Thursday, January 31, 2008

Another First for The U of M

Mr. B. thanks a friend for calling to his attention the latest news release from the U of M's publicity arm.

U of M first in the Midwest to offer ecotourism certificate

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL ( 1/31/2008 ) -- The International Ecotourism Society has granted the University of Minnesota permission to offer the prestigious University Consortium Field Certificate. Students who fulfill the certificate’s requirements will be better prepared to serve the tourism industry’s demand for the adoption of sustainable tourism practices. The university is one of a handful of universities nationwide and the first in the Midwest to offer the certificate.

Other universities participating in the University Consortium Field Certificate are North Carolina State University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Florida, California Polytechnic State University and West Virginia University.

Hmm... Prestigious?

Sustainable tourism?

Certainly this is an area in which the U should strive to be exceptional, particularly in this exclusive cohort.

ut how, exactly, does this fit in with our plans to be one of the top three research universities on the planet?

One bewildered Bonzo

Why I'm not 'Driven to Discover'

There is another pitiful "Rappin With Robert" article today in the Daily. It isn't even worth deconstruction since the questions that obviously should have been asked were not. Just when Mr. B. is about to give up on the Daily, along comes a good article, usually by someone other than a Daily writer. Today is such a day. Joel Weinsheimer is a Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the University of Minnesota. He writes perceptively:

I too would like to see my name trampled in tunnels and my face stapled on billboards. I would count it an honor to have students of diverse ethnicities turn to me with their "single greatest questions" for answers that I had spent my career researching. ("How many steps in a mile?" "Well, it all depends….").

For if I could claim that I too am "driven to discover," I would feel some solidarity with the University that has spent millions trying to identify itself with the D2D trademark. But instead of proudly aligning myself with the University's great discoverers, I confess to feeling alienated by a marketing campaign that spotlights half of our intellectual universe at the expense of the other.

I have read widely and thought deeply; I have written and published. But so far from being "driven to discover," after 30 years of teaching as a professor of English, after publishing 13 books and 50 articles, I believe I have made no "discoveries" whatsoever. Nor has anyone else in the humanities.

From the Driven to Discover viewpoint, humanists look like noble but pathetic Ponce de Leon's who search earnestly for their fountains but tragically fail to discover any - or worse still, they are pretenders who never really search for them at all.

But Shakespeare research proliferates with no end in sight - research in the old sense, that is, searching again what has already been searched: re-search. If you hear someone complain that there's nothing new to be said about "Hamlet," you can be sure they haven't yet grasped what humanist re-search is actually like. It may be true that there's nothing new to be discovered about "Hamlet" - no new words or lines or images that all previous readers have somehow overlooked. Interpretations, however, are less like discoveries than performances that bring home a play to a new audience. And as long as there are new audiences there will be occasion for new interpretations.

That's what happens in the humanist classroom as well: Like scholarship, the humanist's teaching means reinterpreting what is already known, performing it on a new stage. The interpreting we do in the process of writing and publishing is the same thing we do in teaching. There's no essential distinction between teaching and research in the humanities, just different audiences.

It's just the opposite in the science classroom: No discoveries were ever made there, and hence in the sciences a fundamental dichotomy exists between the ethos of discovery and that of teaching. Being "driven to discover" means being driven out of the classroom.

There is an undeniable cache in being associated with great discoveries, and we ought to cash in on it. Yet I suggest that what would equally impress Minnesota's students, parents, citizens and legislators - indeed, what they really want - is a university that is "driven to educate."

Monday, January 28, 2008

(click to enlarge)

Re-writing History At Minnesota
Or, How Green Is My Power Plant?

Mr. B. has previously noted the University administration's propensity to re-write history.

"Remember when the geniuses tore down the poor old decrepit - on campus - Memorial Stadium and replaced it with something they now admit was even worse...the downtown Metrodome? And now we're going to replace the downtown Metrodome with? Twin City Federal Stadium, which of course will be right back on campus near... the old Memorial Stadium location."

"Which goes to show that if you wait long enough as a U of M administrator, people will eventually forget your past sins and you can feel free to re-write history. (I was a very strong supporter of the new Science Classroom Building. There is no conflict between teaching and research. I am for stature rather than ratings. I strongly support General College. I strongly support a higher minority enrollment. General College must go. I am against re-engineering. I am for Kotter's Eight-Stage Process of Creating Change. This is a land grant institution.)"

To which we can now add: "We're green, despite the fact that our power plant is 98% fossil fuel fired. Now turn off those lights!"

This green claim appeared today in the Daily:

January 28, 2008

By Vice President Kathleen O’Brien and Professor Deborah Swackhamer

'Green' is in - and always has been

We can all be proud that the University was green before it became fashionable and has set an example for others to follow.

Green is getting a large amount of press these days, and organizations everywhere are touting their green credentials. Achieving substantive results remains a major challenge, especially for large institutions and systems, and requires participation from students, staff and faculty alike.

But we can all be proud that the University was green before it became fashionable.

Vice President of University Services Kathleen O'Brien oversees sustainability efforts across the University. Professor Deborah Swackhamer is currently interim director of the University's Institute on the Environment. Together they will lead the new Sustainability Goals and Outcomes Committee.

Eagle-eyed readers will recall that Professor Swackhamer has previously appeared on the Periodic Table.

To wit:

Regular readers will recall that OurLeader was at first reluctant to embrace the green monster.

See for example: "It's Not Easy Being Green Or, Why Robert Doesn't Want To Rap."

But he has apparently decided to do the right thing and sign on to the fight against global warming. I wonder how he got around the little problem(s) raised by Professor Swackhamer?

Deborah L. Swackhamer, interim director of the university's Institute on the Environment, says she is not sure the university could achieve climate neutrality. More than 70 percent of the university's power comes from coal, she says.

Note added 2-1-08:

Professor Swackhamer apparently misspoke. More accurately we are approximately 70% fossil fuels.

The commitment also asks colleges to make climate neutrality part of the curriculum, which is not something the president can do. "The president has absolutely no control over the curriculum," which is set by faculty members, Ms. Swackhamer says. "So some of these things he would be promising to do, he can't promise."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another Stunning Puff Piece from the Daily

Mr. B. is rather disappointed with the Daily's uncritical acceptance of some of what OurLeader and OurProvost have been selling. This latest example is egregious. Thus he will attempt a pale imitation of UD's SOS (shameless online schoolmarm) on this sad article.

From the Daily:

Becoming one of the world's top three public research universities - it's alluded to in speeches and scattered throughout the media - is on the minds of administrators and right now, it may be the University's credo.

Credo means I believe. Count me out. Guess I am a hater...

The Board of Regents approved University President Bob Bruininks and Provost Tom Sullivan's strategic positioning plan in June 2005, endorsing a plan to turn the University into one of the world's leading public research universities.

At least this plan is attributed correctly to Bruininks/Sullivan (B/S). And of course what would you expect the Regents to say: "We are not in favor of greatness?" This is a common B/S tactic. Anyone who disagrees with them is not in favor of motherhood and apple pie, or is not being constructive, or is a hater...

While this goal is part of a 10-year process, Sullivan said rankings are important now because they establish benchmarks.

Maybe B/S should have a conversation about this matter. Bruininks claims that rankings are unimportant; it's about stature. Google academic rankings and see what a mess the topic is. Nevertheless, it would be useful to have consistent B/S thoughts on the topic of rankings vs. stature.

So who's measuring this?

While administrators said they haven't been assessing progress by a single measure, they've been paying attention to The Center for Measuring University Performance's rankings, developed in the late 1990s to help the University of Florida measure research performance.

Sullivan said the center's data is "about as good as is out there" and comes closest to measuring a university's research productivity and reputation.

Get real. This Center was originally at the University of Florida to make Florida look good. It has recently moved to Arizona State - another large state university on the make - because apparently Florida no longer considers the Center's activities to be worth supporting. It is biased toward large institutions and does a poor job where things need to be normalized in order to make fair comparisons. Our administrators love it because the table is tilted for them AND the system doesn't actually rank institutions so real comparisons are difficult. Perfect for a smoke and mirrors operation.

Craig Abbey, the center's research director, said its rankings provide a wide look at benchmarking a public research university's strengths from year to year and how it stacks up against competition for research dollars and top students.

"You can't really tell how you're improving unless you see how everybody else is doing," he said.

The University aims to position itself as one of the top three research institutions in the world. Comparable schools like the University of Wisconsin have provided competition in achieving that goal.

Another B/S tactic. What exactly does comparable mean? Bruininks has used this circumlocution in other arenas including labor relations. Does comparable mean equal? Or does it mean that we can compare dissimilar things like a flea and an elephant and claim that they are, therefore, comparable? [By the way the scale is about right in the illustration at the top assuming the large flask is Wisconsin. Are they comparable?]

The Center measures schools in nine categories, including endowment assets and how many of those categories are ranked in the overall top 25. The data doesn't provide place-by-place rankings, but instead groups schools with the same number of measures in the top 25 in the same tier.

Ah, now you see the beauty of this system. There are no place-by-place rankings. No place rankings means that an institution could be ranked 25th in all of the categories and it would be, according to the Florida system, equal to one that was first in every category.

In the center's 2006 report, the University had eight of nine measures in the top 25, along with three other schools. Seven schools, including the University of Wisconsin, have all nine in the top 25.

Right, this is great. According to this system we are almost as good as Wisconsin. The fact that Wisconsin is ranked 30 places above us in most other rating systems is made irrelevant. This is almost Rovian.

Abbey said a number of factors go into making a great research institution.

"Not even Harvard or even the best research institution is No. 1 in every measure," he said.

Sullivan said the University looks at the performance of about 12 peer schools

Of "about" 12 schools, now that is a real solid comparison group. Who exactly are these folks and why do B/S keep changing the peer group? Why don't we consistently compare ourselves with our natural peer group, the other Big Ten Schools except NU? The goal seems to be to keep everyone's head spinning so that they don't know what is actually going on, another specialty of the B/S administration.

a group that includes Wisconsin, which in the past "went to a more rigorous admissions academic profile."

"We did not do that," Sullivan said.

It is a little more complicated than that. There was this planned contraction in Madison some time back. They are about 25% smaller than us. Maybe you should have Dr. Mulcahy, our VP for research and a Madison refugee, explain it to you?

"(Wisconsin's) reputation grew remarkably well through that reputation about their students."

Sullivan said the University has also been slower to recruit nationally than schools like Wisconsin. While Minnesotans are top priority, the University is broadening the "admissions net" to a wider pool of students, he said.

Undergrads who come to both Wisconsin and Michigan pay very high out-of-state tuition. Apparently because they think it is worth it. We have had to cut our out-of-state tuition quite a bit in order to entice people from out of state to attend the U. If you can't compete on quality, compete on price.

"It's the undergraduate academic profile of Wisconsin that gives them that bounce," Sullivan said.

Ah, excuse me, but the reason that undergrads want to go to Wisconsin and not Minnesota is that the institution is ranked 38 in the US News and World Report Rankings and we are ranked 71. Last I heard, the undergrads were not checking the so-called Florida rankings. They can also look at graduation rates where we do a pitiful job.

Abbey said comparing institutions on an international scale is difficult but not impossible.

"Even in just Canada, they're not competing for the same pool of federal research dollars, let alone how the Swiss are financing their research institutions, or the Germans," he said.

Times Higher Education ranks universities on a global scale but doesn't rank world public research institutions.

But of course most of the universities in the world are public. Another little problem for the hubris-laced "ambitious aspiration to become one of the top three public research universities in the world." Last I heard Cambridge and Oxford are public universities. So who is going to be in the top three in seven years? Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley? Pick one and let's beat them!

In their "Top 200 World Universities," the University is ranked 142nd, up from 187th in 2006.

Since most world universities are public, however are we going to move from 142nd up at least a hundred places? And I am surprised that B/S did not take credit for the meteoric rise of the U as being due to their strategic plans. One also wonders why the Daily reporter did not follow up on this interesting factoid. Does it mean anything? Should we believe this number? Up that far in one year should make even a cub reporter a little curious. And yet the factoid just sits there like another empty blog or suit.

What's the University got to show so far?

According to the center's data, the University's only measure not ranked in the top 25 is SAT and ACT range.

Yes ACTs will keep rising, but they will also rise for our competitors.

"The percentage of students in the top 10 percentage of their high school class, the percentage of students in the top quartile of their class, all of those are remarkably up," he said.

According to data presented by the university to the Board of Regents last September we rank:

Students in the top 10% of their high school class - 10th

Average ACT scores - 10th

Two year retention rate - 10th

Six year graduation rate - 11th

compared with a self-selected peer group that included: Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Texas, Berkeley, UCLA, Washington and Wisconsin.

Hello, Kitty.

Sullivan also said there needs to be more research discoveries, such as physiology and medicine professor Doris Taylor's recent laboratory re-creation of a beating heart.

In addition, Bruininks and Sullivan highlighted the success of recent fundraising and the more than 28,000 applicants for fall semester.

Bring on the haters [This header was actually in the article]

Where did this come from ? Is anyone who dissents from the party line a hater? This is really sad. Where was the editor when this header was used?

While officials maintain the goal is realistic, some students have voiced uncertainty and doubt.

In a recent e-mail to The Minnesota Daily, Bruininks stood by the likelihood of the goal being met.

"Why wouldn't it be?" he said. "What separates the top three from the rest … including the University of Minnesota, is relatively little."

Wow. If this is true then maybe we shouldn't be worrying about it so much? This statement either expresses an incredible naiveté (possible) or betrays a cynical use of the number three goal as a method for money extraction (more likely).

As for the doubters? Bruininks said there's nothing wrong with "healthy skepticism" because it forces administrators to evaluate goals.

And who is to judge what is healthy skepticism? Apparently anyone who seriously dissents from the party line is a hater, see header.

"I've heard some of the 'doubters' say things like, 'I'd settle for best in the Big Ten," he said. "Students don't choose the University of Minnesota for (a) mediocre future."

Bob, this is crazy talk. You call someone who would settle for best in the Big Ten a doubter? In ... Your ... Dreams.... I will even settle for being in the middle of the BigTen and that would be an improvement. Although for people to realize this, you are going to have to be honest about our current situation. You really need to come down from your high horse, talk to some students and faculty, and have some pancakes or a beer.

Sullivan said a reasonable timeline was picked.

"Ten years seemed to be reasonable in light of the changes that had to take place," he said.

In two years we should be half way there. If we are not, will you stop this foolishness or will we have to serve the full ten year sentence before you are willing to admit that this course was not the best, given the resources of the state and our land grant mission?

Abbey said huge rankings jumps, such as the University of Pittsburgh's from 2000, when they had six measures in the top 25, to 2006, when they boasted all nine in that range, are rare because they take long-term efforts by complex organizations.

Someone at Pitt knows what they are doing. Leadership really does matter. Mr. B. is an old Pittsburgher. His first job was at the Pitt med school as a lab tech. Pittsburgh was the pits. It isn't anymore. And I don't hear them, even now, whining about being the third greatest public research university on the planet. But I am afraid that we are not going to do what Pitt has done without either a change of direction or a change of administration. I also understand that Pitt has a football team.

"You just can't turn everybody on a dime," he said.

Brilliant observation. Here's another one from a respected faculty group:

"Is this a time to be talking about getting into the top three? When units cannot maintain their research capacity, how can they get to the top three? There is little to suggest that the University is on an upward trajectory."

Senate Research Committee, October 8, 2007

Are these folks haters?

Sullivan said the goal's value for current students is clear.

It'll be even more impressive to have the school listed on your résumé, he said.

This is pretty much the coup de grâce. Not an education, not a way to get more out of life, not a chance to have wonderful teachers, and classmates and to enjoy potentially one of the best periods of your life? No, it is just another notch on the old pistola, something to put on your resume. And to think this guy is provost at a great university.

Graduating from non-prestigious institutions like Drake (BA) and Indiana (JD) seems to have done pretty well for OurProvost. OurLeader is a graduate of Western Michigan (BA) and George Peabody College of Education (PhD). Maybe it is the person, rather than the credential, that is important?

"People will begin to talk about the University of Minnesota in a world conversation, in China, in India, all of the places that are emerging as great markets," Sullivan said. "The University of Minnesota's name will be in that small group of universities."

Ah, marketing. Now I get it - that's why we want to go to the U of M. When we are over in China or India or other emerging great markets, hawking our wares or ourselves, we will find people engaged in a world conversation about the University of Minnesota. Our name will be writ large in that small group of great universities: Cambridge, Berkeley, The University of Minnesota.

I want to engage in that conversation, but first I have to learn how to say Ski-U-Ma in Hindi and Mandarin. Perhaps OurProvost knows this from his world conversations? I'll bet Slugger can help.

One sad Bonzo

Friday, January 25, 2008

More Tax Advice From OurLeader

OurLeader has previously weighed in with the unhelpful suggestion that the State of Minnesota tax clothing. He now suggests that the gas tax be raised. I don't agree with a tax on clothing, but do think that a gas tax increase would be in the best interests of the state. However, OurLeader's arguments for these tax increases count for little, especially when he explicitly links them to increases in funding for the U.

OurLeader is dealing with a professional politician - Governor Pawlenty. This is a mismatch.

When your building priority list starts out with a new football stadium, perhaps you should not be wasting your time giving tax policy advice? Minnesota citizens aren't actually interested in the U becoming the third greatest public research university in the world [sic]. They very well might be interested in improving their university so that it rises at least to the middle of the BigTen. But that of course would require honesty about the present situation.

From the Startribune:

U of M president says gas tax would free up money for higher education

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks acknowledges that the state needs to solve significant transportation problems.

But he also said roads and bridges shouldn't be paid for at the expense of investments in higher education.

Because of that, Bruininks said Wednesday that legislators need to at least consider an increase in either the gas tax or sales tax.

"This is a time when we ought to seriously consider a gas tax increase and perhaps a sales tax increase dedicated to transportation. We need additional resources to take that pressure off of the general fund of Minnesota."

When Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- who has twice vetoed bills that would have paid for bridge and road repairs through a gas tax -- announced his capital investment plan last week, higher education took what Bruininks considered to be too much of a financial hit.

"Higher education is typically 35 percent of the bonding recommendation and the number now is 23 percent," Bruininks said. "That's a very significant gap on almost $1 billion."

On Wednesday night, Bruininks told a crowd of several hundred university supporters simply: "We're going to need your help to keep the university going."

Bruininks said that he thought Pawlenty made a "sincere gesture" to fund several university projects but that too much was cut.

"If the state wants to remain vibrant in a global economy it needs a great, vibrant transportation system, it needs an educational system that works, it needs a research university that can create the discoveries that are going to lead to the creation of new jobs in Minnesota's economy," he said. "I'm just very hopeful that the policymakers will get together, compose their differences and come up with solutions that will really move us forward."

Let's see, an educational system that works and a research university that leads to the creation of new jobs. Somehow I missed the part about becoming the third greatest public research university on the planet...

This kind of rhetoric, followed to its logical conclusion, might actually get us somewhere.

Ciao, Bonzo

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Or, Preaching to the Choir

In an effort to whip the troops into a frenzy, OurLeader met with enthusiasts at the McNamara Alumni Center last night. The Daily describes the festivities:

Funding request outlined

Alumni joined President Bruininks and lawmakers to hear about the U's 2008 capital funding request.

The University's annual legislative briefing and reception has been held for at least 15 years, with the purpose of "energizing" university affiliates, both past and present, said Wokie Freeman, program director for University Relations.

University President Bob Bruininks said investment in the University reaches all corners of the state. "The story of the University of Minnesota is the story of Minnesota," he said.

While last night's reception presented a forum for storytelling, at least one perspective was notably absent.

"The one thing I've seen in the past that I didn't see this year was actual legislators here," University alumnus Jerry Sosinske said. "I don't know if that's a good thing or not."

University Relations confirmed there were at least five legislators at the gathering, which is actually less than 2.5 percent of state lawmakers.

Bruininks said tinkering [sic] on the edge of recession, low interest rates and the low value of money actually made this a great time for the state to be investing in its resources. "When the economy is soft, make a capital investment."

On Jan. 14, Gov. Tim Pawlenty released his bonding proposal, which funded a Folwell Hall renovation and a complete revamp of the Science Classroom Building, but left funding for University maintenance at 40 percent of the requested amount with no mention of a new building for the Bell Museum of Natural History.

One audience member, a father with three daughters graduating from various University programs this year, referred to University maintenance funding: "It's really frustrating to be here because it seems our proposals are dead on arrival."

That would be yes. A good question to ask is: Why, President Bruininks?

Mr. Bonzo suggests that the Democrats (we call them DFLers in Minnesota), the Republicans, and the Governor are all annoyed with the university for different reasons. Any ideas why that might be, President Bruininks?

Chow, Bonzo

Some Free Advice from Mr. B. to Academics and Administrators
(courtesy of UD)

Mr. Bonzo is a real fan of the FIRE organization. It seems to him that the AAUP has gotten fat, complacent, and intimidated by modern universities. To be fair this may only reflect the situation at BigU where the AAUP is dormant. FIRE has gotten into a recent flare-up of university administrative incompetence and arrogance at Brandeis.

UD – Mr. B.'s academic blogging idol – has recently posted on the amazing situation at Brandeis University. She has commented on the situation at her main campus along with a pointer to her alternate campus at Higher Ed. There she does the patented SOS (scathing online schoolmarm) on a letter from a university administrator – the provost, believe it or not – that is wonderful.

Mr. B. has had to deal with such behavior from department chairmen, associate deans, post-tenure review committees and, indirectly, deans and provosts. The latter are usually smart enough to have underlings do the dirty work, at least at BigU. However, the Brandeis case is one of the most egregious examples that he has ever seen or heard.

Any academic or administrator could learn a lot from UD's post.

Ciao, Bonzo

TeePaw to Junkyard Dog:

Shape Up Or Watch Light Rail Die

(and it will be your fault...)

Previous posts have introduced OurLeader's self-assumed nom de guerre, Junkyard Dog, and cautioned him about the fate of Leroy Brown (aka the Junkyard Dog). For the backstory see:

The Junkyard Dog Goes Up Against TeePaw

Or, We May Need to Learn How To Play With the Cards We've Got


A Call For Leadership

President Bruininks, Are You Listening?

The latest from the now out in the open skirmish is reported in the Strib:

Light rail project too costly, Pawlenty warns

Last update: January 23, 2008 - 3:48 PM

He wants project leaders to cut costs by one-third.

With public works funding increasingly tight, Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued a stern warning today that escalating costs and lack of agreement may jeopardize the Central Corridor Light Rail transit line between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Costs for the project, now projected at $1.25 billion, must come down by a third, Pawlenty said in a letter today to leaders on the project. "To qualify for federal funding -- and to garner my support," Pawlenty said in the letter, the project must meet federal cost-effectiveness guidelines.

"Competition for state bonding dollars is intense," Pawlenty wrote. Although Pawlenty has backed the rail project in the past, he has become dismayed in recent months at the infighting and the bid-'em-up dynamic that has emerged.

The governor signaled earlier this month, when he released his bonding recommendations, that the squabbling had cooled him on the project. The $70 million earmarked in his recommendations, he said, was a placeholder, offered as an inducement to those involved to shape up.

On Wednesday, Pawlenty said that in addition to cost containment, local governments must commit to their share of capital and operating funds. "These elements are a prerequisite to my support and (to) the project moving forward," he wrote.

The letter was sent to the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Hennepin and Ramsey county commissioners, and the president of the University of Minnesota.

The Metropolitan Council will vote on the project's cost and scope at a Feb. 27 meeting.

So what is it going to be, President Bruininks and spokesperson O'Brien? Eighty percent of a loaf or nothing? Please try to consider the common good and do not sabotage this effort. Remember that you wanted the stadium ever so much and your wish was granted. You can't always get what you want. Governor Pawlenty would be only too happy to drop this mess off at Morrill Hall. If you blow it, the governor won't have to pay anything for light rail. Please keep this in mind.

And, as Steve Jobs would say, one other thing. With respect to funding for the U, the governor has been squeezing you like a bandoneon. It might be fun to thump your chest and run the motor loud, in the friendly confines of the red-telephone equipped Strib editorial office, but it is unwise to threaten the governor with junkyard dog behavior and accuse him of lack of leadership. Do you want to sleep with the fishies? Pawlenty is a professional politician and you are not. As a famous philosopher once said: "A man's got to know his limitations."

We're all in this together at the U of M, or at least we used to be. Let's drop this foolishness about being one of the top three public research universities in the world and commit to being in the top half of the Big Ten. This is a goal that we can all embrace and it might be more convincing to citizens of the state. It also has the virtue of being achievable unlike the ambitious aspiration of being one of the top three public research universities on the planet.

Welcome back to the fray. Bonzo

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi?

A Tough Choice at BigU

Oddly, a study published last July by U of M researchers is only now surfacing in the local (Pioneer Press) and national (Reuters) media. Surprise, surprise, diet pop is bad for you!

Because of the U of M's financial arrangement with Coca-Cola and the dean of the medical school's membership on the board of directors of Pepsi [sic(k)], the U of M's research on the harmful effect of diet pop on people's health is triply ironic. Mr. B. has previously posted on BigU's Coke connection:

Coke or Pepsi, The Age Old Question

And on the ick factor of the Dean's deal with Pepsi (~100K$ the first year):

It's The Ick Factor

BigU Med School Dean Sits on Pepsi Board

But then again, Coke and Pepsi have the money and that we need. "In this world one thing counts, in the bank, large amounts."

Meat, diet soda linked to heart disease

Wed Jan 23, 2008 6:02am IST

By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters) - People who eat two or more servings of red meat a day are much more likely to develop conditions leading to heart disease and diabetes, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

Eating two or more servings of meat a day increases the risk of suffering from a cluster of risk factors known as metabolic syndrome by 25 percent compared to those who had only two servings of meat a week, the researchers reported in the journal Circulation.

The symptoms of metabolic syndrome include excessive fat around the waist, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure.

The study also found that diet soda consumption was linked to these elevated risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, echoing the findings of a study published in July.

"When we found that diet soda promoted risk we were surprised," said Dr. Lyn Steffen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bob Bites The Bullet

A friend has called Mr. B's attention to the following:

Recent Signatories:

University of Minnesota
Robert H. Bruininks, President

Regular readers will recall that OurLeader was at first reluctant to embrace the green monster.

See for example: "It's Not Easy Being Green Or, Why Robert Doesn't Want To Rap."

But he has apparently decided to do the right thing and sign on to the fight against global warming. I wonder how he got around the little problem(s) raised by Professor Swackhamer?

Deborah L. Swackhamer, interim director of the university's Institute on the Environment, says she is not sure the university could achieve climate neutrality. More than 70 percent of the university's power comes from coal, she says.

[Note: 2-1-08: Apparently this should read "70 percent of the university's power comes from fossil fuels."]

The commitment also asks colleges to make climate neutrality part of the curriculum, which is not something the president can do. "The president has absolutely no control over the curriculum," which is set by faculty members, Ms. Swackhamer says. "So some of these things he would be promising to do, he can't promise."

Now if only OurLeader would finally 'fess up to the disconnect between ambitious aspirations and available resources, perhaps we might get somewhere. The clock is ticking.

Welcome back, everyone, to spring semester at BigU. There are very interesting times ahead of us.

Mr. Bonzo

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Call For Leadership

President Bruininks, Are You Listening?

Blowing smoke and talking about how good things are going to be in ten years is one thing, but in the here and now hard decisions have to be made.

Some comments from the Pioneer Press on the light rail situation:

In the here and now, the Central Corridor light-rail project as it's desired is too expensive. The Metropolitan Council, charged with managing the project according to the rules that make it eligible for federal funding, has been clear, consistent and persistent on that point. A project that starts at the back of the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul and eventually tunnels under the University of Minnesota on its way to downtown Minneapolis would cost around a billion dollars. To be eligible for federal funding - for half the cost of the project - the price tag needs to come down to about $840 million, says Peter Bell, chairman of the Met Council [and a former U of M regent].

In the here and now, rules are rules.

Decisions about travel routes, whether they're rail lines or roads, don't merely reflect reality - they also alter it. The rules by which those decisions are made are inherently political - they reflect a decision to value some things more than others. The current formula for deciding whether a transit project is worthy of federal funding values what's known as the cost-effectiveness index most of all. By that index, we can't afford a billion-dollar light-rail line between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis.

So something has to give, and, by the reckoning of the Metropolitan Council - which, again, is charged with following the rules as they exist - there's a long way to go and a short time to get there. Unless manna falls from the heavens, everyone is going to have to give up part of what he or she wants for the greater good of getting the St. Paul-to-Minneapolis line built.

But suggesting that we're staring at a death match featuring The Union Depot vs. The University Tunnel is oversimplifying things. We don't claim to know what all the other variables are. Different people see them differently.

If the Central Corridor is to move forward, after decades of planning and arguing, everybody and their variables need to be at the table. Forthright, creative people solve problems. For the sake of the here and then, forthright problem-solving is what's needed. Here and now.

Mr. Bonzo asks again:

Are you listening, President Bruininks?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


From the Pioneer Press:

Tuition would rise an average 2 percent at Minnesota's two-year colleges and 3 percent at state universities next school year under a plan Minnesota State Colleges and Universities officials released late Monday.

If adopted, the proposed one-year increases would be the smallest since 1998, system leaders said. Average tuition would run $4,080 for a full-time student at a two-year college and $5,561 for a full-time state university student.

Overall, tuition and fees in the system's 32 colleges and universities would go up 2.7 percent on average, to $4,849, MnSCU said.

The system's board is expected to vote on the plan at its March meeting.

State funds cover about 52 percent of the cost of educating students, down from two-thirds in 1995, MnSCU said.

The U Does Not...


Senate Committee on Finance and Planning

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Will the Regents support a 7.5% tuition increase, Professor Martin asked? They have been told it is part of the budget plans, Mr. Pfutzenreuter said. Professor Chapman suggested that 7.5% will be seen as quite high. Mr. Pfutzenreuter agreed but pointed out that for Minnesota residents the legislature provided funding to buy down the increase by 2%, so it will only be 5.5% (for students from households with an income of up to $150,000). Professor Chapman said he was sorry to see such an increase in an election year; Mr. Pfutzenreuter said the other choices are increased state funding or less new investment.

Once again it should be clear that the goals and aspirations of a public institution have to be aligned with the resources and priorities of the state. What is sensible for an institution to do if it has the resources to become one of the "top three public research universities in the world" is not necessarily what should be done given the actual financial constraints under which we are going to have to live in the future.

There should be a real dialog about these matters on the campus of the University of Minnesota and it is sorely lacking. OurLeader and OurProvost need a little pancake and BigTen (the tavern) time with the peons. Even a trip to The Wok or a local Italian resaurant?

Mr. Bonzo