Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Openness and Transparency At the University of Minnesota?

As someone who was stonewalled in his efforts to learn about the exact nature of the relationship between Leo Furcht, the University, and MCL, it is good to know that there are professionals at the Star-Tribune who are more dogged and stubborn than I am.

From the Strib's Whistleblower Blog comes the answer to the question:

How did the Star-Tribune get the disciplinary report for Leo Furcht out of the University?

U kept quiet about doctor’s disciplinary action, but public records spoke

Posted on December 23rd, 2008 – 11:33 AM
By James Shiffer

The story Sunday about the past ethics problems of the co-chair of a University of Minnesota ethics panel was an example of first-rate watchdog reporting by my colleagues Maura Lerner, Josephine Marcotty and Janet Moore.

The story also reflected the dogged effort by Lerner to extract public records from the University of Minnesota, after Marcotty got a tip that questions had been raised about a corporate grant for stem cell research at the university. University officials found several ways to avoid handing over a public record until Lerner wore them down.
Here’s the timeline:

Nov. 7: Lerner makes her first formal request to the U for audits involving Dr. Catherine Verfaillie, who had done research under the contract. She knew from her experience that audits are usually public records.

Nov. 14: The university responds: “The entire file is apparently attorney-client privileged information.”

Nov. 17: The university: “The University’s department of audits conducted a review under the direction of the Office of General Counsel, subject to the attorney-client privilege. It was not a regular audit. The report to the General Counsel’s Office is nonpublic under Minn. Stat. sec. 13.393.”

Nov. 17: Lerner responds to the university: “What is the difference between a review done by the department of audits, and an audit? What difference does it make who requests it?”

Nov. 21: The university: “Per your inquiry, the general counsel’s office is retrieving all of the old files to review whether there are public items that would not be considered attorney-client privileged materials. On second thought, they are thinking that not everything in the file is considered protected information. This was not a formal audit, but a request by the general counsel’s office for a review. There were no disciplinary actions as a result of it.”

Dec. 18: The university: “As far as what is public data, there has been no change to our position that the information you requested is considered attorney-client privileged data. Here is the statement I’ve been cleared to provide: The University’s Department of Audits, under the direction of the Office of the General Counsel, conducted a review of the Baxter contract. This was a legal review and not a formal administrative proceeding. Following that review, the Academic Health Center’s Conflict Review and Management Committee also did a review which resulted in disciplinary action against one employee, who was not Dr. Catherine Verfaillie.”

Dec. 18: New request from Lerner: “Any disciplinary action that resulted from the Academic Health Center’s Conflict Review and Management Committee review of the Baxter contract awarded to (or under the supervision of) Dr. Catherine Verfaillie.”

Finally, just before 5 p.m. Dec. 18, the university send the report by email. The subject was Dr. Leo Furcht, who was investigated and disciplined in 2004 based following a complaint by Verfaillie. Read the report here

Lerner, Marcotty and Moore finished reporting and wrote the story the following day. Four years after Furcht’s disciplinary action, the public finally found out about it. A Star Tribune editorial on the situation was published today.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Solution To The New Light Rail Routing Problem?

The proposed light rail route between Minneapolis and St. Paul has been the subject of much agonizing. For the public good the University of Minnesota eventually has agreed to a route that may cause them a lot of trouble. Recently MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) has come forward with objections to the route because they believe that the proposed siting will interfere with their new building.

In the spirit of Jonathan Swift's commentary, a friend has sent his own modest proposal for a solution to this problem. Obviously, the suggestion is meant to be satiric.


It is a melancholy object to those who travel through this great Klingdom to contemplate the loss of the Minnesota Public Radio broadcast center. The imminent danger is the construction of the Light Rail Transit line hardly more than an arm’s length from that magnificent palace built with public financing.

The proposed construction has caused MPR, that eternally grateful recipient of corporate welfare, to threaten to “sue in inverse condemnation to recover the value of its $100+ million Broadcast Center plus relocation costs and related fees.”

I think that it is agreed by all parties that it would be a calamity for the good citizens of this Klingdom to be deprived of hearing the same marches, overtures, and waltzes played ad nauseam over the public airwaves. And all parties further agree that it would be far less of a burden on the public treasury to allow MPR to extort an additional $100+ million than it would be to move the route of the LRT at this late date.

Having turned my attention for several years to this important subject, I now humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

As for the broadcast center, there is a simple solution at hand. In Anno Domini 2004 St. Olaf College sold to MPR “all of Seller’s real property used or held for use in the operation of the Stations (including any appurtenant easements and improvements located thereon).” That provision of the purchase agreement includes Skifter Building, the broadcast center for WCAL, the victim of that necessary public radio fratricide by which MPR also acquired the licenses for 89.3 FM and 88.7 FM. Although overlooked at the time of the transaction, this clever acquisition of Skifter Building now demonstrates the true genius of our King Kling and his alacrity in seizing the opportunity to take advantage of the Regents of St. Olaf College for the common good. The relocation costs for moving the MPR center to Skifter Building will not diminish the public treasury by too great an amount.

But my intention is far from being confined to provide only for the relocation of the MPR broadcast center. It is of a much greater extent—to provide for a tranquil setting “far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife” in which His Majesty may contemplate the next victim of his insatiable desire to expand his empire.

Surely the Regents would consider an offer from MPR of its $100+ million condemnation award to be more than generous for the purchase of the entire campus of St. Olaf College. Then the MPR logo may replace the cross on the top of Boe Chapel, and a dollar sign in gold may be placed on the altar.

Relieved of the monetary obligation to maintain the Northfield campus and of those worrisome legal and moral obligations to honor promises made to the WCAL donors to operate a public radio station “for generations to come,” the Regents could depart from their wilderness in the country. Then they could use their newly acquired riches from MPR to develop on-line courses that reflect their “core values,” such as a new and very profitable course entitled Greed is Good.
As for that tiresome Christmas Festival at St. Olaf College, which has been repeated each year for almost a century, it may be replaced by the MPR production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I think that the advantages of the proposal which I make are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance. I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this most necessary project, sharing with MPR no motive other than the public good.

(Your humble and obedient servant offers the most profound apologies to Mr. Jonathan Swift.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chickens, Home, Roost...

I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for the administration of the University of Minnesota. Their plan for becoming one of the top three public research universities in the world reeks of hubris.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a serial law school dean to figure out that the economy is cyclic, trees don't grow to the sky, and a set of defensible priorities is needed right now.

High quality leadership - for which we are certainly paying - does not sit around whistling in the dark.

We look foolish and greedy to insist on going over to the State legislature and asking for about $200 million in new funding. If the current administration is incapable of playing with the cards they've got, perhaps new leadership is warranted?

Instead of trying to focus on the wonderful things that are going to happen ten years down the road, Bruininks, Sullivan, Pfutzenreuter, Cerra, Powell, Furcht and company need to start attending the church of what is happening now.

Let's admit our past mistakes and our true standing in the universities of the BigTen - our actual competition. A defensible goal is to be one of the best universities in the BigTen - and we are far from that.

Perhaps if we were honest about our current situation, the state legislature would help us return to what are legitimate priorities: first, the education of the citizens of the state at reasonable cost; second, research; third, new construction.

Bob, Tom, Fitz, Frank, Deborah, and Leo, how about it?

From Minnpost:

By Sharon Schmickle Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008

As a result of emergency state spending cuts Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced last week, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system each stand to lose at least $20 million in funding for the first half of 2009. And they face even more dismal prospects beyond that time frame.

Pawlenty's fiscal slashing came in response to a recession-driven freefall in revenues. The state faced a $426 million shortfall for the remainder of this fiscal year which ends in June. Cities and counties, human services agencies and state offices also took major cuts.

"These reductions in state spending reflect our priorities to protect funding for K-12 education, public safety, military, and veterans," Pawlenty said in his announcement.

The higher ed folks aren't disputing those priorities. But they are arguing that during a recession it is counterproductive to clip the resources that train Minnesota's work force and fuel innovation.

Recovery in the classroom

"Dramatic cuts to the University erode the quality of the education our students receive and slow the creation of jobs and economic growth for the state by shutting off our human capital and innovation pipelines," University of Minnesota President President Robert Bruininks said in a statement responding to Pawlenty's announcement.

In an earlier memo to faculty and staff, Bruininks said: "It is my unwavering belief that the path out of Minnesota's current crisis, and a return to a vibrant and growth-oriented economy, lies directly through the classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and halls of our great educational institutions."

The university's loss actually is much larger than $20 million for the next six months, said its chief financial officer, Richard Pfutzenreuter. Pawlenty's "unallotment" of human services funding took away another $28 million from a medical education program in which experts from the university trained health care workers in clinical settings around the state. The university counted on the funding to pay the experts' salaries.

Pawlenty's take-backs for this fiscal year come on top of a state funding cut of $185 million the university weathered in the post 9/11 recession. This time around, Pawlenty said, the university is cushioned by $15 million in central reserves and $50 million of unspent state appropriations not needed to cover binding obligations.

The higher ed institutions should be able to respond "without dramatic impact on students" because of that cushion, Pawlenty said.

The governor "missed the point" of information the university recently provided to the Legislature, Pfutzenreuter said. True, there is $50 million of unspent state funding, but "that represents money we need to operate the the phone bills and the general costs," he said.

"Every part of the institution, every unit, will be impacted," he said.

As for the $15 million in reserves Pawlenty cited, the university is saving for a "May surprise," when new information on corporate tax receipts could force another round of state cuts, Pfutzenreuter said.

University officials still are sorting through options for making up this shortfall. Possibilities include halting travel and delaying the purchases of supplies and lab equipment.

"Budget cuts of this magnitude not only reduce our operating budget, but also hurt our ability to attract nearly $700 million annually in sponsored research funding and millions more in private support," Bruininks said.

Dilemma at MnSCU

The sudden loss of $20 million sets up a "real dilemma" for state universities and community and technical colleges in the MnSCU system, said spokeswoman Melinda Voss.

"Our system is the key to the state's economic recovery because the 32 colleges and universities offer short-term retraining certificate and diploma programs, as well as undergraduate and graduate degree programs, that can help newly unemployed residents retrain for new jobs," Voss said.

Campuses already had taken belt-tightening steps as the economy worsened, she said, including:

• Reducing the number of course sections.

• Leaving vacant positions open unless they are critical and also stretching staff to fill in for employees on leave.

• Pulling back on equipment spending, including computer replacements for classrooms.

• Cutting repair and maintenance budgets and postponing some construction and remodeling projects.

• Turning down thermostats and taking other steps to conserve energy.

• Allowing essential travel only and making greater use of conference calls and interactive television.

More trouble ahead

The current trauma may look like a mild cold compared to the pneumonia the institutions could catch as the state moves to make up for a projected $4.8 billion shortfall in 2010-11.

Last summer before financial institutions began collapsing, the university was working on ambitious plans to give pay raises where they were warranted, attract more research and grant more financial aid to students from middle-income Minnesota families.

In all, the plan called for a 9.5 percent state funding increase.

"We are probably not going to get much discussion of that at the Legislature," Pfutzenreuter said.

There's an understatement for you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bizarre Behavior at the University of Minnesota Medical School

Margaret Soltan, the proprietress of the excellent blog University Diaries, notes the more than charitable editorial in the Star-Tribune:

… in the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the most charitable description of what’s been going on at the clubby University of Minnesota medical school would be “bizarre.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Front Page, Above the Fold
Sunday Star-Tribune
December 21, 2008

Conflict of Interest at the U Med School?

[Added XII-21: A pdf of the final report of the disciplinary committee is available for download from the Strib's website.]

[Added XII-2-09: if you want to see how cooperative the University of Minnesota was in disclosing this conflict, please see: Openness and Transparency at the University of Minnesota ]
U Doctor on ethics panel was disciplined

December 20, 2008
A professor who is leading the University of Minnesota Medical School's effort to write tougher ethics rules was himself disciplined in 2004 for secretly steering a $501,000 research grant to his own company, according to university investigative reports obtained by the Star Tribune. 
Dr. Leo Furcht, the chairman of lab medicine and pathology, was reprimanded for a "serious violation" of university conflict-of-interest policies in connection with a grant from Baxter Healthcare for stem cell research at the Medical School, according to the investigation, which the newspaper received through the state's public records law.
As a result, Medical School Dean Deborah Powell banned Furcht in May 2004 from any business-sponsored research for three years.
In 2007, Powell named Furcht to co-chair a task force to reform the Medical School's conflict-of-interest policy.

So someone is sanctioned for conflict of interest violations and three years later he is appointed to chair a task force on the matter. Does not compute..

Furcht, a nationally known scientist and author, declined to comment. He said through a spokeswoman that the matter had been "amicably resolved," and that there was nothing to be gained by talking about it.

Nothing to gain? Why wouldn't the valuable insights of Dr. Furcht on this matter be of interest to the community? The story could have a sort of reformed pirate twist to it, don't you think? Dr. Furcht should use some of the ten million dollars that he made on this patent and use it to employ a mouthpiece the way the big boys in the University administration do. That way he could have the mouthpiece refuse to talk rather than having to do the job himself.

Powell said in an interview that she chose Furcht for the task force because he had extensive experience with national professional organizations on devising conflict-of- interest rules. "That seemed to me to be a compelling reason to appoint him to that role," she said.

Compelling reason? That seems like the logic Parente used to justify playing footsy with McGuire. How about his qualifications from being a conflict of interest policy violator? As we'll see, that comes later.

Furcht's case has come to light in the midst of a contentious internal debate at the Medical School about a new ethics code that would be among the toughest in the nation. 

Across the country, universities are struggling to define the proper relationship between business and academia, as federal investigators probe the ties between doctors and medical companies.

Powell said Friday she did not inform the rest of the task force members about the sanctions against Furcht. "I did not think it was relevant," she said. Furcht had followed the 2004 restrictions to the letter, and "it seemed time to move on and use his expertise, which was considerable," she said. 
Incredible. Not relevant? Someone's moral compass seems demagnetized here. 

But the internal investigation showed how Furcht flouted the university's ethics rules on a research project in which he stood to make millions of dollars. 
Actually that is ten million dollars as we'll see.

Ironically, it didn't even involve Furcht's own research.

'Significant financial interest'

In the late 1990s, a colleague, Dr. Catherine Verfaillie, had made a breakthrough in stem-cell research. When the university declined to patent it, Furcht created his own company, MCL, and filed for the patent along with Verfaillie and another researcher.

Now of course, the sixty-four thousand dollar, whoops that is ten million dollar, question is: Why did the university decline to patent this? Either there was some hanky-panky or someone was incompetent. Which was it?

In July 2000, Furcht lined up a research grant from Baxter to pay for more research, to be conducted in university laboratories, but did not disclose the deal to the university. Instead, Baxter paid the money, $501,000, to MCL.

[tsk, tsk..]

Verfaillie said Friday she performed the research in her university lab, but did not receive the money. Eventually, she contacted the dean, triggering an investigation.

A panel of three faculty members investigated and concluded that Furcht "committed a serious violation of the conflict of interest policy," according to a Dec. 19, 2003, report.

Among other things, they found that Furcht "knew or should have known" that he was required to disclose the financial arrangement with Baxter, because he had "a significant financial interest" in MCL and the stem-cell technology.

Is this what we call a smoking gun?

"In fact, it appears Dr. Furcht stands to personally gain several million dollars from the pending sale of MCL," the report said.

In November 2003, Furcht sold MCL for $9.5 million in stock, sharing 5 percent of the proceeds with the university.

Wasn't that generous of Dr. Furcht? Why did he do this? Out of the goodness of his heart or was there some political pressure? Wasn't this stem cell business somehow supposed to make the University a lot of money? Aren't new jobs and industries supposed to be the justification for requesting funds to support biomedical research and new buildings? And to whom was this patent sold and where are any jobs created by this transaction?

The panel recommended that Furcht be disciplined and questioned whether he should retain his position as department chair. It also raised concerns that he may have misused his position "to personally benefit him and his commercial interests," and recommended further investigation.

In her letter concluding the matter, Powell wrote: "Despite this, I value your managerial abilities as a department head and wish to retain you in this role."

This is a joke. Documentation upon request.

University officials said Friday that the university was reimbursed for the $501,000.

Well that makes it all better, right? No harm no foul? I don't think so.

Frank Cerra, the university's senior vice president for health sciences, said Friday he was familiar with the case but couldn't recall details. He said Furcht's experience could help inform the conflict-of-interest committee's work.

Frank, this is simply a stupid thing to say. You can't be serious. If you are then you need to join the department of demagnetized moral compasses also.

"If they learn from it and they move along in a direction where it doesn't happen again, that's exactly what you want to happen with an ethics policy,'' Cerra said. "If that's the case here, there can be a positive contribution to the next set of rules and interpretations.''

I think the lesson would have been a little stronger if the Medical School had not made every effort to keep the matter under wraps. It is only through some very diligent work on the part of many people that this came to light. And as you certainly realize, Dr. Furcht's participation in the panel casts its work in a very bad light, even if the recommendations are good ones. There is no way that someone like this should have been involved in a conflict of interest panel. And both you and the Dean were aware of Dr. Furcht's having been sanctioned.

Toughening ethics rules

Dr. Doris Taylor, a university heart researcher and member of the task force, said that Furcht was only one of 24 voices on the committee and that he supported the new, stricter policies. "I hear him say all the time, we have to be transparent," she said

"I think he knows what a conflict looks like," she added.

The Medical School is writing new ethics rules at a time when the university has come under pressure to cultivate a closer relationship with Minnesota's high-tech business community and to improve the commercial application of faculty research.

The U's Medical School has not escaped the controversy. Last year, orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Polly was named in a congressional investigation of consulting agreements between some of the nation's top spine surgeons and Fridley-based Medtronic Inc.

This month, two prestigious medical centers, the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, said they will use public websites to disclose consulting and research agreements involving their physicians and researchers. That type of public disclosure is a key part of the U of M's proposed ethics policy.

In an interview last fall, Furcht said he has served on two national task forces dealing with conflict of interest in research and education. "I've been working on this issue for some time," he said.
"It's just too important to not attend to this [policy] properly. The public trust is more important than the money involved. You have to ensure that."

If that is true, Leo, why don't you turn all of your MCL money over to the University?

Attorney McNabb - An Example for Us All

Conscientia legalis ex lege fundatur.

(The legal conscience is founded upon the law.)

I have posted before on the activities of Mr. McNabb, a University of Minnesota alumnus, and someone who walks the talk of civic engagement, public service, and, basically, doing the right thing.

For some background please see the following post:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The WCAL Outrage
At Least One Judge Won't Stand For It

Now in a truly stunning performance Attorney McNabb lays bare the sadly corrupt behavior of many people responsible for the demise of WCAL, an excellent public radio station.

From the Save WCAL site:

SaveWCAL's recent Memorandum of Law is a powerful, compelling document that clearly and succinctly lays out St. Olaf's malfeasance as the trustee of WCAL and MPR's role as co-conspirator in the illegal sale of WCAL's assets and destruction of WCAL's 80,000+ strong "community of listeners." As some of you have noted, it's also a "good read."

Following are the sole remarks made by SaveWCAL attorney Michael McNabb in response to a total of around 45 minutes of presentations by the St. Olaf College, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) attorneys and the Minnesota Attorney General repeating specific points of law — points that each of the parties had already thoroughly discussed in their memoranda previously submitted to Rice County District Court Judge Bernard Borene.

McNabb spoke in measured and somber tones as he said:

The specific points of law raised by St. Olaf and by MPR have all been addressed in my Memorandum of Law of Decembe 9 and in my Letter Memorandum of December 16 [forthcoming on the web site], and no further rebuttal is necessary. Instead, I will use the time allotted to me for some remarks on general principles.

The word “perdition” means loss of the soul or eternal damnation. The Road to Perdition traveled by St. Olaf and by MPR has led us this morning to a court of equity. The historical origins of this very courtroom date back to medieval England when the King’s subjects would go to the Lord Chancellor, the royal official who “held the King’s conscience.” From the Chancellor’s rulings there evolved the courts of equity, the conscience of the law. Now we ask for the verdict of equity on the actions of the parties in this case.

At this point, McNabb went and wrote on the whiteboard:

Conscientia legalis ex lege fundatur.
(The legal conscience is founded upon the law.)

McNabb then continued:

It is unconscionable for a church affiliated college to violate its promises given to generations of donors to use their gifts for a charitable trust, a public radio station.

It is unconscionable for a church affiliated college to engage in a conspiracy carried out in secret meetings with its business partner to attempt to convert that trust into an instrument for its own financial gain.

It is unconscionable for MPR to attempt to engage in the fratricide of a fellow founding member of National Public Radio and thereby destroy a community of some 80,000 listeners.

It is unconscionable for the Attorney General, the chief legal officer of our State, to intentionally fail to honor her oath of office to enforce the law on charitable trusts.

It is unconscionable for business partners to attempt to evade the jurisdiction of this court over charitable trusts and to be aided and abetted in that unlawful enterprise by a dereliction of duty on the part of the Attorney General.

As my colleague, Phil Voxland, has said, the WCAL donors were believers who had faith that future listeners would also be blessed by a radio station that lasted longer than their own earthly lives.

The WCAL donors, both living and deceased, who can now speak only through us, believed that their church affiliated college would never betray their trust.

And so today all those donors and beneficiaries of the magnificent public radio station they created and sustained for over 80 years with their charitable contributions entrust their fate and their station to this court of equity.

There was a long pause after these comments before McNabb indicated his remarks were done. As expected, the original presentation took the other attorneys by complete surprise. After McNabb finished and when asked by when Judge Borene if they had anything to say in rebuttal, they each responded with a very quiet "no."

Well-played Mr. McNabb, I wish I had been there.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ouch, this hurts...

Dr. Abhi Humar Goes to Pittsburgh to Head Transplant Program

I've written about this before - sadly we have lost him.

For background - see A World Class Liver Transplant Surgeon at Minnesota, Let's Not Lose Him.

Humar named chief of transplantation at UPMC

Pittsburgh Business Times

Dr. Abhinav Humar has been named clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute and chief of the division of transplantation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the hospital network announced Monday.

Humar currently serves as medical director of the Liver and Living Donor Programs at the Transplant Center of the University of Minnesota Medical Center. His appointment at UPMC is effective in March.

Humar received his medical degree from the University of Ottawa and completed his general surgical residency at the University of Ottawa in 1995 and a surgical fellowship in transplantation at the University of Minnesota. In 2000, he was appointed medical director for the Living Donor Transplant Program and also serves as a staff physician at Fairview University Medical Center and VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Humar’s areas of research include partial liver transplants and studies of hepatic regeneration and clinical outcome studies in kidney, liver and pancreas transplants. He has received numerous National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical research grants.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Is that Ojibwe for: "Let them eat cake?"

From the Star-Tribune:

The University of Minnesota has requested an additional $74.5 million from the Legislature.

On Friday, the board unanimously approved its capital request, which has two parts:

• $39.5 million for construction of a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus

• $35 million for "critical" repair and renovation projects

"I do question whether or not we need to proceed at this time with the Bell Museum," said Regent David Larson before voting yes.

U President Robert Bruininks answered: "If this building was called Bell Hall, I doubt we would have very much discussion about it," emphasizing the museum's role in science education.

I wonder what would happen

if the building were called

Folwell Hall, Bob?

Comments were predictably unkind, such as:


No No No. A thousand times no.

Hit up the drinkers at the new Stadium

You will be able locate the rich by looking for anyone drinking. Only the Rich in the expensive suites can drink a beer. That is where you can find your money.


How dare these people come crawling for more money during this economic downturn. Time to tighten the belts at the U and live with the millions you already get.

re: How dare these people come crawling for more money

Hopefully the Regents realize, and the legislature confirms, that it's the wrong time to ask for more money. As valuable as the Bell Museum (Fabulous place that someday will be much more!)and other projects might be, we gotta just say "no, Bob". I think the Regents are looking at it as just getting one more "no" out of the way before sometime in the future the legislature will get worn down and say "yes".

Greed and Arrogance

If - and that's a big if - worthwhile construction projects cannot be found elsewhere, then the HEAPR funds might be arguable as a sort of public works project. The Bell simply is not needed at this time. There were pitiful wails about science, science education and the "children" being bussed in. Have you not heard of the Science Museum of Minnesota, folks? Unfortunately, asking for this much money in these circumstances sends the wrong message. Apparently the U (administration) thinks that the world revolves around them. They are more important than MNSCU, than K-12 education, than state and local government, than children's health. All of these folks are going to take serious hits and the U is asking for a funding increase of more than 200 million dollars. What planet are you folks living on? I don't think so.


Considering tuition alone is nearing $10k a year for residents, this is a joke. I'd rather see them asking for $75million to lower the students costs than to build another building.

Educational Institute

You'd think that people of a higher education institution would at least understand the word "Deficit". It's obvious that they understand "Guts".

Are "U" Crazy!

The University of Minnesota must be banking on the fact that with our enormous deficit, 74.5 million is mere chump change. If they get any money...we're the chumps.


one word for these morons: Clueless


The arrogance of Bruininks and the Regents is unbelievable; especially in times like these. Well, they are about to get a dose of reality.

The Regents are confused

A valid argument can be made for expanded infrastructure spending during a severe economic downturn. e.g. WPA. But that funding cannot come from a level of government, such as the state, that is mandated to have a balanced budget. The Regents are delusional.

"Ski-U-Mah" = Let them eat cake

Selfish and Inconsiderate

When I was part of the University, they taught Economics. Last week the Governor predicted a $6 BILLION shortfall for the state and the talk about cuts in social programs and everything else started. I am totally amazed that President Bruininks and the Regents have the arrogance to INCREASE their budget request during these troubled times.

Are you kidding me?

No! I'm shocked by the request! No! No! No!

Alumni dialing for $ call

Just received my semi-annual call for $ from our "wonderful" politically biased, only interested in research (and not true learning), too invested in pro-sports type collegiate athletics, fiscally irresponsible U of M. Gave the poor undergrad who volunteered to do this call a full layout of the scam that the U of M has going and that it all gravy trains...will end.

Why don't you ask your corporate skybox people to pay

Why don't you ask your corporate skybox people that you give preferential treatment and booze to donate the money!

They should have......

thought about the "critical" repairs before they unnecessarily built that worthless stadium... I believe also that the "U" needs to look at replacing some folks at the top who come up with these crazy ideas.

There's plenty more where that came from - a total of 70 comments so far, and I have only put the reasonably polite ones here.

This situation is a public relations nightmare. The Regents and the Administration really need to think seriously about how they are going to be perceived by the taxpayers when they make these foolish requests.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Your eyes are bigger than your stomach."

(As my grandmother used to say to me when I took too much food.)

The U plans to ease on out some of our neighbors in the name of possible future expansion.

From the Daily:

U threatens propery owners with eminent domain

In November, representatives from the University attended a public meeting at the Stadium Village Church — one of the properties in question — and told a group of 40 that the University has no current plans for the block.

However, this did not stop the University from sending letters to the owners of the remaining privately owned properties, stating that if a voluntary transaction cannot be completed, the Board of Regents may be asked to approve the use of eminent domain to acquire the properties.

Miller said that for an eminent domain ruling, the University’s vice presidents would make a recommendation to the president, who would then make a recommendation to the Board of Regents.

Miller speculated that the land might be used for biomedical research centers in the future.

Speculated? Might? This is outrageous.

Randy Mikkelson sold two properties on the block on the open market before the University made its formal threat of eminent domain. He said the University does not make fair market offers when they try to negotiate a purchase.

He was able to sell the properties for more than $200,000 in excess of the University’s best offer.

Mikkelson said once the threat of eminent domain was made, the damage to the property owners is irreversible until it is removed.

So, sell to us cheap or we will go eminent domain on you and then you will be hosed?

Paul Poteat owns two houses on Essex Street that are used by the Campus Outreach Ministry, and has received several letters from the University concerning his properties.

“I feel like they’ve been out of line with the way that they’ve communicated, to not have plans and talk about eminent domain,” Poteat said. “It seems like a strong-armed tactic.”

Peder Arneson , president of the dental fraternity Delta Sigma Delta, which is located on Essex Street, said losing the location so close to the dental school would be a major blow to the fraternity.

“Location is extremely important to us,” Arneson said. “There’s a lot at stake…if we were to lose it.”

However, Mikkelson said he thinks the properties on Block 11 are "doomed," but hopes the University will make fair offers for the remaining owner-occupied homes. He also said he hopes it will remove its claim to the properties, saying that organizations may cease to exist if they lose their current location.

As Robert Frost noted, good fences make good neighbors. But of course the U has decided, under the current administration, that being a good neighbor is not important. The magic word is now engagement, whatever that means...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

To the Regents:

I've mentioned in an earlier post the situation with respect to suds at the new Twin City Federal Stadium. For background, please see: "Or, as Jay Gatsby noted, the rich are different."

St. Nick Coleman explores this topic further in the Strib.

December 6, 2008

For 55 years, Don Sonsalla and his wife, Verna, have watched hundreds of Minnesota Gophers football games, cheering for old Ski U Mah in the wind and rain and snow at Memorial Stadium during the glory days and -- after the Gophers abandoned the brickyard for the Metrodome -- enduring 25 years of endless mediocrity.

But they can't endure the unfairness and crass commercialism that are coming next. And they can't abide the thought that the swells in the padded seats will drink beer at the new TCF Bank Stadium while fans in the cheap seats are cut off from the taps when football moves back to campus next fall. It's not about the beer. It's about the principle.

"It's just a matter of fairness," says Don, a retired educator who earned three degrees from his beloved university -- the last a doctorate in education psychology and administration -- and who worked 41 years in the St. Paul public schools.

"If they don't want to sell beer, then they shouldn't sell it to anybody. If they ARE going to sell it, then they should sell it to anybody who is of age, and has the proper ID.
Anything else is discrimination and part of an attempt to develop some kind of elitism. And I don't like it.

So "Doctor Don," who is 77 and lives in White Bear Lake, recently sent an e-mail to Bob Bruininks, the president of the university, and told him it's over. The Sonsallas will not be renewing their season tickets.

This is no small loss. When people who bleed maroon and gold and who are committed to the traditions of the U start to walk away, it is important to ask what the heck is going on.

On Friday, the Board of Regents will consider a plan to let the high-rollers imbibe at the new stadium while the peasants go thirsty. The proposal would allow beer and wine to be guzzled only if you pay a premium of $1,800 to $3,000 per seat or pony up for private suites that could cost up to $45,000 a year. Those suites ("get ready for a whole new world of luxury," promises the online stadium porn) will have private restrooms, concierge service, flat-screen TVs and beer. Presumably with a buxom Go Gophers server.

The U has pretended that it is a safety issue, that it just wants to keep the college kids away from the beer barrels, although that strategy never works after a hockey championship.

But it is not about safety. It is about sales. The U has sold its brand to a bank (which received $361 million in federal bailout money, by the way), has sold other bits of the new pigskin palace to Dairy Queen and other sponsors and needs to give big spenders something to medicate them when the Gophers fall on their faces.

Beer has been sold to all comers of legal age at the Metrodome during Gophers games, and there is no evidence that it has perverted the morals of anyone other than the two randy Iowegians who celebrated Iowa's 55-0 victory last month with a two-minute drill in a restroom.

The sensible thing here is to listen to Doctor Don.

Sonsalla grew up in Winona, a big Polish kid who played football at Cotter High and might have played in college, too, but for a grenade that filled him with shrapnel during an Easter Sunday battle in Korea at a place named Easter Egg Hill. It took him a year to recover, but since then, the only Gophers games he has missed have been so he can attend the annual reunion of his outfit, Baker Company, 15th Regiment, Third Infantry Division.

With that service and four distinguished decades as an educator -- including principal of St. Paul Central and three or four other schools -- I believe Doctor Don deserves to be listened to by the U regents.

"I love the university," he says. "I got a wonderful education there. But it seems like they're selling it off and letting the corporate contributors take over to make the big money they need for big time sports. Money talks. The new stadium will be a nice experience for people who have the money. But that's unfair to the other fans.

"Treat everyone the same. Sell beer to everybody, or don't sell it to anybody. Otherwise, it's unfair, and I'm against it."

The doctor is right. You know it, I know it and the U knows it. The only question is whether the regents have the spine to stand up not just for its corporate sponsors, but for the Don Sonsallas of this state who kept the U alive long before any banker ordered a beer in a luxury suite.
Great job, Nick. Dr. Don, thanks for speaking up. When people like you pull the plug on the U there is definitely something wrong. When people like OurLeader ignore you, a change is due. And not just in Twin City Federal Stadium...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Time to put the head back on?

Or, we have no money, therefore we must think.

From MPR

Education could take a big hit
during budget deficit

The University of Minnesota is planning to ask lawmakers for more than $200 million in new money to fund an increase in salaries, prop up scholarships, build a new natural history museum and fix infrastructure problems on campus.

Has OurLeader lost it?

The U of M's chief financial officer, Richard Pfutzenreuter, said the school still hopes to discuss those proposals with lawmakers, but with the state's budget problems in mind.

"When we get a chance to talk to legislators we'll be talking about our priorities," Pfutzenreuter said. "But we know full well the focus of this upcoming session is going to be on balancing the budget, and closing that budgetary gap."

It's uncertain what the dire budget forecast will mean for tuition at the U, where a year of classes now costs nearly $10,000. President Bob Bruininks has said if the university doesn't get the money it's asking for, tuition will be raised more than the 4.5 percent increase already planned in the next two years.

Others are not so arrogant...

One thing is for certain, Minnesota's colleges are likely to rethink the budget proposals they bring to the legislature next year.

MnSCU recently dropped its budget request from $126 million to $71 million in the next biennium.

Bob, you are doing none of us any favors by behaving in this pig-headed manner. Do you somehow think that funding for the U of M is more important than that of K-12 education, than MNSCU, than children's health care? Do you really have the nerve to go over to the state legislature and ask for 200 million in new money? If you do this, then I seriously suggest that you think about another line of work. I'm sure that your skills would be very valuable in private industry or at another university. Maybe the Regents would fund a buy-out? It would be a lot less expensive than your buy-out of coaches recently.


Some concrete suggestions of the type you asked for at the University Senate meeting yesterday:

1. A ten percent cut in the number of administrators at the U of M.

2. A pay cut of 10% for all U of M employees making more than 250K per year.

3. A pay cut of 5% for all U of M employees making more than 100K per year.

4. No new Bell Museum

5. No new biomedical research buildings

6. No new spending on Northrup auditorium

7. No new spending on MoreU Park

8. The end of Driven to Discover as soon as is legally possible.

I doubt you'll take any of these suggestions based on past performance, but you may not have any choice. A little leadership here would be greatly appreciated.

By the way:

The hiring pause on post-docs for funded grants is idiotic. At least get out of people's way if you can't lead or follow. This is an excellent example of how your cluelessness is actually a hindrance to getting work done, and in the long run grants funded, at the U of M. Which leads to another recent big blunder...

And about EFS - how much money has that saved us?

"The University is not being paid money owed to it, reports are not generated, and so on; unless there is a clear message that these problems [with EFS] will be resolved in the next two-three months, the situation will reflect badly on the entire central administration." Senate Committee on Finance and Planning (9/23/08)

"At the departmental level, I can say that no innovation at UM over the past 20 years has been so expensive in human hours. Staff in our college now do virtually nothing but thrash at EFS, curse, and plan early retirement." (comment on PTII, 10/29/08)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Could we possibly have more administration at the University of Minnesota than we need?

Say it isn't so, President Bruininks!

From the Daily:

Bruininks said the projected $426 million deficit for the current biennium could mean cuts in money that is already committed to the University. An evenly distributed cut to the state budget would mean $17 million in cuts to the University’s current 2008 and 2009 budget.

More concerning, he said, is the $4.8 billion dollar deficit projected for the 2010-11 biennium. That’s about 14 percent of the state’s budget, and with $700 million of the University’s $1.2 billion budget coming from the state, the University could be facing big cuts.

Bruininks said the University needs to reduce costs not needed to support academics.

“I think we have more administration than we need,” he said. “We need to simplify processes … and ask whether we need all the administration at all the levels.”

He said it’s too early to predict how big any cuts will be, or if there will be any cuts to the University’s budget, and he cautioned that there would be tough choices to make in the future.
Yes, we have too many administrators. You told us to be lean and mean and now we learn that we have too many administrators! Whose fault, exactly, is that? Many of the big wheels have what they call a "chief of staff." This is almost funny except for the expense. We also recently hired a new administrator at the associate dean level. Previously the position was half-time, but the replacement is full-time. This kind of administrative creep goes on all the time...

And then of course there is the ludicrous: "ambitious aspiration to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]." Give it a rest, Bob. A long, long rest.

More U Park? Driven to Discover? Ditto.

Monday, December 1, 2008

First the gravy,

then the mashed potatoes

and lots of free range turkeys...

In keeping with our recent holiday:

The administration's strategy in the recent past has been to first ask for the gravy (the stadium, the Bell, new biomedical research buildings) in the belief that when they later ask for the mashed potatoes (Folwell renovation, HEAPR money) the legislature will be unable to say no.

This strategy has become a little too obvious lately. Especially since OurLeaders seem to be able to foot the 70 million dollar bill for the so-called Northrup renovation without subjecting this boondoggle to public scrutiny. We can come up with this kind of dough, but don't have enough money for a half-time faculty ombudsman? Priorities remain in need of chiropractic.

Please pass the potatoes first ths time, President Bruininks.

From the Daily:

A request of about $26 million for the construction for a new Bell Museum is one of the main items the University will be requesting from the Legislature this session, Vice President of University Services Kathleen O’Brien said.

“There’s going to be some tough financial decisions to be made this session,” [State Legislator Tom] Rukavina said. “I think everything is back on the table, even the bonding proposals that have been passed.”

Rukavina said his major concerns going into the session are getting funding for repairs of Folwell Hall and working with the University so tuition doesn’t spike too high.

[State Senator Sandra] Pappas is a proponent of repairing existing facilities at universities, not necessarily building new ones, when the state’s economy is under duress.

“If they want money for the Bell Museum, I don’t know how that will fair [sic],” Pappas said. “I think it’s more likely that we would give repair or replacement dollars.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hiring Pause,

Thinking Freeze

(Thanks to a friend for the title)

OurProvost recently sent out another one of his padding out the old resume pieces. Sometimes these are called dialogues or even conversations, but no one is fooled.

They are the kind of things to write if you are a university president or want such a position. People who are good at this sort of thing, say Mark Yudof or Drew Faust, can get their pieces into the Chronicle or the New York Times, but OurProvost has to settle for the U's website or the University News Service or, on a good day, the Daily.

An earlier post has appeared on one of OurProvost's efforts: "Inspiring Words at the University from OurProvost."

I haven't done this again because Margaret Soltan, aka Scathing Online Schoolmarm (SOS), owns the game. I've also noted before that OurProvost, although pleading otherwise, isn't really interested in a conversation with the community. Requests for public dialogue and discussion, instead of his monologues, have gone unanswered.

Spam production goes up in Minnesota during hard economic times, both in Austin and Minneapolis. Although the products are different there are similarities - both are canned and hard to digest. And neither one allows discussion with the customers about the contents. Or would that be stakeholders?

So resistance was futile. As Geraldine used to say: "The devil made me do it."

First came the teaser - actually, the Novocain. As the dentist says: "This might hurt a little."

Provost's Academic Update

There is no question but that the extraordinary economic challenges currently facing the University require our utmost dedication and focus. At the same time, we must relentlessly continue our commitment to academic excellence and to the essential work required by our University mission. We all are involved, as a University community, in important and vital academic work that we must continue to advance. We can, and will, strive to lead and to be innovative during these difficult financial times.
This paragraph would be a lot shorter if Orwell red-penned it. "There is no question but that" "extraordinary economic challenges currently facing" Sounds like McCain during his campaign suspension. "relentlessly continue" "essential work" And what exactly is our University mission, Tom? It seems to shift and to depend on the administrator currently talking. Is it ranking or stature today?

"important and vital" "We can, and will" "strive to lead and to be innovative" Seems almost poetic, but what exactly does it mean? The Gettysburg address didn't merely sound good.

Recently, the University developed a new copyright policy with important and exciting implications for our entire University Community. The new policy represents an opportunity for the University of Minnesota to take a leadership role among other leading universities nationally.

Continuing in the above vein: "important and exciting" "leadership role among other leading universities." Is the man being paid by the word? Who's teaching legal writing in the law school? Is the "University Community" like the "Gopher Nation"? And only nationally? Why I thought we were aiming higher than that, Tom. Wasn't there some slogan about the third greatest public research university in the world?

In this message, I will share some thoughts with you on recent initiatives regarding the stewardship of our intellectual resources. As many of you realize, we live in a knowledge-based economy in which our fundamental mission as a University must be deployed in service of the broader transnational learning process. For the full text of this message, please click here.
"share some thoughts" "recent initiatives" "stewardship of our intellectual resources" "knowledge-based economy" Sounds like the output of a computer program that strings together random adminspeak buzzwords. The phrases roll off the tongue like the patter of a State Fair turkey leg hawker.

"our fundamental mission as a University must be deployed in service of the broader transnational learning process" What the hell does that mean?

If you have a masochistic streak, I have activated the link above for further flagellation. You have been warned.

Mercifully, the message ends. but not without the coupe de grâce:

This message was approved by the Senior Vice President and Provost of the University of Minnesota and sent to all Twin Cities students, faculty, and staff.

If OurProvost wrote this doesn't it imply that he approves? Does this mean that OurProvost didn't actually write this stuff, but merely approved it? Is he running for office? Has he been watching too many campaign commercials?