Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pretty Scary Letter from New York Supreme Court Justice

"I have wasted 25 years of my life by serving on the bench."

The NYT had an article recently on: “Big Paycheck or Service? Students Are Put to Test” (news article, June 23). There are some letters in response today. One of them is particularly discouraging.

From the NYT

To the Editor:

After a career in public service, I regretfully say, I would not do it again.

Philosophy and point of view led me to doing good instead of doing well, so I never expected to become rich. But now that I’m in my 10th year of a frozen judicial salary — less than summer students are being paid at law firms — I have concluded that whatever I may have accomplished for the public, I have wasted 25 years of my life by serving on the bench.

Emily Jane Goodman
New York, June 23, 2008

The writer is a New York Supreme Court justice.

[See comment where a reader has helpfully pointed out that:

"The New York Supreme Court is a trial court. The highest appellate court in New York is called the Court of Appeals."]

We have a pretty socially conscious judge here in Minnesota, Alan Page. I wonder what he would think of this? From Wikipedia:

Far surpassing both his impressive achievements on the playing field and in the courtroom are the philanthropic contributions Justice Page has made to those in need.

In 1988, Page and his wife Diane founded the Page Education Foundation. That Foundation provides much-needed financial and mentoring assistance to minority college students, in exchange for those students’ commitment to further volunteer service in the community.

As of today, the Page Foundation has awarded grants to 3,320 students, who in turn have given over 220,000 hours of their own time to young children.

Upon his retirement from the bench, Justice Page hopes to become a public school teacher, so that he might make an even more personal impact on the children the Foundation has served for the past 20 years.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Big Ten Universities Convene Summit on Midwest Economy Leaders Say it is Time to Act

From a report on a recent meeting:

"Like the national economy, the Midwest economy is facing great challenges. We believe it is important for our universities to work closely with each other and with CEOs and leaders of government to make the Midwest economy more robust," said University of Minnesota Provost Thomas Sullivan.

"When you assess the human and physical capital assets of our region, they are considerable; however our region's position is slipping relative to the rest of the country," Sullivan said. "This may be a watershed moment for the Midwest in terms of an available, talented workforce, as well as productivity."

The region attracts research and development and boasts educational resources, but the Midwest has also witnessed a dramatic restructuring of the region's economy to rely less on manufacturing. And, the Midwest population is also growing older than the nation on the whole and, in turn, the region has been losing its influence at the national level - since 1930, every Midwestern state has lost congressional seats.

"The Midwest is failing the challenge of globalization, largely because it's so balkanized, with each state trying to compete in the global economy. Midwestern states are simply too small, too incompetent, too obsessed with the wreckage of the industrial economy, to deal with the problems of the future, like education. It's time for other players - cities, businesses, especially universities - to come together in a concerted regional approach that would leverage the Midwest's strengths, not undermine them," said Richard C. Longworth, senior fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of the new book, "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism" (Bloomsbury).

"We believe it is time for us to do more than talk together. It is time to act together," Sullivan said.
Good global advice, Tom. Maybe we should try it locally? The clock is ticking.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Doctors on the Dole
Second Verse, Same as the First?

From the Daily:

Medical clarifications

With a June 11 article and a June 18 editorial, The Minnesota Daily has touched on the issue of conflict of interest within the Medical School. I am sure your reporter and your editorial board strive for fairness and accuracy; however, there are gaps that I would like to fill.

Several months ago, Dean Deborah Powell asked a Medical School task force to analyze the implications of relationships with pharmaceutical and medical device companies in our research, clinical care and education missions. As you know, other medical schools and research institutions around the country also are grappling with this issue. Working with industry is one way that we in the Medical School promote new ideas and help improve treatments, care and health. Figuring out how to avoid conflicts of interest within these relationships is the goal of our task force.

Our process has been a thoughtful one, which takes time. The task force expects to report its recommendations soon to the dean.

Allison Campbell Jensen
Director of Communications
University Medical School

Since you are so interested in fairness and accuracy, Ms. Jensen, I think that you should admit that "several months ago" is not accurate.

It was more like a year ago...

Monday, July 9, 2007

BigU MedSchool Task Force to Probe Doctors on the Dole

In an earlier post, Minnesota Doctors on the Dole, Mr. Bonzo, suggested that perhaps BigU’s Medical School should weigh in and give us ethical guidance.

He was, of course, being sarcastic. For background about the controversy over the MedSchoolDean's serving on the Pepsi board, see SourceWatch: A Project of the Center for Media and Democracy.

From the Pioneer Press:

U to probe drug makers' payments to doctors

Conflicts of interest, impact on quality of care at stake

By Paul Tosto and Jeremy Olson

Article Last Updated: 07/07/2007 03:12:07 AM CDT

Concerned about the money some doctors take from pharmaceutical companies, the University of Minnesota Medical School is asking an internal group to take a closer look at those payments and their possible influence on treatment.

Led by two U doctors, the group plans to examine the relationships between university physicians and drug firms and whether money creates conflicts of interest.

We have some serious problems here, Ms. Jensen. Better to face up to them than to make excuses?

The reader interested in filling in gaps might want to consult previous posts on the matter of conflict of interest and possible ethical lapses in the medical school:

Photoshop Manipulation of Scientific Data

BigU MedSchool To Probe Doctors on the Dole

Minnesota Doctors on the Dole
or "I bought the Mercedes because it has air bags"

It’s the Ick Factor…
BigU MedSchoolDean Sits on the Pepsi Board

Med School Dean on Pepsi Board - Aurum de stercore?

But then why should we be all upset about this Ms. Jensen? After all OurLeader has assured us, upon learning of our recent D-rating for conflict of interest at Academic Medical Centers, that:

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

Ah, yes, and then there is the little matter of the double dipping new hires.

As an alum, all I can say is: "Sad, truly sad."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Goldy Gets Cold Feet

Or, Goldy Saved From Humiliation By Victoria's Secret?

The USpinDoctors are busy backpedaling this week.

From the Strib:

Next month, the University of Minnesota mascot will appear in Victoria's Secret stores, adorning hoodies, T-shirts and panties in the chain's Pink collection of lounge wear for young women.
The lingerie chain, which has been trying to broaden its appeal as it struggles with declining sales, will carry merchandise from 33 universities as part of a licensing deal announced this week.
Big Ten rivals Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State also made the cut -- but not Ohio State, even though Victoria's Secret is based in Columbus, Ohio. Leslie Wexner, CEO of the chain's parent company, Limited Brands Inc., serves on Ohio State University's board of trustees, and the school wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Some comments:

So it's come to this......

You've gotta be kidding...

Is the "red menace" really that hard up for money? I mean, first "choice seating" for football (soon to be expanded to hockey) and now this. I wonder if Victoria struck a deal with Oregon State?


This came about because the FTD deal fell through.

Apparently Goldy is allergic to roses. (rimshot) Here's to two wins in '08.
But never fear, Goldy got cold feet. Coke is OK, Pepsi is OK, TCF is OK, but apparently not Victoria's Secret?

It's nice to know that alcohol, tobacco, and (some) underwear are on the very short no corporate sponsorship list.

From The Daily:

University Associate Athletics Director Tom Wistrcill said the school notified the company that the clothing line was not in step with the University's values [!] and focus.

However, a press release sent out this week by Victoria's Secret had the University listed as one of its 33 schools involved in the line.

"Quite frankly, the press release and the attention it received caught us completely by surprise," Wistrcill said.

The University turns down about 20 out of every 50 licensing requests "right off the bat," Wistrcill said - as those often involve alcohol-related products.

Those decisions are made as a cooperative effort between athletics officials and university relations, he said.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is listed as a school involved with the line, and the school's trademark licensing director Cindy Van Matre said that's still the plan.

The school usually approves tasteful trademark requests, and has approved ones similar to the Victoria's Secret line before, she said.

"Those types of (loungewear) products we license several other companies to produce several products," Van Matre said.
Goldy Gopher could not be contacted by Mr. B. for comments. Our androgynous rodent was last seen trudging toward MoreU Park trying to whip up enthusiasm amongst the masses.

"Raise that tuition, dig that gravel, buy that Coke, sell that soul..." But apparently not to Victoria.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

There He Goes Again...
Rappin' Robert

From the Daily:

"I think the result was better for the University that it could have been. But I am somewhat disappointed that we're reducing budgets at a time when I think we should increase them and I'm somewhat disappointed that we didn't have the ability to drive down tuition more for students."

Bob, why don't you admit that the plan was to charge 7.5 percent from the beginning. Here is an exchange, previously posted on the PT, that makes this clear:

"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." Senate Committee on Finance and Planning, September 18, 2007

Note the date of this discussion, Bob, last September. There was never any intention of a lower number.

So we have Tom Rukavina to thank for driving the tuition down, even 0.25%. Not this universtiy administration...

"Hardly anyone will pay 7.5 [sic] percent, if you look at all the scholarship money we've raised in the last two years. So I believe while the tuition increases were somewhat higher than inflation, that we're really doing a good job of raising private money and providing other financial support to help students with the cost of education."

A little math, Bob:

Student Debt = [What the U charges + what it costs to live] - [Financial Aid + Earnings...]

in shorthand: SD = Cost - Student Resources

You can brag until the cows come home that the amount of student aid money is going up, but as long as the cost is going up even faster, then student debt load will continue to increase.

Explain to me please, the following numbers.

According to Kiplinger, we have the highest average student loan debt of any (public) school in the BigTen:

Average Debt at Graduation

Big Ten Public Universities

Illinois $15,413

Ohio State $18,130

Indiana $19,756

Iowa $20,234

Purdue $20,102

Wisconsin $20,282

Michigan State $22,147

Penn State $23,500

Michigan $23,353

Minnesota $24,995

Are these numbers correct, Bob?

If so, why aren't you willing to admit that we have a problem with student debt here at the University of Minnesota? The debt load of our graduates ($25,000 according to Kiplinger) is the highest of any public BigTen school, including Michigan!

Friday, June 13, 2008

MoreU Park - Muscoplat's Folly?

Or, MoreU Gopher Mountains?

In the MoreU Gopher Mountains there's a land that's fair and bright

Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night

Where the boxcars are all empty and the sun shines every day

On the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees

Where the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings

In the MoreU Gopher Mountains

With apologies to Burl Ives:

From the Strib:
by Jeff Shelman

Ann Forsyth did some work on UMore Park planning when she was director of the U of M's Metropolitan Design Center. She left the university last year and now works at Cornell University.

"There are these huge contradictions about it, and there are these unrealistic ideas that it can both make money in the short run and be a model community," Forsyth said.

While generating money from the property is one of the university's priorities, officials say they want UMore Park to be much more than just another suburban subdivision. The university sees UMore Park as a place where cutting-edge ideas in areas ranging from energy to health care to education can be tested. Early ideas include a health and wellness complex, a futuristic library and other facilities powered by wind turbines and solar panels.

"It's expensive because you're putting all of this new innovative infrastructure in up-front and you don't recoup it in the long run," Forsyth said. "That kind of counteracts the quick money side of it."

Forsyth said a model community would be much more practical near the university's St. Paul campus rather than in Dakota County.

"It would have to be a fantastic development to counteract its location," she said. "There is no way you're not going to have a number of traffic concerns coming out of it. Unless it is highly designed and then it becomes very expensive."

Barbara Lukermann, a senior fellow emeritus in the U of M's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, likes the idea of an innovative community and thinks UMore Park has potential for energy innovation.

"I was less clear, quite frankly, on what could be done with education and health, which are two other themes of research," Lukermann said. "That's my concern: Can we follow through with the imagination? Very evidently, the university sees this as a resource and sometimes those goals don't mesh -- trying to maximize the financial payback and the innovation that could be there. I'm in a wait-and-see position right now."

Let's keep our eye on the ball. The U should not be in the land development business. If the land is so valuable, sell it. If the gravel is so valuable, sell it. If our BrightBulbs believe that it will be worth a lot of money in the future, sit on it. But please don't spend a cent on this potential fiasco until we take care of more pressing priorities such as:

True to our land grant mission the primary responsibility of the university is education of the citizens of Minnesota. With the help of our state, we pledge to stabilize tuition and to be one of the top three public institutions in the Big Ten. Students at the University of Minnesota will be provided an educational opportunity that will allow them to compete with anyone.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

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

Congratulations to Michael McNabb.

He is one of those people for whom I have the utmost respect because he quietly goes about his work of pointing out aberrant behavior of powerful people, such as educational administrators and politicians.

Who knows whether they act from stupidity, malice, or hubris. One such situation is the despicable way that administrators at St. Olaf treated loyal listeners and supporters of WCAL, a classical music station with a soul, at least prior to the sale of the station to the Klingon Empire.

City Pages notes Mr. McNabb's recent victory:

Judge in WCAL case to AG's office: Shame on you!

After many months of fact-finding, Rice County Judge Gerald Wolf issued an order on Tuesday lambasting the sale of WCAL in the harshest of terms. After implicitly calling the sale illegal, Judge Wolf unleashed his fury on the Attorney General's office, which is bound by law as the watchdog for all charitable trusts in the state.

Finding in unambiguous terms that WCAL was indeed a charitable trust, Judge Wolf declared himself "mystified" as to why the AG's office didn't intervene in the sale when it was legally required to do so. While Wolf pointed out that the shameful inaction occurred on the watch of then-AG Mike Hatch, he insisted that the beleaguered Lori Swanson's office nonetheless "is tainted with this lapse of duty."

The ruling was sweet vindication for Michael McNabb, the understated but unrelenting Burnsville attorney who has poured in hundreds of donated hours over nearly four years to singlehandedly fight the sale in court. Until now, it was easy to think McNabb, for all the logic on his side--how could the 80-year-old station not, by any rational standard, be a charitable trust?--was howling at the moon. But in a ruling peppered with genuine anger, Judge Wolf praised McNabb's efforts. SaveWCAL, the judge wrote, has been "the only watchdog looking out for the interests of the trust."

We know what you're wondering: Will the school have to cough up $10 million to seed a new radio station? We'll give the last word to the judge: "Now, the Court is faced with a plethora of issues to unravel in the aftermath of St. Olaf's unapproved sale of WCAL and the Minnesota Attorney General's Office's breach of its duties in this case."

In other words, don't touch that dial.

Congratulations, Mr. McNabb, you should be very, very proud.

OurLeader (Finally) Bows To The Inevitable
Thank You, Bob...

From the Strib:

U changes directions on light-rail trains

The University of Minnesota will set aside its long-held objections and support the running of light-rail trains on Washington Avenue, University President Robert Bruininks said Wednesday.

"The university does not want to be in the position of bringing this project to a grinding halt or jeopardizing its possible future," said Bruininks, who will urge the Board of Regents to approve the route in meetings today and Friday.

In an interview at Morrill Hall, he said the university's negotiations with other public agencies have resulted in "enormous progress" on concerns such as traffic, hospital access and the impact on sensitive research equipment -- and who might pay for solutions.

Bruininks said that he'll recommend that the regents fully support the at-grade alignment with the necessary mitigations -- and that even two weeks ago, he wasn't prepared to make such a recommendation. He expects the board to pass the resolution.

"It's a big change-of-course," he said. "... I think the northern alignment is a more creative option, but I have concluded with some reluctance that we simply can't get there."

Amen, Bonzo.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back In The Saddle Again
Or, Good News, Bad News...

Apparently OurLeader has recovered from his recent health problems.

That is the good news.

He is now back in town coincident with the appearance of an opinion piece in MinnPost. From the text it appears that he has not learned very much from his recent experience with the Central Corridor problem, aka light rail, at grade, down Washington Avenue, through the U of M campus.

That is the bad news.

Some selections from his opinion piece as well as my own comments:

A land-grant university has a unique responsibility to take the long view. The preservation of the past and the realization of the future are inherent in our mission — and as a university, we have an obligation, greater even than that of our elected officials, to thoroughly analyze complex problems and their several solutions before drawing conclusions.

And so this entitles the University to stall, long, long after it makes sense?

You mention land-grant university.
Why is it that this only comes up when looking for cover?

There are other matters related to being a land-grant institution, like reasonable access to all citizens, that you don't seem to appreciate.

Is being one of the top three public research universities in the world consistent with being a land-grant institution, Bob? Maybe we could have one of those famous dialogs or conversations about it in MinnPost or even the Daily?

As a result, our approach to problems is deliberate and nuanced. But throughout our history, the University of Minnesota has delivered time and again on the state's behalf — and we will do so again on the Central Corridor light-rail transit project.
Delivered time and time again? Highest student debt load in the BigTen? A smoke screen campaign purporting to place us in the top three public research universities on the planet? Driven to Distraction? Some of these deliveries are not appreciated.

We felt strongly enough about the long-term potential of this route [Northern alignment] that, once it became clear that the long-preferred option, a tunnel beneath Washington Avenue, was not financially feasible, we agreed to fund and conduct a preliminary study of the northern option.

We "agreed" to fund a preliminary study?

Our intention has never been to derail or delay this project, but to ensure that all feasible alternatives were thoroughly explored before a costly long-term decision was made.

And you were in Washington, DC, lobbying against what? And Mark Rotenberg sent a 23 page memo to DC about what? And we are paying a DC lobbying operation how much to do what?

We are participating in fruitful negotiations with the Metropolitan Council and our partners in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hennepin County and Ramsey County regarding the details of this plan, and I believe we have made considerable progress toward an acceptable solution. However, we cannot gloss over the significant challenges that face a street-level train through campus. We are working with these stakeholders to address specific concerns, including:

• Re-routing 25,000 cars and 1,200 buses per day from Washington Avenue.

And so? We have a lot of smart people here at the University, to say nothing of the people in Minneapolis and St. Paul. You mean to tell me that a way to do this can't be found? In the words of your good friend, Barack Obama, "Yes we can!"

• The impact of those cars and buses on surrounding neighborhoods, the East River Parkway and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

See above.

• Access to our hospital and clinics for half a million faculty, students, staff and especially patients.

This had been a straw man from day one. The performance of university mouthpieces on this issue during the open hearing on campus at the Weisman was pitiful.

You do realize that there is a bridge over Franklin avenue?

You do realize that there is an exit off 94 (both ways) onto Huron avenue?

You do realize that the current traffic situation is a nightmare? It funnels from Washington Avenue onto a two lane street controlled by stop signs. Fairview is building a new (unnecessary) Children's Hospital across the river. A trauma center could also be relocated across the river for easy access.

Oh, and by the way, for patients who are ambulatory - that would be the majority - the light rail dropping them off very conveniently near the Health Center would be a godsend. No more dealing with the banditos parking your car for a lot of money.

• The effect of train vibrations and other disruption on highly sensitive measurements and mission-critical research conducted in nearby laboratories.

You have four new buildings on line, remember. Why don't you move the sensitive equipment to these buildings? This is called remediation and I believe you know that issues such as these have already been addressed by the Metropolitan Council. You might want to discuss these matters with our representative on the council, VP O'Brien.

• The impact of closing Washington Avenue on the only other cross-campus traffic artery, University Avenue-Fourth Street.

Weak, Bob, weak. Washington Avenue will be a walkway and light rail conduit. So take public transportation, or walk... Think about the gasoline that will be saved. Aren't you always bragging about how green the U is? Sorry about that decrease in parking revenue. Maybe we can make up for it from parking on game days?

• The environmental, cultural, and historical impacts of the route.

Sure Bob, and the same would be true in spades about the Northern route in this discussion. You have heard about the polluted land that would need to be remediated along the Northern route? How about destruction of low income housing? As to cultural and historical impact, what would Cass Gilbert have done?

These concerns are not simply aesthetic, and their impact is not limited to our campus. We maintain that the new Central Corridor line should improve our current transit system and must do no harm to the university's ability to deliver basic services and accomplish its mission. We believe our partners agree, and we continue to work collaboratively to complete a viable plan and budget to address these issues.
Hmm.. One of our state legislators seems to have hit a sore spot regarding aesthetics, Bob. What was said? Something about arrogance? Something that the people of Minneapolis and St. Paul might find insulting. About aesthetics wasn't it? Since when did you become an aesthetician, Bob?

Advocacy takes many forms. Sometimes it's an enthusiastic yes. Sometimes it is quietly consultative. And sometimes it involves asking hard questions and fighting to be understood. But if undertaken in good faith and with a common goal in mind, the outcome with debate and dissent is always better than without.
And where has the debate and dissent been on the matter of tuition increases, Bob?

How about so-called strategic positioning?

How about "ambitious aspirations to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]?" Maybe you and OurProvost ought to put up a realistic estimate of what it would cost to actually do this? Lacking such information, why don't you take on the more realistic goal of being the best land grant university in the BigTen or at least in the top half? The clock is ticking, Bob.

Your second in command said last September that he'd decided to do a blog ("Conversations with the Provost"). What happened to that? Turns out he didn't have enough time? Apparently dissent and debate is great, but only as long as you control the microphone? Wouldn't want any of these pesky perfessers questioning OurLeaders?

Welcome back, Bob. Advocacy is fine. But leadership and true concern for the public good of the state of Minnesota would be even better. What I'd like to hear from you sometime - as would most citizens, according to your own polls - is some statements along these lines:

"We have fought the good fight, because we believed in it. But the community has spoken unanimously and the money is simply not available to achieve our dream in this matter. We are truly grateful to the citizens of the state for all that they have given us recently and pledge unequivocally to do everything we can to make light rail down Washington Avenue a success of which we can all be proud."


"True to our land grant mission the primary responsibility of the university is education of the citizens of Minnesota. With the help of our state, we pledge to stabilize tuition and to be one of the top three public institutions in the Big Ten. Students at the University of Minnesota will be provided an educational opportunity that will allow them to compete with anyone. "

Whoever achieves this goal will be the best president the University of Minnesota has ever had.

Are you up to it, Bob

Your friend and an alum, Bonzo

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dosing Toddlers With Anti-Psychotics?

Our favorite blogger, UD, has been on a toot lately - beating on Harvard for its sins, especially the accumulation of a huge war chest (= endowment) apparently just so it could say: "Mine is bigger than yours."

So today when she reported that a couple of the psychiatrists at Harvard had been taking money from drug companies without being entirely candid about where it came from or how much it was, this was not a big surprise.

Non-doc types have been double dipping here and at Georgia Tech.
As Gordon Gecko famously said, greed is good.

But the full horror of the situat
ion is now starting to sink in. This is Harvard. We all want to emulate Harvard, don't we?

(Not UD, not Mr. B.)

Why I bet what they do there is considered to be, in classic administrative double speak, a best practice.

But dosing toddlers with anti-psychotics?

Or as UD puts it:

“Biederman further claimed he could diagnose manic depression in children as young as 3.”

As the Harvard drugs-for-three-year-olds scandal explodes in the American and foreign press, it’s clear that people have for years been worried about Joseph Biederman dosing toddlers with anti-psychotics.

In any less pill-addicted culture, the cruelty of this man’s behavior would have been obvious to everyone."


Maybe competing with Harvard isn't such a great idea after all, Frank?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Psychiatrists on the Dole,
This Time At Harvard...

Fight fiercely, Harvard, fight, fight, fight!
Impress them with our prowess, do!
Oh, fellas, do not let the crimson down,
Be of stout heart and true.
Tom (of Lehrer) - 1945

Mr. B. is an admirer of Charles Grassley. Last night at Mrs. B.'s birthday celebration at the Birchwood, he mentioned Grassley and someone at another table immediately started a conversation about the Senator from Iowa. Since people from Minnesota generally look down their noses at Iowans, and vice versa, this was unusual.

The senator and Mr. B. share some interests, such as making universities a little more responsible with their endowments, avoiding conflicts of interest, and making education affordable to all citizens. Senator Grassley has a much bigger stick than Mr. B. and he has been making good use of it lately.

For background on some of Senator Grassley's recent targets, see:

Troubles At The Big House
Senator Charles Grassley Goes After Dr. Zerhouni, NIH Chief

And a short piece about university endowments and how, perhaps, a little of this booty - say at least 5% annually - should be used to make tution affordable:

U Endowment Reaches 2.8 Billion (That's with a B...)

Today, Mr. B's favorite blogger, UD, mentions Senator Grassley's latest activities approvingly, citing a NYT article.

From the NYT:

A world-renowned Harvard child psychiatrist whose work has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines in children earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007 but for years did not report much of this income to university officials, according to information given Congressional investigators.

By failing to report income, the psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph Biederman, and a colleague in the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Timothy E. Wilens, may have violated federal and university research rules designed to police potential conflicts of interest, according to Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa. Some of their research is financed by government grants.

Like Dr. Biederman, Dr. Wilens belatedly reported earning at least $1.6 million from 2000 to 2007, and another Harvard colleague, Dr. Thomas Spencer, reported earning at least $1 million after being pressed by Mr. Grassley’s investigators. But even these amended disclosures may understate the researchers’ outside income because some entries contradict payment information from drug makers, Mr. Grassley found.

In one example, Dr. Biederman reported no income from Johnson & Johnson for 2001 in a disclosure report filed with the university. When asked to check again, he said he received $3,500. But Johnson & Johnson told Mr. Grassley that it paid him $58,169 in 2001, Mr. Grassley found.

Alyssa Kneller, a Harvard spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement: “The information released by Senator Grassley suggests that, in certain instances, each doctor may have failed to disclose outside income from pharmaceutical companies and other entities that should have been disclosed.”

Ms. Kneller said the doctors had been referred to a university conflict committee for review.

Mr. Grassley sent letters on Wednesday to Harvard and the health institutes outlining his investigators’ findings, and he placed the letters along with his comments in The Congressional Record.

Universities ask professors to report their conflicts but do almost nothing to verify the accuracy of these voluntary disclosures.

“It’s really been an honor system thing,” said Dr. Robert Alpern, dean of Yale School of Medicine. “If somebody tells us that a pharmaceutical company pays them $80,000 a year, I don’t even know how to check on that.”

Some states have laws requiring drug makers to disclose payments made to doctors, and Mr. Grassley and others have sponsored legislation to create a national registry.

Mr. Grassley said these discrepancies demonstrated profound flaws in the oversight of researchers’ financial conflicts and the need for a national registry. But the disclosures may also cloud the work of one of the most prominent group of child psychiatrists in the world.

“The price we pay for these kinds of revelations is credibility, and we just can’t afford to lose any more of that in this field,” said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, which finances psychiatric studies. “In the area of child psychiatry in particular, we know much less than we should, and we desperately need research that is not influenced by industry money.”

Now Minnesota was one of the first states to require that pharmaceutical companies disclose the amount of money given to docs.

For an introduction to this mess, see:

Minnesota Doctors on the Dole Or,
I bought the Mercedes Because It Had Airbags

At Minnesota the psychiatrists also seem to be the big winners. This hit the blogosphere earlier and seems to be a junior version of the Harvard situation.

The scale factor relating the problems at Harvard and Minnesota is no doubt a function of endowment size.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sanford Health announces it will focus research effort on juvenile diabetes

From MPR:

Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, announced it will focus its research efforts to cure juvenile or type one diabetes. The announcement ends months of speculation which disease would win out - there were 4 finalist diseases announced a month ago. Last year the medical center received a $400 million donation from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford and that opened the door to today's announcement.

According to diabetes researcher and director of Sanford Children's Research Center Fred Levine, it's likely the research in beta cells will have an impact in how diabetes is treated in general

"In my previous visits to South Dakota, I've learned that type two diabetes is epidemic even among children in the Native American population of your state," he says. "Thus, through the efforts of the Sanford Project, we hope to have a positive impact on those individuals as well as the children with type one diabetes."

For some observers, curing a disease is not what Sanford Health should be targeting.

Cure is a word Gary Schwitzer says is about marketing not medicine. Schwitzer, director of the University of Minnesota health journalism program, was unaware of The Sanford Project.

While he'll never question philanthropy and the need for research funding, Schwitzer says the public must engage in a conversation about what's happening.

"When a private entity enters into a research project with goals like these, I think these are vital questions for us to ask and for us to drop back and have the broader discussion," he says. "What's the national research agenda? Where are the dollars coming from? Should we care about that?"

But funding for research is declining and scientists rely more and more on private dollars.

The Sanford Project is joining forces with reputable research organizations like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, California.

Sanford Health will invest $30 million in the research project over the next seven years.

They will construct a new research lab and recruit top flight scientists to Sioux Falls.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

StarTribune Letter of the Day:

Even a physician [sic] knows right from wrong

From the Strib:

June 4, 2008

Pardon me, but I can't stop laughing about Dr. William McGuire's defense of his backdating stock options from UnitedHealth Group. He was simply following the advice from his legal and financial advisers (Business, June 3).

His advisers state that he has no formal training in finance, accounting or law. They state that his only professional training is as a medical doctor.

Well, excuse me. My only professional training is also as a medical doctor.

However, even I would know it's not a good idea to accumulate millions of dollars by robbing banks or by backdating stock options. Let the trial begin.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Secrets of an Ace Blogger or,
UD Tells All

Margaret Soltan (aka UD, as in University Diaries) has buried in the comments section of a recent post the secrets to her success as a blogger.

Some excerpts:

... I don’t do anything, technologically, BUT internet, and when I do internet, I only blog or read. No video games, no Face Book stuff, etc. I buy almost nothing online. I read very few other blogs. I’m on no listservs.

... I have no tv, and I have no Blackberry or whatever. I don’t know how to text on my cell phone.

... I also don’t drive, so I’m not wasting time that way. On the metro, I’m writing longhand — journal entries, essays, blog entries which I’ll post later that day.

Part of the answer is also that I’m a fast writer (at least relative to the people I know) and (by any standard) a fast typist.

... I’ve been blogging for quite a long time in blog years, and I’ve been keeping a blog whose focus has become pretty refined — which makes it easier to work quickly. I know exactly what I’m doing when I go to Google News. One thing, for instance, that makes work quicker for me is that I’m now following a particular group of stories - some very specific, like where’s that pig on the Colby campus? - and some general, like what’s the next outrage in bigtime football and basketball? — and these sorts of stories are easily found and reasonably easily commented upon.

Also - keep in mind my remarkable privilege in having the sort of job — tenured college professor — that allows me a good deal of discretion in the use of my time away from the classroom. I’m not desperately working away at the internet in an addictive way in the few moments I have each day for it — it’s much easier for me, probably, to assimilate the activity into my day than it is for a lot of other people, because I have a longer day, if you will, to myself.

So eliminate distraction, focus, and systematically keep an eye on the literature. Attempt to integrate work/life in such a way that neither is strained. Sounds like a good recipe for a superior blogger or a superior scientist.