Tuesday, November 30, 2010

David Pogue on

Talking Tech or 

What is the next iPad Killer?

I've been interested in the iPad and Kindle as possible electronic book readers, e.g. 

The iPad, the Kindle, or a manual typewriter... (Chronicle Brainstorm blog)

So David Pogue's recent observations about technology struck a B#. 

Things don’t replace things; they just splinter. I can’t tell you how exhausting it is to keep hearing pundits say that some product is the “iPhone killer” or the “Kindle killer.” Listen, dudes: the history of consumer tech is branching, not replacing.

TV was supposed to kill radio. The DVD was supposed to kill the Cineplex. Instant coffee was supposed to replace fresh-brewed. 

But here’s the thing: it never happens. You want to know what the future holds? O.K., here you go: there will be both iPhones and Android phones. There will be both satellite radio and AM/FM. There will be both printed books and e-books. Things don’t replace things; they just add on. 

 Sooner or later, everything goes on-demand.

Some people’s gadgets determine their self-esteem.

Everybody reads with a lens.

 But feelings run just as strongly in the tech realm. You can’t use the word “Apple,” “Microsoft” or “Google” in a sentence these days without stirring up emotion. 

It’s not that hard to tell the winners from the losers. 

Some concepts’ time may never come. 

Forget about forever — nothing lasts a year. Of the thousands of products I’ve reviewed in 10 years, only a handful are still on the market. 

Nobody can keep up. Everywhere I go, I meet people who express the same reaction to consumer tech today: there’s too much stuff coming too fast. It’s impossible to keep up with trends, to know what to buy, to avoid feeling left behind.  

Well, here’s a dirty little secret: It’s almost too much for me, too. Heck, it’s my job to stay on top of this stuff — and even for me, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I do my best — I read all the blogs, devour the magazines, attend the conferences and listen to the PR pitches — but I sometimes feel as if I’m furiously paddling my surfboard on the top of a tsunami wave. 

In other words, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone, and it’s O.K. to let yourself off the hook. 

That makes me feel better. 


UCLA Restructuring and Implications


the University of Minnesota

An excellent article has appeared on Bob Samuel's blog, Changing Universities.

 (emphasis added)
"Perhaps the university is hoping that cashing in on intellectual property rights will help UCLA to resolve the difficult task of increasing revenue while decreasing costs, yet, it should be stressed that it has been very difficult for schools to profit from their inventions and knowledge production.
It turns out that it is very costly to do research, and many research projects never go to market. In other words, universities keep on looking outside of the classroom to find a source of income, but the fact of the matter is that education is not only what schools are supposed to do, but it is also what they do best and most cost-efficiently. 
This is not to say that universities should not continue to pursue ground-breaking research, but they should realize where their money comes from and how much it costs to fund expensive labs with high-tech equipment and an army of bureaucrats, lawyers, office managers, and graduate students. 
Currently, undergraduate students subsidize virtually everything universities do, and it is time for schools to recognize this by making sure that vital undergraduate programs are supported."


Monday, November 29, 2010

What Makes a University Great?

For some earlier thoughts on the matter please see:

Robert J. Sternberg is provost, senior vice president and professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University. He is a former president of the American Psychological Association and is president of the International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology

What Makes a University Great? 

Land-grant institutions, contrary to some popular beliefs, are not merely about agricultural development, but rather, about changing the world in a positive, meaningful, and enduring way. Land-grant institutions perhaps best represent the very core of what greatness means in American society -- namely, equal opportunity for all and, through it, the chance to make our society and the world a better place in which to live.

Whereas the most selective institutions in the country are highly focused on entry value -- seeking students with the highest grades, test scores, and high-school records of "extracurricular activities" -- land-grant institutions typically are particularly focused on "value added" -- producing the future leaders who make the world a better place. A necessary qualification, of course, is that the students admitted are able to do the work, either upon admission or with remediation and enrichment. Land-grant institutions generally have honors programs, but often the focus is not just on how academically smart you are, but on how much of your smartness you can give back to the world. What is important in a land-grant institution is developing future ethical leaders who will enrich their communities and their societies, in whatever way.

Ratings such as those of U.S. News & World Report reward institutions that reject lots of applicants but thereby are not fully consistent with the land-grant mission. The game becomes somewhat perverse: get lots of applicants so you can reject them to prove how exclusive you are as an institution. In land-grant institutions, providing access is especially important for students from low-opportunity households whose only chance to go to college may be at the land-grant university.

In admissions, the most selective institutions tend to be organized around a relatively fixed notion of human abilities and skills. Requiring sky-high SATs and ACTs make sense as important (although not exclusive) bases of admission only if one believes that they measure relatively fixed traits that project the future potential of the applicant.  From the point of view of the land-grant mission, access provides a way for students to achieve the equal opportunity our society promises. Abilities are indeed modifiable so the institution can help each student reach the outer level of those abilities--to translate abilities into competencies and competencies into expertise.
Land-grant institutions tend to have a broad sense of what abilities are -- these institutions are about admitting people who will make the difference to the state and the society that was embodied by the principles of the Morrill Act.

Land-grant institutions typically require standardized test scores, but not at the levels required by elite colleges. ..one can end up with particular leaders who were educated at elite institutions -- who are very smart in an SAT sense -- and then sometimes prove unable to connect with the rest of the population and who create financial and ethical messes because their analytical skills were never adequately complemented by the creative, practical, and wisdom-based skills they need truly to succeed as leaders.

 In a land-grant institution, traditional scholarly quality still matters, but work that gives back to society receives especial plaudits. It thus becomes easier for state legislatures and the people of a state to see why research is important to them, not merely to the advancement of individual researchers’ scholarly careers.

Service and outreach have a have a particular meaning in a land-grant institution.  In a land-grant institution, service is more integrated into the fabric of teaching and research. Service is the reason for being of the land-grant institution, so service learning, research with potential applications, and outreach are intrinsic to its mission.

In the land-grant institution, the emphasis on give-back leads to the centrality of ethical leadership and wisdom as the core values of the learning experience. “Smartness” is valued, but as a means of giving back. Wisdom is the use of one’s smartness and knowledge for a common good through the infusion of positive ethical values, and because the land-grant institution must give back to the state and the country in order to fulfil its mission, its graduates cannot be viewed as truly successful according to the mission of the college or university unless they embody this ideal.

Whereas some of us may think of land-grant institutions as needing to emulate the most elite institutions, perhaps these elite institutions would benefit as much or more from adopting some of the land-grant values. Land-grant institutions in many ways reflect the ideals of the American dream. They have a unique role in helping to achieve that dream that is not being captured by magazine ratings based on narrow criteria that have led our society to a precipice.

 What is above is only a selection.  Please see the original for a longer version. 


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Doing the Honorable Thing?

At the University of Minnesota?

Hey, It's Not Illegal*?

Why should we expect any behavior by our Athletic Director and the President of the University of Minnesota than we do from the Medical School Dean and Head of the Academic Health Center?


Minnesota courting Hoke during season stinks

It had everything to do with Brady Hoke, State’s head coach, and whether he’ll be working next year for Minnesota or some other BCS robber baron that sneaks into homes in the dark of night and rips off your success stories.

What Minnesota has done stinks. It’s unethical. It’s immoral. Maybe there isn’t a written code, but there should be. Not even the NFL, whose pirates slash throats as if they’re playing Port Royal, allows itself to secrete this kind of dishonorable discharge.

Early last week, when the Aztecs still had a regular season game to play — which turned out to be their Saturday night 48-14 thrashing of UNLV here — Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi met with Hoke to see whether the second-year coach might be interested in taking over a pathetic Big Ten program.

But I do have a problem with ADs talking to prospective coaches while their season is in progress. Just because Minnesota’s is lost doesn’t mean a guy like Maturi has the right to interrupt a successful season somewhere else.

And, in this case, Maturi didn’t even take the honorable course by asking State AD Jim Sterk’s permission to speak to Hoke.

“Normally, they’ll call you out of respect, and I’ll say wait until the season ends,” Sterk was saying. “That didn’t happen this time.

On top of it all, we don’t know whether he’s been offered the job, although if he has, we’re going to know real soon. And, if he has and accepts, he won’t be coaching the Aztecs in the Poinsettia or any other bowl.

“I hope to be,” he said.

All well and good. This just sits like five pounds of pasta in the stomach. It hasn’t been done right. No class. I don’t know why Hoke, who seems every bit a man of honor, would want to go work for a guy who crawled into town to interview him.

“He’s a proven winner and there always will be people interested in talking to him,” Sterk said of Hoke. “I don’t think something’s going to happen.
Tailback Ronnie Hillman runs for 152 yards, quarterback Ryan Lindley throws for 338, the Aztecs gain 588 yards, have 30 first downs, are about to begin practicing for a bowl and all anyone wants to talk about is this stuff.

Jim Sterk should send Joel Maturi a thank you punch to the nose.

*Note added later:  A commenter on this piece points out that the actions taken here fall within the category of tort - a wrongful civil act - because the intention was to discuss employment with a coach who is currently under contract.  The writer asks further whether the Athletic Director consulted with the General Counsel prior to meeting with the prospective coach in San Diego? 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Truly Sad Story at the

University of Minnesota

President Bruininks Should Fix This 

Before He Leaves...

University of Minnesota Faculty Senate
Committee on Finance and Planning 11/16/10

...the Committee is leading off with a repeat of a meeting held about two years ago: Discussion of the EFS system with faculty and staff to hear their concerns.

-- In one department, with a budget over $35 million and 17 accountants, the faculty do not know what EFS is nor have they seen its impact.  One of the most significant problems with EFS is that it does not talk to the HR system except by a third set of codes, and that problem will never go away.

-- Another department, also with a budget over $30 million,
has 9 accountants, so a similar caseload but fewer people. The result is that they provide fewer services to faculty because of the increased workload, which causes frustration in the relationships with faculty, which is detrimental to morale. They would prefer to be where they were before EFS was implemented, when they could respond to requests for information from the faculty. They cannot do so now because of the complexity of the system. They use a shadow system developed within the Academic Health Center.

-- The biggest problem for the faculty is reporting. PIs have to make decisions daily but find it extremely difficult to do so because they do not receive reports they can understand (and in many departments they do not have staff who can explain them). As a result, faculty are spending 3-5-10 times as much effort on reports as they did before—rather than engaged in teaching and research. 

-- Another college uses a different shadow system, and while EFS is a powerful system, it has a weakness. It cannot provide reports that are in English, are simple, and are point-and-click.

-- For those who are department heads, at a time of budget difficulties and financial challenges, when meeting with colleagues from departments that use different shadow systems, it is impossible to compare reports or get tips. Shadow systems do not roll up to the college level so there is no uniformity in reports.

-- Another departmental representative echoed all the concerns about reporting. In a department with about $20 million in grants, they have 2 accountants and their faculty are terrified about the status of their accounts, unable to project into the future, and hoping they don't face an NIH audit. They don't know how much money they have.

-- A representative from another college said he could not agree more with the previous point: 40-digit account numbers create errors. The system needs to be smarter about what is valid and what is not. Professor Luepker commented that this error rate is frightening and asked if anyone had any idea what that rate is. One guest said he did not know but they have to check every transaction. Which, said another, delays work and causes more work.

-- There are also glitches in the system (one department had a transaction from 2008 just show up this year). How can they accept numbers they cannot trust? Reporting is a big issue, but there is also a question whether policies are clear and whether education helps. There is no training manual on how to do things.

Professor Luepker commented that the University is in a time of fiscal restraint and must do things in an accurate, timely way without adding costs. He recalled being asked two years ago, as a faculty member, what he wanted in a report, but found it was a confusing system. Faculty need timely, readable, pablumized reports that are easily digestible; most faculty do not have the skills to interpret EFS reports and probably should not have to spend the time doing so. The Committee has heard that it takes more time to do things.
Professor Schulz inquired what would come of the discussion about EFS. The Committee is a consultative body, Professor Luepker responded, and perhaps should abstract questions from what it heard. The President has received the memo from the Faculty Consultative Committee (FCC) and indicated he is gathering information, and he would like this Committee to coordinate its efforts with those of the FCC.

Professor Martin said that the last round of discussions this Committee had about EFS did have an impact: The President asked for monthly reports and there were some fixes. But not big ones, apparently.

Professor Olin said that the Committee has talked about the real time that EFS consumes but that does not show up anywhere. The immediate investment of dollars to reduce those time demands should be a high priority.

Professor Durfee noted that the funds come from the cost pools, from the colleges, so there is no magic pot of money.
Mr. Rollefson recalled the University spent about $18 million to fix CUFS, in 1990, and it could be $50 million to fix EFS, at a time that no one has the money.
Mr. Driscoll observed that people keep seeing committee minutes with discussions of EFS, and administrators know they have to pay attention.

Mr. Erikson asked if the Committee should propose solutions rather than just gripe. Professor Luepker noted that he asked the guests to do so. There were more global suggestions, and the minutes can reflect that people were upset but also that there were suggestions for improving the system.

Professor Schulz said that some departments have taken on the "learned helplessness" model.
They do not know what would happen if NIH visited. Things are not in a lull because the system has been fixed, they in a lull because although some things are fixed, many faculty are just lying down. There could be a substantial impact on departmental function and vulnerability to outside reviews.

Professor Luepker said that it is frustrating to spend money on a system that is doing less at a time of severe fiscal constraints. And that is not getting better, Mr. Driscoll said, and at a time of personnel cuts, Ms. Kersteter added.

This situation is obviously an utter and total disaster.  

Tim Foley for the Chronicle

New University of Minnesota President,

is a New U to Follow?

Over the years, I've posted on matters related to this important piece. See for example:
World-Class Greatness at a Land-Grant University Near You?

 (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Will [Kaler's] four-year contract require him to oversee the dismantling of a major research university to keep its basic education mission affordable for most Minnesotans? Will he need to scale back the university’s land grant mission and divert dollars to revenue-producing departments and labs, namely the “U’s” strong medical, health and related sciences fields?

In the simplest terms possible, will he have to sell the office furniture to pay the light and heating bills?

Research dollars are drying up or not keeping pace with inflation at the federal level, which has historically supported land grant institutions. State budgets here and elsewhere are strained to the point of collapse from the weak U.S. economy, “no new taxes” state policy and lack of political will.

“People should be debating just what they want their university to be,” said Paul Brutlag, a Wendell farmer and Morris attorney.

For those reasons, Brutlag sent out-going University President Robert Bruininks a letter asking him to query presidential candidate Kaler about the following:

“What is your personal description, definition of the Morrill Land Grant education system?

“Please describe your past personal experience with the land grant education system.

“Please state what your personal position and passion will be to affectively support, enhance the land grant foundation of the University of Minnesota.”

There were no media reports that Bruininks passed along those questions and requests in the public forums leading up to the regents’ election. But as the west-central Minnesota farmer-lawyer put it, “Now’s the time to ask. It doesn’t do much good to complain after the fact.”

While the university's land grand mission helped Minnesota become a world leader in food and ag sciences production and the businesses that go with it, a second monster Minnesota industry began to extend from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic at Rochester. It is the complex of sciences that come together involving health, medicine, health care, medical technology and devices, and pharmaceutical research. Yet, current state and federal budget cuts have threatened that research.

MedCityNews.com summarized the University of Minnesota’s future funding challenges in a Nov. 9 report, “Vision unrealized? University of Minnesota faces reality.”

Everything from diabetes research to completing and staffing previously authorized research centers to create new products and inspire new Minnesota companies are at stake, reported Thomas Lee, the news service’s Minneapolis bureau chief.

In an interview, Lee said the university’s access to federal research dollars is threatened just as much as its state budget support. Lee noted that University of Minnesota research dollars from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) declined by 6.5 percent last year, to $241 million.
The Regents have touted the new president as a change agent.  

Change to what? 

Shouldn't there be some public discussion of where we want our flagship state university to go and what we want it to be?  

Or will these decisions be made in closed meetings and involve secret planning. Only later when plans are about to be revealed will the peons be informed and thus shared governance can be claimed? 

This has been the pattern so far.  With MoreU Park, with the closing of the graduate school, to give just two of many examples.

Let us hope that the new president looks into recent history and consults with those at the U who have some semblance of institutional memory. And please indicate to us at the beginning that we are all in this together: students, faculty, administration, the state legislature, the governor, and the citizens of the state. 

As Mark Yudof famously put it:

To the best of my recollection, no great scientific discoveries, no insightful social science tracts, and no novels have been produced in Morrill Hall. No classes are taught in Morrill Hall. No patients are made well in Morrill Hall.
My point is that we must value delegating academic and other decisions to campuses, colleges, schools, departments, and faculties. Administrators can facilitate, they can help the deans to build better English or physics or public health programs, but they cannot actually do the building.
Help, or get out of the way!

Without authority invested where the real work of this University is done, the light of excellence will only grow dimmer.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Ethicist Getting Fed Up

With University of Minnesota

Board of Regents Total Disregard

For Public Process

"To me, this is a violation of the spirit of the law," said Jane Kirtley, director of the U's Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law. "I'm getting kind of fed up with the regents' total disregard for the public process."

In groups of three, [Members of the Board of Regents] talked with Kaler privately Wednesday morning in meetings not listed on his itinerary or mentioned during the public interview. Each meeting lasted about an hour.

Had the full board met with him in such a setting, it would have been a violation of the state's Open Meeting Law, which requires public bodies to give notification of such meetings.

"To me, this is a violation of the spirit of the law," said Jane Kirtley, director of the U's Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law. "I'm getting kind of fed up with the regents' total disregard for the public process."
But board Chair Clyde Allen said the regents "took pains" to plan those meetings in a way that wouldn't violate the law. "We think the law was followed scrupulously."

Spokesman Daniel Wolter said the meetings with the regents were not listed on Kaler's schedule because they were "not considered part of the formal process."

"Setting up a deal where you can have little groups of regents talk to the prospective candidate -- making sure you don't constitute a quorum -- sure doesn't pass the smell test," said Don Gemberling, a lawyer and the former longtime head of a state agency that oversaw public records requests. "No wonder people don't trust the government."

U general counsel Mark Rotenberg said on Thursday that the small-group meetings were "social encounters." There are "certain conversations and personal encounters not covered by the Open Meeting Law," said Rotenberg, mentioning the Wednesday night dinner that the regents had with Kaler and his wife, Karen.

Kaler's three meetings involved the nine regents who were not a part of the search process. They were not interviews, Rotenberg said, "the way we designed it."

That's not the way that one regent described her session with Kaler.

"We were just firing questions at him," regent Venora Hung said. "We all had a million questions in our head, like, 'How are you going to react to the budget?'
"I would describe it as an intense conversation for an hour."

Mr. Allen, Mr. Wolter, Mr. Rotenberg: I find your statements and behavior arrogant, evasive, and certainly NOT scrupulous following of the law or its intent.  Appalling... 

Commercialization Is Not the Problem

in Higher Ed
Too Much Emphasis on PR and Administrative Bloat? 

(at the University of Minnesota...)

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves...

Having served for over three decades in higher education and almost a decade in publicly held corporations, I have always found the assertions about the dangers of commercialization curious at best, since the way colleges and universities are run bears no relationship to the way corporations are managed.

Robert Martin is emeritus Boles Professor of Economics at Centre College and author of The College Cost Disease: Higher Cost and Lower Quality, forthcoming from Edward Elgar, Ltd.

We in higher education do have major problems with cost and quality, and they need fixing. But commercial forces are not the problem – our own internal practices are. A major factor in the persistence of our cost and quality problems is too much emphasis on public relations and too little emphasis on introspection.

With respect to quality, I am aware of no scholar who makes the case that the quality of undergraduate education has increased over the past three decades. Furthermore, graduation rates, grade inflation, declining student study time, and lower prose, document, and quantitative literacy among college graduates all suggest at the very least that quality has not improved despite lower teaching loads and smaller class sizes for tenure-track faculty.

Our problems with cost and quality have an internal origin. ... there has been an ongoing clash of values in higher education for the past three decades. The conflict is between traditional academic values and the values inherent in public relations. 

The combination of reputation competition and public relations governance makes introspection an improbable task. Building image conflicts directly with candid discussions about campus problems. Without serious introspection, even the best institutions cannot get better. The first step in recovery is to admit you have a problem. 

The reason the public relations people came to dominate campus administration is that reputations rule and reputations are built (at least temporarily) by public relations. 

 A recent study, written by Jay Greene and others at the Goldwater Institute, documents the growth of “administrative bloat” in higher education. 

Overhead cost (the cost of administering colleges and universities) should benefit from economies of scale and from the significant technological progress that occurred over the last three decades; as “output” increases, the overhead cost per student should decline. Unfortunately, overhead costs per student grew significantly and steadily during this period. By my calculations, as much as two-thirds of the increase in total cost per student came from increased overhead costs.

As the size of the administrative staff grew relative to faculty members and as the administration replaced tenure track faculty with contract faculty, the tenure-track faculty’s governance role declined. Curiously, the dominant public narrative concerning what ails higher education is that tenured and pampered faculty members obstruct all the good work proposed by administrators and governing boards; the reality is that most of the cost increases come from rising overhead costs, and tenure-track faculty play an increasingly smaller role in determining how the campus employs its resources.

Other things equal, one would expect that faculty governance would be stronger at research universities than at teaching colleges ...

... in 23 of the 198 Research I universities studied, instructional employment grew faster than administrative employment. It is revealing that many of these institutions were elite research universities such as Harvard, California Institute of Technology, Rice, Emory, Cornell, Chicago, Princeton, University of Michigan, and University of Virginia, where faculty governance is stronger than it is in the rest of the academy. Hence, it is likely that growing administrative bloat is driven, in part, by weak faculty governance; precisely the opposite of public perceptions about higher education. 

There are two ironies here. First, contrary to public perception, higher education’s chronic cost problems have at least as much to do with administrative decisions as they do with faculty members behaving badly. Second, if the corporate model had been applied to higher education, administrative bloat would not have happened. If governing boards closely followed overhead staffing patterns with respect to numbers and salaries, the explosion in overhead costs could not happen. The mystery is why governing boards did not monitor overhead cost. 

...priority is to reinstate the faculty’s role in shared governance. Governance is shared in higher education because each group (faculty members, administrators, and boards) is supposed to monitor the behavior of the others; since administrative bloat accounts for two-thirds of the cost increases and, at best, the quality of undergraduate education has not improved over that same period, academic governance has not succeeded.

In the end, these are our problems and it is our responsibility to solve them. Denying problems exist betrays our students in at least two ways. First, beyond just teaching value added, we claim critical thinking skills, social responsibility, justice, citizenship, etc. are important parts of what we teach students. How can students take us seriously if we are unwilling to critically evaluate our own behavior and our institutions? Second, by our inaction, we deny students access to college. Uncontrolled rising real costs make it impossible for society to ever fully fund college access. 
This post really resonates with me...


Thursday, November 18, 2010

At Some Point the University of Minnesota 

and the Regents

Are Going To Have To Face Up to The

Responsibilities Of a Public Institution

It is a shame that Dr. Kaler, an excellent candidate, starts his tenure as the next president of the University of Minnesota under a cloud.  

This was avoidable and does not speak very well of the process or of the behavior of those involved in giving the clear appearance of trying to skirt the open meeting law.

People should not have been permitted to advance to the semi-finalists level if they did not agree to the public interviews that are required by law.

I am very disappointed in my university.

From a statement by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists:

The University of Minnesota’s hiring of Eric Kaler as president today appears to be a positive step for the institution’s governance.
Unfortunately, the fact he is being introduced to the public only after a closed door process designed to circumvent state law is a disappointing way to get to this point.
The moment the Regents named Kaler the lone finalist it became evident the university had choreographed a delicate dance to keep a significant amount of information secret from the public.

The Open Meetings Law exists to allow Minnesotans to hold their publicly supported entities accountable. The citizens demand this transparency and university officials’ insistence that they are above the law is a betrayal of the public’s trust.
“We hoped university officials would have gotten the message after the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected their argument that the Open Meetings Law didn’t apply to them,” said state SPJ President Sarah Bauer. “Instead they seem even more determined to try and outwit the law the public holds dear.”
It’s time for University of Minnesota officials to understand the goals of the institution are not separate from the goals of the public.  Rather than working to outflank its citizens, the university should embrace its public responsibility and set the right example for Minnesota and the nation.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

University of Minnesota 

Presidential Interview: Kaler on 

the role of liberal arts


Forum question: What’s your vision for the College of Liberal Arts?

It’s an absolute core competency, and we have to protect it. I will invest in it, and they will not wane. On my watch, that will not happen.
… I’m extremely impressed by the recent report by the (U of M) College of Liberal Arts. It outlines a clear concept on how the liberal arts should be shaped in the 21st Century. I share much of what (the authors) want to do. They’re committed to doing things more efficiently.
…(Liberal arts) should have a central role. I appreciate the centrality of that to university mission commited to maintaining those programs.

University of Minnesota 

Presidential Interview: Kaler on 

moving money from administration

into the classroom

Forum question: How do we reallocate administrative resources so that we have more instructional resources? 


I’m in favor of it.
I haven’t had a chance to have conversations that would better inform what I have to say.
The (net) cost of education at Stony Brook is $12,000. I haven’t been able to get precisely what that number is at the University of Minnesota, but it is considerably more.
There are some economies that can be reached. There is more to be done. I am committed to two things: 1) Using a business consulting firm — one that has been used at Stony Brook, Cornell and others — to streamline business practices. I am also committed to using the best practices around the country.
I am convinced that we’ll be able to move dollars out of administration and into classroom. I will work very hard on that.

Paul Tosto Has Some Tough Questions for

New University of Minnesota


Paul is one of the brighter bulbs around the Twin Cities.  Most of us remember him for the excellent reporting he did at the Pioneer-Press along with colleague Jeremy Olson.  Both have moved on; Paul to MPR and Jeremy to the Strib.  I feel sorry for the Pioneer Press.  They are like Iowa State's chemistry department. (This is an inside joke, first person to explain it in comments, gets a prize.)

How does the U get to the middle of its peer group on key measures. 

Five-plus years ago, the U made huge changes as part of its Strategic Positioning push, changes that U leaders hoped would transform the university into one of the top three public research universities in the world.

As part of that, the U killed General College, a portal to the university for many high-potential but low performing teens, and introduced an Honors Program intended to attract some of the best and brightest from Minnesota and across the country.

Yet, half way through its "top three in the world" campaign, the U's been unable to crack the top three in the Big 10 on some of the key undergraduate rankings its cares about most.

Here's information drawn from the university's most recent accountability report. Click on the images for a larger view.
While it's made strides in graduation rates and drawing more high school students from the top 10 percent of their graduating classes, it still sits near the bottom of its peer group and below Michigan and Madison, the universities it aspires to be.

The U's pushed to improve graduation rates and has made progress in getting more students to graduate on time. But it remains way below peer schools. A few years ago the U set a goal of having 60 percent of undergrads graduating in four years by 2012. With only two years to go, the trend lines don't look promising to meet that goal.
 What's Kaler's plan to meet those benchmarks?

 Where will the money come from to drive those bioscience buildings?

The U made a big push at the Legislature a few years ago to get the state to pay much of the roughly $300 million cost for several new biomedical sciences buildings near the football stadium, including a Cancer-Cardiovascular Facility set to start construction next year.

U President Robert Bruininks sold the Legislature on the bioscience buildings largely on economic grounds, arguing that the U and Minnesota would lose out to Wisconsin, California and other states in the pursuit of biomedical dollars and jobs unless these buildings got built. He won the day.

Now, though, the U has to show it can fill the space with researchers who can win research dollars, especially federal money from the National Institutes of Health.

Despite the U's status as a major research institution, it's finding an ncreasingly competitive race for federal research money.

Despite lots of discoveries, the U's struggled to turn research into revenue -- 90 percent of the $95.2 million it earned last year from commercializing research came from one source -- the anti-AIDS drug Ziagen (.pdf page 10). While revenues are growing from non-Ziagen research, the totals remain small and the U's looking at a potentially huge revenue drop in a few years after the last Ziagen patent expires.

With the U unable to count on significant state funding increases and its endowment struggling in the recession, the quest for more federal research money and commercial dollars is vital.
Kaler's Stony Brook U. connection to the Brookhaven National Laboratory likely gives him a head start on this. But the basic question stands: What's the plan?

What about tuition?

Tuition is the bread-and-butter issue for Minnesota families. It's a concern that comes up consistently in the U's public opinion surveys.

When it comes to resident tuition and required fees, the U Twin Cities is one of the most expensive state flagship universities in the country (pdf. page 8), rising 80 percent the past decade (inflation adjusted).

The U often counters that data by noting the significant commitment its made in scholarship and student aid. True. But there's evidence the system is showing some cracks.

Several U deans told faculty this fall that the current scholarship system is unsustainable (Hat tip to Bill Gleason's Periodic Table blog.)

If the scholarship system isn't sustainable, and you're not going to slash tuition, how do you keep the U affordable for Minnesotans?

None of these questions are easy. Kaler will need to confront them all.


Encouraging Words From and About

University of Minnesota

Presidential Finalist Kaler 

Jenna Ross

[Kaler's] background, plus his focus on Stony Brook's graduate programs, "leaves us wondering where undergraduate education, especially in the liberal arts, falls on Kaler's list of priorities," wrote the editorial board of U's campus newspaper, the Minnesota Daily.

Before Kaler came to Stony Brook, folks in the humanities held similar apprehensions, remembers Nancy Squires, who then was chair of the Psychology Department. But after a two-hour meeting, she and her colleagues were "very impressed" by Kaler's grasp of their department. After a three-year run, they appreciate his handling of the inevitable cost-cutting.

Sitting in his Stony Brook office Monday, Kaler made an unscientific-sounding statement about the liberal arts. "I'll be as absolutely clear as I can be," he began, leaning forward, as if ready for a fight. "Humanities are central to the mission of the university. They're central to -- and this sounds a little bit corny -- modern civilization."

"The idea that you're going to starve these or step away from them or do silly things is just wrong."

One of the U's regents called Kaler "a proven change agent," a term on which Kaler paused before accepting.

But when considering his greatest accomplishment at Stony Brook, he did not mention downsizing Southampton, growing master's degree programs or adding chemical engineering, his own field, to the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Instead, he cited a change in attitude with faculty.

Schwartz, a sociology professor, has been at Stony Brook for 40 years and many provosts. Kaler is, he said, "the best provost we've ever had."

That's in part because he's skilled at seeing the political map and creative about finding new funding, said Schwartz. But it's largely because Kaler listens.

"It's not as though he's a softy," Schwartz said. "There's plenty I don't agree with him about. But I have never felt that he dismisses what I think, or the body of opinion that I represent."

So when a decision is made, faculty members respect it.

"It seems to be strange to say this, but these provosts and even presidents don't seem to have the same attitude he's had: We have to preserve the core mission of the university. They were all very busy doing something else besides that," Schwartz said.

The whole article is worth reading.  Jenna Ross is a U alum.  

Nice job, Jenna. 


Monday, November 15, 2010

More on Presidential Finalist at


Provost Eric Kaler of Stony Brook University in New York, named the lone finalist for the Minnesota job Friday, told The Associated Press he wants to see the school put on par with institutions like Michigan, Virginia, University of California-Berkley and North Carolina.
"We have the potential to get there," he said. "It's a one word answer: money."

"I fully intend, and in short order, to meet all 201 of the representatives and senators," he said. He said he would tell them how the university "impacts the social and financial well-being of their communities."

Turning research into revenue "is an under-realized opportunity at Minnesota," he said. But in the meantime, more budgets cuts and tuition increases are possible.

It's just the sort of challenge Kaler said he had been working toward for several years.

"When the opening at the University of Minnesota appeared, it just seemed like a truly perfect opportunity, combining my love of the place with my career objectives," he said.


Some words from legislators about


Presidential Search

James Nord (Conor Shine contributed to the report)

In a climate of budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty, the next University of Minnesota president needs to collaborate with the Legislature and clearly articulate the University’s goals to succeed, lawmakers said.

The University will likely experience a decrease in state funding for the next budget cycle because of the deficit, despite requesting $1.3 billion from the Legislature — $100 million more than current levels. The Legislature cut $36 million in aid this year alone.
"Job No. 1" for the president will be working with state lawmakers, Kaler said.

State legislators involved in higher education named a number of areas they would like to focus on with the incoming president.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, the outgoing Higher Education Committee chairwoman, said she hopes Kaler will work to expand access and diversity at the University. She appreciates Kaler’s scientific background and the implication it has for the University’s research goals.

"Superficially … this looks like he’s a very skilled academic in a field that’s going to be important in the coming economy," Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

Differences in opinion are likely to arise. It’s important to reduce the financial burden on students, said Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, a likely candidate to chair the Higher Education Committee. She was unsupportive of Kaler’s advocacy for tuition increases to solve the State University of New York’s budget troubles.

"Well, we could have a little disagreement," Robling said. "That’s not something I would be looking toward."

Kaler, in turn, advocates for state support.

"The state has, in my opinion, very few better places to invest its money than in educating its citizens, so I think they need to be a very important partner in public higher education," he said.

Most higher education lawmakers said they’ll remain hands-off for the final leg of the process because the regents are autonomous from the Legislature.

"It’s clearly a done deal unless something blows up, which is highly unlikely," Kahn said.

 "I hope this guy is a super president," Kahn said. "I hope he meets everybody’s expectations. I hope he’s a whiz at fundraising. I hope he’s a marvel at dealing with the Legislature, with the regents, with all the factions he’s going to have to deal with."

Don't we all. I'm not being sarcastic. 

MoreU Park

The Public be Damned?

Big Brother apparently doesn't need any advice from inside, or outside, the University of Minnesota...

The UMore Park fiasco continues...

UMore mining affects students, research

By Les Everett - Water Resources Center coordinator

Regarding the story "U preps for controversial UMore Park mining lease," the Minnesota Daily ignored the millions of dollars of research and facilities in the western third of UMore Park, the area targeted for mining. 

The University will receive $1 per ton of gravel mined. To replace that research farm and facilities in the Metro region will require a minimum of $40 million. 

That is 40 million tons of gravel unaccounted for in the Daily story. If the mining were shifted to the eastern two-thirds of UMore Park where there is no major activity now, it would cost zero tons of gravel since no replacement farm and facilities would be required. 

Twenty-nine faculty, staff and students of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences with research and teaching at UMore Park wrote the Board of Regents expressing their frustration with the lack of attention to existing research and the costs of proceeding with the plan to mine the western instead of eastern portion of the property. 

It is time to heed their advice.

Daily Columnist Justin Horvath

Regents Skirted Open Meeting Law in choosing one presidential candidate.

From the Daily:

The Board of Regents’ decision to name only one finalist to succeed Bob Bruininks as president of the University of Minnesota left a lot of journalism-nerd types, myself included, huffing that the 12-member body had dodged Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law.

Still laboring through the two-hour production — by most accounts, regents meetings are nothing but fronts of unity put on by the board my phone lit up with text messages full of ire, much of which about Regent David Larson for this comment:

“I believe the Open Meeting Law has made this more difficult,” Larson said of the presidential search process. He referred to the law, which stipulates regents must interview presidential finalists in public meetings if they meet with more than three members, as an “obstacle.”

The Open Meeting Law certainly was a costly obstacle for University, having eventually lost a Minnesota Supreme Court decision for violating it in the 2002 presidential search process. But this time, by naming only one finalist for the public interview phase, the regents got around the court case the Minnesota Daily and other media outlets brought against it. Now the Stony Brook University provost Eric Kaler will be the only candidate students, faculty and staff of this public University — along with the taxpayers who fund it — will get to screen. We might never know who the presidential search committee recommended to the Board of Regents, which has the final say in choosing the president. Kaler may not be it if Regents don’t think he passes muster.

Regent Larson is an executive vice president of Cargill, Inc. When I called him at his house Saturday afternoon to clarify his Friday comment, he asked me whether I’d want my name in a public recruiting pool from a competing organization. That’s the argument many universities make — that they cannot find the very best candidates because they bow out for fear of harming their reputations if they’re not chosen — and I told him it’s a reasonable one.

“As a general statement, you know, we’re an autonomous body. But the Supreme Court ruled against us, in spite of the fact that the University was formed before the state was,” Larson said. “And we’re an autonomous body, and therefore, if more than three regents talk to any particular candidate it becomes public, which makes it extremely difficult to recruit people who are currently holding substantial positions.”

That’s the we-were-here-first argument the University made unsuccessfully in court. I then asked Larson if he thinks the public interviews are important and why.

“To me, I think the reason they’re important because first of all, that’s the law and we have to abide by that and we intend to abide by that,” he replied. "And secondly, being that it is the law, and we also do have a shared governance system within the University, I think it’s important that professors and students and the public in general, for that matter, gets a chance to get to know these people."

Regents made laudatory speeches about candidate “C.” Chairman Clyde Allen, who earlier had said that the law “required” the regents to respect the candidates’ privacy, submitted the motion to invite “C” — Kaler — to campus. As they almost always do when motions come to a vote, the regents bellowed a resounding “Aye!”

“Most of their debate goes on behind closed doors because they don’t want to tarnish the reputation of the University by having any kind of diversity of opinion. And they don’t want to appear to undercut the president,” DFL Sen. Sandy Pappas, who has chaired the Higher Education Committee, said of the regents.

Imagine reputations more valuable than transparency and public knowledge of our state institutions.

Open government advocates challenge

closed-door selection of



"We're not trying to avoid the open meeting law..."

I've posted on this before.

From the Minnesota Daily:

Those who’ve been at the University of Minnesota long enough may be experiencing déjà vu after Friday’s presidential finalist announcement.

The Board of Regents proudly announced Eric Kaler as the only one left in the running for University president — a move that left some cheering and others raising their eyebrows.

John Borger, the Minneapolis attorney who represented five media outlets, including the Minnesota Daily, in the 2002 case alleging that the regents violated the state’s Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act in their presidential search, said no laws were broken this time.

Still, to be in the best position to lead, the finalist should have received the full support of the University community and beyond, Borger said.

"I certainly would’ve hoped for a more public process this time around," he said, "especially after the lengthy fight that went on eight years ago."

Whether the candidates have been interviewed turns into "a bit of a semantic game," said Eva von Dassow, an associate professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and a member of the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education. She said she believes individual regents have "met with" the candidates, they just didn’t refer to the meetings as formal interviews.

During the application process, Regents Chairman Clyde Allen said he and Regents Simmons and Cohen met with candidates to encourage them to stay in the running. He wouldn’t say how many candidates they met with, although it included the four finalists.

"We saw some very good names coming into the pool, and we wanted to be sure they stayed in … it was to be sure they stayed in the pool once we had learned the names from various nominees and applications," Allen said.

Allen also said he had met with candidates to recruit them

"I had met with some in order to recruit them for the pool and in order [to encourage them] to stay in the pool," Allen said.

Regent Patricia Simmons chaired the Search Advisory Committee, whose members are permitted to meet with candidates.

Jane Kirtley, Silha professor of Media Ethics and Law, said she finds it surprising that after two searches, the regents have been able to identify only a single finalist.
"It raises the question — it’s not proof — but it raises the question of whether that was done in part to avoid the public input," Kirtley said.

Part of being a candidate for president of a public, land-grant institution in Minnesota means accepting that it’s a public process, Kirtley said.

"For me it’s an important test of whether a candidate who might become the president is comfortable with the public scrutiny,"
she said.

For the regents to call Kaler a finalist is "disingenuous," Timothy Brennan, an English professor said.

"It really is the final choice,"
said Brennan, also a member of Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education.

The faculty and students should’ve been petitioned and actively involved in the process of formulating the criteria by which the president is chosen, he said.

Instead, the regents have now opened a forum for public commentary where students and faculty can e-mail questions to be asked during the public interviews.

"The person’s already been chosen," Brennan said. "It’s a little late for that."

On Friday, the FRPE submitted a list of 10 questions for the University’s presidential candidates, asking the candidates to talk about whether they would support faculty members forming and joining unions and whether they’d support regular faculty evaluations of the administrators, similar to those of faculty members.

"The public has an inherent right to know how its university is being run and how choices are made to run its university," von Dassow said.

Instead, the public is shut out until the last minute and doesn’t get to view or participate in the in the process, von Dassow said.

"[The regents are] within their legal rights to do this, but they simply spring one person upon us and the rest of the process is entirely closed," she said, "and we have nothing but rumors and guesses to go on."