Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jockeying Continues On Possible Tuition Increases
At the University of Minnesota

from the Daily:

Rukavina [State Representative Tom] introduced a bill in 2007 that sought to encourage a tuition freeze for students over a five-year period, similar to the Guaranteed Tuition Rate.

While the bill did not pass, Rukavina said with the economy slowing down, everyone, including the University, needs to “suck it in.”

“It is not the right time to be asking for money for a new research facility,” Rukavina said.

While he supports the University’s efforts to establish scholarships for students from middle-class families, Rukavina said University Regents need to put their foot down to assess how the University will make it through the “looming depression.”

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education committee, said programs like the Guaranteed Tuition Rate give students the ability to plan ahead.

“I think all those strategies are really useful; that way students can kind of plan if they know what tuition is going to be, they know how much they have to borrow and they know how much they have to save,” she said. “It puts some certainty into their future.”

Pappas said current efforts, such as giving more money for scholarships is good, but the Legislature currently doesn’t have the money required to support the University’s scholarship goals.

“The University should educate at an affordable rate,” Pappas said, adding the University needs to seek out more cost-effective ways to operate.

With a 9 percent increase in tuition planned over the next two years, both Pappas and Rukavina acknowledge the limitations of the government to legally institute a tuition cap for the University.

Pappas said the constitution has prevented such legislation for the University in past years. But she added the government can request or “strongly encourage” the University to cap tuition.
[a not too subtle warning to those bright bulbs in Morrill Hall]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

There's Something About the Bell

Executive Summary:

You approved it last year, but there wasn't enough money.
Therefore you should approve it this year.

It'll create jobs!

It's actually a classroom!

Please? Pretty please?

But, but...the Bell is OLD!

Once again the University of Minnesota administration shows an insensitivity to our country's current financial situation that is astonishing. "Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your state government can do for you."

Right after informing us that the U was going to fund the Northrop renovation out of pocket (ha, ha) for a cool seventy mil, we learn that those dreamers in Morrill Hall want to ask the State Legislature for money for a new Bell Museum. Yet another example of the appropriateness of applying the A-word to OurLeaders.

From the Daily:

The University of Minnesota will try again in 2009 to get state funding for a new building for the James Ford Bell Museum, which it has planned for the St. Paul campus.

The new request would include an adjustment for inflation, and would need to be approved by the Board of Regents before it could be sent to the Legislature.

“We’re bringing it back this year because we think there are some legislators who are interested in trying to get it back again because it had been approved by the Legislature,” said Donna Peterson an associate vice president in University Relations, though she couldn’t say when it would be brought to the Regents.

The new location would have an outdoor component that would be landscaped to represent Minnesota’s diverse environment. It will be used year-round as a classroom, both for museum staff to teach student groups and for professors on the St. Paul campus to augment their classes, Weller said.

The current space isn’t very flexible, and the museum had to move a wall once to get a piece of an exhibit in.

Bohnsack said he anticipates strong support from groups at the Legislature hoping to create jobs.

Peterson said the University anticipates support in the Legislature because it approved the project last year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wisconsin, Once Again, Makes Us Look Bad...

Much has been made about the U of M's possible new regs concerning conflict of interest in the University of Minnesota Medical School. Let us hope that speedy implementation of conflict of interest rules is done soon by the Medical School and approved speedily by the Board of Regents. Wisconsin is to be congratulated for moving on this very serious ethical problem.

As Gary Schwitzer point out in his blog on Uthink:

Badger docs ban gifts

Thanks to Merrill Goozner for tipping me off on this one. The Wisconsin Medical Society’s ethics policy states that physician members “shall accept no gifts from any provider of products that they prescribe to their patients such as personal items, office supplies, food, travel and time costs, or payment for participation in online (CME) continuing medical education. A complete ban eases the burdens of compliance, biased decision making, and patient distrust.”


The direct provision of drug samples to patients should be limited and, when possible, should be replaced by a system of vouchers for evidence-based drug choices.

Physicians serving on formulary committees who have any kind of commercial relationship with a health product company shall disclose any such relationship and recuse themselves from the formulary process, as necessary to avoid bias.

CME providers should not accept support from health product companies directly. A CME provider may create a fund for medical education that may accept unrestricted donations from health product companies that is then dispersed according to institutional policy; this policy, financial contributors and the amount of their contributions shall be disclosed as public information on an easily accessible Web site.

Physicians should not serve as members of speaker bureaus for health product companies or their contractees.

Physicians should not allow their names to be listed as authors for articles written by health product company employees, a practice called “ghostwriting.”

Since ethical collaboration between the profession and the health product industry is essential for the continued development of health products, high-integrity consulting and research relationships shall be strongly encouraged. However, to avoid such relationships being tantamount to a gift, such relationships shall be based in contracts for specific “deliverables” in return for just compensation.

The following office sign is available for members of the Wisconsin Medical Society:
Office Sign:


To uphold the highest standards of our Profession,
To ensure our advice is based solely on what’s best for you, and
To enable your highest level of trust in our advice,
We follow the recommendations of the Wisconsin Medical Society,
And accept no gifts from any provider of a product that we prescribe or recommend to you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Whack-A-Mole Game Continues
at the University of Minnesota

From the Daily we learn:

"The $70 million needed to complete the changes will come from a combination of private donors and a University bonding authority."

The University has decided not to bring this project as, if you will, a line-item like the Bell Museum, to the state Legislature,” Rosenstone said.

Trying to keep up with this administration is rather like playing whack-a-mole...

It is noteworthy that the administration seems to be able to come up with $70 million dollars for this project when they plead nolo pecuniae for a faculty ombudsperson that is badly needed as well as a number of other campus projects that are pressing. Follwell Hall, anyone? Let's see, we have Rarig Center, the Ted Mann, the new dance building, and numerous theaters in the city. So many in fact that the Jeune Leune just folded. Does spending seventy million dollars at a time like this really make sense?

Ah, but it will be some administrator's legacy... Done!

The administration seems unwilling to put this, pardon me, boondoggle up to public scrutiny of the legislature. Why is that cultural czar Rosenstone?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rewriting History At The University of Minnesota or,

There He Goes Again...

See: Look Who's Already Rewriting History

Those who forget the lessons of history
are doomed to repeat it.

Who controls the past controls the future.
Who controls the present controls the past.

From the Daily:

What's distinctive about the University of Minnesota, compared to many other universities in our society, is that we were chartered initially as a research [sic] and land grant university, if you look at the early history of the University. President Bruininks (10/22/08)

I think that President Bruininks has misconstrued the original land grant mission of the university and would invite him to step outside Morrill Hall and have a look at what is written on the facade of Northrup:

The University of Minnesota

Founded in the faith that people are ennobled by understanding

Dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth

Devoted to the instruction of youth and the welfare of the state

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How Much Is The University Of Minnesota

Medical School Name Worth?

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. (Proverbs 22:1)

A good name is better than precious ointment. (Ecclesiastes 7:1)

[But one hundred and fifty million dollars? Deal!]

From the latest Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):

Selling a Medical School's Name

Ethical and Practical Dilemmas

JAMA. 2008;300(16):1937-1938.

There is an increasing trend in the United States to attribute names to medical schools in addition to that of the host university. For example, a recent news report stated the following:

Pressed to find new sources of cash, the University of Minnesota Medical School leaders are interested in selling the school's name in return for a big-time donation—as much as $150 million. . . . Would the University sell the medical school name to a drug company in return for a big donation? Would Minnesotans object to removing "Minnesota" from the school's name in exchange for cash? It is not clear.

(I thank a colleague at another institution for pointing out this latest mention of the name of the University of Minnesota Medical School in JAMA.)

The JAMA article is now making the rounds with reactions such as the following:

Medical schools, like sports arenas, are no strangers to branding. But is it a good idea?

Dr. Jay S. Loeffler of Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Edward C. Halperin of the University of Louisville School of Medicine pose the question in a Journal of the American Medical Association commentary, prompted by reports that the University of Minnesota is seeking as much as $150 million in exchange for naming rights.

Not so at the University of Iowa, whose faculty rejected a $15 million gift from the Wellmark Corporation rather than rename its School of Public Health after the insurance company.

"There is an intrinsic risk involved for the schools in the future if the donors or foundations are discovered to be involved in activities deemed unsavory or illegal," the authors write. "It is not unreasonable to think that some US medical schools are currently named after someone who will be found, in the future, to have been involved in less-than-respectable activities."

Hmm... Maybe like the McGuire Translational Research Building?

(See a previous post - Greed is Good)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

U's Budget Increase Request DOA

Time for the Annual Game of Tuition Blackmail?

From the Daily:
Two legislators from both parties said the University of Minnesota’s $141.2 million budget increase request is unlikely to be paid in full.

“I believe the University must present an honest and responsible biennial budget request that demonstrates our most pressing needs,” Bruininks said in an e-mail acquired by the Daily to University faculty and staff on Monday.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the University and the rest of the state should expect less money than they are requesting this upcoming session. “Everybody has a Christmas list, but that doesn’t mean they get everything they wish for,” Rukavina said.

The tuition increase included with the University’s request has been a point of contention for both students and lawmakers.

Dustin Norman, chairman of the student representatives to the Board of Regents, said he is concerned the University would increase the tuition more should it not get all the funds requested. University administration officials were unavailable for comment Monday, but University spokesman Dan Wolter said a larger tuition increase would be a possibility should the state reject some of the budget request.

The 4.5 percent increase would be smaller than the 7.3 percent increase this year, and much lower than the double digit increases earlier this decade, but lawmakers are still concerned about the issue.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said the planned increase is still too much.

“The state’s not going to have money because the taxpayers aren’t going to have money either,” she said. “And families won’t have money to pay tuition.” Robling, the ranking minority member of the Higher Education Budget and Policy Division, said she thought an increase around two percent would be more reasonable.

She also said the $141 million request is unlikely to be fulfilled.

Rukavina, the chair of a House higher education finance board, said he hopes to add provisions to University funding intended to keep down tuition.

“We could still sharpen the pencil and talk about the fact there were some pretty hefty hikes the past couple of years,” he said.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The University's Financial Health, Or

Our Finances are Fundamentally Sound...

Executive Summary: The financial situation at the university is fundamentally sound. This is because of careful strategic planning and financial management.

This message was approved by the President of the University of Minnesota and sent to all University faculty and staff on Monday, October 22, 2008.

The global financial turmoil in recent weeks has raised many questions about the University of Minnesota's financial health and the impact on faculty, staff, and students. I want to assure you that, through careful strategic planning and financial management, the University is positioned to weather this current storm. Make no mistake: local and global economic challenges will impact the U—but the University community is responding decisively to ensure our future financial strength, encourage investment in the U, protect our employees, and continue to reward performance.

We are doing this in three ways:

  • First, I have charged U leaders with examining the real and potential financial impacts of the economic crisis on all aspects of our operations, as well as implementing University-wide strategies to substantially reduce costs. For example, anticipating tight budgets to come, a year ago we announced an early retirement incentive program with the express goal of cutting costs while preserving jobs and protecting workers. We must look for opportunities to consolidate administrative offices and academic units, reform major cost centers, and reinvest the savings in mission-critical academic priorities. We have a responsibility to the state, its citizens, our students, and their families to preserve the quality and competitiveness of the University. This will require each of us to be principled and deliberate in our decision-making and to carefully manage our budgets in order to preserve the U's ability to deliver on its mission.
And we spent five million dollars on UMore Park and five million on Driven to Discover. And on athletics...

  • Second, since efficient, effective, and transparent financial management is critical to these efforts, the University's senior academic officers are providing strict oversight of the ongoing implementation of the Enterprise Financial System. As I meet with faculty and staff, I hear concerns about burdensome processes and system issues that arise almost daily. I want you to know that I am aware of these issues, that we are working as quickly as we can to address them, and that we are grateful for your hard work in the face of these problems.

Ten years ago OurPresident, as provost, signed a letter that was extremely critical of People Soft.

"First and foremost is performance. The performance of the systems, in terms of responsiveness, is simply unacceptable. We know that you are aware of this but we need a solution soon."

Whose bright idea was this to just turn on the new system? Why didn't we try this on a small scale - say one unlucky department - instead of using the whole University as a guinea pig? The claim that this fiasco is going to save us money rings false indeed.

“I don’t think anybody should put a dime into the University of Minnesota unless we use the money well, we invest it well and that we’re efficient in how we use resources.” Robert Bruininks (Daily - 9/26/08)

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

  • Finally, acknowledging that the state may face significant budget challenges next session, I believe the University must present an honest and responsible biennial budget request that demonstrates our most pressing needs. Our request focuses on three essential areas of investment: an increase to the compensation pool to help faculty and staff deal with rising costs at home, middle-income scholarship support to help reduce the cost of a U education for students and their families, and enhancement of our research capacity to meet the demand for University resources, equipment, and support by researchers, business and industry, and other higher education institutions statewide.

And where exactly would "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world" fit into that, Bob? This goal is inappropriate for a land grand university under severe financial pressure. Are you ready to finally admit that our priorities need some serious community discussion or is a monologue sufficient?

It is crucial that we work to meet our own challenges, that we improve financial management and accountability at the U, and that we garner strong support to maintain our quality and competitiveness. In a tight economy, the U's unique mission, expertise, innovation, and human capital are among the state's greatest assets. The University was founded in a time of scarce resources to provide the spark the Minnesota Territory needed to become a great and prosperous state. I believe it can be that spark again.

But does this administration know how to operate in a time of scarce resources, Bob? Lead, follow, or...dissemble?


Robert H. Bruininks

Monday, October 20, 2008

Driven to Dissemble

Executive summary:

If no state funds or tuition money are being used, then apparently Our Administration can do whatever they wish with the U's money? Or, money from the state has stayed about the same (in constant dollars) and the endowment income is about four percent in real terms. The only major source of revenue that has experienced significant real growth is tuition.

Ask not for whom or why the tuition bill rises...

From the Daily:

10/15/2008, Robert Katz

The present administration of the University has demonstrated a persistent pattern of evading accountability for its actions. Had the University given due weight to the interests of its students and had it been held responsible for its spending, tuition would not have more than doubled over the last ten years.

A few examples should make clear the basic features this evasion of responsibility takes.

Let’s go back to the year 2003.

Tuition at the University is $7,200.

Due to an economic downturn, most states are experiencing major fiscal crises. In order to balance their budgets they have to make drastic, painful spending cuts. Some newly elected governors, acknowledging this environment of fiscal austerity, curtail their inauguration festivities. The governor of New York’s inauguration cost only $30,000. The University of Iowa’s president is being inaugurated for about $10,000. But here at the University, the newly installed president is throwing himself a $100,000 plus bash.

A responsible administration would have addressed this issue in one of two ways: The president would have accepted responsibility for the decision and either provided reasons defending it, or he would acknowledge that they had made an error in judgment.

When called to account for its actions, the response that the administration made was that none of the cost was paid for with tuition or state money; it all came from private donors and the University endowment.

One technique for evading accountability is to deny that any problem exists. “No tuition money or state funds were spent on this party — so what’s the problem?”

Never mind that most contributors to the University intend their donations to be used to promote quality, affordable education for their children and their neighbors’ children. It may be true that the University Foundation accounts were debited for the amount of the party’s cost, but these monies could have been used to decrease tuition.

Flash forward to the year 2005.

Tuition is now $8,800.

The administration is spending $6.5 million constructing a landscaping project it calls “The Scholars (sic) Walk.” Here is the administration’s response: The Scholars Walk is being funded by a gift from the University Gateway Corporation.

By this time, the use of the half-lie has become more sophisticated — almost baroque. Reading the fine print in the University’s Annual Report for 2005, we do, in fact, find a contribution to the University for $6.5 million from the University Gateway Corporation.

But who is this generous donor?

It turns out that this is a dummy corporation set up by the University Foundation to issue revenue bonds to fund the construction of the McNamara Alumni Center.

The revenue to service these bonds comes from the rents received from the building’s occupants: mostly administrative and Alumni Association offices. Since the Foundation is a creature of the University, the University is, in effect, paying rent to itself. So we are none the wiser as to the source of this money.

The year is 2007.

Tuition is now $10,000.

The administration unveils a further refinement in its techniques for evading accountability. This time they go further than simply denying that a problem exists. This new refinement might be called the “lipstick on a pig” technique.

In quick succession, two highly paid athletic coaches are relieved of their duties. But, due to the contracts that were signed with them, they must be paid $3.5 million to buyout their contracts. Here is the administration response: The Athletics Department will have to borrow the money from the University and pay it back with interest. “We’re just like a bank,” an administrator is quoted as saying (this probably sounded better in 2007).

So not only is there no problem — the athletic department will pay back the money — but the University will actually benefit: The money will be paid back with interest. This situation is not an instance of mismanagement, it is an investment opportunity.

What wasn’t said was that the Athletics Department has run deficits and been subsidized by the University for, at least, the last 20 years. Last year’s subsidy was around $4.9 million, and it has gone as high as $10 million. In addition, they are receiving some $100 million from taxpayers and $23 million from students for the new stadium. The administration may not be the best teacher of fiscal accountability.

The important point to notice about these examples is not so much the particular spending decisions, but the manner in which they are justified. Any large organization will always make decisions that others find questionable. But when an organization consistently attempts to justify its actions with explanations that do not even stand up to the most cursory scrutiny, then something has gone fundamentally wrong.

If the administration has evaded responsibility for its actions, who pays the price?

Other things being equal, any increase in expenditures must be matched by an increase in revenues.

Over the long term, money from the state has been just about constant in real terms. Income from endowments has resulted in only a 4 percent increase in real terms to the University’s total revenue over the past 10 years.

In fact, only one major revenue source has consistently shown significant real growth: tuition. Therefore, the next time the University announces a new spending initiative, when all the administration’s explanations are done, “Send not to know from whose billfold.”

This is a great piece. I am in awe of Robert Katz.

This University of Minnesota administration seems to think that as long as money does not come from the tuition pot or from the state, that funds can be used for whatever they feel like doing. Just to raise another example, how much money has been spent for MoreU park and where did it come from?

Should we really be spending University money, regardless of the source, for a development project in the middle of nowhere when we can't even fulfill our responsibilities as an urban public university to the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the State of Minnesota? I understand we have already spent more than five million dollars on UMore park. Is this accurate, Bob and Tom?

Driven to Dissemble, indeed.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

There He Goes Again

University of Minnesota Administration
Oblivious to Economic Reality ?

(The Junkyard Dog in the manger demonstrates that he has
learned nothing from events of last academic year.)

From the Star-Tribune:

DULUTH - The University of Minnesota Board of Regents unanimously approved a state budget request Friday that would increase tuition 9 percent for most students by 2011 and increase faculty and staff pay 6 percent over the same period.

U President Robert Bruininks acknowledged that the request may be a tough sell when the Legislature convenes in January, given the troubled economy and a state budget deficit projected to be at least $2 billion.

"This is a time to be tough-minded about Minnesota's future and not be timid," Bruininks told the board.

Several regents said the proposals represent a good plan, but they acknowledged it's a bad time to ask students and taxpayers to foot a bigger bill.

In recognition that the cost of a University of Minnesota degree -- currently about $40,000, not counting living expenses -- is spiraling out of reach of many, the proposal approved Friday includes $16 million to expand a tuition-relief program that essentially slows tuition increases for families making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. Bruininks said the program is projected to cancel next year's tuition increase for up to 9,000 students -- 30 percent of the system's undergraduates.

Still, most students won't qualify. Some, who have seen tuition increase an average of 8 percent a year for the past five years, said Friday that the increases would only add to increasingly dismal prospects of getting out from under crushing college debt while still young. Adding to the pessimism is that, until the economy improves, good jobs may be difficult to find.

Tuition now is about $10,000 per year for undergraduate state residents, up from $400 in 1970. Adjusted for inflation, that $400 would equal about $2,217 today. In 1990, tuition was $2,232, equal to $3,830 today. Officials say the increases have outpaced inflation so astronomically because the state reduced its share of university funding. The university's annual budget is about $3 billion.

Bruininks said the request will be formally presented to legislative leaders in the next two months, although some leaders already have been briefed. One of them, state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the proposal will face an uphill battle as the Legislature tries to make ends meet.

"I'm nervous about this whole session -- that we'll have to be in this cut, cut mode again," said Rukavina, chairman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Policy and Finance Division Committee.

But he added that "some people at the Capitol'' grumble that the university has gotten "too flashy" in using large amounts of bonding money in recent years for research facilities and stadiums and may have forgotten that the primary mission of a land-grant university is to teach students.

Unfortunately, said Rukavina, "the less we give them in the Legislature, the more they're going to nick the students, and they can't afford that, either. I've talked to students who say they'll never be able to pay back their debt."

From the comments section:

"Education is key to remaining competitive in the world. The more we shortchange ourselves today, the harder it will be to dig ourselves out 10 and 20 years from now. And it's not just the cost of tuition. As the U of MN seeks to become an elite university, it drives many Twin City students away to outstate colleges and universities where they must pay both tuition and dorm costs. Affordable tuition and access are both required. And where is the leadership that will drive this result?"

"I'm presently touring with my high school senior, in search of a school for next year. We really want to stay in Minnesota, but the truth is Wisconsin is 25% cheaper."

"Sorry but you are drunk if you think the U is getting $141 million in the upcoming legislative session. Unemployment is higher than it has been in twenty years. That translates into lower revenues for the state from income and sales taxes. Perhaps the University President missed the global economic meltdown. Time to live in the real world."

"This is absolutely outrageous that anyone has the chutzpa and gall to come asking the citizens of this state AND the students to fork over more of their money, especially in this climate."

"The objective of the sum of the parts of the U is to preserve and expand its administration. Control of ancillary items such as facilities, parking, human resources, printing, food service, housing and intercollegiate athletics are the focus of administration, not the education of students. And, as long as more money is available, the cost to attend the U and budget requests to the legislature will increase."

"It is a complete outrage with the economic situation we find ourselves in as a country and it is already really tough for us to help our child attend the U-this madness has to stop. Is it not part of the U's mission to educate?

"I saw Life Coaches (life coaches?) paid for the Dean and staff.
I watched one research scientist after another defunded or leave. However I did see a stadium built so people would have a chance to get drunk and train future pro athletes so we could pay them millions instead of paying teachers for our children. Nice priorities. Sure...enjoy the money. You know how to spend it."

"My advice to my legislators is going to be to say "No". The U needs to cut costs and play in the current economic situation with the rest of the state. And, if tuition is still raised...the U should be penalized by the legislature within the U's existing state budget allocations."

It is about time for the university administration to face reality.

We are a land grand institution and our mission is to educate the youth of the state. That education does, indeed, include research which is a wellspring of economic development in the state.

But currently we are suffering from inappropriate priorities. Which is more important: to be one of the top three public research universities in the world or to provide an outstanding educational opportunity that is affordable for the citizens of this state?

The answer is a no brainer.

Tom, Bob, your thoughts?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Or, Please Ma'am, Could We Have More Paperwork?

The University of Minnesota seems to be unable to get its arms around the problems of double-dipping stars, conflict of interest in the medical school, retraction of scientific papers due to fraud, and an on-again-off-again questionable entanglement with a wealthy donor.

So, in typical bureaucratic fashion, let's make a lot of noise, and point elsewhere. Let's go after the poor slob ordinary faculty members. Let's burden them with yet more paperwork, more reviews both of themselves and their colleagues. Even people doing a great job will be reviewed every five years - just for the hell of it?

For a little introduction to this latest fiasco, please see our sister-site: The Periodic Table, Too, wherein the beginning of what will no doubt be a long story is sketched out.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

THES rankings for 2008 are out.

Interested parties might want to check out the site to see how the University of Minnesota is doing with OurLeader's "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]." In one more year we are supposed to be halfway there. Where do you think we stand?

[Hint: Not even close...]

A detailed analysis will follow. In the meantime here is some material to think about. The latest rankings include the top 100 institutions in the world ranked in the areas of:

Arts and Humanities (Minnesota did not place)

Biomedical and Life Sciences (84)

Technology (did not place)

Natural Sciences (did not place)

Social Sciences (71)

Information for US public universities may be downloaded from:

The Whole Is Equal to the Sum of Its Parts?

The table is named because Our Administration seems to be enthralled with the word interdisciplinary. [Actually it is the granting agencies who have made this the latest buzzword and Our Administration exhibits its usual lemming-like behavior]. What they don't seem to understand is that if your fundamental disciplines - such as those categories above - are weak, you are not going to magically become some sort of interdisciplinary powerhouse or third best yadda, yadda... Sorry folks, 2 +2 does not equal five.

The executive summary is that US institutions may be ranked according to the number of categories in which they achieved top 100 rankings.

These are:

Tier One (all 5): Berkeley

Tier Two (4 categories): UCLA, Michigan, Wisconsin, UCSD

Tier Three (3 categories): Texas, Washington, Santa Barbara, Texas A & M, Illinois, Penn State

Tier Four (two categories): UC Davis, Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana

Tier Five (one category): Ohio State, Rutgers, VPI, North Carolina, Pitt, Irvine,

One could do a little more with the numbers than I have. But the exact values are not all that important. What is important, though, is that it should be pretty clear that we are not even close to being one of the top public research universities in the US, let alone the world.

Tom, Bob, when are we going to stop the charade, get real, and make an effort to be one of the top schools in the BigTen? Or are you going to call me a "doubter" again?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A World Class Liver Transplant Surgeon At Minnesota
Let's Not Lose Him

My colleague and friend, Dr. Abhinav Humar is on the short list for transplant chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Pittsbugh Tribune-Review reports:

The person who wins the job of running the Thomas E. Starzl Transplant Institute will take over the program following the abrupt departure of former chief Dr. Amadeo Marcos in March, as the Tribune-Review prepared to publish an investigation into UPMC and other hospitals performing unnecessary liver transplant.

Humar, with less management experience and fewer clinical research credentials, could bring a fresh perspective to UPMC. He avows a transplant philosophy based on innovation, clinical research and successful outcomes -- rather than quantity.

"If you can maintain a very high quality, the volume comes as a part of the high quality," Humar said.

Humar has been medical director of the University of Minnesota's living donor transplant program since 2000. The center performed 24 live-donor liver transplants last year, the nation's second-highest total and five more than UPMC.

Humar said he generally advocates not performing liver transplants on patients ranked at the bottom of the waiting list according to a score known as MELD, for Model End-stage Liver Disease.

Low-MELD transplants should be performed only in cases in which the patient has cancer or some other severe symptom that is not reflected in their score, he said.

Humar had not been to Pittsburgh before his interviews. With its "incredible infrastructure" and ancillary services for transplant patients, UPMC "is a powerhouse and certainly would continue to be a powerhouse for many years to come as far as I could see," Humar said.

"My take on the program is that it certainly has a well-established reputation," Humar said. "The program has taken on some problems, but nothing that's not fixable."

Humar had his first sit-down conversation with Starzl last month. Humar said it was an "enjoyable chat" and described Starzl as "very warm, almost fatherly."

UPMC's next transplant chief will need the authority to take over, said Dr. John Lake, director for liver transplants at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. Starzl, 82, continues to exert influence even though he has not performed surgery since 1991 and in February announced his retirement.

"They probably need to have somebody come in who's going to be a strong leader to tie together the components of a transplant center to take over from Starzl," Lake said.

He described Humar as an "absolutely outstanding surgeon" whose "patients adore him." The University of Minnesota is seeking a surgical transplant director, and Lake said Humar is the leading internal candidate.

We've seen the problems involved with bringing in high profile outsiders. Let's just say that sometimes it doesn't work. A really good bird in the hand is worth considerably more than even two in the bush. To lose a person of Dr. Humar's proven caliber to Pitt would be a deep loss to our Medical School.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Stem Cell Problems at University of Minnesota

I have previously posted on this matter (March 23, 2007).

For background, please see:

Photoshop Manipulation of Scientific Illustrations
Stem Cells at BigU, the Continuing Saga

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

October 7, 2008

U. of Minnesota Panel Says Stem-Cell Scientist Faked Data

A panel convened by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has determined that a high-profile laboratory there falsified evidence in experiments on adult stem cells, according to a statement issued by the university.

The panel’s investigators concluded that parts of four images had been falsified in a paper published in the journal Blood in 2001. The paper reported that stem cells isolated from adult bone marrow could develop into different types of tissue, but researchers subsequently had great difficulty reproducing the Minnesota lab’s results.

The university said that the investigation had focused on two individuals: Catherine M. Verfaillie, a professor and former director of the university’s Stem Cell Institute, and Morayma Reyes, who was then a student in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program at Minnesota. The panel determined that Dr. Verfaillie was not guilty of the image manipulations. By extension, that would leave Dr. Reyes as the person responsible, but the university did not release the panel’s findings related to her because it considers information about students private and protected by state and federal laws.

Dr. Verfaillie has retained a position at Minnesota but has moved to the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium. Dr. Reyes is an assistant professor of pathology at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

The panel criticized Dr. Verfaillie’s laboratory for “poor scientific method and inadequate training and oversight for this research.” It contacted Blood and asked the journal to retract the paper. The investigators also found discrepancies with images in a second paper from Dr. Verfaillie’s laboratory, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2002. Those problems did not rise to the level of academic misconduct, the university said.

Tim Mulcahy, vice president for research at Minnesota, told The Chronicle that the case underscored the need for all universities and faculty members to be vigilant about misconduct. “The message here is that everyone needs to fulfill their responsibility to the public and to science,” he said. The university did not have plans to alter its policies related to training or oversight, he said.

The New Scientist, a magazine, first detected problems with images from Dr. Verfaillie’s laboratory last year. In an article today, the magazine quotes Dr. Reyes as saying that the problems with the images in Blood were “honest errors.” The University of Washington may investigate Dr. Reyes, according to the New Scientist. —Richard Monastersky

Posted on Tuesday

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Conflict of Interest, Ethics Reforms at the University of Minnesota Medical School

Time to stop talking and start walking?

The Daily Editorial Opinion

Ethics reforms
Editorial 10/02/2008

Since The Minnesota Daily reported on major ethical issues being raised in the medical school over the summer, Deborah Powell, dean of the medical school, had a big choice to make. She had to decide whether to reform the school’s conflicts of interest policy — a policy that governs when a doctor or professor has to disclose to the University his or her ties to a pharmaceutical company, how much a patient gets told, and how students are educated on such matters. Earlier this week, Minnesota Public Radio and The Minnesota Daily detailed a medical school proposal of suggested reforms to the school’s conflicts of interest policy, which is sure to put more pressure on Powell.

We urge Powell, who joined the corporate board of PepsiAmericas in 2006, to adopt the policies put forth by the conflict of interest task force she assembled.

Last summer, the University’s medical school received a “D” from the American Medical Student Association in a report ranking conflicts of interest policies at medical schools around the country. But the University is not alone in its shoddy policy in this area: Only 5 percent of schools nationwide received an “A” grade from the group.

The changes suggested by the task force, which included researchers, physicians, educators and students, are monumental, and Powell should accept them immediately. The recommendations include requiring doctors to disclose all relationships with drug companies to patients before making out prescriptions; prohibiting faculty, residents and students from receiving gifts from medical companies; and creating a website with conflicts of interest information.

According to Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group, in a recent two-year span, the University and its faculty received nearly $1.5 million from pharmaceutical companies. These practices among medical professionals must be prohibited in the future in order to increase the quality of patient care, and the University must act quickly and responsibly in teaching the physicians and medical practitioners of tomorrow. The medical industry is in need of transparency, and it can be built from its intellectual foundation: Colleges and universities that espouse its highest principles.


Or, in the words of OurLeader:

"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)

Time to stop talking and start walking, Bob?

I wonder where - and have asked - the new proposal places us on the Student American Medical Association scorecard where we received a D for the current situation at the medical school?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Meltdown hobbles Minnesota colleges

Some practical consequences of the meltdown and aftermath have started to appear. Time for a change?

From the Pioneer Press

22 schools face major losses, trouble making payroll, as investment fund cuts off their cash

By Doug Belden and Nicole Garrison-Sprenger

The nation's financial crisis hit home for Minnesota colleges and universities this week when an investment fund used by several to pay short-term expenses said it would close and cut off nearly all access to cash.

The move prompted David Laird, president of the Minnesota Private College Council, to warn the state's congressional delegation Monday that some of the group's 17 members would not be able to make payroll Tuesday.

"As a result of the frozen capital markets and the failure of Congress to adopt a reasonable recovery plan, many of the members of our association are at the edge of their abilities to adapt," Laird wrote.

The University of Minnesota has a "not insignificant" amount in the fund, but it is only a fraction of the university's total cash-flow management resources, said spokesman Daniel Wolter. He said it is not expected to affect day-to-day operations at the U.


Another Wolterism: "not insignificant." I guess in the spin-doctor game the usual admonition to eliminate unnecessary words is inoperative?