Saturday, July 31, 2010

(Francis Collins view of Venter?)

An Interview with the Vampire?

Craig Venter
Answers Der Spiegel Questions

Selections from Der Spiegel:

[This is only a selection, the whole interview is well worth reading.]

SPIEGEL: Mr. Venter, when the elite among gene researchers undertook the decoding of the human genome, you were their greatest enemy. They called you "Frankenstein," "blood sucker," "Darth Venter" and even "asshole." Why do you attract so much hostility?

Venter: Well, nobody likes to be beaten -- by superior intelligence, planning and technology. That gets people upset.

SPIEGEL: Wasn't it more the case that your opponents were afraid that you, as a profit-oriented entrepreneur, would make the human genome your own private property?

Venter: That is totally absurd; and you know it. Initially, Francis Collins and the other people on the Human Genome Project claimed that my methods would never work. When they started to realize that they were wrong, they began personal attacks against me and made up these things about the ownership of the genome. It was all absurd.

SPIEGEL: Was the importance of gene patents, which fueled the dispute, exaggerated?

Venter: First of all, nobody has made any serious money off patents on human genes except patent attorneys. Second, I do not hold any patents on human genes. You can do a patent search. Then you can convince yourself.

SPIEGEL: It appeared at the time that you had agreed to be undecided. Do you now view yourself as the winner of the race?

Venter: I don't think it really matters.

SPIEGEL: The New York Times later declared the public Human Genome Project to be the victor. Can you really claim that you don't care?

Venter: Oh, the New York Times! How do you define the "winner" in this case? What is decisive is that it is our data that is in the databases -- not the data the consortium put together back then.

SPIEGEL: The genome project has been called the Manhattan Project or Moon Landing of its era. It has also been said that knowledge of the genes will change the future of humanity and become a "main driver of the world economy."

Venter: Who said that? I didn't. That was the people at the consortium.

SPIEGEL: You're wrong. You made all those statements in an interview with DER SPIEGEL in 1998.

Venter: Really? Those are Francis Collins' lines. So I may have said that that's how he describes it. I, on the other hand, have always said, "This is a race from the starting line to the finish."

SPIEGEL: So the significance of the genome isn't so great after all?

Venter: Not at all. I can tell you from my own experience. I put my own genome on the Internet. People had the notion this was the scariest thing out there. But what happened? Nothing.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, Jim Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, has said he doesn't want to know which variant of the so-called ApoE gene he has -- it could say something about his risk for developing Alzheimer's, and he's afraid of that …

Venter: That was silliness. At that age? Watson is over 80.

SPIEGEL: The decoding of your personal genome has so far revealed little more than the fact that your ear wax tends to be moist.

Venter: That's what you say. And what else have I learned from my genome? Very little. We couldn't even be certain from my genome what my eye color was. Isn't that sad? Everyone was looking for miracle 'yes/no' answers in the genome. "Yes, you'll have cancer." Or "No, you won't have cancer." But that's just not the way it is.

SPIEGEL: So the Human Genome Project has had very little medical benefits so far?

Venter: Close to zero to put it precisely.

SPIEGEL: Why is it taking so long for the results of genome research to be applied in medicine?

Venter: Because we have, in truth, learned nothing from the genome other than probabilities. How does a 1 or 3 percent increased risk for something translate into the clinic? It is useless information.

SPIEGEL: There are hundreds of hereditary diseases that can be traced to defects in individual genes. You can determine a lot more than just probabilities through them. But that still hasn't led to a flood of new treatments.

Venter: There were false expectations. Take Ataxia telangiectasia, for example, a horrible disease. The nervous system degenerates, and people who have it often die in their early teens. The cause is a defect in a single gene, but it is a developmental gene. If your body is built in the wrong way, then you can't just take a magic pill to rebuild it. If your brain is wired wrong, then it is wired wrong.

SPIEGEL: But the keys are really located in the dark?

Venter: Exactly. Why did people think there were so many human genes? It's because they thought there was going to be one gene for each human trait. And if you want to cure greed, you change the greed gene, right? Or the envy gene, which is probably far more dangerous. But it turns out that we're pretty complex. If you want to find out why someone gets Alzheimer's or cancer, then it is not enough to look at one gene. To do so, we have to have the whole picture. It's like saying you want to explore Valencia and the only thing you can see is this table. You see a little rust, but that tells you nothing about Valencia other than that the air is maybe salty. That's where we are with the genome. We know nothing.

SPIEGEL: Do you think there will be a time when you can extract all this information to yield real medical results?

Venter: For that to happen we need a lot more information: Information about your body's chemistry, your physiology, your complete medical history, your brain and your entire life. We would need to do that a million times on different people and correlate that data with their genetic information.

SPIEGEL: Will that lead in the end to the kind of personalized medicine that genetic researchers have always touted? Each person would get his or her own personal treatment that is tailored precisely to that person's genetic make-up?

Venter: That was another one of these silly naïve notions that was out there. It's not, 'Oh, we know your genome, we're going to make this drug for you.' That will never happen. It is more important that you use the information in the genome about your personal risks and reduce them through intelligent behavior.

Many fear what might happen if humans craft new life forms. They repeatedly say that you are playing God …

Venter: Yes, and I find them frightening. I can read your genome, you know? Nobody's been able to do that in history before. But that is not about God-like powers, it's about scientific power. The real problem is that the understanding of science in our society is so shallow. In the future, if we want to have enough water, enough food and enough energy without totally destroying our planet, then we will have to be dependent on good science.

SPIEGEL: Some scientist don't rule out a belief in God. Francis Collins, for example …

Venter: … That's his issue to reconcile, not mine. For me, it's either faith or science - you can't have both.

SPIEGEL: So you don't consider Collins to be a true scientist?

Venter: Let's just say he's a government administrator.

SPIEGEL: How long will it be until the life forms you have created start producing fuel for our cars?

Venter: Not only gasoline. Plastic, asphalt, heating oil: Everything that we make from oil will at some point be made by bacteria or other cells. Whether that is in five, 10 or 20 years is unclear. Why don't we have fuel now other than alcohol from microbes? It's because nothing evolved that can produce great amounts of biofuel out of CO2. That's why we have to make it.

SPIEGEL: It took eight years from the time the first bacterial genome was decoded until the human genome was completed. How much time will elapse between the creation of the first synthetic bacteria and the creation of the first synthetic human?

Venter: There is currently no reason for us to synthesize human cells. I am, for example, a fan of the work that was done a short time ago that led to the decoding of the Neanderthal genome. But we don't need any more Neanderthals on the planet, right? We already have enough of them.


University of Minnesota President

Flacks Jonathan Cole's Book

Sets Up Another

Monologue/Great Conversation ...

From MinnPost:

"One book I've recommended to a number of my colleagues is "The Great American University" by Jonathan Cole, former Columbia University provost. Not only is Cole's book relevant to our work at the University of Minnesota, it makes a compelling case for why we need a new national strategy for developing human capital and innovation. U.S. research universities play an essential role in our nation's leadership and prosperity; I've invited Cole and Bob Berdahl (another long-time higher education leader) to campus this fall for a Great Conversation on these issues."
Why doesn't President Bruininks invite some faculty members from the University of Minnesota - like Eva von Dassow - to have a "Great Conversation?" Her remarks to the Board of Regents been described as "regal and elegant" by the local media. And they have been viewed with overwhelming approbation by going on twenty thousand. If is a great university then why not get our own great faculty together for a dialogue. Or would that not be a "Great Conversation?" Maybe they would actually say some things that the administration does not want to hear? Couldn't have that, could we?

I have to say I find the title for these soirées off putting. We bring in some bright bulb from outside and sit them down with some local, often an administrator, and these sessions are described as: "Great Conversations." They aren't and the title sounds arrogant.

What do the views of a provost from a wealthy private University have to with the situation and mission of a land grant university?

Maybe because Cole will say what the president wants to hear, having read the book?

Other people have read this book the book and are not so enthralled, including Harvard econ professor, Claudia Goldin. Here's what she had to say in her review of the book in the New York Times:

But a 150-page inventory like the one Cole provides here tells us as much about why some universities are “great” as a list of names of accomplished people in a large family shows us why their family is “great” relative to others. Moreover, it does nothing to illuminate whether universities did it alone and what kind of incentives were used to enhance researcher productivity.

Private enterprise and government agencies work with universities, as Cole’s own roll call of great achievements demonstrates; they also compete with them. For example, the University of California scientist who isolated the gene for insulin founded Chiron. The cancer drug Gleevec originated in research at M.I.T. and U.C.L.A. but was produced by Novartis. The fetal scanner was produced by Physionic Engineering Inc., formed by researchers who had left the University of Colorado. Organs can be transplanted only with the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine, developed by Sandoz (now Novartis). The head-lice shampoo developed at Purdue was marketed by Nature’s Sunshine. The Hubble telescope was a joint venture among the European Space Agency, NASA and others, though the idea came from a Princeton astrophysicist. The laser came from research at American universities and Bell Labs.

Cole notes these collaborations but does little to address the numerous questions they raise. What is the optimal division of research among universities, private enterprise and the government?

Which is best for the integrity of the university? “At Columbia, we pursued technology transfer aggressively,” Cole writes. “If we succeeded, we could use the resources generated to compete effectively with wealthier universities.” [sic] but was Cole really just acting as a modern Robin Hood, or does the profit motive pervert the mission of his and other universities?

Today, the greatest threats to American higher education probably do not concern any of the things Cole discusses. Rather, they relate to the openness of the system and the academic preparedness of its students, who, as Cole acknowledges at the outset, play almost no role in this volume.

The great research universities educate a substantial fraction of all four-year undergraduates and produce more than three-quarters of all Ph.D.’s. As Cole acknowledges, “excellence in teaching and excellence in research” are “mutually reinforcing.”

But many students are finding it harder to gain access to that teaching. In 1980 average private tuition was 20 percent of median family income, but it is 50 percent today; average public tuition was 4 percent of median family income in 1980 and is 11 percent today. We have witnessed, just this past year, the vulnerability of the great California system.

Without renewed commitment to preparedness and access, the great American university may not remain great.

Let's stop trying to stack the deck, shall we Mr. President?

Friday, July 30, 2010

University of Minnesota President

Job Advertisement in the Chronicle

of Higher Education

- University of Minnesota

After providing exemplary presidential leadership for the past eight years, Robert H. Bruininks has announced his decision to step down and return to the faculty at the conclusion of the next academic year. In turn, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents announces a nationwide search to recruit the 16th president of the University.

Founded in 1851, the University of Minnesota today is one of the largest and most prestigious public research universities in the nation. It is a land-grant institution, with five campuses, eighteen regional extension offices and more than a dozen research and outreach centers. It enrolls more than 67,000 students, employs 4,100 faculty members, and has an annual budget greater than $3.0 billion. The National Science Foundation Survey of Research and Development Expenditures ranks the University of Minnesota ninth among public research institutions - with more than $563 million in external research funding in 2009. The Scientist magazine placed it fourth among U. S. research universities for patent creation and innovation. The University of Minnesota is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU).

The Board of Regents expects the next president to build upon the University of Minnesota’s strong foundation of achievement while articulating a clear and compelling vision for the future. The Board is seeking an individual who is a proven, successful leader with experience in an academic enterprise of similar complexity to the University of Minnesota and who possesses an understanding of and enthusiasm for the land-grant role and tradition. The next president will be dedicated to academic excellence and quality in education and research while contributing to the outreach needs of the state. The selected individual will be an innovative and inspirational leader who can effectively communicate the importance of the University, enhance public trust in the institution, and successfully enlist financial support from public and private sources.

A complete ‘Presidential Profile’ and encompassing information about the search can be found at

While applications and nominations will be accepted until a new president is selected, interested parties are encouraged to submit your materials to the address below by August 20 to assure optimal consideration.

R. William ‘Bill’ Funk

R. William Funk & Associates

100 Highland Park Village, Suite 200

Dallas, Texas 75205


Fax: 214/295-3312

~The University of Minnesota is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer~

Chairman of Board of Regents

Floats Trial Balloon for Big Bucks

for New University of Minnesota President

As we use to say at 3M (facetiously): "You can buy a better product, but you can't pay more money."

Or, if you pay a lot of money then he or she (new president) must be good?

From MPR:

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks ranks as one of the highest-paid public college presidents in the U.S.

His base salary is $455,000 a year. Add retirement funds to the mix, and the total compensation package is almost $650,000.

The university also allows Bruininks to crash on its couch, so to speak. He lives at the university's official residence, Eastcliff, a stately, 20-room, 10,000-square-foot mansion on the banks of the Mississippi River.

But is all that enough to attract a top candidate to become the school's next leader?

Clyde Allen, chair of the university's Board of Regents, isn't sure. He says it could take more.

"If you want just the right person who's going to get the most out of what we do spend on the university, that may be a very, very good investment," he said.

[Sick, just sick...]

That could be controversial when the state faces a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit and student tuition continues to rise. Republican state Sen. Gen Olson, of Minnetrista, isn't sure now is the time for such a request. "Just because somebody else, some other system or some other state is doing it -- I think we have to consider Minnesota and what Minnesotans want too," she says.

Olson says if MnSCU and the U of M want to increase the already healthy salaries of their presidents, they also need to convince taxpayers it's necessary.

Saranna Thornton is an economics professor in Virginia. She also chairs a committee for the American Association of University Professors that monitors the economic status of the higher education profession.

She says pumping up the pay for a new president could be a tough sell to faculty and staff on MnSCU and U of M campuses since they've seen relatively small pay increases in recent years.

"There starts to be morale issues when compensation for presidents is increasing dramatically and compensation for faculty is remaining relatively flat."

Thornton says incoming presidents may have a hard time leading by example if they negotiate big salaries, and then need to make budget cuts or reduce the salaries of faculty and staff.

I think it is time for the Board of Regents to start realizing that some of their actions, although well meaning, contribute to the disaster that is the current relationship of the U and the state legislature. Making statements like this, Chair Allen, is counterproductive and inflammatory.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Further Consequences of Vatican

City-State Like Status of the

University of Minnesota

Shouldn't the U of M be subject to inspection for code violation by the City of Minneapolis, or the State of Minnesota? Apparently not...

[For background, please see: "Is Northrop Hall at the University of Minnesota Safe." Links to relevant down loadable pdf documents may be found there.]

to ""
cc "Honerman, James (DLI)" ,
date Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 9:23 AM
subject RE: Attention: Commissioner

Mr. Gleason,
From our review of the information you submitted, it appears that the building official has appropriately evaluated and addressed concerns expressed over the safety of Northrop Auditorium.

I am afraid that I have to disagree with you. How can it be that a University official - Mr. Rosenstone, claims that Northrop is a threat to public safety. He alleges that fireproofing is inadequate and the air quality is unsafe. Mr. Larson's assurances do not address these important safety issues.

If you continue to disagree with the building official's assessment, you will need to continue discussing the matter with him as he is the designated building official (authority having jurisdiction) for the University.

As noted in the email exchange, Mr. Larson has not responded to my last inquiry.

As confirmed in the correspondence from the Attorney General's Office, our office has no direct jurisdiction over the regulation of the facilities at the University of Minnesota.

I think you should read this letter from the Attorney General's office a little more carefully.

It states: "Second, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry ("DLI") is the State agency with the authority to certify and regulate ALL building officials in Minnesota. DLI may suspend, limit, place conditions on, or revoke a building official's certificate if he or she violates any provisions of the Code or otherwise engages in fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."

Thus it appears, according to the Attorney General's office that your office does indeed have the power to revoke Mr. Larson's building official 's certificate.

Please respond as soon as possible.

Scott D. McLellan

Assistant Director
Construction Codes & Licensing Division
Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry

It's nice to hear that Dr. David Metzen, former

University of Minnesota regent,

has gotten religion on graduation rates...

I've posted earlier on the irony of this: "College Graduation Rates in Lake Wobegon Country, NOT All Above Average."

The Strib reports further evangelism by Dr. Metzen on the topic of higher education rates:

... 55 percent shouldn't be its aim, said David Metzen, director of the state's Office of Higher Education.

It should be 70 percent -- "minimum."

"If Minnesota is going to be a leader, we're going to have to do better than the national average," he said, pointing out that an educated population boosts a strong economy.

Metzen has ideas about how to get more students degrees.
It's nice to hear that Metzen has ideas about raising graduation rates. Where were they when he was a regent, including even being chairman of the board? 

Seventy percent?

That's rather ironic coming from the good Doctor.

It should be noted that Metzen is also a former University of Minnesota regent who served for twelve years - even as chair (2003-2005). So he was present during the dog days of lousy graduation rates, what was it, 25%? 

President Bruininks has also been around forever but has also recently gotten religion.

With Metzen's background in education, master's and doctorate in educational administration, as well as serving as a school superintendent for eighteen years, one might think that graduation rates would have been important to him back then?

However, Dr. Metzen was also a gopher hockey player. He served as the unofficial regent for the athletics department. Perhaps he had more pressing issues back then during his twelve years as a regent? Such as athletics at the U?

Who can forget his tantrum at the Board of Regents meeting - I was there - over alcohol in the House that Bob Built? Rather than graduation rates, his focus then was the House that Bob Built and Muscoplat's Folly [aka UMore Park]?

"Regent David Metzen said he thought the future of the project [Umore Park] is the most important decision to face the University in the last 15 years." (Daily - 6/13/08)

His hockey playing friend, governor Pawlenty, has appointed him to the Minnesota Office of
Higher Education, where it is now finally fashionable to be concerned about graduation rates. It's nice to have a sinecure in your old age. Otherwise he'd have to make a living giving inspirational talks (at 2-5K$ a pop), like: 

Leaders are Learners [sic]

Change or Die

Building a Learning Organization

How Great Boards Work [sic]

It’s All About People [sic]

You Can’t Win Without Teamwork

Inspiring and Motivating Your Staff

Barriers to Change

Moving out of your Comfort Zone

To which can now at last be added:

Get Those Graduation Rates Up!

And so it goes in higher ed at Lake Wobegon.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reaction of Morrill Hall Gang (and Flack)

A Critique of the Cuts at the

University of Minnesota

Some Comments

From comments on an Inside Higher Education post:

Thank you for making the community aware of Professor von Dassow's remarks. She was described as "regal and eloquent" by one local news outlet. Unfortunately, the University of Minnesota administration continues to attempt to marginalize those faculty members who disagree with their crusade to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic], while destroying the fabric of the university. People who think that we should aim to be one of the top schools in the BigTen are described as "doubters" by our president.

My experience is that many of the liberal arts programs being cut are not very strong, either in terms of scholarship or number of credit hours taught. What often becomes a stirring defense of the humanities as the key to human existence (I'm in the humanities)is really the defense of poorly-performing programs. When one considers various kinds of data it often becomes apparent that those programs either should be eliminated, or their professors should not be given a research teaching load. Furthermore, my experience as an administrator is that humanities programs that are able to demonstrate their strength are cut less, not cut, or are given additional, redirected, funds. (A self-described administrator at a big state U.)


I am also a member of Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education and, like Eva, I spoke at the Regents Open Forum. Everything she said is correct and completely to the point. Bill Gleason noted this. The administrator who commented, exhibited clearly why what Universities need is far fewer administrators. Perhaps at his institution, which he did not name, the Liberal Arts are weak. This is not the case at Minnesota. Even if there are two graduating majors a year in Greek or in Philosophy, these disciplines are of intrinsic worth and importance to our cultural tradition. There was only one Ludwig Wittgenstein, but there might be many millions of MBA's. An university's excellence is not measured by winning the Rose Bowl or making it to the Final Four.

These days, every time I hear an administrator say "productivity," "performance," or "strength," I cringe. It always reminds me of Charlie Chaplin spinning through the cogs of the machinery in "Modern Times." "Productivity" and "performance" are such clear references to industrial measures that I will not comment on them. As best as I can make out, "strength" (high or low) refers to the score a department receives on such measures as the Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity, one of the tools that Wannabe U (the flagship university that I studied) used to identify weak graduate programs. The web site of the Delaware Study warns that its reports are not designed to help make cuts, but that warning appears to be besides the point. What "counts" in the new accountability regime that dominates higher education today is that the Delaware Study and such organizations as Academic Analytics provide counts. If you can count it, it must be real.


Not very strong programs... those which are continually pared?

When you constantly starve a program, do not give that program the resources to be vital, you eventually will weaken and kill it!

Not enough students! Not enough productivity! Not enough research! I've seen it all!

A simple recipe: you do not replace faculty who retire. That has a domino effect: less faculty, less course offerings, less students, less research... and then you have a "weak" program which needs to be cut precisely because it has not institutional support!

That is the way of the game these days.

And von Dassow is right on the... lack of money!


Humanist: Your post begs the question. You claim that the humanities departments facing cuts are those that are "poorly performing," but the question that is at stake is precisely what one means by performance. Is performance to be defined in terms of revenue generation? If so, then how does one gauge that? Is it terms of grants that the departments receive? If so, then humanities departments will always be at a disadvantage. (One only has to witness the recent events at Middlesex University to see the folly of this way of thinking.) Or, as Van Dassow claims in her eloquent speech, in terms of students served?


It's a great speech, hitting on exactly the issue - many public universities are about revenue generation and not about public education or educational values anymore. The MBAs and number-crunchers have deemed liberal arts irrelevant, and given the declining percentage of liberal arts students (just look at the growth in the life or hard sciences, engineering, and business, or education), this death spiral is likely to increase. The professor's speech was elegant and important, but the barn door has been open for years, and the cows are out.


To add insult to injury, Presidents, Provosts, and CFOs often do NOT adhere to the polemics of productivity. Many academic programs are stunted or pruned even though they do enroll an adequate or even large number of students. Take a look at the Delta Project study of state university costs -- each year at most flagship state universities the percentage of income (from student tuition payments and state student appropriations) goes increasingly toward administrative and non-instructional costs, with a decreasing percentage/amount going toward educational and instructional expenses. Sad but true.


This Spring at the University of Kentucky a faculty advisory group recommended that the Provost should NOT seek a 1% salary increase for faculty and staff -- an increase that would cost about an additional $3.5 million. After all, times are hard and since faculty had not received a raise in the preceding two years, once again faculty would show their sense of team play (contrary to the stereotype of being whiners). A few weeks later at the Board of Trustees meeting in June, the university Board approved an appropriation of $6 million to bail out a long time money losing research park. The university's research park already had received about $11.5 million in university funding and in 15 years had yet to generate a surplus -- nor fulfill its charge to be an "economic engine." So, where is the mantra of "productivity" in this case?


As a humanities faculty member in a state system school (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education--PASSHE) currently involved in very much the same struggle against the same poorly evidenced arguments and thinly veiled profit-driven motives made by our chancellor, board of governors, university presidents, and administrators, I just want to take this moment to applaud Professor von Dassow.

Thank you, Professor von Dassow for your articulate, impassioned, and right-on-the-dollar remarks about the gutting of humanities programs in favor of the flavor-of-the-week money-makers. The corporatizing and privatizing of PUBLIC universities--the down-sizing, on-lining and out-sourcing of programs vital to the very mission of the university--will be disastrous not only to the production of knowledge, ideas, arguments,art, music--the humanities--but disastrous to the creation of an educated citizenry essential to the life of a democracy. The conversion of the acquisition of knowledge into the purchase of a commodity called "information" and the transformation of students into mere consumers is a potential loss whose consequences are simply unthinkable.

There are, however, many of us "out here" who are ready to stand up against this assault on the academy--myself and many others in the PASSHE System included.


Finally someone with not only brain but guts spoke. Every single point she makes applies to many schools. Somehow Universities (along with other unfortunately not-for profit organizations) have decided that management model of (now failing) business world would perform miracles in an environment where the 'product' is the most unique such as learning. Isn't it the whole point of higher education to guide the practitioners, who often are short sighted (albeit justifiable at times), with a long term, well thought out, ... um, vision? I cannot see how a group of assistant, associate vice presidents (I will spare the readers from the history of the rank called VP in industry -- it is shame to see the title is used in academic organizations!) of any administration, and associated expense to compensate their rank, at the cost of larger class size would help restore what a university was created to provide.


Wow, can she come to California and say the same exact thing to the Regents? Because what she said in relation to Minnesota is pretty much spot on for the UCs as well. Yes, yes, the buildings are from funds that are specifically earmarked…but why? Why cut required classes in composition and history, and build yet another building? Why are we creating new centers for this and that when class sizes have increased, and tuition has shot through the roof? What is the point to having fancy buildings if there's no one to fill them?

I once heard a top campus administrator say that the humanities exist to make well rounded engineers. Not only did he reveal much about his biases, as well as the intentions of the university, but more importantly, he revealed that those in the humanities are fighting an uphill battle to 'prove' their worth. Is my work any less valuable because I can't bring in the giant NSF dollars? No. It has intrinsic value. The ability to read, to write, to THINK, is immeasurable.

There is a reason we call it the humanities. It is what makes us human.


From Times Higher Education (UK) comments:

An incredibly well thought through and well-presented argument. That some British University administrations are forcing through changes on the pretext of financial difficulties is becoming well established. However, a troublesome part of all this has been the way that many academics, writing on forums such as this, have only voiced either their own personal agendas (‘I’m losing my job’) or callous indifference (‘take the money and run’, ‘this is life, just deal with it’). Here Eva Von Dassow highlights the real issue – bad changes to Universities being made by unaccountable administrators. We should be concerned about where this is all going. If not then British academia deserves everything that is happening, because it is betraying its responsibility to the education of future generations and the well-being of this country.


I'm sure there will be more comments later, but this gives you an idea of how upset people are about these things, despite the brushoff of Professor von Dassow's comments by the University of Minnesota administration.

A Critique of the Cuts

University of Minnesota Makes Inside Higher Ed

I've got an earlier post up on the Star-Tribune website about this. Please see: Transformational Verbigeration at the U.

From Inside Higher Ed:

"Oh be still my beating heart... I just fell in love again. Was that a shawl Eva was wearing, or a superwoman cape?"

What prompts academics to declare a scholar a superhero? The praise above is from a comment on a blog that linked to Eva von Dassow's presentation before a recent public forum of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.

But the video of her talk is inspiring many of her colleagues at Minnesota and elsewhere, many of them fed up with what they view as unrelenting budget cuts, particularly of humanities disciplines. The video is already being suggested for viewing before other universities consider new rounds of cuts.

Von Dassow had several themes in her brief remarks. She argued that the financial challenge, while real, is less severe than administrators suggest. Being forced to manage on a 2006 level of state appropriations "doesn't look like a severe financial crisis," she said. But while cuts are being ordered, she said that the new frugality "leaves undiminished the numbers of vice presidents, not to mention the salaries of coaches. No, these highly-paid positions are not to be reduced. Rather, the university must shed faculty," she said.

Noting that the university has a stated goal of becoming one of the top three public universities in the world, she asked if "this is how we become one of the top three universities in the universe," by cutting "our way to distinction by pruning the tree of knowledge."

Specifically, she said that "those programs engaged in the production of knowledge that is readily turned into the money are the targets of investment while the rest are to be downsized into an efficient credit and degree factory." She cited liberal arts programs losing faculty slots while there is money for new biomedical research professors (taking care to say that biomedical research is indeed valuable and that she was questioning only the idea that other programs aren't worthy based on their lack of financial payoff).

There are no signs von Dassow changed the minds of university administrators or regents. A spokesman, asked about a reaction to her critique, said via e-mail: "Professor von Dassow's perspective is one of many faculty perspectives at the University of Minnesota. We certainly appreciate her taking the time to express it. The University Senate overwhelmingly supported the president's plan for temporary pay cuts and his operating budget was unanimously supported by our Board of Regents."

More of the same from the Morrill Hall Gang? The person who wrote this certainly knows that the faculty felt they didn't have any choice in the matter of pay cuts. For a telling video about this meeting please see the response to President Bruininks' remarks (YouTube).

When is the last time you have heard of the Board of Regents going against ANYTHING that the Morrill Hall Gang requested?


Monday, July 26, 2010

Top Undergraduate Business Programs 2010

Minnesota's Carlson School Drops 12 places to 67

[Note added later: This post has been cited and the Periodic Table described as a "snarky local blog" by one of the big boys at MPR... As Miss Piggy would say, "Moi?"]

Business Week rankings for undergrad B-schools are out and the news is not good for a Morrill Hall gang that continues to insist that we will be one of the top three public research universities in the world within ten years. This nonsense started in 2004. The clock is melting. Time for a new paradigm?

We still seem to be hearing the old familiar song:
"...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)

As Rhode Island School of Design President, John Meada, recently put it:

Ignore the present and in the future, you'll be in the past.

Put another way: The Morrill Hall Gang had better start taking care of business in the here and now.

This sad situation in CSOM is just another example of canary asphyxiation at the U of M. The previous Carlson dean, Lawrence Beneviste, is now at Emory. The same Emory that clocked in at number seven in this survey, up from nine last year.
Leadership, obviously, matters.

So here are the rankings:

Berkeley 6
Michigan 8
Texas 10

Illinois 26
Penn State 29
University of Washington 33
Wisconsin 42

Florida 55
Ohio State 59

Minnesota 67 (down from 55 last year)

Among our aspirational peers: 10/10

(UCLA does not appear to be in the list. They have a major in business economics so this may not be considered a regular undergraduate business major.)

Hmm... I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that the Carlson's dean does not seem to understand
the concept of progressive, as in progressive income tax? Maybe less time should be spent trying to play footsie with people like McGuire?


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why do Minnesota patients

get more lower back


Great piece on the topic in the Pioneer Press by Christopher Snowbeck. It should be noted that the PP has quite a track record in this area and has had some excellent reporters - Paul Tosto and Jeremy Olson come to mind - in the last few years. Gary Schwitzer, ex U of M J-school prof and health care expert, makes some telling remarks in his outstanding blog HealthNewReview:

The story captured a key question about "what's the right rate of MRIs?" Excerpt:
" (a) spokeswoman for the Minnesota Hospital Association (said) "It is impossible to make judgments from the data ... on whether or not clinicians ordered too many, too few or just the right number of imaging tests."

Bingo. And that's why the data are important whether you live in a high-use or low-use area. As Dartmouth's Jack Wennberg has been saying for decades, we don't know the right rate of utilization of many medical interventions. But the variations across the country show that patients may not be fully informed, may not be told about the tradeoffs of benefits and harms, and may not be provided a truly shared decision-making encounter. Until true reform occurs in these patient-physician encounters, you can forget about getting overuse, overtreatment and health care spending under control.

Snowbeck and the Pioneer Press did a good job of digging and finding an important local story.

And Schwitzer pokes the bigger brother of the Twin Cities newspapers:

And where was the much larger, much better-staffed Star Tribune on this story? The same paper that just stole away Snowbeck's colleague Jeremy Olson who used to cover health care for the Pioneer Press? Deafeningly silent. I had actually written to a key staffer at the Star Tribune recently asking when/if the state's biggest paper was going to mine the data from the new Medicare database to see if there were any important local findings. I got no response. I've not seen a story in the paper on it. And I couldn't find one after I did an online search. Maybe I missed it. But regardless, thank goodness for a little remaining competition between two newspapers in a metropolitan area. And on this one - apparently - the little guy won the day big time.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is Northrop Auditorium at

the University of Minnesota Safe?

Part II.

Today I sent this letter to the Office of the General Counsel at the University of Minnesota:

July 24, 2010

Office of the General Counsel
University of Minnesota

Dear Mr. Donohue:

I am contacting you at the suggestion of the Minnesota Attorney General's Office.

My concern has to do with safety issues in Northrop that I do not believe have been handled satisfactorily by Mr. Mervyn Larson, who is apparently the person at the University responsible for code violations and safety issues. He was identified by the Attorney General's office as the person to start with.

Since this approach has gone nowhere, I am continuing up the food chain as suggested.

Please read the attached materials and respond with a statement about what, if anything, the University plans to do about the situation.

I have not yet contacted OSHA but will do so if this complaint is not satisfactorily resolved. I expect a response to this message within five working days.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. It is potentially a matter of health and safety for Northrop patrons as well as U of M employees who have to work there. I suggest an independent inspection leading either to closing of Northrop or to a public report assuring that the building, as of now, has no significant safety issues that would warrant closing it.


William B. Gleason

University of Minnesota faculty and alumnus


Friday, July 23, 2010

Is Northrop Hall at

the University of Minnesota


Executive Summary:

The cultural czar at Minnesota, Steven Rosenstone, claims that "Northrop is egregiously out of code and life-safety requirements" and the man responsible for building code enforcement at the U, Mervyn Larson, claims "there are no critical life safety issues that would force us to close the building at this time." I asked Mr. Larson: "Is it your position that you, as the person responsible for the building, are not going to do anything about this situation? Is this is the case, please respond as soon as possible so that I may pursue the matter elsewhere in accordance with suggestions made by the Attorney General's Office." I have received no response.

(A down loadable pdf of the following email exchange is available. )

(A down loadable pdf of letter from Minnesota Attorney General's office)

Building Code Violations at Northrop Auditorium

Mon, Feb 22, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Mr. Merwyn Larson
Building Official
University of Minnesota
Building Code Division
319 15th Avenue SE
RM 270 Donhowe Building
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Dear Mr. Larson:

I write to you at the suggestion of the office of the Attorney General, Lori Swanson.

I write concerning possible violations of code at Northrop auditorium as well as what has claimed to be life-safety issues:

“The University is very concerned about the fragility of the building. Northrop is egregiously out of compliance with code and life-safety requirements and code officials could close the building at any time.”

Steven Rosenstone, Vice President for Cultural/Scholarly Affairs
University of Minnesota

This statement was made by VP Rosenstone and recorded in publicly available minutes of the University of Minnesota Senate Committee on Finance and Planning, January 25. 2010.

These claims by a university official are shocking. If true, then the University should immediately close Northrop until it can be gotten up to code and life-safety issues addressed. To do otherwise is irresponsible.

I first contacted the City of Minneapolis to report these possible code violations. There I was told that since the building belongs to the State of Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis could not do anything. The State Attorney General's Office has suggested that I contact your office for help in this matter.

I trust that you will pursue this matter as soon as possible and I look forward to a response concerning this matter.

Please acknowledge receipt of this message.

Thank you.


William B. Gleason


Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 2:55 PM


Dear Mr. Larson,

Did you receive my message, resent below?

In it I asked you please acknowledge receipt of my message. If I do not hear from you within two business days, you will leave me no choice but to pursue the matter elsewhere.

Thank you for your immediate attention.


W. B. Gleason


Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 5:35 PM
To: ""

Dear Professor Gleason,

Thank you for your note. Despite your concerns, there are no violations of the Minnesota State Building Code that require the immediate closure of Northrop Memorial Auditorium. Like many buildings of its era, Northrop is out of compliance with some parts of the code but there are no critical life safety issues that would force us to close the building at this time.

A comprehensive facility condition assessment in 2005 found Northrop to be in good structural condition, but did identify a number of items that required attention. As a result, the University invested $2.45 million to address life safety issues in Northrop. The work included installation of an emergency generator and lighting, removal of obstructions in the paths of emergency egress, installation of safety railings and aisle lighting in the balcony, installation of compliant hardware on exit doors and installation of a new fire alarm panel.

The same facilities condition assessment reported that no aspect of Northrop is without issue and that the deteriorating mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems need attention. As Vice President Rosenstone told the Senate Committee on Finance and Planning, the failure of one of those systems would result in the closure of the building.

As I’m sure you know, Northrop Auditorium is scheduled for a complete renovation later this year. The work will eliminate the code compliance issues and replace the fragile mechanical and electrical systems. Like you, I look forward to the work being completed.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have additional questions.

Merwyn Larson
University Building Official


Monday, February 26, 2010 8:33 PM
Subject: Building Code Violations at Northrop Auditorium

Mr. Merwyn Larson

Dear Mr. Larson,

Thank you for your rapid response Mr. Larson. I am afraid that there seems to be some disagreement between what you state below and what Rosenstone said at the faculty meeting.

Let me repeat it for you:

“The University is very concerned about the fragility of the building. Northrop is egregiously out of compliance with code and life-safety requirements and code officials could close the building at any time.”

That statement says to me that "Northrop IS out of compliance with code and life-safety requirements..."

Are you telling me that this statement is not correct and that Northrop is in compliance with code and life-safety requirements? As the person responsible for the building have you personally made an inspection recently?

I am very concerned that these issues be addressed and am concerned that Rosenstone's statement makes it look as if the University is unconcerned about public safety and the safety of those University employees who work in Northrop.

Thank you for a response.


Bill Gleason


Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 6:36 PM
To: ""

Dear Professor Gleason,

As I stated in my previous e-mail, Northrop is similar to many buildings of its era in that it is out of compliance with some parts of the State Building Code. However, there are no critical life safety issues that would force us to close the building at this time.

Taken in context, it appears to me that Vice President Rosenstone is saying that Northrop would close if the building’s fragile mechanical, electrical or plumbing systems fail. Of course, that would be the case if any of those systems failed in most major buildings on campus or throughout the Twin Cities.

The investment of $2.45 million in 2005 to remedy life safety issues in Northrop shows that the University is indeed concerned about public safety and the safety of the employees who work in Northrop.

Thank you for your note.


Merwyn Larson


Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 6:47 PM

To: Merwyn Larson

Dear Mr. Larson,

Thank you for your note below. I am afraid that I cannot agree with you given what VP Rosenstone earlier said.

In addition to the section I quoted to you which indicates that the condition is life-threatening, he also said: "The mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems are well beyond their useful life; some are the original 1929 systems. There is no fireproofing of structural steel or protection of structural wood, and at the end of a concert air quality is below acceptable standards. The reason one gets sleepy at Northrop events, Dr. Rosenstone commented, is not necessarily because of the event but because CO2 levels are high enough to make people drowsy."

So I am afraid that your assurances that everything is OK are not satisfactory.

Is it your position that you, as the person responsible for the building, are not going to do anything about this situation.

Is this is the case, please respond as soon as possible so that I may pursue the matter elsewhere in accordance with suggestions made by the Attorney General's Office.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.


Bill Gleason


I have never received a response to this last email. I have just reported this situation through the University of Minnesota Law or Policy Violation site as well as the Department of Environmental Health and Safety and will report here on what action is taken.