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December 24, 2007

A Junkyard Dog Finds Support from the Strib

The Red Phone Line Between Morrill Hall
And the Strib Editorial Office Still Works

Back for a third time [!] will be a proposal to give the university preliminary approval and create a greased-skids [!] bonding process for the construction of four major bioscience research buildings, to be built in a cluster near the new Gophers football stadium over the next decade. The total price tag: $233 million, over eight to 10 years.

Why create a separate bond authorization process to fund the buildings that would house biosciences research? For two good reasons:

Hiring the dozens of research superstars the university hopes to attract with new facilities takes more time than recruiting other faculty -- often three to five years. Being able to say now that the state is committed to building a new laboratory in 2012 or 2014 is an important recruiting tool.

And where is the money going to come from to pay for hiring these dozens of superstars?
Please see an earlier discussion of this shell game: “If You Build It, Grants Will Come.?

And what evidence is there that superstars (whatever that means) are lined up to come to Minnesota?
We can’t even keep our own stars, let alone superstars. Let's see: Jonathan Ravdin, Chip Bolman, Nigel Key, Mike Ward, Ben Liu, Jim Chelikowsky, Ed Prescott, Karin Musier-Forsythe, Ed Egelman, Paul Barbara, David Sherman, just off the top of my head. All stars or superstars; all gone.

If the legislature bites on this honeycrisp, they had better be prepared to follow up with additional big bucks. Otherwise they can expect to hear: “You built us the buildings, so it is only fair that you give us the money to hire people to put in those buildings. Oh, and by the way, we are also going to need more money for expensive equipment to go in the buildings."

Some years ago the University of Wisconsin deliberately contracted in size. They appear to be about 25% smaller than we are. And yet they bring in a remarkable amount of external research funding and do a demonstrably better job for their undergraduates. Maybe it is time for Minnesota to take a good look at this possibility?

In the next ten years or so we are going to have a lot of retirements. The college age population in the state will also be shrinking. To use adminspeak, why don't we have a conversation about this? Of course administrators would rather not preside over shrinkage. There is more glory in expansion.

Maybe their names can some day go on a new building? Possible snappy names include: The Frank Cerra Hall for Holistic Biosciences, The Bob Bruininks Biosciences Tower II, The Powell-Sullivan Interdisciplinary Biosciences Building, The Paller-Moldau-Furcht Center for Virtual Reality in Business and Medicine. The mind reels. Of course well-heeled donors would have first dibs on naming rights. A silent auction could be held. Maybe Coke and Pepsi would duke it out?

Wherein OurLeader Ventilates
Decries Tin Cup Approach
Offers Tax Advice
Threatens State With Junkyard Dog Behavior

Say It Ain't So, Bob
Don't Take Off the Gloves

It is better today than it was some years ago; we have the right plan and the right ideas in place to make it much better.

There are states all around us who looked at our biomedical sciences idea [see editorial on facing page] and adopted it, and have put hundreds of millions of dollars on the table (to support it), and they do not have the life sciences/biosciences industry in their back yard the way we do.

For the first time in modern history, Minnesota's economic indicators are lagging the national ones. I think it's a real problem.

In the Big Ten, we are slightly below average. Some of the places above us are proximate to some nice cornfields. We are in an unbelievable business culture here. What's keeping us from moving up?

Ohio State's private-funded research more than doubled in two years, and they went from roughly our position to the top of the Big Ten.

Our approach to that in Minnesota was, we passed a $2.5 million bill which required a special entity to go out and raise more money. It was the tin cup model. It didn't work.

If you want to say "no new taxes," that's fine. I don't believe in it. I think it's bad public policy to take options off the table that can be used to solve a problem.

But then at least, stick your neck out and reform the (tax) system.... We have a flawed sales tax system. I've said since 1990, we ought to put the sales tax on clothing...

Question: The state budget is in trouble again. When that happened in 2003, your response seemed to be, "We'll take our share of the cuts." Will you do that again?

Answer: No. I'm going to be meaner than a junkyard dog if that happens again. It should not happen again. That would be a lack of leadership on the part of our state....

December 15, 2007

It's Been A Busy Week in Lake Wobegon...

University of Wisconsin Chancellor to Step Down

How the big boys and girls do it. Leadership does matter.

Minnesota Dead Last Among Self-Inflicted Peers: The Star Tribune Chimes In

Mr. Bonzo has been harping on the fact that with a situation like that described, the U of M administration should concentrate on fixing our serious problems, rather than raising the smokescreen of "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]."

Sure our graduation rates are improving, but that is only because they were so unspeakably low in the past.

Can you believe [as Maxwell Smart would say] that in 1993 our four year graduation rate was 18% and that less than 50% of our students graduated in six years?

These numbers are what made Mr. B. happy to have his son attend the University of Arizona where he was a Phi Beta Kappa English major and graduated in four years. There he received an excellent education.

What were U of M administrators thinking back then? Is it any wonder that many state residents don't have kindly feelings toward the U because of the way they or their friends or relatives were treated?

We are currently ranked number 71 by US News. You can argue about the validity of the measurements, but this is where people look when they decide to go to college or university. Our competitors are ranked much higher than we are. Why is this? Why don't we set as a goal getting to the middle of the BigTen? That would be ambitious aspiration enough. We should be honest about our situation at the University of Minnesota and try to get the State legislature to help us solve our real problems.

Robert Cannot Come Out To Rap Today

More than 450 college presidents and chancellors across the country have signed a commitment to make their campuses more sustainable. University President Bob Bruininks is not one of them.

Bruininks has not yet made a decision on whether he will sign the commitment and said he would not comment for the story.

Stephen Peichel, president of the student group Applied Environmental Solutions, said if the University wants to continue to promote itself as a leader in environmental sustainability, Bruininks must sign the commitment.

"I can't see how the U can say that they are on the cutting edge and be a top research University without pursuing one of the top issues in the world," Peichel said.

The Advertising Campaign Continues at Minnesota: Today's Spam from OurProvost

spam = unsolicited email of a promotional nature

Although OurProvost does not have time to write the blog that he promised us last September, he does have time for other methods of electronic communication. OurProvost, or his handlers, seems to be exceptionally fond of the word exceptional. This is ironic and indicates a lack of institutional memory, probably due to the fact that this spam was written by an advertising agency.

The University has already been officially declared (October, 1995) an "exceptional organization," a type of NIH probation.

One Swallow Does Not A Summer Make Or,
Don't Break Your Arm Trying to Pat Yourself On the Back

The interested reader will note that two public institutions, Ohio State and Florida, are cleaning our clock. These are folks we will have to elbow aside in our dash toward third place.

It's Not Easy Being Green Or,
Why Robert Doesn't Want To Rap

Mr. B. recently noted the reluctance of OurLeader to comment to the Daily on his position with respect to carbon neutrality on the University of Minnesota campus. Turns out there was a pretty good reason. A friend has sent a link to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

December 8, 2007

Various and Sundry

The Chairman of the Department of Medicine
at BigU Emigrates to Cheese Stat

It is rather difficult to improve your standings in the academic rankings game when your good folks leave. Perhaps a little head room on the administration side would help to keep some of these folks here? Change is always touted as a good thing. Does this hold for university administrators?

We're Number One -
In a Football Related Matter

Aministrators and coaches have been known to claim that academic fund raising will be helped by athletic fundraising. At least one of our coaches has complained bitterly that women's athletics have harmed the U's overall athletic program. Some hot air is let out of these balloons.

We make the Chronicle of Higher Education, Again

There have been some complaints from the administration that the Medical School is having its problems because of a lack of state funding. Those with an institutional memory will recall that the U had to pay a huge settlement for past misdeeds in the medical school.

"In 1998 the university paid what was then the largest settlement of its kind — $32-million — to resolve charges of fraud and misuse of federal funds."

Why doesn't this ever come up in discussions about why we are where we are?

Things to think about on this cold Saturday, while the students are studying away and the faculty are putting together various complex puzzles for finals. Good luck to all in their weekend endeavors.

Ciao, Bonzo

December 1, 2007

To blog, or not to blog, that is the question...

Last September OurProvost announced his intention to start a blog:

Second, to set the stage for two-way communication — a key element identified by faculty focus groups in the University culture task force — I will be starting a blog.

And in a September 7 blanket email to faculty, students, and staff he wrote:

To set the stage for two-way communication--a key element identified by faculty focus groups in the University culture task force--we're also introducing something new. I realized my messages might have more impact if I used a 21st century messenger--a blog. I invite you to read and participate as my blog goes live in the coming weeks.

As of today, only the template for this blog remains.
It recently had an entry but is currently an empty suit.

Apparently the Provost has decided that he does not have enough time for a blog.

Details may be found at:

Update on OurProvost’s Blog
Openness, Transparency, and Two-Way Communication
Hold Those Thoughts...


University of Minnesota Provost Launches Blog
Hold That Thought...

I have asked our provost, E. Thomas ("Tom") Sullivan, to reconsider his decision. I hope he does because we are badly in need of a community discussion about the ambitious aspiration to become one of the top three yadda, yadda. In two years we will supposedly be halfway there. I don't think that this is going to happen and that a realistic goal, given our resources, is to be in the top half of the BigTen. See the post below on our recent Double Smackdown. But this question is debatable and eminently worthy of some two way communication between the university community and our administration.

Right now, though, I have to go shovel some of the other kind of snow.