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July 30, 2008

Jacko Named Lead Faculty At University Institute for Health Informatics


From the Daily:

July 30, 2008

Jacko named IHI lead faculty

The professor is on administrative leave and is being investigated for "double dipping" at the University and Georgia Tech.

By Andrew Cummins

Embattled University professor Julie Jacko has been named lead faculty at the University's Institute for Health Informatics .

The announcement comes during the middle of an investigation of Jacko and her husband, fellow faculty member Francois Sainfort.

Frank Cerra, senior vice president of health sciences , said his decision to appoint Jacko lead faculty stemmed from a need to have a qualified faculty member create curriculum at the IHI.

"I think people will think what they want to think," Cerra said, in response to possible criticisms of appointing someone who is under investigation.

The investigation of the duo by the Office of the Attorney General of Georgia is still ongoing, according to an office spokesman, and findings are expected to be released this fall. The University is performing its own investigation.

The two were accused in April of working both at the University and at Georgia Tech at the same time - a violation of University policy . Jacko is on administrative leave from her position as IHI director.

The lead faculty position entails designing courses and educational materials for students, Cerra said.

Cerra said he notified faculty of his decision in an e-mail July 21. When asked when he made the decision, Cerra said it was "around" the date he sent the e-mail.

The e-mail, which was acquired by the Daily, read in part, "I have asked Prof Julie Jacko to serve as lead faculty for the Institute for Health Informatics."

However, both University spokesman Dan Wolter and Academic Health Center spokeswoman Molly Portz said Jacko was originally hired to perform those duties.

Cerra's e-mail was only clarifying Jacko's duties and wasn't an announcement of a new post, they said.

"Cerra's message was a clarification to faculty who were wondering if she was no longer in this role because of the investigation," Wolter said in an e-mail.

Additionally, Mary Koppel, assistant vice president for public affairs in the AHC , described the e-mail as a "nuance" that represented Cerra giving Jacko the go-ahead to start performing duties for the faculty lead position she was initially hired for.

A job description detailing what Jacko's duties would be upon being hired in 2007 was not provided by the AHC, after multiple requests for the document.

Both Jacko and other informatics professors did not return requests for comment on the topic.

"People will think, what they want to think..."

Or, pay attention to what they do, not what they say:

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

I gather these are the kinds of people who are going to help us achieve the administration's "ambitious aspirations of becoming one of the top three research universities in the world [sic]." Since they are supposedly on administrative leave, with a minuscule salary cut, a cute trick is to declare one of them "lead faculty."

What does this mean? A "lead faculty position" has never existed before and exists nowhere else in any other unit of the university, as far as I know. Since there is no "director" of the ISI presumably staff will report to her, so clearly her title as lead faculty is a distinction without a difference.

Given that Zahavy was fired for the same offense, it is unclear to me why the university hasn't been able to act sooner on this matter. I guess the BigBrains in ULegal are still puzzling this one out. In the immortal words of Mark Rotenberg (AP, 22 April 2008):

"We will try to piece this together in regard to whether something serious has indeed happened here in regard to so-called double-dipping."

The real irony is that if the scandal had happened in the Athletic Department, action would have been taken very quickly as recent events, starting with Mark Yudof's handling of the basketball scandal, have shown.

What's sauce for the goose...

Putting these folks in positions of power and responsibility, given what they have apparently done, seems like a huge mistake in judgment on the part of OurLeaders.

Where does this leave faculty who would rather not work with these folks until these very serious problems are resolved? If they don't then they are "uncooperative?' This is a common administrative tactic.

What does this do to the (already bad) situation in bioinformatics and health informatics? A situation that is due to administrative neglect over at least the past ten years?

Great for morale of course. To say "people will think, what they want to think" strikes me as another fine example of administrative arrogance.

Scanner Wars

Or, Trust Me, I'm a Doctor

My colleague, Gary Schwitzer, has an interesting post on medical imaging:

Insurers say we're wasting $30B a year on scans.

The local implications are discussed in a recent article from the Strib:

Along a two-mile stretch of France Avenue in Edina, medical providers have installed so many powerful magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners that radiologists joke that anyone driving through with a pacemaker should beware.

Come September, there'll be a new one.

Called Suburban Imaging, it's a joint venture involving one of the biggest radiology groups in the Twin Cities, Suburban Radiologic Consultants; the state's third-largest hospital and clinic group, Fairview Health Services; and 21 physician groups in the area.

The center will offer "the best imaging in the state and equals anything at the Mayo Clinic," said Dr. Owen O'Neill, president of Minnesota Orthopedic Specialists, a partner in the venture.

Its opening is likely to reignite a debate on whether Minnesota has too many diagnostic imaging facilities, encouraging doctors to order unnecessary procedures and pushing up medical costs. It's also likely to raise the ethically thorny question of whether doctors should refer patients to a facility in which they have a financial stake.

"Imaging has been an area of concern for a long time," said Julie Sonier, director of the Minnesota Department of Health's health economics program, which does reviews of major medical investments. "Issues about the concentration in Edina have also been a concern for some time."

In a report to Congress last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said Medicare spending on imaging services more than doubled to $14 billion from 2000 to 2006, an average growth rate of 13 percent a year, compared with 8.2 percent for all Medicare physician-billed services.

The GAO report noted a wide discrepancy in use across the country -- with Minnesota right in the middle -- suggesting that not all of it was necessary or appropriate. It also noted that physicians referring patients to their own practices for imaging formed a "major spending driver."

"The race to embrace these new technologies tends to overlook whether we use them correctly," said Dr. Pat Courneya, a medical director at HealthPartners. "Any unnecessary tests make health care more unaffordable for the 47 million uninsured Americans, small businesses, and has implications for Medicare."

Of the new center in Edina, Courneya said: "The investment in more capacity, while not surprising, is a little bit disappointing."

The largest independent chain of imaging centers, the Center for Diagnostic Imaging, was approached more than a year ago to be a partner but declined.

"Our view would be that there are more than enough scanners in the Twin Cities market to handle the demand," said Chief Executive Bob Baumgartner.

The department has further questions on the partnership, Sonier said, including how it's structured. Under a federal law designed to curb physician self-referral, physicians aren't allowed to refer Medicare or Medicaid patients to facilities in which they have a financial relationship. There is an exception for services that are located in the same building, but not all the physician groups involved in the Edina venture are in the same building.

Five years ago, the Health Department deemed the new LifeDiagnostics center in downtown Minneapolis unnecessary. The center was opened by Hennepin Faculty Associates (HFA) at a cost of $2.87 million.

A marketing survey showed that downtown workers wanted a downtown location, HFA said. But the Health Department, noting the five other "quality facilities" close by, and the fact that 85 to 90 percent of patients would be self-referred by HFA physicians, declared the investment "inappropriate."

It ordered Hennepin Faculty Associates to get approval from the department before making any other major spending decisions for five years.

Should We Stake the University's Future on Biomedical Research Funding?

According to OurLeaders the building program in the biomedical research area will produce about a hundred million dollars in new funding per year and thousands of new jobs in biomedical research will be created by these activities.

The latter estimate seems suspect given the recent problems with University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL), which have been mentioned earlier.

The claimed research funding bonanza has been questioned before:

If You Build It, Grants Will Come?

Or, Could Someone at BigU Please Be Honest and Responsible About Expansion of Biomedical Research?

and today courtesy of Nature, further questions arise:

Stats reveal bias in NIH grant review

The system used by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to evaluate grant proposals does not adequately compensate for reviewer bias, a new study concludes.

The assessment of grant reviews generated by more than 14,000 reviewers suggests that the NIH needs to overhaul the peer-review system it uses to rank proposals, according to biostatistician Valen Johnson of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the author behind the survey.

Irate biomedical researchers have long criticized the system for its slow funding decisions, along with an apparent favouritism towards established researchers and conventional approaches.

The agency has since proposed several changes, including shortening grant applications and comparing young investigators' proposals separately. But the changes did not include efforts to account for reader bias.

Most grants are assigned to a study section containing about 30 members. Each application is read by just two to five reviewers, and then favoured proposals discussed when the section meets. The application is then assigned scores by all of those present, and these are averaged into a final verdict.

This system fails to account for individual bias, and places undue weight on panel members who have not even read the proposals, Johnson argues. "That introduces a really large potential for bias," he says. "It’s astounding to me that $20–25 billion a year is being spent on research, yet the selection process is based on a rather primitive system."

"With only two to three people, on average, reading the proposals, the particular individuals that happen to read it have a major impact on its final score," he says.

Johnson recommends that the cost of proposals that fall close to this boundary should be taken into consideration. Favouring less expensive grants would allow the agency to fund more projects, he argues, and thus increase the likelihood that they have supported the best applications. It would also provide an incentive for researchers to request the minimum funds that they need. Under the current system, many applicants ask for the maximum amount they can justify, expecting that they may not receive all that they request.

Reader's comments were also telling:

Typically, when resources diminish, more of the population struggles to meet their needs. Further, those in need begin to spend relatively more time and energy pursuing resources

The biomedical research community is undergoing a period of scarcity in funding, in one simple view because the growth of NIH's budget led to an increase in the number of researchers, and recent budget stagnation results in resource stress. The coincidental end of the Whittaker foundation, which created many new biomedical centers with a burst of startup funding as it gave away all of its money, left many hungry mouths for NIH to feed in the longer term.

These days, with funding cut lines at 10% (for scored applications), the times are bad enough to write home about ... between grant applications, that is. There will be blood, as they say, and attrition is a certainty. Just how bad it will get until the funding situation is recognized and repaired (by the executive and legislative branches) is unknown.

The community needs to decide how much to support medical research, and stabilize that support over the long term so that the population of researchers better matches the available resources.

July 25, 2008

Let's Just Brazen it Through?


Or, I can't talk, I have something in my mouth..

From: Frank Cerra
Sent: Monday, July 21, 2008 11:21 AM

Subject: IHI Leadership

I have asked Prof Julie Jacko to serve as lead faculty for the Institute for Health Informatcs (IHI). She is developing a workplan and will be working with you on the move of the Health Informatics program into IHI, taking a fresh look at the graduate programs, developing basic and advanced courses in informatics, and in creating a development plan for IHI, including other ideas and needs you may have. She will be contacting you about all this.

I believe IHI needs to move forward and continue its development.


For the back story please see: Update on Sainfort and Jacko

Critical New Hire: Institute on the Environment

Given the situation at the university, I think the more new people we can get to come in from the outside and shake things up the better. Assuming, of course, that they have the chops to do this.

Jon Foley has an outstanding publication record and real recognition from the scientific community. He has published about a hundred papers, with about forty citations per paper. HIs "h" value is about thirty which means that he has about thirty papers that have been cited more than thirty times. For more about h values and those of other famous recent hires please see the post: "What the h?"

Jonathan Foley's website at the University of Wisconsin is most impressive as is his cv. Welcome, Jon.

The Daily reports:

jonathan Foley, a University of Wisconsin professor, has been named head of the University's Institute on the Environment.

Foley, who headed Wisconsin's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, will take over his post at the University on August 25.

In a statement, University Provost Thomas Sullivan said, "Our expectations for both our institute and its director are extremely high as we are committed to seeing that the institute flourishes as one of the very best in the world."

The Institute is currently headed by Interim Director Deborah Swackhamer. On July 8, the Institute released a study on preserving Minnesota's natural resources


If the institute is going to flourish as "one of the very best in the world" then it is going to need a lot of support. We have some real environmental problems that are going to be expensive to fix. [Hint: steam generation plant.] I think that our limited resources would be better spent for environmental remediation purposes than for your "ambitious aspiration to be one of the three best public research universities in the world [sic]."

July 24, 2008

Update on Fairview/Blue Cross Tussle

For background see an earlier post:

Fairview Could Leave Blue Cross Network Over Price Tussle.

Jeremy Olson of the Pioneer Press has a nice update:

Tough negotiating between Minnesota's largest health insurer and the state's third-largest health system has patients scrambling to find new doctors and worrying about disruptions to their medical care.

Blue Cross and Fairview have set an Aug. 23 deadline to agree on payment rates for Fairview's doctors and outpatient clinics. (They have until late October to negotiate inpatient hospital rates.) If they can't agree, Blue Cross would pay only out-of-network rates for Fairview care — resulting in much larger bills for patients.

Although leaders on both sides remain hopeful about an agreement, Blue Cross and Fairview have sent letters to affected patients about the impasse. Blue Cross estimates as many as 50,000 of its members have used Fairview clinics or outpatient services in the past year.

Patients wouldn't be prohibited from using Fairview doctors, but some are taking the letters from Blue Cross as a signal to switch. Pregnant women are rescheduling checkups and ultrasounds. Parents are finding new family doctors before the school year and the cold and flu season. Cancer patients are parting with doctors they credit with keeping them alive.

Leaders of Blue Cross and Fairview agree the impasse presents hardships for patients, but are sticking to their positions. Fairview is seeking higher payment rates to improve care, contending its requests are comparable to rates paid by other insurers. Blue Cross counters that Fairview wants payments that far exceed what other health systems receive.

Kori Hennessy, of Minneapolis, chose a family doctor to deliver her second child, partly because she liked the idea of one doctor handling the delivery of her son and his medical care as he grows up. When her family had to switch health plans this summer, she chose Blue Cross because it had an open network that included her doctor.

"So when I got this letter," she said, "I was a little upset."

The first ultrasound to see if she's going to have a boy or girl should be coming up in late August, and O'Hara doesn't know where she will end up. She has used Google and clicked to doctor rating sites online in case she needs a new physician. Although she would like to stay with her doctor, the added co-pays and other costs would be difficult to bear.

"I just can't justify spending so much more money," she said, "no matter how terrible it would be to find somebody new."

July 23, 2008

University Presidents with the Brains of a Bird?

Margaret Soltan is a faculty member in the English department at George Washington University. She writes a great blog called University Diaries where she goes by UD.

UD does not mince words:

Like Alabama and Michigan, Rutgers has fouled its nest with a greedy coach. And like Alabama and Michigan, the university’s president seems to have the brain of a bird.

Maybe there are some things about Michigan that we should NOT be emulating...

July 19, 2008

Come Clean on Credit Card Deals, Bob?


Business Week has an interesting recent article on the disturbing connection of credit card companies to universities and alumni associations. Anything to make money?

From Business Week

The College Credit-Card Hustle

How universities and alumni associations profit by marketing undergrads to financial giants—like Bank of America

by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Ben Elgin

Universities and their alumni associations have discovered an unlikely and disturbing source of revenue: Increasingly, they are selling students' personal information to big credit-card companies eager for young customers.

Using state public disclosure laws, BusinessWeek has obtained more than two dozen confidential contracts between major schools and card-issuing banks keen to sign up undergraduates with mounting expenses for tuition, books, and travel. In some instances, universities and alumni groups receive larger payments from the banks if students use their school-branded cards more frequently.

The growing financial alliance between schools and banks raises questions about whether universities are encouraging students to incur additional high-interest debt at a time when many

Young people graduate from college owing tens of thousands of dollars. Most undergraduates lack substantial income of their own and are especially vulnerable to late fees and other penalties if they fall behind on monthly payments.

BusinessWeek's investigation parallels a separate probe by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. He is looking into a range of relationships between schools and financial institutions. "It seems that the schools are simply selecting the university credit card based on who pays the school the most, and that may not be best for students, especially in these hard economic times," says Benjamin Lawsky, a Cuomo aide. Last year, Cuomo cracked down on ties between colleges and private tuition lenders, some of whom were paying schools to promote them to financially strapped students.

Some of the country's best-known and largest schools have multimillion-dollar credit-card deals, including the Universities of Michigan, Minnesota, and South Florida. Private schools also have these typically secret deals, but information about public institutions is more readily obtainable under disclosure laws.

Some campus card deals spell out in detail how schools will help market to their students. The University of Minnesota promises to push a school-branded JPMorgan Chase (JPM) card "in all University retail and athletic venues." The university says it will employ "in-store signage" and "in-bag credit card applications" at campus stores. The school gets $1 for each new cardholder and $3 annually for each active card user, in addition to 0.5% of every purchase made with the cards.

[Note added: At first this claim seemed a little strange to me... I visit the U of M bookstore in Coffman a lot. And I don't ever recall getting a solicitation for a credit card - "in bag credit card application." I just - 10July08 - spoke with some student check-out people as well as a management type in the bookstore and they said that they were not aware of any credit card applications ever being distributed by this mechanism. Maybe it is in the contract but the U of M is not doing this?]

Creola Johnson, a law professor at Ohio State University who has studied campus credit cards, says: "It is unethical for schools to allow a sophisticated industry to have access to their students, [many of whom] have graduated from high school without any financial education or literacy....The playing field is grossly uneven." Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a liberal nonprofit in Washington, faults schools and alumni groups for failing to use their clout to gain better terms on cards for students.

July 18, 2008

Fairview Could Leave Blue Cross Network Over Price Tussle

Tens of Thousands of Patients Potentially Affected

In a little over a month current Fairview Blue Cross/Blue Shield contract expires.

Executive Summary

Fairview seeks rate increase from Blue Cross. (BC)

BC: "We are confident we can transition care to other clinics and hospitals as smoothly and seamlessly as possible,"

Fairview owns University of Minnesota Medical Center.

--> The U of M Medical Center may lose some patients if this can't be worked out.

The battle over health care revenue continues between insurance companies and health care providers. Providers continue to be squeezed and try to increase revenue but insurance companies can divert patients elsewhere if providers demand higher rates.

Surplus capacity, e.g. children's hospital facilities, put suppliers in a bad bargaining position.

The Strib reports on a classic example of this chess match. It has implications for the cash cow that University administrators would like Fairview University Medical Center to be.

From the Star-Tribune:

In a little over a month, Fairview Health Services no longer will be part of the medical provider network for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota unless they can resolve a standoff over prices.

The current contract expires Aug. 23. If a new one isn't signed, Blue Cross members then would have to pay out-of-network charges at Fairview clinics. The cut-off date for Fairview hospitals is later, Oct. 28.

After those dates, Blue Cross members who want to go to a Fairview clinic or hospital would have to pay significantly more or find another medical provider.

It's rare for contract negotiations to come down to the wire, and the stakes are particularly high because of the players involved. Blue Cross is Minnesota's biggest health insurer, with 2.9 million members. Fairview is the third-biggest hospital and clinic group and owns the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

The price tussle has percolated behind the scenes in recent months and is bursting into public view as both groups prepare letters to members and patients warning of the change. They've also put information on their websites.

Blue Shield said Fairview demanded prices out of whack with the rest of the market.

"We were just too far apart," said Jim Eppel, Blue Cross network management vice president. "The reimbursement Fairview wanted was significantly above the reimbursement we provide to any other provider."

"What we are asking of Blue Cross is completely consistent with what we are asking from other health plans," said Dr. Loie Lenarz, chief medical officer of Fairview. Lenarz declined to quantify the rate increases requested by Fairview.

Blue Cross estimates that 30,000 to 50,000 Blue Cross members went to a Fairview Clinic in the last 12 months; those people will be receiving letters in the next few days.

"We are confident we can transition care to other clinics and hospitals as smoothly and seamlessly as possible," Eppel said.

Mark Bilderback, lead health care benefits consultant for Watson Wyatt in the Twin Cities, said he has talked with clients about the Blue Cross/Fairview standoff and the response has been "frustration."

"So many people would be affected by this," Bilderback said.

"However, if you look at other big cities, there are plans that don't have big hospital groups in them."

July 17, 2008

University Enterprise Laboratory Lays Off Staff


Perhaps the Jobs Creation Possibilities for Biomedical Research in Minnesota Have Been Oversold?

Bio-science incubator falters

by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
July 17, 2008

A plan to make the Twin Cities a center for the emerging bio-science industry is faltering. University Enterprise Laboratories has laid of its staff and is trying to renegotiate the mortgage for its building in St. Paul. Its founders had hoped to spark a medical boom in Minnesota.

For further information see:

A Cloudy Future For BioScience Research in Minnesota?

And a post that elicited a comment yesterday indicating problems at University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL):

"Blowing Smoke in the Here and Now"

July 16, 2008

Fairview University Hospital: First Do No Harm, Then Tell No Outright Lies


Pushing the Envelope on Taste and Truthiness

I have previously posted on the tasteless infomercial on the FUMC webste: "You'll never wonder if you could have done more."

I was wondering how the spin doctors at Fairview University Hospital would handle the latest disaster that is the Best Hospitals in America ranking of 2008. How can we make it look good without having to admit that further erosion has occurred? Spin doctors are apparently a lot less expensive than real doctors, at least in the short run.

For the time course of these rankings since 2005, please see:

University of Minnesota Hospital Rankings in US News Best Hospitals (2005-2008)

From the Fairview-University Website:

University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview earns top marks in annual U.S. News survey

Medical center ranks among nation's best in 10 specialties

MINNEAPOLIS (July 11, 2008)--University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview joined an elite group of hospitals named among the nation's best in 2008 by U.S. News & World Report.

The medical center ranked among the country's top 50 hospitals in 10 medical specialties, according to the publication's latest edition of "America's Best Hospitals" which hits newsstands July 14.

"It's really a well-deserved honor for our talented staff and clinical partners from the University of Minnesota and the community who continually find better ways to provide exceptional, patient-centered care," said Gordon Alexander, M.D., president of University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.

cancer, 27

down from last year's 24

digestive disorders, 33

down from last years 22

ears, nose and throat, 24

up from last year's 27

endocrinology, 23

down from last year's 20

gynecology, 39

down from last year's 29

heart and heart surgery, 29

up from last years 31

kidney disease, 17

the same

neurology and neurosurgery, 30

down from last year's 20

respiratory disorders, 45

down from being 29 last year

urology, 30

up from being unranked last year

Some of the medical center's rankings improved over last year's report. For instance, it was ranked 24th in ear, nose and throat (ENT), up from 27th in 2007. In heart and heart surgery, the medical center's ranking improved from 31st to 29th.

And as can be seen above, some of the center's ratings got worse. More of them, in fact. Of the ten we are ranked in six went down, one stayed the same, and three went up. And this sweeps under the rug chronic problems such as orthopedics where we were ranked 21 in '05 and have fallen off the table to being unranked. Meanwhile St. Cloud Hospital is ranked 35 and Abbot 37. The same has happened in geriatrics where we were 26 in '05 and have fallen off the table, too. Detailed inspection of the trends is disturbing, psychiatry for another example.

Sorry, I don't buy the headline of this piece on the Fairview-U Website: "University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview earns top marks in annual U.S. News survey." If you want to see what top marks are, then look at Mayo's rankings. Of the sixteen specialties the worst they do is better than our best and they've got geriatrics (7), orthopedics (2) and psychiatry (8) well covered.

p.s. There is a picture of Dr. Ann Taylor on the Fairview-U site. In fact she left the U to go to Columbia University. Sometimes it takes years before all traces of departed colleagues are removed.


Click this link to see whether Dr. Taylor is still on the FUMC site

July 15, 2008

On the Recent Flare-up of Scandal in the University/Pharma Interaction

Margaret Soltan, a professor of English at George Washington University writes on her blog, University Diaries:

The most important thing University Diaries does is track influences and trends within universities that threaten their integrity. UD has never seen anything as destructive to the ethos of the American university as she has seen here, in the relationship between medical research professors and the drug industry. It represents a species of cruelty to the most vulnerable among us that she never thought she’d see inside our schools.

July 13, 2008

Do We Have An Arrogance Problem at the University of Minnesota?

Perhaps Some Humility is in Order, Bob?


Mr. Michael McNabb is a local attorney with strong ties to the University. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from the U and his children are also graduates. He is a lifetime member of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association.

I am very impressed by his public-spiritedness and have previously posted on his activities with respect to the takeover of WCAL by the Klingon empire.

See: The WCAL Outrage, At Least One Judge Won't Stand For It

Mr. McNabb has written OurLeader, President Bruininks, a letter dated June 30, 2008. He has kindly given me permission to use it. The full text is available for download at one of my Google Pages websites.

Excerpts from the letter:

It will not be productive for the University to increase the financial pressures on its students (and their parents). The University needs their support to develop a successful legislative strategy.

A different attitude must accompany a new approach to the legislature. Several years ago a former state senator, who was a leader in his caucus, used the word "arrogant" to describe to me the attitude of the University administration. That remark surprised me. However, the chair of the House Capital Investment Committee recently used the same word in public remarks about the University. We have a problem here. It is more difficult to successfully execute a legislative strategy when the chair of the committee that must approve University bonding bills has the perception that the University is dismissive of the legislature.

There is a simple way to change that continuing perception of the University at the legislature. A senior University administrator should visit each representative and state senator in person and ask that legislator what the University should do to improve its performance at the legislature.

As we develop a new legislative strategy, we also need to examine our objectives for the University. A goal of becoming one of the top three public research institutions in the world is illusory as there is no recognized authority to certify that such a goal has been attained. Such talk diverts attention from the real challenges facing the University that are the consequences of the failure to secure the support of the legislature.

There is also a danger of placing too much emphasis on research. A disproportionate allocation of resources to research would have an adverse effect on the equally important task of teaching our children.

In the latest U.S. News & World Report survey (widely used despite its flaws), the national rankings of the graduate schools at the University are as follows (private and public institutions/public institutions only):

Biological sciences 34/17
Chemistry 22/12
Engineering 24/12
Research medical schools 36/18
Physics 23/14
Business 27/13
Earth sciences 21/12
Mathematics 17/7
Law 22/8
Computer science 31/18

While we should certainly strive for excellence, our goals should also be realistic and subject to objective measurement as much as possible. We need to develop an effective strategy to enlist the support of the governor, the legislature, the students and their parents to achieve those goals.

To become "one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]" shouldn't we first improve incrementally? Become one of the better schools in the BigTen, perhaps?

But, no, OurLeader will have none of this. To suggest such a thing is to be labeled "a doubter."

"I've heard some of the 'doubters' say things like, 'I'd settle for best in the Big Ten," he [Bruininks] said. "Students don't choose the University of Minnesota for (a) mediocre future."

Such a statement certainly seems both arrogant and foolish.

July 12, 2008

Best Hospitals '08 - Where Does the University of Minnesota Stand?

Health Care Ratings on the Web


Other local programs of note (top 50) are found

Abbot Northwestern

Endocrinology (26)
Gastrointestinal Disorders (31)
Geriatric Care (48)
Gynecology (47)
Neurology & Neurosurgery (35)
Orthopedics (37)

Hennepin County Medical Center

Endocrinology (41)
Kidney Disease (47)

St. Cloud Hospital

Orthopedics (35)
Urology (44).

America's Best Hospitals

The 19 institutions that achieved high scores in at least six specialties.

* 1 Johns Hopkins Hospital

* 2 Mayo Clinic

* 3 Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

* 4 Cleveland Clinic

* 5 Massachusetts General Hospital

* 6 New York-Presbyterian Univ. Hosp.

* 7 UCSF Medical Center

* 8 Brigham and Women's Hospital

* 8 Duke University Medical Center

* 10 Hosp. of the Univ. of Pennsylvania

* 10 Univ. of Washington Medical Center

* 12 Barnes-Jewish Hospital/ Washington University

* 13 University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers

* 14 University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

* 15 Vanderbilt University Medical Center

* 16 Stanford Hospital and Clinics

* 17 University of Chicago Medical Center

* 18 Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

* 19 Yale-New Haven Hospital

July 11, 2008

A University President Declines A Raise?


What is this world coming to?

From the Lexington-Herald Leader via UD:

Something You Don’t See Every Day

The University of Louisville board of trustees Thursday approved the school president’s request to forgo the triple-digit pay raise or bonus he could have received.

James Ramsey will instead receive a lump sum payment of $700,
the same amount other full-time faculty and staff members are expected to receive this fiscal year, according to U of L spokesman John Drees. The lump sum payment will bring Ramsey’s base university salary to $331,918.

Under Ramsey’s contract, he would have been eligible for a bonus of more than $113,000 for the 2007-08 academic year. But Ramsey asked the trustees not to give him any additional money because of the tight economic times.

The board earlier approved a university budget that includes $6.1 million in cuts.

Leadership does matter. When Ramsey calls for belt-tightening, sacrifice, and cooperation, he should get it because he walks the talk. Don't you think this is a great idea, Bob?



The U of L provost maintains an active link between her office and the broader University of Louisville community through her blog, From the Provost. OurProvost is apparently too busy to do this.

July 10, 2008

The Elephant In the Living Room - Or Mind the Gap


source: The Demand for Creative Approaches As We Compete for Our Future
F.B. Cerra (June, 2008)

Or, Be Careful What You Wish For

The Strib reports on yesterday's regents meeting where they were told that state money would be a boon for biomedical research.

I watched some of this meeting on live video. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn how things work here at the U.

Props to Venora Hung, a student regent
- law school - who showed some independence and asked good questions. She was the only one who voted against the light rail memorandum of understanding. I don't think the U had much choice on this, realistically, but I admire her for not going along with the crowd and for doing what she thought was right. Even one of the regents, who had complained that light rail down Washington Avenue was like a dagger at the throat of the AHC, voted aye. So much for voting your conscience...

From the Strib:

Dr. Frank Cerra, senior vice president of health sciences, said that the $300 million Minnesota Biomedical Research Program, including $220 million approved by the Legislature this year, will attract more than $100 million in new research funding annually.

The state money, however, is only part of the equation. The university not only has to come up with 25 percent of the funding for the buildings, but it also has to find a way to finance the recruitment and salaries of the faculty members and researchers employed there.

Cerra said $65 million that the university recently received from the Masons for cancer research is the first of several philanthropic gifts in the works. In addition, Cerra said, money from the partnership between the university's hospital and Fairview Hospitals will be used. Other sources will include partnerships with industry, the re-allocation of funds within the Academic Health Center and additional state support.

The University administration has not been entirely frank about the ultimate cost implications of this building spree. When the state legislature and the rest of the university, north of Washington Avenue, finally realize the additional resource commitment, there will be much unhappiness. I am afraid that, given the financial circumstances in which we find ourselves, this use of scarce resources was not in the best interests of the university or the state.

I hope I'm wrong.

Footdragging Continues


On Double Dipping Faculty Members


"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

"The Board of Regents and the administration of the University made it clear years ago that it would not tolerate undisclosed, simultaneous full-time employment," Rotenberg said.

"As a matter of fact, Julie and I have not even signed an employee contract yet with Minnesota. ... We have only agreed to unofficially start this semester with full residence starting in May." Francois Sainfort February Email

But the couple had already begun working full-time for the University of Minnesota at that time, according to documents. Mark Rotenberg, the general counsel for the U of M, said the couple's compensation and contracts at Minnesota began Oct. 1.

"We will try to piece this together in regard to whether something serious has indeed happened here in regard to so-called double-dipping." Mark Rotenberg, U of M general counsel

Today the Strib has an update:

Professors disciplined for double employment

By JEFF SHELMAN, Star Tribune

July 8, 2008

Two University of Minnesota professors accused of being on the payrolls of two universities simultaneously will continue to work at reduced pay and responsibilities into the upcoming academic year.

The husband-and-wife duo of health researchers Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko were considered to be star hires when they were lured to Minnesota from Georgia Tech last fall. In February, the Atlanta school began the process of firing the two for being on the payroll of both schools at the same time. Georgia Tech also turned the case over to the Georgia attorney general.

In April, Sainfort and Jacko asked for and received a two-month leave of absence from their administrative duties in order to resolve their issues with Georgia Tech. That leave, which was supposed to end this summer, will now continue until Sept. 30, according to U of M spokesman Daniel Wolter.

Sainfort and Jacko recently resigned from their positions at Georgia Tech, spokesman Matt Nagel said Tuesday. The two will continue to perform their teaching and research duties at the U of M and receive their base salaries, which are a combined $469,000 per year.

The U of M has not taken any additional action against the couple. Minnesota also has a policy against holding multiple full-time positions.

"Our investigation into the matter is still underway," Wolter said. "We continue to cooperate with the Georgia attorney general and are closely following that investigative process."

The U of M, however, is not obligated to wait for an outcome in Georgia, he said.

Sainfort was hired to lead the Division of Health Policy and Management in the U of M's Academic Health Center, while Jacko was brought in as director of the Institute on Health Informatics.

Comments on this article were grim, e.g., from a lifetime University of Minnesota Alumni Association member:

I can't believe that the U has not taken a stronger stand on this issue. Regardless of their salaries, these individuals are not conducting as we Minnesotans expect professionals at OUR university to conduct themselves. Double dipping, we don't stand for that with hourly workers. I suggest that the U become much more transparent about this particular issue (why are you not letting these two go?). And I think that the U needs to make salaries of employees more easily accessible to the public. It is my understanding that state employees' compensation packages are public information. We know what the Governor makes, why shouldn't we know what professors make. And how they are spending their time to earn their salaries. Let's go UofM, stand up and do the right thing. I won't be donating anymore of my money to the U until the U finances are transparent.

July 3, 2008

A Well Deserved Attaboy From the Pioneer Press

for MInnesota Community Measurement


(Link to this site)

For background, see:

Consumer Tools On the Web
Diabetic Health Care Success Variability in Minnesota

From the Pioneer Press:

Good news! Competition is improving health care in Minnesota!

We refer to the latest report from MN Community Measurement, a nonprofit organization that aims to raise the quality of health care by measuring and publicizing outcomes. Monday, the group released results of diabetes and vascular-disease care provided by more than 300 Minnesota clinics. The standard of measurement is the patient's health. Some clinics were clearly doing better than others. But we're also clearly making progress.

We'll count the ways:

1. The object of measurement is the patient's health, not necessarily a treatment protocol.

2. Competition tends to improve both quality and value. MN Community Measurement encourages competition.

3. It also encourages a re-ordering of priorities. One of the greatest challenges in health-care reform is how to reward providers for their patients' health — not merely for their treatment. The coalition of customers that MN Community Measurement represents is intent on seeing — and exploring how to pay for — the value in optimal health.

July 2, 2008

Science Teaching and Student Services Building

Recently Cited as Evidence of Commitment to Undergraduates Education

For the background story on this good example of the administration's continuing tactics in blowing off the opinions of faculty on matters related to classrooms and teaching, please see an earlier rant on my main site:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Replace Science Classroom Building?
We've Been Talking About This for Thirty Years, Could We Please Do Something?
(With a Side Rant on Teaching Methods...)

On the one hand it is good that this situation is finally going to be taken care of. On the other hand I fear that the people making decisions do not know what they are doing. I certainly hope that they consult with the folks in chemistry such as Wayne Gladfelter - to make sure that a new science classroom building is done right. A new building done badly will be even worse than the current eyesore.
Remember when the geniuses tore down the poor old decrepit - on campus - Memorial Stadium and replaced it with something they now admit was even worse...the downtown Metrodome? And now we're going to replace the downtown Metrodome with? Twin City Federal Stadium (almost named T. Denny Sanford Stadium). Which of course will be right back on campus near... the old Memorial Stadium location.

Which goes to show that if you wait long enough as a U of M administrator, people will eventually forget your past sins and you can feel free to re-write history. (I was a very strong supporter of the new Science Classrom Building. There is no conflict between teaching and research. I am for stature rather than ratings. I strongly support General College. I strongly support a higher minority enrollment. General College must go. I am against re-engineering. I am for Kotter's Eight-Stage Process of Creating Change. This is a land grant institution.)

-------Side rant-------

Sorry sir, I have some news for you. This comes from the real world and not your uncited "substantial" research. It comes from someone who has actual experience teaching real undergraduates at places ranging from Carleton to BigU over nearly forty years. Although I might be a curmudgeon, I am not a Luddite. I use technology where appropriate and have even won an award from BigU for technology enhanced teaching.

The best way to present introductory courses in general, organic, and biochemistry is the lecture method.

“Opposed to sitting and being fed information? is a little loaded. The reason students go to lectures (good ones anyway) is that the material is presented by an expert in a way that students can learn it. Trot on down the road to St. Olaf or Carleton or across the river to St. Thomas or down 494 to Normandale. Take Ochem with Chuck Carlin or Gary Spessard or Dr. OJ or Chuck Ojala to name just a few of the outstanding chemistry lecturers at these fine institutions.

Guess what - it is the people stupid! And good teachers will make appropriate use of technology using their best judgment.

Could we please look at the RESULTS of the teaching method and the satisfaction/dissatisfaction of students, rather than making loaded and unsupported statements about how people “learn better, faster, and retain more when they learn in interactive settings.? (They "leap tall buildings at a single bound"?) I call BS.

The chemistry department at Minnesota is one of the best teaching departments at the University. Look at the number of faculty members in chemistry who have won teaching awards. AND the interesting thing is that many of the chemistry department’s world class scientists are also world class teachers. Bill Tolman, Larry Que, and Chris Cramer come immediately to mind. There are many more. Look at the comments on Rate My Professors about chemistry faculty members. Chemistry undergrads who work in my lab actually know some chemistry and guess where they learned it?


From the minutes - Faculty Consultative Committee, June 19,

Professor Balas then brought up once again the STSS facility and reported that he had spoken with the Provost about the discussions he (Professor Balas) has had with faculty about the design of the building (such as providing no rear doors in the classrooms, which would mean that students coming late or leaving early would be unable to do so without disturbing the entire class, and providing halls that are too narrow). The Committee will need to follow the progress on this building for the next nine months or there will be trouble with it.

Committee members expressed a number of views about the proposed facility, including disappointment and frustration that the process is still problematic and the issues unresolved.

Professor Sampson said that the argument for the building was that it will provide cutting-edge science classrooms, not that it would be a student services building. The University does not want to end up with a dysfunctional building. It may be getting a cutting-edge-designed building that is not functional, like the Guthrie, which also has problems with traffic flow as people enter and leave, Professor Kahn commented.

The architects have been given their orders and cannot change the design, Professor Balas said; if the building is constructed as designed, it will be a disaster. These are not pedagogy questions, Professor Kahn observed about the points that had been raised; it is about hallways, exits, and the like.

Professor Balas said he would meet with Mr. Miller in the Office of Planning and keep the Committee apprised of events. It may be that Mr. Miller should be invited to join the Committee monthly during the next year to keep it up to date. Professor Martin echoed Professor Sampson: it is STSS, with the ST first; if they can't get the Science Teaching part right, what's the purpose of the building?

But of course what do the faculty know about a classroom building? Who cares about their opinions? OurLeaders know best.

MoreU Park Getting the Attention It Deserves?

From the State Legislature

I have previously posted on the fiasco that is MoreU park.

From the Daily:

State Rep. Alice Hausman , DFL-St. Paul , said she sometimes disagrees with how the University spends its money, noting when she saw the school pushed harder for an on-campus stadium than it did for biomedical research facilities.

Recent talks about plans for UMore Park have also raised red flags, she said.

"To use this time to invest in some sort of cutting-edge conjecture about where residential communities might go strikes me as a stretch for a university," Hausman said, pointing out current economic and businesses struggles as other reasons to be wary.

She plans to meet with other state legislators on the topic this week, she said.

July 1, 2008

Another Bad Grade On Our Report Card


Depressing news from the Strib:

A new "health report card" has found that diabetics are much more likely to get their disease under control at some Minnesota clinics than others.

Some of the highest ratings went to Fairview and Allina clinics, while some of the lowest were at clinics run by University of Minnesota physicians...