Thursday, March 31, 2011

The U of M "Sets the Record Straight" 

on Dr. Dennis Polla

Driven to Dissemble (SM)

In another shameful attempt at damage control we find a submarine attack over another obviously fishing smelling situation at the University of Minnesota.

The U's spin-doctor on this one is Doctor Massoud Amin who is the chair of Dr. Polla's department.

From the University of Minnesota web-site:

TLI sets the record straight on Dr. Dennis Polla

We’ve been receiving a number of inquiries about the University of Minnesota’s Technological Leadership Institute (TLI) after a recent Star Tribune article about a member of its faculty.

I’d like to specifically address some of the issues raised in the Star Tribune article about TLI faculty member Dennis Polla. It’s unfortunate when important facts are omitted or manipulated in news coverage with the intent of creating a false sense of outrage. That is the case with the March 13th article. Dennis Polla’s service to the U of M and our state is something we should be proud of and that gives us a unique and rich educational experience. 
Dr. Amin, if this is true, why did you not write a letter to the editor or ask for the opportunity to respond in an op-ed? I'll answer that question myself. Because if you did, you would be the laughing stock of the state. 

Here are the facts:

  • Professor Dennis Polla is a part-time employee of TLI, who teaches courses on Fridays and Saturdays and serves as our director of graduate studies, advising a cohort of about 50 students and interviewing nearly all potential students for the program;
  • Professor Polla is a full-time employee of the federal government -- currently at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and formerly with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is part of the Defense Department. He has the permission of the federal government for his part-time employment at the University.
 Did the Strib claim otherwise?

  • The statement that Prof. Polla lost his tenure is inaccurate. The truth, as noted in our response to all 34 questions from the Star Tribune, is that he voluntarily resigned from his tenured position in 2007 to stay at DARPA;

    Dr. Amin, this statement is disingenuous. Technically it is true that Drs. Sainfort and Jacko did not lose their tenure at Georgia Tech. This is because they voluntarily resigned from their tenured positions before their tenure revocations were finalized. 

  • Just last month, Professor Polla received the “Medal for Exceptional Public Service” from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, which said, “America’s national security is strengthened by his efforts.”;

     and the relevance of this is, exactly?

  • Professor Polla pays his own travel expenses to and from his home state of Minnesota and his federal government workplace in the Washington, DC metropolitan area;

     Did the Strib claim otherwise?

  • The salary paid to Professor Polla is driven by the marketplace for an expert in defense technology and is also less than a scientist of his caliber could make in the private sector. He is an asset to our program and to the educational experience provided at TLI;

     If Dr. Polla were attending full time to his responsibilities at the U this would not be an issue. The pay differential with industry is irrelevant because this can be said for most technical people at the U.

  • As an instructor and advisor at TLI, Professor Polla meets and exceeds the requirements of his position, bringing one of the world’s top defense technology experts into our classrooms to educate the next generation of technology industry leaders for Minnesota. Professor Polla received a national teaching award (W.M. Keck Outstanding Engineering Educator Award). In addition he previously received 7 teaching awards in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota.

    Once again, I don't understand the relevance of this to the matter at hand.  No one is arguing that Dr. Polla is a poor teacher.
Your attempt to camouflage what has happened here is obvious, Dr. Amin.  The Strib was actually kind to you and Dr. Polla. Let's just review a few facts.  Dr. Polla lost his job as head of the Biomedical Engineering Institute.  Problems with his grants were the reason.  As the University's own investigation put it:

“This investigation also concluded that Dr. Polla has engaged in four types of improprieties in his private consulting activities.
First, he failed properly to disclose and obtain prior approval before proceeding with arrangements where there may be a conflict of interest.
Second, he improperly used U of M resources for the benefit of his private clients, and failed to provide the U of M an opportunity to oversee use of its resources.
Third, he concealed or attempted to conceal from the U of M relevant information regarding his private consulting.
Fourth, as a result of the manner in which he conducted his private consulting, Dr. Polla created problematic situation involving intellectual property interests of the U of M and some of his private clients.”
What in the world is a person like this doing in a department that claims to: "With an eye on helping high-tech firms maximize their growth potential, TLI shows high-tech companies how to move more adeptly within the gray zone..."

Does Dr. Polla teach students how to behave ethically, or does he teach them how to move adeptly within the gray zone, meaning "don't get caught?"

Dr. Amin, your attempt to somehow paint the Star-Tribune as the bad guy and to deflect attention from your own whited sepulcher is despicable. 

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