Friday, April 30, 2010

Is the University of Minnesota

Skirting the Open Meeting Law, Again?

Today I sent the following letter to the chairperson of the Faculty Consultative Committee:

April 30, 2010
Professor Marti Hope Gonzales
Chair, Faculty Consultative Committee
University of Minnesota

Dear Professor Gonzales,

I note with great concern that several recent FCC meetings have been closed.

The University Senate bylaws require committees of the Senate to hold open meetings. See Article IV, section 3(e) at .

The bylaws do allow closed meetings, but that would be lawful only for one of the purposes authorized by the open meeting law: "Limited exception based on attorney client privilege, labor negotiations, and employee evaluations."

Although the administration seems to want to operate the University as a medieval city-state, it is subject to the open meeting law. See Minn. Stat. 13D.01 and Minn. Stat. 13D.05. None of the topics discussed at the most recent FCC meeting were of the nature for which a meeting may be closed.

Moreover, how does holding closed meetings square with the duty of the FCC to report on matters that should be brought to the attention of the University at large?
See Article II, section 5, part I, executive duty (f) in the University Senate bylaws.

This is a formal request that the FCC justify any closing of meetings in the future by citing the relevant portion of the open meeting law used to justify such behavior. It is particularly disturbing that the President chose to participate in such a closed meeting, given the legal problems of the University with the open meeting law and the last presidential search.

If detailed minutes or recordings from the last meeting are available, this is a formal request, under the open meeting law, that they be provided. This request also applies to detailed minutes or recordings of the FCC meeting with the administration prior to the Faculty Senate meeting on March 25. Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.


William B. Gleason
University of Minnesota Faculty Member

Sarah Palin Endorses Emmer for Governor of Minnesota ...


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Everything we do at the University of Minnesota is out in the open?

Hold that thought.

Faculty Consultative Committee

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Intellectual Future of the University

Professor Gonzales convened the meeting at 1:05 and accepted a motion to close the meeting, which received a unanimous vote. The Committee and the senior officers touched on a number of issues during the meeting.

[Everything we do at the University of Minnesota is out in the open.]

Before moving to the substance of the issues, the President noted the recent minutes of this Committee reporting on a discussion with the Regents Professors. He emphasized that, contrary to views expressed at that meeting, there are serious and comprehensive plans for dealing with the "new normal" financial circumstances in which the University finds itself. The plans include significant steps to preserve the quality of the University by systematically reducing costs in areas such as personnel (primarily through attrition), purchasing, space and energy use, curriculum review, budget-model review, and in the work of the college blue-ribbon committees. The President said it is simply inaccurate to say that there is no long-term planning taking place, but he did pledge to improve communication of longer-term financial strategies with the University community.

[Please see: Who will bell the cat?

Professors Gonzales and Oakes reported that they have been pressing the President and Provost for strategic plans and scope of mission discussions and have worked on the fiscal crisis the entire year. They have no idea what the plan is. That is a problem, which is one reason why the Regents Professors were invited to join the Committee today. {Cough, cough...}]

The issues discussed were these:

-- Light-rail transit, which included comments on the structure of news delivery in the 21st Century and the University's activities vis-à-vis media coverage of the controversy.

[Ah, let me see... It is all the fault of the media and that mean Peter Bell that the U has egg on its face over this mess? I don't think so.]

-- The bonding bill, the University's increasing emphasis on HEAPR (building renewal/renovation) funding rather than new projects, the cancellation/deferment of about $200 million in capital construction, reducing the University's footprint while increasing the quality and efficiency of the space it has, and linking the approach to the bonding bill to the academic plans.

[My good friend and fellow alum, Mr. Michael McNabb, has earlier addressed President Bruininks concerning his failed strategy with the legislature, especially with respect to HEAPR.]

-- The possibility of a new covenant with the state (in order to communicate to citizens why the University matters to the state).

[Already declared DOA - Bruininks: "New Covenant? Legislature: "No Sale!"]

-- The work of the college and other offices' blue-ribbon committees.

-- A peer review of the University's budget model.

-- The need to redesign the service, business, and academic cultures of the University if effective long-term planning is to take place; it will not be "one big thing," but there will be many significant efforts at multiple levels.

-- The size of the University's faculty and staff , overall and by fields of study, is a major challenge in this economic environment. One perspective is whether it is desirable to have a smaller and better-supported faculty rather than a larger but more thinly-supported faculty, decisions about which must take into account the conundrum that in a number of disciplines there appears to be a minimum threshold in the size of the faculty before it will be considered nationally-ranked and productive in a way recognized in the field.

-- The nature of faculty appointments (e.g., tenured versus contract/P&A) and the optimal department size, both in relation to undergraduate education at a research university, and the impact on planning of the fact that the University will receive $150 million more in tuition revenues than it receives in state funding.

-- The progress of the Graduate School working groups on preparation of their final report, and plans for review of recommendations for implementation.

Professor Gonzales thanked everyone for joining the meeting and adjourned it at 3:00.


Killing the Liberal Arts to

Save CLA (College of Liberal Arts)

at the University of Minnesota

College of Liberal Arts students understand that liberal arts always get the short end of the stick in financial crunches, but an alarming interim report by the CLA 2015 Committee at a town hall meeting Tuesday reveals an unbelievable selling out of the values of a liberal arts education. The report suggests eliminating many CLA programs — possibly more than half of them — to better fund fewer “signature” programs “of distinction.”

[This is called ambitious aspirations and is encouraged by the Morrill Hall Gang.]

The irony of this plan would be delicious were it not so tragic.
A liberal arts education provides general knowledge across a broad range of topics. The report includes an eloquent defense of the value of a liberal arts education’s breadth and applicability to all areas of life, then declares that “CLA will clearly need to reduce the breadth … of its offerings … and focus its resources on a reduced number of programs.” In other words, the college fundamentally based on breadth and diversity of knowledge will sacrifice those qualities in order to specialize in certain “signature” programs.

Even more ironic is that these “signature” programs are designed to attract students specifically to those programs. This means that the college named for the liberal arts will be trying to attract students with the quality of single, specialized programs rather than the quality of a broad, general education.

CLA already has the most undergraduates per faculty member, the lowest cost to the University per student and the second-smallest state allocation — currently $3,350 per student. To put this in perspective, IT students receive $9,000 from the state per student and the College of Biological Sciences students receive $10,000 each. Furthermore, CLA is responsible for instructing roughly half of the student body. Since CLA is already vastly more efficient than other colleges, equal-percentage cuts hurt CLA disproportionately and a larger number of students suffer the consequences.

These failures have forced CLA into a corner where it is now forced to sell out its own fundamental values in order to survive.

Ultimately, the proposed cuts amount to much more than a trim around the edges; they ask the CLA to abandon the fundamental values of a liberal arts education. Make no mistake, the state and University administration’s irresponsible mismanagement of their respective budget crises are now directly damaging the University’s capacity to educate.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

University of Minnesota Backs Off

on Draconian P&A Policy?

I've posted on this matter recently. Please see:

Morrill Hall Gang to P&A: We own you... Time to wake up folks?

New P&A Policy University of Minnesota President Bruininks in the Dark?

It was apparent at the President's recent Open Forum that he was unaware of this new draconian policy.

From the Daily:

The University of Minnesota Office of Human Resources revised a policy that would allow the University to impose furloughs or pay cuts on its more than 5,000 academic professional and administrative (P&A) employees.

In reaction to the more than 300 comments employees made on the policy within the first 10 days of its posting online, multiple aspects of the policy have been revised, OHR Chief of Staff Joe Kelly said.

The proposed policy originally stated that the University could reduce P&A salaries, impose unpaid furloughs, postpone compensation or “take other actions as determined by the University in its sole discretion” in situations of financial stringency.

On April 21, OHR posted the revisions, stating that the provision allowing the University to “take other actions” — the part of the policy that was most controversial — would be removed.

Many P&A employees were concerned by the policy due to their already precarious employment situation.

“P&As mostly work on annual contracts that can be nonrenewed for any or no reason, which puts us in a particularly vulnerable position already,” said Randy Croce, a P&A employee with the Carlson School of Management Labor Education Service.

The policy will remain open for comment until May 12 because of the requirement that all major changes to University policy are open for review and comment for 30 days. Kelly said OHR will continue to read all comments and make additional changes as needed.

Some employees are still concerned about the vagueness of the policy, especially during an uncertain financial situation and the switch to a new administration in 2011, Croce said.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Gospel According to Robert, Part III.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Gospel according to Robert, Part II.

It Ain't Necessarily So...

Response to University of Minnesota

President Bruininks

Open Forum
Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Gospel According to Robert, Part I.

(Also available on YouTube)

Friday, April 23, 2010

New P&A Policy

University of Minnesota President Bruininks

in the Dark?

I'm watching the videos posted by the Daily of President Robert Bruininks. Although they are a little tedious they are well worth watching. It is too bad that only about forty people on campus felt the session worth attending. Unfortunately this may be due to past clock-killing performances by the President.

One very surprising part of the first video is the President's claim to be unaware of new draconian P&A policies.

This new policy is well known on campus and has been much discussed, for example:

P&A Slave Labor

The policy becomes official in June. New policies undergo a 30-day review period, which gives employees a chance to comment. You may leave a comment here:

It is very disturbing that someone who claims to be one of the staunchest advocates of P&A folks is unaware of this new policy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beer, Chardonnay, or Both?

Alcohol in the House That Bob Built

Issue Resurfaces

There is a letter to the editor in the Daily today on this well-trodden turf.

My comments:

Once again, the Morrill Hall Gang has gotten itself into a situation where no matter what happens a large and vocal group of people are going to be screaming bloody murder about this.

As with light rail, a little foresight and leadership would have gone a long way toward avoiding this situation. A no alcohol anywhere in the stadium policy from the very beginning - as practiced by Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State - would have been one possible option. As I understand it, these football programs make a lot more money than football at the U of M.

OR... The U could have pointed out to the BigTen that they are facing ginormous competition with three pro teams in the same city where alcohol is being served to all of legal age. They could have pointed out that alcohol was served in the Metrodome for years at Gopher football games. I still can't get over the hypocrisy here. My God, they are now serving alcohol across the street in the alumni center! And they could have pointed out that there actually are college football stadiums in the country where alcohol is served to all of legal age. It is not at all clear that the Big Ten has an absolute prohibition on alcohol for general seating in stadiums.

Look, I don't much care whether alcohol is served or not, with a slight preference for not as it would probably be nicer to take family and friends to an alcohol-free environment. Getting barfed on or taking your kids to the bathroom and encountering drunken fans in flagrante is not what I'd call the ideal college football game experience.

This whole sad situation is a result of lack of leadership and foresight by you know who.

And Bob steps back and piously proclaims that the U has no position on the matter of booze only in the suites? While a former Regent's brother - Metzen - helps to get the proposal on the table? And the unofficial U lobbying agents - aka the Big Cigars - hire Roger Moe to push the plan? The mind reels.

"Everything we do at the University of Minnesota is out in the open." Robert Bruininks

Yah, fer sure...

Beer (and chardonnay) for all or none!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Guess This Shows How Nasty

Political Discourse Has Become...

From Twin Cities Public Television

It has gotten even more personal and nasty in the race for the Republican endorsement for governor.

Marty Seifert's campaign manager Kurt Daudt:

"Republican activist and state convention delegate Sandra Bergs family was victimized by a drunk driver. As a result, she was moved to share important information with fellow Republican state convention delegates about Tom Emmers record: two past DWI arrests; his efforts in 2009 as a legislator to weaken the states DWI laws and cover up the fact he broke them; and not sharing this information when asked about a possible October surprise at a recent candidate forum.

Sandras letter provides factual information about a vital issue for the delegates to consider: the electability and credibility of candidates. At her request, the Seifert campaign distributed her letter.

While there is much in common between Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer on the issues, there are differences too. Marty will continue to run an issues-based, substantive campaign to lead Minnesota forward."

Now Tom Emmer's campaign:

Eight days before the start of the Minnesota Republican State Convention, after falling behind in the straw poll vote, Marty Seifert sunk to a new low in dirty campaigning today by attacking Tom Emmer for his two DWIs from 20 and 30 years ago. Seifert used the story of a woman whose husband and son were injured by a drunk driver to help deliver his cynical personal attack.

“We’re all used to October surprises by the Democrats, but we never thought Marty would sink so low to launch this April surprise against a fellow Republican at the last minute before the convention,” said Rep. Mark Buesgens, Chairman of the Emmer for Governor Campaign. “The fact is that Tom has been upfront with delegates about this issue. They were the subject of a newspaper article last year and Tom has been very forthcoming about his actions to anyone who asked.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Fast Moving U of M Administration

is Lapped by the Federal Government

From the Star-Tribune:

Buried deep within the massive health care overhaul passed by Congress are tough new laws that will soon shine a much-needed light on physicians' lucrative financial ties to industry.

The Sunshine provisions, long championed by Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, deal with the myriad consulting arrangements, speaking fees, trips, dinners and other gifts -- dubbed "transfers of value" in industry jargon -- provided to doctors at clinics large and small across the nation.

The Sunshine reforms are an overdue dose of medicine to make providers and industry more accountable to the public.

The financial ties between physicians and the medical device industry are also significant. Last year, a letter from [US Senator] Grassley's office to the University of Minnesota revealed that Dr. David Polly, a faculty surgeon, had received about $1.2 million from Medtronic from 2003 to 2007.

Soon patients will be able to weigh their doctors' outside income and decide for themselves. Beginning in September 2013, payment information will be available nationally in a searchable online database run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A number of medical organizations are ahead of the curve in disclosing payment information. For more than a year, St. Louis Park-based Park Nicollet Health Services has listed on its website payments made to medical staff.


Congratulations to (former) U of M med school Dean Deborah Powll, current Dean Frank Cerra, President Robert Bruininks, and other administrators at the U of M for evading their responsibilities in this matter.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

The foot dragging at the U of M in this matter has been truly disgusting. It is sad, indeed, that we should be reluctant followers, rather than in the forefront of this much needed reform.

Looking back at this situation is truly depressing. For just one pitiful example, please see the exchange between our current medical school dean, Dr. Frank Cerra, and me at a faculty forum:

And the angels wept.

More Details On Light Rail Emerge

From the Daily:

The Met Council expects to begin minor construction in early May, following a timeline requested by the University that would allow work to end before football season starts in September.

The University had previously argued that it should receive payment if the accepted standards for electromagnetic interference and vibration are exceeded, originally slated to be $25,000 per occurrence. The University abandoned this stance under the current agreement.

In place of this, the two sides established a set of scenarios to deal with vibration and electromagnetic interference that exceed those standards.

Under certain circumstances, such as the “catastrophic” failure of some light-rail infrastructure, the University could cover up to half the cost of replacing the equipment, granted the Met Council has performed adequate maintenance.

While not a final agreement, this deal lays the groundwork for more serious discussion between the two sides, who have engaged in legal wrangling since the University sued the Met Council in September.

“It is the first step in achieving our objectives and allowing the advanced traffic improvements to start on schedule,” O’Brien said in a press release. “We now have a framework for a comprehensive agreement that includes the necessary protections for research.”

New progress from the mediation sessions came in the form of agreed-upon standards for vibration, dust and noise during the construction process, a boon to the University.

O’Brien called the negotiations “sometimes tense and sometimes cooperative.”

Lawmakers canceled a Friday meeting to discuss legislation that would have forced the University to give the easement.

Questions whether the looming legislation motivated the University to promptly come to an agreement on the issue were met with few straight answers by administrators.

[Cough, cough..]

But President Bob Bruininks said the University had been interested in mediation for months.

He called legislators “grumpy and cranky” about the easements and other issues but said the University was working diligently on coming to an agreement.

[An incredible thing for President Bruininks to say under the circumstances.]

All this comes as the University and the Met Council will go to lawmakers for additional bonding allocations as part of the deal.

The University will need $25 million to move sensitive research equipment away from the construction site, O’Brien said. The Met Council and the University will ask the Legislature to provide half of that funding.

[I'll bet they'll be really happy to do this. And where will the $12.5 mil on the U's side come from, President Bruininks? Tuition "revenue" ? Job cuts? The Northrop fund?]

Bruininks said Gov. Tim Pawlenty “strongly supported” the allocations and expected him to sign a bill containing that language.

Roughly $15 million of the $25 million could go to relocating the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance lab, O’Brien said. The facility, which houses seven enormous, powerful magnets used to investigate health sciences, receives more than $100 million in funding yearly and is accessed by about 160 University researchers, as well as the private sector, O’Brien said.

Plans for moving the lab have been in place for about two years, Bruininks said. It could be relocated to an East Bank parking garage, under current plans.

[Again, incredible. They have been planning to move the lab for two years and yet publicly yammering about EMI, etc. as if the lab were going to remain in place? Fantastic job, Mr. President.]

An additional five or six labs could be relocated or refurbished with added protections using the remaining $10 million. O’Brien said the cost of moving or remodeling a typical lab ranges from $750,000 to $1.5 million.

Both parties were in mediation for three days before the agreement was reached, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said. They were originally ordered into the forced talks by a Hennepin County court March 15 after negotiations bottomed out in January.

[And, it should be re-iterated, the threat of eminent domain looming in the background to finally motivate the U?]

The two sides are expected to go back into mediation April 26, and O’Brien said it would be “wise” to reach a final agreement soon after that.

[It would have been wise a long time ago, VP #40.]

She said 95 percent of the remaining issues, including the specific details of the Washington Avenue pedestrian/transit mall and other easements, were essentially agreed upon, but nothing has been signed yet.

Once the final agreement is official, the University would drop its current lawsuit, O’Brien said. Before signing it, however, an amendment to the agreement requires the Board of Regents to be consulted.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Call for Candor at the University of Minnesota:


Board of Regents


(Especially the Faculty Consultative Committee

Message sent this morning to the Board:

Members of the Board of Regents:

I think that the chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee has been less than candid with you at recent meetings.
For further thoughts on this, please see:

I attach a recent discussion of the Regents Professors with the Faculty Consultative Committee.
If you have not seen this exchange, I would strongly urge you to read the attached document. It is important for you to know about so you have a more accurate view of faculty perceptions of the challenges that face us, especially the views of the Regents Professors, who have made their careers here and have the best interests of our University in mind.

We have some very serious problems at our University. As an alum and faculty member I am quite disturbed about how this situation is currently being handled.

It is critical that we get some of the matters discussed in the attached document out in the open for discussion. Doing anything less is going to lead to disaster.

Thank you for your service.


William B. (Bill) Gleason

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Who will bell the cat?

Perhaps the Faculty Consultative Committee

Has to Speak with More Candor to

Board of Regents

at the University of Minnesota?

From a recent meeting of the Faculty Consultative Committee with the Regents Professors, the following is reported:

Professors Gonzales and Oakes reported that they have been pressing the President and Provost for strategic plans and scope of mission discussions and have worked on the fiscal crisis the entire year. They have no idea what the plan is. That is a problem, which is one reason why the Regents Professors were invited to join the Committee today.

One must be concerned about the decline in the sense of the collective and commitment to the University. It is difficult to get buy-in for a University-wide program, and when one cannot get feedback from central administration, one gets the sense that faculty are tolerated on campus, for the work they do, but the administration appears outcomes-oriented and seems not to welcome participation. If the Faculty Consultative Committee cannot make headway, who can? This situation represents a decline in a sense of the University shaped by the faculty, not just one where faculty members are employed by the University.

What will be the faculty participation in the presidential search?
One hopes that the Bruininks/Sullivan regime will be gone; the University needs new leadership. It is not getting leadership with the central educational mission at the heart of the concern, so this will be a smaller and weaker university. The effort to strengthen the core mission of the University has been bureaucratized to death because of what the central administration has been preoccupied with, such as the stadium and "Driven to Discover." It is not clear how effective faculty governance is—if this Committee can't get plans out of the administration, who can?

The President’s communication to the University regarding the budget cuts insist that quality will not be sacrificed, which can be read to suggest that the institution has been wasteful, which hardly seems to be the case. At what point do claims about steady-state quality (demonstrably untrue) in the face of repetitive severe cuts become counterproductive (for example, in the eyes of the legislature)?
It appears that the University's response is that it will have a lot less and at the same time somehow get better.

And yet, only a month ago, the chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee delivered this message to the Board of Regents:

Perhaps Professor Konstan's admonition to the President (step up or step aside) applies also to those FCC members responsible for faculty governance?

Has the time come for candor with the Board of Regents?

"I think they were a little grumpy..."

(University of Minnesota President Bruininks)

What an inane comment to make.
The President is hoping that the legislature will help him to pull his chestnuts out of the fire, and then he says something like this. After poisoning the well for years, he calls elected officials grumpy and presumes that he is back in their good graces?

Lord love a duck.

His words will come back to haunt him. Many state legislators have seen their own very worthwhile projects line-itemed by the Governor. They feel that they have been more than generous with the University, given the cuts that they have have been forced to make elsewhere. I'm sure they are just lining up to help President Bruininks and the Governor with this problem.

In your dreams, Mr. President.

How was the figure of $12.5 mil arrived at? And where is the university's half coming from? Did the U admin check with the legislature beforehand? Did they agree to the $12.5 mil figure? Or was this something that you just worked out with the Governor and you expect the legislature to just meekly go along with?

The Jockeying Continues...

Lest you think the granting of an easement is the end of it on the University of Minnesota and Central Corridor light rail (from the Pioneer-Press):

Among the key elements of Friday's agreement, which still must be fully ratified:

Both sides agreed on how to deal with potential problems, should they arise. They involve complex scenarios, such as this: If more electromagnetic interference reaches labs than is supposed to and train operators have done everything they can to fix it, but university research is still at risk, the Met Council will for pay for up to $200,000 in repairs. If the costs go higher, they'll split the extra costs with the U. This particular scenario involved concessions from both the university and the Met Council.

[So no blank checks, the U has skin in the game...]

The Met Council will support the university in a new request at the Capitol for $12.5 million in bonding authority to pay to move a handful of labs containing the most sensitive research equipment.

[Which is what should have been done from the very beginning if the University had been honest about the situation.]

University President Robert Bruininks said a $25 million plan to move the labs is still "preliminary," but he said he plans to pursue it during the current legislative session. Acknowledging that might be a tall order, he said, "We're going to try, but if it doesn't work this session, then the next session."

Bruininks added: "I have a commitment from the governor that if the bill reaches his desk in a form he can support, he will sign it."

[Wow, that is unequivocal support!]

It's unclear how good Bruininks' and the university's standing is in the political arena. In late March, when the U refused to give the green light for the advance street work to begin on campus, elected officials on both sides of the river lashed out at the institution.

"I've had it," Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said at the time. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin called the U "myopic," and Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough accused the university of "arrogance and pettiness." State Rep. Alice Hausman, a St. Paul Democrat, said the U's refusal to give the summer construction go-ahead "shows a pattern of noncooperation."

Of such comments, Bruininks said Friday, "I think they were a little grumpy ... but I think we've done our part and will hopefully be back in their good graces.

[Sure, Bob, whatever you say...]

Later this month, Bell and O'Brien will return to mediation to try to iron out remaining disagreements with the eventual goal of the U withdrawing its lawsuit.


Friday, April 16, 2010

More on Light Rail

University of Minnesota (finally) Agrees to Easement

(Just a spoon full of sugar - $12.5 mil - makes the easement go down?)

Yesterday, in response to an Op-Ed, by my friend, Professor Dave Thomas, of the U of M in the Pioneer-Press, I wrote:

Dear Dave-

Thanks for your well thought out arguments. One would expect nothing less from a world class scientist, which you certainly are.

However, I think it would be amiss not to point out that the University has handled this light rail business badly and wasted a lot of our political capital. The NMR lab would have to be moved whether we had an underground tunnel or whether we had the siting above ground. Recall that the U was perfectly fine with the tunnel option.

What should have happened - and did not - is that the cost of moving equipment should have been specified explicitly as part of the mitigation costs. For whatever reason this was not done. Lack of foresight and leadership? So we put ourselves in the unenviable position of insisting that mitigation take place in a manner that the equipment is operable without being moved. A tall order, don't you agree?

I'd suggest that the administration make an offer that involves moving equipment like the NMR lab and spelling out how much this would cost.

Your thoughts?

With best personal regards,

Bill Gleason
U of M alum and faculty member

Coincident with movement today on finally granting the easement was a move afoot at the state legislature to give the Metropolitan Council the right of eminent domain over the disputed land. For reasons that are not worth going into here this would be the first step in removing the U's Vatican-like city/state privileges. They do not want to see this happen. How, otherwise, could people like our Chief Financial Officer tell the legislature to mind its own business?

As MinnPost put it today:

Today's agreement means some work can begin on road improvements in the university area, with temporary easements.

And the Met Council will "implement a construction management plan to protect university research facilities during this summer’s road work, and to join with the university in seeking $12.5 million in state bonding authority to assist with the relocation of certain U research labs from buildings along Washington Avenue," the agreement says.

Given the way the University has already behaved in dealing with local politicians and the leadership at the state legislature they had better pray that this proposal does not meet with outright refusal.

A little more honesty in dealing with the situation from the beginning was called for. There was never any doubt that some labs or equipment were going to have to be moved. To insist that all labs be made functional in situ was an absurd demand.

But that would have taken leadership, foresight, and an ability to play well with others. All of these qualities have been lacking in Morrill Hall for some time.

Leadership matters.

Let's not make the same mistake twice.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Clear Evidence of Erosion

at the University of Minnesota

The latest US News Rankings

Although one can nit-pick, the cumulative effect of watching these rankings for some time is to conclude that slowly but surely, we are falling behind with respect to our legitimate competition, large public universities, especially Big Ten schools. And the bad economy has hit our competition, too. So that should not be used as an excuse.

I could analyze the data in detail, separating out Big Ten schools and our so-called (by the Morrill Hall Gang) aspirational peer group to hammer this point home even further. I could analyze the data for several years to illustrate the downward trend. But I won't waste my time - or yours - because the gang simply blows off such evidence and instead refers us to the wonderful progress being made in the Shanghai rankings, and claims that we are getting better and better every day, in every way...

Don't believe me? Have a look at this:

University of Minnesota Provost Declares
Shanghai Rankings Best

And it is not just Provost Sullivan, look at this recent whopper by the President:

...we're in the midst of transformative change en route to becoming one of the top three public research universities in the world. [sic] President Bruininks Dec 7, 2009 (web site)

So here is some food for thought for the University community, especially our administration.

This Year's USNews Rankings

Law Schools

1. Yale
2. Harvard
3. Stanford
4. Columbia
5. Chicago
6. NYU
7. Berkeley
7. Penn
9. Michigan
10. Virginia
11. Duke
11. Northwestern
13. Cornell
14. Georgetown
15. UCLA
15. Texas
17. Vanderbilt
18. Southern Cal
19. Wash U.
20. GWU
21. Illinois
22. Boston University
22. Emory

22. Minnesota

22. Notre Dame
26. Iowa
27. Indiana

Medical Schools (research)

1. Harvard
2. Penn
3. Hopkins
5. Wash U
6. Duke
6. Michigan
6. U Washington
6. Yale
10. Columbia
11. Stanford
11. UCLA
13. Chicago
14. Pittsburgh
15. Vanderbilt
16. Cornell
16. UCSD
18. Mt. Sinai
18. Northwestern
20. Case Western Reserve
20. Emory
20. North Carolina
20. University of Texas Southwestern
24. Baylor
25. Virginia
26. U Alabama-Birmingham
27. NYU
27. Ohio State
27. Colorado
27. Iowa
27. Wisconsin
32. Brown
32. Rochester
34. Boston U.
34. Dartmouth
34. Southern Cal
37. Oregon Health & Science

38. Minnesota

38. Yeshiva

Primary Care:

1. U. Washington
2. North Carolina
3. Oregon Health and Science
4. Vermont
5. Colorado
7. Michigan State
7. Penn
9. U Mass
10. Iowa

11. Minnesota


1. MIT
2. Stanford
3. Berkeley
4. Georgia Tech
5. Illinois
6. CMU
7. Caltech
8. Michigan
9. Texas
10. Cornell
10. USC
12. Texas A&M
13. Purdue
13. UCSD
15. UCLA
15. Wisconsin
17. Princeton
18. Columbia
19. Harvard
19. UC Santa Barbara
21. Northwestern
22. Maryland
23. Penn State
23. Pennsylvania
25. Hopkins
25. Ohio State
25. Virginia Tech

28. Minnesota

28. U Washington

Individual Engineering Disciplines

Aerospace: not in top ten (nit)
Biological: nit
Biomedical: nit
Chemical: tied for 3rd
Civil: nit
Electrical: nit
Environmental: nit
Industrial: nit
Materials: nit

Business Schools, Carlson: 24

Education: 23

Chemistry: 21

Physics: 26

Computer Science:


Earth Science: 28

Biological Sciences:

Individual Biological Science Disciplines

Biochem, Biophys, Struct. Biology Not In Top Ten (nitt)

Cell Biology nitt

Ecology/Evolution nitt

Genetics/Genomics/Bioinformatics nitt

Immunology nitt

Microbiology nitt

Molecular Biology nitt

Neuroscience nitt

Earth to Morrill Hall: We have a problem here.

Time to take your head out of the sand and face reality.

And by the way, the faculty are the ones to talk to about how to fix this.

Clearly your efforts over the past few years to become one of the best public research universities in the world - have only made things worse!

Leadership matters. Let's not make the same mistake twice.

We are not going to grow out of the financial mess

at the University of Minnesota

by increasing Federal Grants...

Dirty Little Secret Finally Acknowledged
Research Funding From Outside Federal Grants
Requires Additional Subsidy

I've been harping on this point for, literally, years. See for example:

If You Build It, Grants Will Come? Or, Could Someone at BigU Please Be Honest and Responsible About Expansion of Biomedical Research?

Trees Do Not Grow to The Sky or, Why the State Legislature Should Not Write a Blank Check to BigU for Biomedical Research Buildings

Who's Dismantling the Ivory Tower?

Honesty on the matter is going to be required from the Morrill Hall Gang if we are ever to dig ourselves out of the current mess. 

University of Minnesota Vice-President for Research, Tim Mulcahy, confirms the fact that grants from the federal government - and a lot of other places, actually - require subsidization by the University of Minnesota. The obvious question is: From where do such funds come?

Clearly, bragging about our increased federal funding, is inappropriate without acknowledging that accepting such funding means further commitment of University resources which are increasingly scarce.

Leadership and foresight in the past on this important matter has been lacking.

Senate Research Committee
Monday, March 22, 2010

Dr. Mulcahy recalled that about 18 months ago the President appointed a working group to address financing the future of the University; the group issued a report that was subject to considerable discussion.

One question the report asked is whether there are revenue streams that might be enhanced. One suggestion was to increase the volume of sponsored research and thereby collect additional indirect-cost funds.

Many [moi...], however, recognized the fallacy in that suggestion: The University does not recover the full cost of research, so increasing the volume of sponsored research would mean greater cost and that the University would have to increase its subsidization of research.
Many do not understand F&A costs, so he had a session with the President's executive team to introduce the idea that the University should introduce changes in its policies and practices.

Sad, indeed, that Dr. Mulcahy had to explain this to the President's executive team. That they did not know this already is part of the reason we are in the current mess.

Leadership matters. Let's not make the same mistake twice.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wonderful News at U of M!

David Tilman Wins

2010 Heineken Prize for Environmental Science

From MPR:

St. Paul, Minn. — A University of Minnesota researcher has been awarded one of the most prestigious science awards in the world.

Professor David Tilman was recognized for showing that biodiversity is essential for stable ecosystems, and for demonstrating the value of protecting endangered species.

The award is the 2010 Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Tilman's work in the 1980s and 1990s at the University's Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve focused on resource competition and biodiversity. The National Science Foundation designated Cedar Creek as a long-term ecological research project, one of only 18 such sites in the country.

Tilman's grassland experiments are among the longest running in the world.

More recently Tilman, author of 4 books on ecology, has done studies showing that perennial grasses are an environmentally better feedstock for ethanol than corn. That work has been controversial, but Tilman said he's looking for solutions.

"It's not my desire to criticize something if I can't find something better, so I'm interested in finding solutions to these big challenges the world faces as we try to have sustainable lives for nine or ten billion people on earth," Tilman said.

The University of Minnesota says nine previous winners of the Heineken prize in other scientific fields have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

The Heineken Award carries a cash prize of $150,000.

Congratulations to Professor Tilman.

Yes, we have world class scientists at the U!

University of Minnesota makes the Chronicle

"pattern of noncooperation"

"arrogance and pettiness"

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

State legislators are sending a firm message to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities: Make room for a light rail line through the campus or the state will make that room through eminent domain.

According to the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, city and state officials say that the university's "pattern of noncooperation" and "arrogance and pettiness" could delay and drive up the costs of a nearly $1-billion project to extend the Twin Cities' relatively new light-rail system. Under the plan that system, which now runs from downtown to the airport, would get a new line that runs from downtown Minneapolis, through the university campus, to Saint Paul.

A lobbyist for the university said that administrators feared that vibrations and electromagnetic radiation would interfere with work in laboratories along the proposed line.

The Met Council and the university will start court-ordered mediation this week, with the hopes of working out a deal.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

University of Minnesota

Regents Professors visit Faculty Consultative Committee

"One hopes that the Bruininks/Sullivan regime will be gone;
the University needs new leadership."

"In response to a question about whether the presidential transition is a problem, Professor Luepker said he thought it is."


Faculty Consultative Committee

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Professor Gonzales convened the meeting at 12:10 and welcomed the Regents Professors. She said the Committee would be interested in hearing any concerns or issues that are on their minds, and said that in the interest of candor, the comments would be noted in the minutes but that names would not be attached to them.

As a DGS, one is seeing the impact of budget cuts and must be concerned about the future of graduate education. Every day is a bad news day, and down the road, one must ask what will happen to graduate education. In addition, the University is in transition, things are up in the air, so programs are difficult to administer.

One Regents Professor commented that their program has a lot of foundation money and is able to recruit the best students in the field. That subverts great programs; how will this remain a great research university if it cannot attract first-rate graduate students—and the faculty who attract such students?

Across-the-board cuts are easier than targeted cuts but they do not make sense. There is a need for hard decisions and criteria for determining what is important so that the colleges can decide what departments to support or not support. The 3-5-8% cuts are frustrating because they undercut the quality of the University.

As people think about moving the University forward, they need to think about departments that do not traditionally support graduate students with grant funds because the faculty cannot obtain a lot of grant funding. When the University comes out of this, does it want strong science departments and weak humanities?

Professors Gonzales and Oakes reported that they have been pressing the President and Provost for strategic plans and scope of mission discussions and have worked on the fiscal crisis the entire year. They have no idea what the plan is. That is a problem, which is one reason why the Regents Professors were invited to join the Committee today.

The frustration in CLA with the protocols in place for approving Liberal Education courses (effective for incoming students as of Fall 2010), among a number of CLA department heads as well as faculty, is very high. At worst, the protocols as followed by the Committee on Liberal Education (CLE) have been described by several individuals in various departments as "infantilizing"; chairs have reported their course proposals being sent back repeatedly for revision (if not outright refused), sometimes as many as four or five times, requiring an enormous expenditure of faculty time for what often seems like small return.

Fall registration begins in just two weeks. Though CLE has been reviewing courses for a full calendar year, the number of approved courses—required for graduation—remains a fraction of what was available to students under the old system now being phased out. Under the various categories (for example, Arts/Humanities & Literature; or Historical Perspectives and Historical Thinking) less than half as many courses as in the past are now listed as approved on the OneStop website. If insufficient numbers of courses are available to students, their graduation will necessarily be delayed, thus disrupting the University's efforts to improve the four-year graduation rate.

The liberal-education protocols likewise invite potential harm to the professionalization of graduate students. The protocols do not permit for even advanced graduate students (ABDs) to teach liberal-education courses (typically 1XXX level), teaching experience that in many disciplines is critical for new PhDs to be competitive on the job market (especially the case in a number of the humanities and social sciences).

CLE has seen departments act irresponsibly, some of which is based on self-interest: They don't want to require students to go to other departments to take classes. The reply: The strictures are so tight that there are not enough courses to allow students to graduate, so they will go elsewhere to school, and there is the impact on graduate education as well. Professor Hanna commented that this [self interest] sounds like an extension of the current budget model where tuition dollars are so important. One of the Regents Professors commented in response that "it [the budget model] is crazy."

One must be concerned about the decline in the sense of the collective and commitment to the University. It is difficult to get buy-in for a University-wide program, and when one cannot get feedback from central administration, one gets the sense that faculty are tolerated on campus, for the work they do, but the administration appears outcomes-oriented and seems not to welcome participation. If the Faculty Consultative Committee cannot make headway, who can? This situation represents a decline in a sense of the University shaped by the faculty, not just one where faculty members are employed by the University.

Professor Luepker observed that once again the University is faced with a crisis, and suddenly units face a 2% or 5% or 7% across-the-board cut. That may be the way to respond to the immediate problem but that does not make the hard decisions about the way the University is going. Professors Gonzales and Oakes, and others, have been asking where the 3-5-year plan is. What the University faces now is just a small bump in the road; in the summer of 2011 there will be a much deeper bump. Professor Luepker related what had been discussed at the Advancing Excellence steering committee and commented that faculty members must be involved in the discussions about the broader issues concerning where the University will be in 3-5 years. He said he hoped the process would not be top-down and that the colleges will get active. The University will get smaller, he concluded, and recalled that Senior Vice President Cerra told the Finance and Planning Committee that the Medical School will shrink by 10-12%.

In response to a question about whether the presidential transition is a problem, Professor Luepker said he thought it is.
A lame-duck president may be in a good position to make decisions, he said, and the University needs decisions now or the next president will be left with a bigger mess. He said he thought the faculty should press hard for decisions now. One Regents Professor said that there is a concern that if nothing except defending the institution is on the table for the incoming president, the situation would invite the administration and new president to do what they want. Their concern, Professor Oakes said, is that anyone in the room can make the case that his or her program is central to the mission. That is another reason the Regents Professors were invited to the meeting: because they can emphasize the University-wide approach that is needed.

None here would disagree with the proposition that the central purpose of the University is education and intellectual activity.
It seems that that central mission has been bled in the last three years for other purposes. One can argue about 3% versus 5% cuts, but the University could get rid of its intercollegiate athletic program, sell the stadium, and let it function on its own.

It's also worth asking if the investment in the branding campaign, "Driven to Discover," has contributed anything to the educational mission of the University.

What will be the faculty participation in the presidential search?
One hopes that the Bruininks/Sullivan regime will be gone; the University needs new leadership. It is not getting leadership with the central educational mission at the heart of the concern, so this will be a smaller and weaker university. The effort to strengthen the core mission of the University has been bureaucratized to death because of what the central administration has been preoccupied with, such as the stadium and "Driven to Discover." It is not clear how effective faculty governance is—if this Committee can't get plans out of the administration, who can?

Why can't this Committee get the administration to provide plans? And if not, what should they do? This Committee is the faculty's voice; if it is unable to represent the faculty, other faculty should help. One does one's work knowing that the members of this Committee are doing the hard work of speaking for faculty in governance [supposedly], for which they are to be thanked. If nothing is getting done, the faculty needs to know that.

The key message from the Regents Professors could be significant: If there is not adequate faculty representation on major committees, including those dealing with budget cuts, the University is in big trouble. Faculty should be at least 60% of the representatives on major committees; the message from this Committee and the Regents Professors could be that without major faculty representation, it will be impossible to avoid having the administration run the institution.

The faculty are not just employees. The faculty provide the intellectual and pedagogical stuff that makes for a great—or mediocre—university. And it is the faculty, not the administration, that must shape the University. The faculty do the intellectual work that makes this a great university.

Professor Sampson observed how difficult the task is, given the angst that a $36 million cut is provoking for 2011. In regard to the coming biennium, if, for example, there is a $5 billion shortfall and if higher education's cut is proportionate to its share of the budget, then the higher-education reduction might be $450 million.

That projection clearly means the University will have to close programs.

It is not the coming budgets that are of concern as much as budget cuts being made now without consideration of quality. The colleges have not been asked what is good and what the quality measures are. One does not feel good about this process.

... twice per year this Committee has a meeting with the President and senior vice presidents devoted to a discussion of the intellectual future of the University. The Committee identifies a theme to guide the discussion. The theme for the next meeting is "How to trim the tree of knowledge: Downsizing the University."

Faculty members in general recognize that this is an extraordinary situation. Their parochialism will or must give way to recognizing they are part of a larger community, and that decisions will be required for tough cuts. Faculty voices must be a part of the decisions.

The Regents Professors have one advantage: They have been here a long time and built their careers at the University. They have seen a lot and have seen bad times in the past; they have institutional memory. They can bring a collective memory to the situation. They believe in the University and want to be sure that any decisions made in a crisis are made with the core mission of the University in mind. One does not always see that to be the case in recent decisions. One hopes that the faculty at the meeting, and the hundreds who are not, will think hard about what the University should look like.

Professor Chomsky said she endorsed the idea of the Regents Professors speaking. The administration hears from this Committee, with considerable communication in private, and it also hears shriller voices (who complain correctly about concerns like the failure to justify administrative expenses, but aren’t doing so effectively [cough, cough]). For the administration to hear directly from the Regents Professors cannot hurt.

The department chairs in one college were informed about the budget cuts and told they nonetheless had the responsibility to retain current student headcounts in order to generate tuition revenue at current levels. The necessary result is larger class sizes, for which, in the 1980s, the University was criticized severely by the legislature. The President’s communication to the University regarding the budget cuts insist that quality will not be sacrificed, which can be read to suggest that the institution has been wasteful, which hardly seems to be the case. At what point do claims about steady-state quality (demonstrably untrue) in the face of repetitive severe cuts become counterproductive (for example, in the eyes of the legislature)? It appears that the University's response is that it will have a lot less and at the same time somehow get better.
There are some legislative voices who regard the University's aspirations to improve itself as the explanation for why tuition is so high. People who have been around longer than he has also say there is now more appreciation among legislators than there used to be of the importance of the quality of the University, including the need for it to continue to bring in large research grants and contribute vitality to the local high tech industry.

Professor Gonzales thanked the Regents Professors for joining the meeting and for their candor. Professor Oakes said that if the Committee could help in developing a statement, it would be glad to do so.