Monday, March 7, 2011

A fascinating University of Minnesota
news roundup -- 

  and its inclusion of academic debate

The embedded link opened a blog post on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education penned by Bill Gleason, an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. That post, in turn, linked to an article in Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors, and to two posts to a blog maintained by Gleason under the pen name Mr. Bonzo — “aka, the Whining Dinosaur and Graffiti Monster.”
Gleason was not trying to drive traffic to his blog, The Periodic Table, but to highlight two guest posts by Michael McNabb, who earned two degrees at the U of M, one of them a JD, and a lifetime member of the alumni association. McNabb’s posts are entitled, respectively, “University Inc.” and “University Inc. II.”
'Education as a private enterprise'
A sample:
“Having failed to persuade a majority of state legislators of the value to society of a well-educated citizenry, the U of M administration has embraced the concept of education as a private enterprise. (If you can't beat them, join them.) Now the administration does not flinch at increasing tuition at a dizzying rate. Like used car salesmen, the administrators attempt to convince the students and their parents of the value by ‘puffing’ their product (on the way to becoming ‘the third greatest public research university’ on the planet).

“The huge increases in tuition ‘revenues’ are not spent on improving the quality of instruction on either the undergraduate or the graduate level. Instead, as in any other business, the executives (administrators) seek out even greater money-making ventures. So we have a University that is planning to operate a gravel pit in UMore Park.”
Lest you think this is bloggish bloviating, Periodic Table seems to have a minor obsession with getting hold of and archiving public records that support its case. 

Emphasis mine. 

Disparate treatment of researchers at Brown
The other link went to an Academe article outlining, among other things, the disparate treatment given two different Brown University researchers who became mired in controversy. You can read the saga for yourself, but I’ll just let you know that the one who brought in nearly $9 million in research grants fared better.
Gleason draws a parallel between the Brown story and the ongoing controversy over the 2003 suicide of a U of M student who was taking the drug Seroquel as part of a clinical trial headed by Psychiatry Department Chair Dr. Charles Schulz.

In December, eight university bioethicists — including Carl Elliot, who writes prolifically  and persuasively on the topic of what’s wrong with clinical research — asked the U of M to commission an independent investigation of the case. The U demurred.

I daresay all of this is food for thought in light of the budgetary bloodletting going on over at the Capitol and the related talk of the U of M’s role as a driver of the state’s economy. Thank goodness there’s still enough academic freedom for debate on just how far the university should go in pursuit of research dollars.

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