the world.

How do we explain these contradictions? Is American higher education in crisis, and if so, what kind? What should we as its leaders and representatives be doing about it? This ambivalence, this curious love-hate relationship, derives in no small part from our almost unbounded expectations of our colleges and universities, expectations that are at once intensely felt and poorly understood.

From the time of its founding, the United States has tied its national identity to the power of education. We have long turned to education to prepare our citizens for the political equality fundamental to our national self-definition. In 1779, for example, Thomas Jefferson called for a national aristocracy of talent, chosen “without regard to wealth, birth, or other accidental condition of circumstance” and “rendered by liberal education ... able to guard the sacred deposit of rights and liberties of their fellow-citizens.” As our economy has become more complex, more tied to specialized knowledge, education has become more crucial to social and economic mobility. W.E.B. DuBois observed in 1903 that “Education and work are the levers to lift up a people.” Education makes the promise of America possible.

My presence here today – and indeed that of many others on this platform – would have been unimaginable even a few short years ago. Those who charge that universities are unable to change should take note of this transformation, of how different we are from universities even of the mid 20th century. And those who long for a lost golden age of higher education should think about the very limited population that alleged utopia actually served. College used to be restricted to a tiny elite; now it serves the many, not just the few. The proportion of the college age population enrolled in higher education today is four times what it was in 1950; twelve times what it was before the 1920s. Ours is a different and a far better world.

At institutions like Harvard and its peers, this revolution has been built on the notion that access should be based, as Jefferson urged, on talent, not circumstance. In the late 1960s, Harvard began sustained efforts to identify and attract outstanding minority students; in the 1970s, it gradually removed quotas limiting women to a quarter of the entering college class. Recently, Harvard has worked hard to send the message that the college welcomes families from across the economic spectrum. As a result we have seen in the past 3 years a 33 percent increase in students from families with incomes under $60,000. Harvard’s dorms and Houses are the most diverse environments in which many of our students will ever live.

Let me venture a definition. The essence of a university is that it is uniquely accountable to the past and to the future – not simply or even primarily to the present. A university is not about results in the next quarter; it is not even about who a student has become by graduation. It is about learning that molds a lifetime, learning that transmits the heritage of millennia; learning that shapes the future.

By their nature, universities nurture a culture of restlessness and even unruliness. This lies at the heart of their accountability to the future. Education, research, teaching are always about change – transforming individuals as they learn, transforming the world as our inquiries alter our understanding of it, transforming societies as we see our knowledge translated into policies – policies like those being developed at Harvard to prevent unfair lending practices, or to increase affordable housing or avert nuclear proliferation – or translated into therapies, like those our researchers have designed to treat macular degeneration or to combat anthrax.

We live in the midst of scientific developments as dramatic as those of any era since the 17th century. Our obligation to the future demands that we take our place at the forefront of these transformations.

Universities are, uniquely, a place of philosophers as well as scientists. It is urgent that we pose the questions of ethics and meaning that will enable us to confront the human, the social and the moral significance of our changing relationship with the natural world.

Higher education is burgeoning around the globe in forms that are at once like and unlike our own. American universities are widely emulated, but our imitators often display limited appreciation for the principles of free inquiry and the culture of creative unruliness that defines us.

The “Veritas” in Harvard’s shield was originally intended to invoke the absolutes of divine revelation, the unassailable verities of Puritan religion. We understand it quite differently now. Truth is an aspiration, not a possession. Yet in this we – and all universities defined by the spirit of debate and free inquiry – challenge and even threaten those who would embrace unquestioned certainties. We must commit ourselves to the uncomfortable position of doubt, to the humility of always believing there is more to know, more to teach, more to understand.

We are able to live at Harvard in a world of intellectual freedom, of inspiring tradition, of extraordinary resources, because we are part of that curious and venerable organization known as a university.

It is not easy to convince a nation or a world to respect, much less support, institutions committed to challenging society’s fundamental assumptions. But it is our obligation to make that case: both to explain our purposes and achieve them so well that these precious institutions survive and prosper in this new century.

Sounds like Harvard is in good hands. Live long and prosper, President Faust.

Ciao, Bonzo

Friday, November 2, 2007

Brian Leiter Hits the Trail

Mr. B. is a fan of Brian Leiter's because he brings valued perspective to the ratings game in the law school business. His blog is invaluable when trying to keep track of BigU's law school rankings as BigU pursues the administration's ambitious aspirations to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic].

Leitner announced recently that he will be moving from UT-Austin to the University of Chicago. As UD puckishly observes: "Another Academic Career Destroyed by Blogging..."

Saul Levmore, the law dean at Chicago, says Mr. Leiter’s blogs might give some scholars a misimpression. “You think all he cares about is law-school gossip,” he says. But Mr. Leiter, he says, “is a great intellectual entrepreneur, and we like the energy he brings. He’s a most valuable player at Texas, and where he goes, students get very interested in his subject matter.”

Lawyers seem be into blogging. Mr. B. thinks of Ann Althouse and the MoneyLaw crew. OurProvost, serial ex-law dean that he is, has stated on his website that he will soon be blogging. So far he has posted an impressive template. Mr. B. looks forward to a dialogue with OurProvost about his ambitious aspirations for BigU. Hopefully this conversation will not be a monologue.



Thursday, November 1, 2007

Althouse on Danforth vs. Minnesota

Ann Althouse needs no introduction to blog addicts. Her modus operandi is to make fairly short, provocative, posts. She then stands back and moderates the action as numerous regulars join in for fun or venom. Sort of like tossing a pound of hamburger over the fence to a bunch of very big and hungry dogs. It is an oddly fascinating read, but sometimes navigating through the venom (and Trooper York) can be tiresome.

In real life Ms. Althouse is a law prof at UW-Madison. Every once in a while - like today - she actually has a post on lawyerly matters. As an old con law fan, Mr. B. notes an excellent post on the Danforth vs. Minnesota case. She discusses a transcript of the proceedings today. Much more interesting than Linda Greenhouse. Sound like a good topic for a law school con law exam? Enjoy.