Thursday, February 28, 2008

Meanwhile, Down In Iowa City...

U's Arlene Carney Is Iowa Provost Candidate

From the Iowa Press-Citizen:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Two provost candidates have forums today

Arlene Carney, University of Minnesota vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, will participate in a faculty-led public forum set for 3:30 p.m. today in S401 Pappajohn Business Building. Carney will also participate in a public symposium on the same topic as Ortega, which is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Old Capitol Senate Chamber.

Carney, an audiologist, has been at Minnesota since 1994 and a vice provost there since 2005. She holds degrees from St. John's University, University of Massachusetts and Minnesota. Her research area is speech perception and production in children and adults with normal hearing and with hearing losses, including patients with cochlear implants.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Latest From Pioneer Press on Light Rail

From the Pioneer Press:

Advisory panel approves Central Corridor light rail route

By Dave Orrick

The Central Corridor light rail line is one step closer to reality.

Today, the Central Corridor Management Committee, a 13-member advisory panel, unanimously approved the light rail route that would link St. Paul and Minneapolis via University Avenue.

The advisory panel recommendation includes:

A $909 million train up and running in 2014.

A station in front of Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, with a Lowertown maintenance yard that allows a future link to the rear concourse of Union Depot for its envisioned role as a transit hub.

A basic infrastructure to allow additional stations along University Avenue at Western Avenue, Victoria Street and Hamline Avenue.

A street-level train through the University of Minnesota campus on a car-free Washington Avenue — and an agreement to figure out later how to make that work.

Political and civic leaders have grappled in the past several years with a range of possible routes, including a loop in downtown St. Paul.

One sticking point remains and that is what happens to traffic around the U.

The university agreed it could accommodate an outdoor "mall" for trains along what is now Washington Avenue on its east bank campus. Previously, the U had been holding out for an expensive tunnel or a little-studied route along the north edge of campus through the Dinkytown neighborhood. Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services, said the U will continue to study two Dinkytown routes.

Results of the study to show the feasibility of those routes won't be complete until May or June.

The Metropolitan Council is expected to take the panel's recommendation and approve it at a 4 p.m. meeting today.

Carrying Water Until The End
Or, Last Words of the Strib Before Met Council Decision

From the StarTribune:

Met Council chair Peter Bell says a search for wiggle room in the federal rules came up empty. That means the council has no choice but to act on the only affordable option identified to date: converting Washington Avenue into an auto-free, transit-and-pedestrian mall.

But to the extent possible, the Met Council should keep a door open for an 11th-hour shift to a third route option, via Dinkytown. When a tunnel was ruled out, rail through the Dinkytown trench alongside the existing rail lines and around the new stadium became university officials' preferred choice. A university-financed analysis of whether that option would meet federal requirements is expected to be completed in a few months. It's worth the wait.

Keeping that option alive while pressing ahead with the design of a Washington Avenue transit mall prolongs uncertainty for Central Corridor planners, at a time when they are understandably eager for firm decisions. But some duplication of effort in coming months is a small price to pay if it leads to a design that works for the heaviest transit user in the state, the University of Minnesota.

A strange editorial. The facts seem to be right there before the strib editorial board members, and yet they persist in the "explore the Northern option" train of thought.

You have to know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em. What do the U administrators possibly hope to find in the Northern option that will make it competitive as far as the federal cost and efficiency indices that the Met Council has to deal with?

It would have been better for all concerned if the University had been cooperative and made a credible effort to make the Washington Avenue route work, rather than proclaiming that this route was impossible and would lead to the end of the U, as we know it. Leadership on the part of President Bruininks could have saved much frustration and unhappiness. A no compromise junkyard dog position only serves to make us look foolish when the inevitable happens.

Later today a final decision will be made. The University can start to deal with it, freed from the distracting mirage of a tunnel or a different route. Let's take it like reasonable people and move on.

In the here and now there are other walleye to fry, i.e. a pitch to the state legislature tomorrow, coincident with the newly released state budget forecast.

Keep your eye on the ball, Bob. Avoid unnecessary distraction. Try to make a convincing argument for the university. Consider re-ordering your priorities as reality dictates. Try to learn something from this experience. Please?

(At least it is not boring around here)

Ciao, Bonzo

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last Statement From U
Before Tomorrow's Met Council Vote

The University of Minnesota has just released the following statement:

U comments on central corridor LRT alignment

February 26, 2007

On February 27, the Metropolitan Council will vote on the route alignment for the Central Corridor light rail transit (CCLRT) line. Kathleen O'Brien, the University's vice president for University Services, released the following statement on the alignment:

"The University of Minnesota is truly a transit oriented community with two-thirds of its commuters using bus, carpool, or walking options. Over the last 20 years, the University has successfully developed an integrated transportation system that serves all members of the university community, including more than 20,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff who utilize the university-subsidized mass transit programs.

"The University alone is expected to generate one-third of the daily riders on the Central Corridor light rail transit line. Clearly, the University and the Twin Cities need a metropolitan transit system that is reliable, affordable, convenient, and safe.

"The University's preferred alternatives have been the Northern Alignment and a tunnel under Washington Avenue. Recognizing the schedule and financial constraints on the CCLRT project, the University of Minnesota will continue the Northern Alignment study and explore the design and planning of a Washington Avenue alignment with a pedestrian-only mall and no traffic.

"Creating a pedestrian mall on the University's East Bank campus with traffic diverted from Washington Avenue between the east end of the Washington Avenue Bridge and Walnut Street would require significant mitigations. Specific mitigations must be analyzed and a plan developed that identifies both reliable cost estimates and funding sources, and that is supported by the University, the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and the University neighborhoods. In addition, the design and quality of the Washington Avenue mall must result in a vibrant urban environment.

"The University is committed to work with our CCLRT partners on this project to address issues and lay a sound foundation for the project."


Tomorrow should be interesting. As I understand it the final route will be decided by a vote of the Metropolitan Council. If this is the case, what is the point of continuing the Northern alignment study if the at grade Washington Avenue route is chosen?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

House of Cards Or Life, Once Again, Imitates Art...

"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." (Ecclesiastes, 7:4)

From the New York Times:

February 23, 2008

Landmark Massachusetts Building Where Wharton Wrote Faces Foreclosure


The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Mass., is in danger of being put in foreclosure, says Stephanie Copeland, president of Edith Wharton Restoration, the organization that owns and maintains this stately residence and its surrounding gardens.

It now owes the bank some $4.3 million, and in mid-February, when it failed to meet a scheduled monthly payment of $30,000, the bank sent a notice that it intended to start foreclosing unless the default was remedied promptly, Ms. Copeland said.

To stay open, she added, the Mount needs to raise $3 million by March 24. “The bank has really been very patient,” she explained. “They’re eager to help us work this out.”

If the Mount succeeds in raising that sum, Ms. Copeland said, an anonymous donor is waiting in the wings who has pledged to match it. The money could be used to help restructure the bank loan and to settle another outstanding debt, roughly $2.5 million, that the Mount incurred from a private lender in 2005 to buy Wharton’s 2,600-volume library from George Ramsden, a British book collector. The Mount also owes Mr. Ramsden roughly $885,000, to be paid off in nine yearly installments, and recently it defaulted on a scheduled payment to him, too.

“The situation is quite serious,” Sandra Boss, interim chairwoman of the Mount’s board, said in a telephone interview from London, where she works. “On the one hand, the Mount is winning awards for preservation and is internationally renowned as an institution. And it’s well run from an efficiency perspective. We’ve made great progress by cutting costs and raising revenues. On the other hand, our current debt levels are unserviceable and unsustainable. We’re not in control of our own destiny unless we can mount a restructuring of our debt.”

Ms. Boss became a board member in late 2006, when the board was reformed to include people with business expertise and fund-raising experience. “We knew the situation was challenging,” she said. “But we didn’t anticipate it would get this bad.” She added that raising money for nonprofit organizations was more difficult in a downward-trending economy and ruefully recalled the flinty Mrs. Gryce, a character in Wharton’s novel “The House of Mirth,” who only “subscribed to Institutions when their annual reports showed an impressive surplus.”

The Mount, which is open from May to October and weekends in November and December, receiving some 30,000 visitors annually, was built by Wharton in 1902. She designed it herself, in accord with the simple aesthetic — simple for the time, anyway — she had championed in her first book, “The Decoration of Houses,” written with Ogden Codman Jr. The house has 35 rooms, including an enormous piano nobile, or first-floor gallery, but is noteworthy in part for its private spaces, especially Wharton’s bedroom suite, where she did most of her writing.

Mr. Bonzo is familiar with The Mount, its staff & its financial difficulties, since he spent some time in Great Barrington a few summers ago.

It is a glorious house, beautifully restored and set in the most magical gardens and grounds, so he is mystified as to why an attraction with so many advantages should be in such dire financial straits.

It's true that times are hard for house museums, with visitation shrinking due to so much competition for the tourist dollar, but western Massachusetts and the Hudson River Valley are home to any number of fascinating houses that are at least keeping their doors open, continuing with their restoration projects, and generally staying afloat. The Mount has the added advantages of a very famous original occupant and a location near Lenox and Tanglewood that attracts highly affluent summer folk hungry for cultural stimulation.

Mr. Bonzo can't help but wonder about Ms. Copeland's role in the imminent disaster facing this cultural gem. The unsecured loans for operating expenses seem to him to be evidence of reckless spending, an inability to raise funds, and poor management in general. The rapid turnover in board members has resulted in a lack of oversight, to say the least, and Mr. Bonzo happens to know that staff turnover during the past several years has been even more frequent. New leadership with much better management, budgeting, and fund-raising skills might be in order, no?

Ms. Copeland should be held responsible for much of the Mount's current difficulties. Even if some deep-pocketed angel can be found at this late hour, it's obvious that this situation will only re-occur in the future under the present leadership. It would truly be tragic if The Mount ended up in the hands of property developers chanting "Condo, Condo..."

I call Ms. Copeland's attention to Lily Bart's final evaluation of her financial position:

"A careful examination of her cheque-book, and of the unpaid bills in her desk, showed that, when the latter had been settled, she would have barely enough to live on for the next three or four months; and even after that, if she were to continue her present way of living, without earning any additional money, all incidental expenses must be reduced to the vanishing point."

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tuition Increase Minimal? Not Everyone is Buying It..

From the Daily:

Bruininks requests $225M from Senate

President Bob Bruininks faced opposition and criticism about the expected tuition hike.

By Hilary Brueck, Jake Grovum

He came to request money from the state, but University President Bob Bruininks instead found himself defending upcoming tuition increases at the Capitol on Thursday.

Following his presentation of the University's capital request, Bruininks and Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, sparred on an expected increase for the 2008-09 school year.

"The headlines scream 7.5 percent and it scares people away from the institution," Robling said. "I don't know how you can get the message out that you are still affordable to an average, middle-income family."

Robling questioned the tuition hike, citing a 13 percent increase in state appropriations to the University last year.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tuition Too High For You At U of M?

If You Are A Good Student, Maybe You Should Apply to Stanford...

It may actually be less expensive for you to go there.

CNN reports a solution to ballooning endowments. Free tuition for lower income families is becoming increasingly popular among the super rich academic institutions:

Stanford eliminates tuition for some students

Students whose families make less than $100,000 will attend school free; about a third of students will be helped.

February 20 2008: 3:29 PM EST

PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) -- Attending Stanford University next year will be a lot more affordable for some undergraduate students.

The university said Wednesday it plans to eliminate tuition for students with annual family incomes totaling less than $100,000. It also will pay most room and board for students with families making less than $60,000.

Financial aid director Karen Cooper says the move comes as middle-income parents express concern about paying for a Stanford education.

Stanford tuition is expected to rise to $36,000 in the fall. Room and board will cost about $11,000. About a third of the university's 6,700 undergraduates are expected to qualify for the tuition break.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


From the Learning Curve:

The recent deal between the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and faculty at the state's public regional universities will deliver an 11.2 percent salary hike through this year and next.

It's the biggest salary increase ever negotiated by the Inter Faculty Organization, the union representing about 3,300 full and part time faculty at the seven state universities. IFO members will vote on the deal Thursday. The MnSCU board and the Legislature would still need to approve.

If it all goes through, average salaries next year would be:

"I am convinced that we received every nickel MnSCU had on the table for compensation," IFO president Nancy Black wrote recently to members, urging them to back the deal, which also includes pay raises for adjunct and community faculty.

"With the state now in recession, and budget cuts looming on the horizon," she wrote, "we felt it was time to wrap up negotiations and try to get the contract ratified by the Board of Trustees and the Legislature before the budget cutting begins in earnest later this spring."

The deal covers faculty at Metropolitan State, Winona State, Minnesota State Mankato, Southwest Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State Moorhead and Bemidji State.


MNSCU beat us on the downside as far as tuition increases go, and apparently will beat us on the upside for faculty salary percentage increase.

Now about those ambitious aspirations...

Ciao, Bonzo

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

University Of Minnesota / U leaders push bioscience buildings

New financing scheme may accomplish goal

See previous post for backstory. The Pioneer Press today provides further insight into the deal that is apparently taking place concerning new biomedical science buildings. Note Mr. Pfutzenreuter's admission: " This is an effort by the university to grab market share..." Waves of spam have gone out to incite the troops to hit the capitol this Thursday. Free lunch, free bus ride, and a chance to endorse... what?

I am certainly not against the University obtaining funding from the State in support of its legitimate mission as a land grant institution. In fact we need every penny we can get to stabilize tuition and support the core of the university, including non-science areas that are also critical for our remaining a great university. This is a matter of priorities and also a matter of the soul of a university. It is not a Driven to Discover marketing campaign.

These proposed blank check biomedical science buildings have financial implications for the U that are not being examined carefully and honestly. Where is the money going to come from to pay for the new faculty? Set up funds are, crudely speaking, a million dollars per new faculty member. And the NIH funding situation right now is terrible. What is the basis for the estimates of NIH funding that will be gained from these buildings?

What follows is the unexpurgated version from the Pioneer Press. Read it and think, Bob.

BY PAUL TOSTO Pioneer Press

Article Last Updated: 02/18/2008 11:40:34 PM CST

University of Minnesota leaders believe they have the legislative votes for a plan to build four new biosciences buildings on the Twin Cities campus, with the public paying most of the $292 million cost.

The university has pitched the biosciences buildings for a couple of years but hadn't been able to gain enough support in the Minnesota House. Officials have argued the buildings are crucial to the U's staying competitive with other universities in the race for National Institutes of Health grants.

At a hearing last week, U leaders also stressed the buildings' potential as a jobs machine in a fragile Minnesota economy. University supporters have been e-mailing faculty, urging them to pack a legislative hearing Thursday to try to win more votes.

Some faculty members are skeptical and want the Legislature to ask more questions of the U to justify the cost. Gov. Tim Pawlenty hasn't weighed in.

The plan would commit $233 million in state money to pay off bonds floated by the university. Because they'd be university — not state — bonds, they would not be subject to the limits of this year's state capital bonding bill.

U leaders say their traditional capital request — $226 million for spending on projects ranging from repairs on aging buildings to a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus — remains their top priority this session.

A few weeks ago, however, lawmakers who support the biosciences buildings approached the U with a financing plan similar to what was used for the new Gophers football stadium, said university chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter.

"We're pleased with this new approach," he said. "I believe both bodies will pass it."

Why are the buildings needed?

"This is an effort by the university to grab market share" of federal research dollars, Pfutzenreuter said. "To do that, you have to have new facilities to attract top talent in the country and get them to bring their research. That's the pressure we're feeling from other universities."

Funding the project with university bonds and state cash made the difference in gaining House support, said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the House Capital Investment Finance Division Committee. She expects the biosciences building plan to be part of the bonding bill coming from the committee next week.

The U's competitiveness and the state's economic needs were equally important in moving ahead, she said. While she hasn't talked to the governor about it recently, Hausman said "he has indicated all along a willingness to support" the biosciences effort.

U President Robert Bruininks last week focused his arguments to lawmakers on the potential economic bump the buildings might bring, including thousands of new jobs and strengthening the state's leadership in the medical device industry. He also cautioned: "This is an industry that is global. It is very easy to lose."

While U partisans may pack Thursday's hearing, some remain skeptical.

Lawmakers need to ask more questions, said William Gleason, a professor in the U's medical school who blogs on campus issues and often challenges the U administration. He asks where will the money come from to hire faculty and buy equipment for the new buildings once built.

Two of the buildings would focus on magnetic resonance imaging and cancer research, but the U already has fairly new facilities in each of those areas, he added.

"Why shouldn't the buildings in this group be subjected to competition with buildings in other areas of science as well as nonscientific areas?" Gleason said.

"If they can be justified as good investments and we can fill them with new faculty without damaging the core of the rest of the university, then let's do it," Gleason said. "But writing a blank check given the current situation does not seem to make any sense."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The University Is For Whom?

Occasionally Mr. B. despairs about the academy and those who administer it - presidents, provosts, deans and department heads. But every once in a while he runs across people like the president at Carleton (the late Howard Swearer) and various other outstanding deans and department heads who make him realize that all is not lost.

Jim Chen, a former U of M faculty member and now law dean at Lousiville, is one of these people and he writes in a recent post on MoneyLaw, "Julius Caesar Was Wrong: A Two Act Post:"

I now make this solemn vow. For all the days that I am privileged to work in legal academia, in whatever position I might hold at any time, I shall devote every fiber of my being to resisting, defeating, and ultimately destroying those who forget that the academy exists not to serve them, but those who pay the tuition and the taxes that sustain our temples of learning. So help me God.

Jim is going to be a very busy man. But he has a lot of energy.

Ciao, Bonzo

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Is PowerPoint Evil?
UD's Crusade Continues

Since blogging first began, UD has been on the warpath against the use of PowerPoint as a teaching tool. See for example her recent self-described bitch: "All Important Trends Start in California." Here she mostly cites an article from USC's Trojan "PowerPoint presentations leave students snoring."

According to UD: "Sometimes she’s felt all alone out there, pointing out the obvious: Professors who use Powerpoint on a regular basis are lazy and irresponsible."

But she is not exactly a voice crying in the wilderness and there have been a number of high-powered academics who have blasted Power Point including the sainted Edward Tufte, doyen of data display, who does the dirty on PP every chance he gets, e.g. the Wired article: "PowerPoint Is Evil, Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely."

It seems to be pc to cry about PP. Real profs just stand there and spiel, in an engaging and mind-melding way. They don't need the crutch of PowerPoint. They interact with each and every student in the class, no matter how big, in a personal way and inspire them to... what?

Now it may well be that Mr. Bonzo and UD see PowerPoint differently because she is a professor of English and I am a professor of chemistry, crudely speaking. I fondly remember great classic lecturers from college as well as examples of the Socratic method and of the learning through discussion genre. All done well and effectively. I started out teaching chemistry at the blackboard, went through the overhead phase and am now using PowerPoint. As for being lazy and irresponsible, I think it is fair to say that the easiest time of it for me was the lowest tech one, the blackboard.

The problem is that if you teach science there is no getting around it, you have to cram a certain amount of material down the throats of students. There is no way you can learn organic chemistry without knowing what a benzene ring is and a lot of other supposedly useless facts. Now there are hard ways to do this and there are easier ways. My job is to try to make it easier. If I have to stand on my head and spit nickels to do this, so be it.

There are good ways and bad ways to use PowerPoint. I will not bore the reader with the usual technical stuff about font size and color schemes. Of course, you don't read the PowerPoint slides to your audience. If possible you put the slides up before the lecture so that students can take notes, which they will do if given the opportunity.

If you use movies, keep them short, no longer than five minutes. Make sure they have a point that can be discussed. In a lot of ways these serve as a substitute for the old lecture demonstrations in science classes. Nowadays these are ni kulturney, but the old explosions certainly used to keep people awake.

Finally make sure to keep the lights on. With modern projection equipment and a little thought about the color scheme it should be possible to do PP with ambient lighting. Make sure that you wander around the classroom and try to make eye contact with people in the front and the back of the room. It usually isn't too difficult to spot the puzzled look on student's faces. Once they realize that you are not going to bite their heads off, you can usually coax them into telling you what is bothering them.

Over the years I have taught in good liberal arts colleges. At the University I have mostly taught advanced undergraduate/graduate courses and clinical chemistry in the upper division medical technology program. Maybe I have been lucky in having motivated students, but for about the last ten years PP has worked well for me. I'd put what these students have learned up against the results from most other teaching methods of which I am aware.

Ciao, Bonzo

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rybak Embraces Cass
Or, RT Falls in Line, Waiting for U

From the Pioneer Planet:

Rybak endorses car-free 'transit mall' at U

Campus tunnel plan proves too expensive


Pioneer Press

Article Last Updated: 02/13/2008 11:47:36 PM CST

The tunnel at the U isn't dead, but they're reading it its last rites and resurrecting Cass Gilbert.

That's one way to summarize Wednesday's developments as key decision-makers struggle to agree on the final route of the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line linking St. Paul and Minneapolis.

On Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak came out in favor of a bold "transit mall" where trains would roll through the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus at ground level while traffic on Washington Avenue would be forced elsewhere.

The U hasn't made up its mind yet.

The idea evokes a century-old plan of St. Paul-native architect Cass Gilbert, who envisioned a neoclassical grass mall stretching from Northrop Auditorium to the banks of the Mississippi River. Replace the marble statues with light-rail cars and hybrid buses, and you've got something along the lines of the new interpretation Rybak supports. It's unclear how other roads would handle the cars shunted from Washington Avenue.

Rybak's endorsement adds to the growing consensus of decision-makers ready to bury the U's once-favored plan - a pricey tunnel - as well as a northern route through Dinkytown, as a Feb. 27 deadline for the final route approaches.

Also Wednesday, it became clear that the transit mall was the only route through the East Bank campus that would satisfy a complex cost-and-ridership formula needed for the federal government to pay half the price of the project and get it built by 2014.

Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services, said the U believes the route through Dinkytown is "the alignment of the future." But she respects the pressing deadline and is attracted to aspects of the transit mall, which would stretch from Oak Street to the river, allowing only transit and emergency vehicles.

"There are certainly other objectives and at least one of those is Cass Gilbert's vision of how the university would work," she said. Later, she added that university officials would reach a decision on the three options "within a week."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amy Gets It
Bob Does Not...

Someone else was just as offended as Mr. B. (see previous post below) by OurLeader's latest infomercial that came disguised as an inquiry about what was on the minds of campus-wide recipients.

From the Daily:

Bruininks' e-mail more convincing as an ad

Please stop sending me advertisements in my e-mail to justify your spending.

on Monday, I opened my e-mail to find a gem sent by President Bob Bruininks, subject: "What's on Your Mind?" Why Bob! I'm flattered that you would want feedback from me! I started composing "my greatest question" in my head, until I open the e-mail to realize that I have been tricked. Enclosed was not a genuine question for my response, but an advertisement to gain my support on the current University lobbying campaign for funds.

For those of you who deleted the e-mail quickly, here's what you missed. Set up as those "Driven to Discover" ads, real (?) students pose questions to Bruininks. The first asks what we should do when it's cold outside. The response: The University is part of the thriving music and theater scene. Also confirmed: Bruininks' new glasses are pretty hip.

Second, the University is cutting-edge with being a green campus. Even the football stadium is going to be green. Lastly, we have many faculty retiring and are in desperate need to hire more. What do top faculty request when they come to the University? Beautiful buildings.

In total, this ad is to convince us that we need the state to give us more money for our buildings. Obviously, I like facilities that are sturdier than the Interstate-35W bridge, and appreciate when air conditioners work in the summer, but I worry when Bruininks says we can delay some repairs or divert funds from academic programs if the Legislature doesn't open its pockets more.

All said, something doesn't add up. Where is all this money really going?

We have enough money for a stadium but not for building repairs. We do not have enough money to give wage increases to workers but need good buildings for great faculty. We apparently have a legitimate need for building repair, yet the administration must put together a PR video to convince us to join the cause. Our tuition keeps rising, yet Bruininks can afford a new set of specs.

Legislature, give what you can to meet our campus needs. Bob, try to prioritize our spending in a way that makes sense. And please, stop sending me advertisements to justify your spending choices. E-mail me directly if you really want my opinion.

(Spam - it's good for us and for the state's economy.)

Ciao, Bonzo

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Answers to Life’s Persistent Questions

Or, The World According to Bob

SpamU’s latest production (above) arrived today. It is enlightening to see how Bob spends his valuable time these days, engaged in making promos and infomercials. I guess that is why we pay him the big bucks. Such versatility. Ian McKellen watch out.

One might naively expect from the clip's introduction that it would be devoted to answering some of life’s persistent questions. Au contraire, the usual nothing burgers are served up lukewarm:

1. Indoor Entertainment?

2. Going Green?

3. New Facilities?

Green Bob smugly addresses these issues a la Nixon, complete with a gas-fired fireplace in the background. He is wearing a tasteful maroon/gold tie and stylish glasses. No Walter Mondale specs for OurPrez, he could be the CEO of Twin City Federal, or an elderly anchor.

Burning questions? Welcome to the new semester? Bob, in case you haven't heard, we have been in session for nearly a month. These kinds of semester kick-offs usually are served up at the beginning of the ah, er, semester…

Next time you do this, get some real students asking real questions. One such question is: How much is tuition going to go up next year?

Another question from a faculty member is: How are we going to pay for being the third greatest public university on the planet?

You might want to think about the answers to these persistent questions before your next visit to the legislature.

Your humble servant, Bonzo

(Spam - it's what's for breakfast and it's good for the State's economy.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Central Corridor Solution on the Horizon

Or, Cass Invoked, End Near?

From the Pioneer-Planet:

Deal on light-rail route nearer

County, U are under the gun to meet federal funds requirement


Pioneer Press

Crunch time is bringing compromise to the Central Corridor.

With a Feb. 27 deadline looming for the route of the light-rail line connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis, key concessions emerged Thursday on both ends of the line.

Ramsey County commissioners have changed their tune on the train's route through downtown St. Paul. And the University of Minnesota is scaling back its hopes for a tunnel. They are considering a century-old campus-altering vision that would ban traffic from Washington Avenue altogether.


Meanwhile, the U is looking to bring costs down where the train cuts through its East Bank Campus. University and rail officials, as well as consultants, are studying three options: shrinking the tunnel, avoiding the heart of the campus altogether by traveling along the northern edge and creating a "transit mall," or plaza, along what is now Washington Avenue, said Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services.

The plaza idea would ban all nontransit, nonemergency vehicles from Washington Avenue between the Mississippi River and Oak Street. It has caught the attention of many because it resurrects Twin Cities architect Cass Gilbert's original vision of the campus, currently sliced by Washington Avenue and its 29,000 vehicles a day.

Gilbert, who also designed the Capitol in St. Paul, drew up plans around 1907 for a neoclassical mall stretching across the waistline of campus from today's Northrop Auditorium to the bank of the river. O'Brien said designers haven't yet figured out exactly what to do with Washington Avenue traffic.

"With the analysis that we'll have in the next few weeks, we hope we can work on some language and potential action that recognizes our objectives, and allow the project to move forward," she said Thursday.

This sounds hopeful.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Time For MoneyBall

at the University of Minnesota?

Or, A Man’s Got To Know His Limitations
And So Do University Administrators

Mr. Bonzo is a great fan of the website MoneyLaw, The Art of Winning an Unfair Academic Game. One of the contributors to this site, Jim Chen, is Dean of the Brandeis Law School at Louisville and a former member of the faculty at Minnesota.

From the site:

The Jurisdynamics Network is proud to introduce a new blog, MoneyLaw. Inspired by Michael Lewis's book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, many law professors have pondered the extent to which this profession can learn from Billy Beane's approach to winning baseball games for the Oakland Athletics.

This is a great site even for non-lawyers and there are some valuable lessons to be learned here for the current occupants of Morrill Hall.

Since our ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities on the planet do not seem to be panning out, e.g.:

"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

perhaps it is time to start thinking about how to play smart with the cards we’ve got and employ some of the concepts of MoneyBall instead of a lot of noise and finger pointing elsewhere?

The recent attempt by President Bruininks to lay another large tuition increase at the feet of the state legislature is getting to be SOP at Morrill Hall. Didn’t the legislature in the last session treat the U pretty well? Isn’t that what we heard from him?

How is it that MNSCU is only going to raise their tuition by 3.5% whereas the U will raise it either 5.5 or 7.5% depending on family income?

Obviously there are ways that the administration could keep tuition down. How much did the endowment go up last year? And how much additional money went into student aid? Dr. Bruininks has acknowledged that the average debt is $20,400. For emphasis – this is just the average. I know students who owe a lot more than that, especially first generation college students in, say, the medical technology program.

So what do we hear from OurProvost?

There have been a lot of false statements made about tuition increases. He [Sullivan] said the discussion should focus on the marginal average cost to students of a tuition increase, factoring in tuition discounting, scholarships, fellowships, and other financial aid support.”

Faculty Consultative Committee
Thursday, January 24, 2008


Is it fair to send our students out into a rapidly developing recession with this sort of debt load. And God help the students who are not in science and engineering where, hopefully, they can find a job to begin crawling out from under the debt rock. What if you are an English major, or took a degree in Philosophy? How the hell are you going to pay off that mountain of debt in a reasonable time?

When I graduated from Northwestern – which at that time had the highest tuition in the country – I owed exactly $1300 and had forever to pay it off at something like 1.5% interest.

So where is the money going if not to keep tuition reasonable? You cannot raise the expectations of everyone about resources, bleed money from the core to finance new initiatives, spend money on going green, finance a new honors program (and it will cost money) and manage to keep tuition down. This last item needs to be a priority, not just an adjustable parameter that is moved up or down to make the budget come out right.

As OurLeader himself recently said: "We can't be on a rollercoaster at Valley Fair every year."

Continuing to make noises about being number three, given the current situation, is absurd. When the advertising campaign is over, the faculty have left, and the tuition has continued to go up faster than inflation, citizens and legislators are not going to be very happy with the U. Not when they can look over at Madison and ask: "What is going on here?"

The state legislature cannot directly dictate tuition and the U has taken advantage of this in the past. They also have no direct way to force the university to do the right thing in paying its employees, witness what happened with the AFSCME raise.

But the state legislature can do what the Governor and Peter Bell have done, namely to state a figure and require that certain goals must be met. In the case of light rail, no money will be forthcoming if project financial goals are not met. Let's hope that the administration has finally gotten the message and does not make the whole University take the blame for submarining the project. It didn't take a rocket scientist or a university president to figure out how this one would turn out. We are reduced to arguing for a bad Northern option and will probably have to cave even on this.

So much for leadership at the University. As one of the attendees at the hearing on the Central Corridor put it:

University students will be in no more danger than drunken Vikings fans downtown who have to deal with light rail at grade. A transit mall will be the best decision ever forced on the U of M.”

This same brand of hard-ball (MoneyBall) may have to be played by the legislature. We will give you X$ and we expect that tuition at the U will increase by no more than inflation. If you do not meet this target, then next year we will give you (X$ - n$), where the magnitude of n is a function of how annoyed we are at you for continuing to pull this stunt.

Any other suggestions?

Ciao, Bonzo

ps. Nasty spam requires comment moderation for a while, sorry for the inconvenience.

(Imagine, spammed by an anonymous piglet - the irony of it.)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Continuing Progress on the Central Corridor
Some Players Make Compromises

Mr. B. has posted previously on the developing story of the Central Corridor project that is to link Minneapolis and St. Paul via light rail. The project budget needs to be lowered in order to obtain matching federal funds. A decision about the project is to be made by the Metropolitan Council at the end of the month.

The Strib today reports recent developments:

By CHRIS HAVENS, Star Tribune

February 7, 2008

It's Central Corridor crunch time, and Ramsey County knows it.

To keep the light-rail plan on track and present a united front with its project partners, the county is willing to let the line stop in front of downtown's Union Depot for now.

The cost-saving compromise, scheduled for a vote at Tuesday's meeting of the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, was hailed as a "very helpful development," by Peter Bell, chairman of the Metropolitan Council.

The line would end on Fourth Street in front of the Union Depot, rather than extending to the depot's abandoned rear concourse, which county officials envision as a regional transportation hub for buses, trains and taxis. That change could save between $32 million and $58 million.

The plan doesn't address whether to include a $200 million tunnel University of Minnesota officials want to route the trains under the West Bank campus.

Bell said Thursday that needs to shrink to about $900 million if the project is to win federal approval. The Met Council will decide on what stays and goes Feb. 27.

University officials also are continuing to look for ways to move the project along, while still addressing concerns about adding trains to already busy Washington Avenue.

Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services, said Thursday that planners are looking at ways to make the tunnel less expensive, such as shortening it.

Also on the table is creating a transit mall on Washington between the Mississippi River and Oak Street, which would require a study of where more than 25,000 vehicles a day might go.

And the university is paying for a study of an alignment that could take light rail through campus via Dinkytown instead of along Washington.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Slaughter on Washington Avenue?
LRT - At Grade, Tunnel, Or Someplace Else

Mr. Bonzo has made a rather long post at his other site concerning the ongoing controversy over the route for a proposed light rail system that will connect Minneapolis and St. Paul while passing through the University of Minnesota campus.

Since this may not be of general interest please see The Periodic Table, Too for further information.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Bad Carma?

Some progress is being made in unraveling the Carma web site data for the U of M's steam generation (power) plant. This data has been mentioned previously in connection with the U's going green(er) efforts.

At the suggestion of Professor Swackhamer, I contacted Mr. Jerome Malmquist who is a Departmental Director in Facilities Management – Energy Management at the University of Minnesota.

He responded via email today with the following information. It is reported without change or editorial comment:


I and one of my engineers took a little time to check out the Carma web site. Like many web sites, groups, etc. that are showing up, it seems like there are new ones every day, they take data that they don't completely understand and at times misinterpret it.

First, the University of Minnesota is NOT a power plant by definition. We are a steam generation plant. The steam is used to heat and cool the campus.

Secondly, the data on CO2 emissions appears to be close. If it comes from the MNPUC it might be just slightly overstated.

But, the power output is very misleading. We are not sure where they would get that number from so we assume it is a calculated guess. We don't understand the large "Red" dot. We didn't have time to read that far but we assume it has more to do with our size and not what we are doing to reduce CO2 emissions.

In fact, our steam plant has reduced CO2 emissions, confirmed by NASD audits via our membership in CCX, by over 38% from our baseline. I doubt there are many others who can say that. Further reductions are being made by using oat hulls as a fuel.

In addition we are continually working to reduce energy consumption in our buildings. For example, the steam consumption in the MCB building has been cut by over 24% comparing 12 months ending in November of 2006 with 12 months 2007.

At the same time we cut electrical use by over 6% and we are not done yet. At some point [we] the only option to further reduce CO2 from the boiler plant is to turn off the heat. Which building do you work in?

I hope this information helps.

Thanks for asking,


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Coke or Pepsi?

Or, I'll See Your Medical School Dean and Raise You a SuperModel

It seems like only yesterday that Mr. B. was whining again about the Coke-Pepsi fiasco at BigU. Actually it was January 23:

Therein a recent study by researchers at the University of Minnesota about the ill-effects of diet soft drinks upon heart health was cited: "Meat, Diet Soda, Linked to Heart Disease."

At Minnesota we currently have an institutional contract with Coke and OurDean is on the Board of Directors of Pepsi, a post for which she knocked down about 100K in the first year of her contract. (See: It's the Ick Factor, BigU MedSchool Dean Sits on Pepsi board)

But the Coke folks have upped the ante by enlisting the flavor of the month supermodel, one Heidi Klum, to wear a red designer dress to the Academy awards. As one of an avalanche of press releases put it:

ATLANTA, Jan. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Supermodel Heidi Klum is joining Diet Coke to help raise awareness of women and heart disease through the Diet Coke Red Dress Program. The program is part of Diet Coke's new partnership with The Heart Truth, a national awareness campaign about women and heart disease, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Mr. B. is flummoxed by this one. Diet Coke? Heart Health? Heidi Klum? The NIH? I give up - for a day or two, anyway.

Green Bob

What Bob Hath Wrought...
Or, What Are the Consequences of Signing the Climate Commitment?

Mr. Bonzo has previously posted on the current Green revolution at Minnesota. The first green revolution connected to Minnesota was the work of of a Nobel-prize winning General College alum, but that is a topic for another day.

For background on going green at Minnesota, see:

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


Bob Bites The Bullet

Some of these earlier posts contained an error, since modified but still under investigation, about the amount of coal that the university burns in its power plant. There are also some numbers posted on the CARMA website concerning the source of fuel for the university's power plant as well as the amount of carbon dioxide that the plant produces. They don't seem to agree with university statements about the fuel mixture for the power plant. CARMA states on their website that they will correct any errors and so Bonzo has informed a university administrator of the existence of CARMA. If the site is in error, hopefully the university will inform them of this fact. Any new developments in this area will be posted.

But the main topic for this post is the consequences of OurLeader signing the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. There seems to be some misunderstanding on the part of university administrators, or people who speak for them, about the consequences of signing this agreement. Some material from the Chronicle of Higher Education follows:

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Buildings & Grounds

The Greening of the U. of Minnesota

In December, The Chronicle ran a story about the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, which included a box on four institutions that, so far, had refused to sign.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was one of them. University officials, like those at other institutions that had not signed, were concerned that some of the goals of the commitment — notably climate neutrality — just weren’t feasible. The Twin Cities campus gets about 70 percent of its power from fossil fuels, a great deal of which is coal, one of the dirtiest and least-climate-friendly power sources out there. Deborah L. Swackhamer, interim director of the university’s Institute on the Environment, was also concerned about the commitment’s fuzzy language and its push to include sustainability in the curriculum, which is set by faculty members, not the university president.

It seemed that Robert H. Bruininks, the university president, would never sign.

Yet on January 8, Mr. Bruininks added the University of Minnesota system to the list of signatories, making Minnesota the first Big 10 university to commit.

He did so without a lot of fanfare. Although student groups celebrated the signing, the university never even issued a news release about it.

Daniel Wolter, a spokesman for the university, said that after examining the commitment, university officials found that it was “in line with our institutional goals.” But he said there has been some “frustration” about the emphasis that people have placed on signing the commitment.

“There is an unusually large focus being put on this one specific agreement,” he said. “Our concern is that there are a lot more meaningful things that institutions can do with regards to climate.”

For example, the university is a member of the Chicago Climate Exchange, a legally binding climate agreement that has real penalties for institutions and businesses that do not meet carbon-reduction goals. There are no penalties associated with the presidents climate commitment, and colleges can meet goals on their own timeline.

Mr. Wolter also said that advocates of the climate commitment have tried to use Minnesota’s signing as leverage to get other Big 10 institutions to join up. “I think every other institution needs to look at [the commitment] and how it fits with their campuses,” he said. “We are not making any pronouncements about other campuses and what they should and should not do.”

Now, the work begins. Although small colleges have been able to make great strides toward climate neutrality, that goal is more difficult for large institutions. The University of Minnesota’s Morris campus, which was among the commitment’s charter signatories, gets a great deal of power from wind; Mr. Wolter says university officials believe that the rest of Minnesota likewise will move away from coal in time.

What may have been thought impossible a few months ago has now become an imperative.

It is interesting to see what our president has commited us to do. From the commitment website:

Accordingly, we commit our institutions to taking the following steps in pursuit of climate neutrality:

1. Initiate the development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible.

a. Within two months of signing this document, create institutional structures to guide the development and implementation of the plan.

b. Within one year of signing this document, complete a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions (including emissions from electricity, heating, commuting, and air travel) and update the inventory every other year thereafter.

c. Within two years of signing this document, develop an institutional action plan for becoming climate neutral, which will include:

i. A target date for achieving climate neutrality as soon as possible.

ii. Interim targets for goals and actions that will lead to climate neutrality.

iii. Actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students.

iv. Actions to expand research or other efforts necessary to achieve climate neutrality.

v. Mechanisms for tracking progress on goals and actions.

And also from the commitment:

In recognition of the need to build support for this effort among college and university administrations across America, we will encourage other presidents to join this effort and become signatories to this commitment.
This seems to contradict Mr. Wolter's statement concerning pronouncements from signers to other campuses about what they should be doing.

We apparently have a lot of work to do. Let's get on with it. Oh, and this is going to cost money. Let's be honest about that, too.

Ciao, Bonzo