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September 30, 2009

Administrative Proliferation Continues Unabated in the AHC?

So let's see...

We've amalgamated the job of Dean of the Medical School and AHC VP. The old dean, Deborah Powell is now some sort of VP for medical education, we have umpteen vps or associate vps in the AHC to take care of day to day business, because Frank Cerra is too busy being AHC czar to take care of, business? The proliferation continues unabated, for example we have an associate dean for faculty affairs - a job that used to be half time - who has pumped the job up to full time and is now making, in round numbers, $250 K. She is a former co-worker of the former Dean.

The latest from AHC News Capsules:

Another area of collaboration - between and among the schools and colleges of the Academic Health Center - has led to the development of a new model for the position of associate vice president for research within the AHC. Based on discussion and recommendations from the AHC deans, we have developed a new position that will ultimately be shared with each of our health sciences disciplines. Initially, the new associate vice president for the AHC will also serve as the vice dean for research of the Medical School. Following five years of service in this shared role, the AVP position will rotate to the research lead of one of our other AHC schools. This new model will ensure that each of our disciplinary research leaders will have the opportunity to fully discover the strengths of each health science school while serving in the AHC role. This is a critical position that will be responsible for providing strategic and operational leadership for the AHC's and Medical School's research programs and fostering interest in health research at the University. We are looking for an extraordinary individual who has a strong vision, outstanding leadership skills, a distinguished record of research and scholarship, and a deep commitment to interdisciplinary research. We invite your applications and nominations. Please click here to see more information on this newly posted position, as well as the search committee for this new leadership position.

- Frank B. Cerra, M.D.
Sr. Vice President for Health Sciences
Dean of the Medical School

Stop, please, Frank. Clearly this is an attempt to put in cement the course of action chosen by the present administration, one that has clearly failed in staying ahead of the curve in health related matters. Conflict of interest anyone? Medical education? Reasonable models to encourage docs to go into family practice? Incredible debt load? Overbuilding and lack of attention to the fundamentals of medical practice?

It is time for a change in the AHC as well as Morrill Hall.

Is there anything you actually like about the U? Bill rants

From the Daily comments section:

Submitted by JR on Tue, 09/29/2009 - 9:26pm.

Mr. Gleason, I am not refuting anything you are saying about this article or any other article, but damn, is there anyone that you like at the university or anything you are happy with? I mean that lightheartedly...don't get mad. I just never see you satisfied.

Submitted by wbgleason on Wed, 09/30/2009 - 8:25am.

Good question and I am certainly not mad at you for asking it. Now that it is a little harder for the bomb-throwers to make comments on the Daily site, dialog seems to have fallen off. I hope this trend is reversed by comments like yours.

I have really strong feelings about the U because I am a graduate and think that it is a wonderful institution. It could be a lot better.

We have wonderful undergraduates. Many of them have worked in my laboratory doing research. We don't need to continually ratchet up the qualification of incoming graduates by taking people from out of state or elsewhere. But we should be doing a better job for the students we've got. Many of our competitors do a far better job than we do in the retention and graduation rate department, even though incoming student qualifications are no better than ours.

We have outstanding faculty members. Look at the Regents Professors. Many of them are in national academies and are the caliber of people that are the envy of our peers. Many of them are also excellent teachers; a recent example is Professor Larry Que. The chem dept chair, Bill Tolman is an excellent teacher as is Chris Cramer. And both of these folks are world class scientists. (This is not Driven to Discover propaganda...) Although I am a scientist, a strong CLA is also the backbone of a true university. Hampl, Clayton, Rabonowitz? And economics is (finally) being retooled. Psychology, Public Health, Pharmacy, IT - there are pockets of excellence all around the U. The U is not Dunwoody. (And I am not dissing Dunwoody.) So between the quality of the students and the quality of the faculty, I don't think we need to apologize to anyone.

The mission of the institution as written on Northrop is laudable. We are a land grant institution and that means something. We are not Cambridge or the ETH or even Berkeley. Berkeley has 240 members of the National Academy of Science and we have about thirty. This is not going to change significantly despite pompous protestations to the contrary by people like the provost. There is no way that we should be comparing ourselves to the top three universities in the world. A better goal would be to be one of the top schools in the BigTen. But our president describes this argument as that of a doubter.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The message is simple - play with the cards you've got - in the big scheme of things, they are pretty good cards.

Let's all work together to make this one of the best schools in the Big Ten, rather than our vainglorious attempt to be one of the top three public research institutions in the world. Every time I hear the words "ambitious aspirations," I think of student debt, graduation and retention rates and wonder yet again about our priorities.

I hope you realize that some of us who complain about the U do so because we believe that the U could be a lot better place, and lack of money alone is not the only explanation for our failings. It is a question of priorities.

Leadership matters.

Thanks again for your question. Sorry to rant, but you touched a nerve.

September 29, 2009

Georgia Tech Confirms Tenure Revocation


Although there was no press release or news citation on this action, the double-dipping duo of Sainfort and Jacko has had their tenure revoked at Georgia Tech. This was confirmed today by the Public Relations Office at Georgia Tech.

Meanwhile at the U of M no word on a resolution of the problem. Perhaps - as in so many other cases here - we will just ignore this situation until the problem goes away?

Seems kind of hard to blow off tenure revocation as a trivial matter, but you know the gang in Morrill Hall - anything for a laugh?

Also having someone like this as a major player on a translational clinical research grant proposal might, ah, damage your credibility?

And how have those translational research center grant submissions been going folks?

For background see:

U Admin: Sainfort, Jacko Being Treated Unfairly?

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave - From the Atlanta Constitution

Latest Word on Double-Dipping at the U
or, Business as Usual

Drip, Drip, Drip... The Ice Cream is Melting
People Continue to Ask What Should Be
Embarrassing Questions

September 28, 2009

Is the U becoming an elephant graveyard?


Dan Wolter - The One In The Middle?

The Daily has a piece up about our chief flak-catcher, the saintly Dan Wolter today:

The man in the middle

This (and Nick Coleman) jogged my memory about a few things.

Mr. Wolter's appointment to the Metropolitan Council is not exactly coincidental...

From the U's website:

"Prior to joining the News Service, Wolter served as director of communications for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty from his transition in December 2003 until late 2004. In that role, he oversaw all media relations for the governor, lieutenant governor and state agencies."

J-School Prof Chris Ison also had an informative article about Mr. Wolter that readers may find of interest:

Opinion: The Closed U

A more recent arrival at the graveyard is yet another Pawlenty administration refugee, Matt Kramer.

Mr. Kramer served as Pawlenty's chief of staff until this summer when he came to the University to become Director of the University of Minnesota Academic and Corporate Relations Center.

The move meant a raise: Kramer will earn $145,000 a year in his new post, compared to $118,870 in Pawlenty's administration, according to the AP.

It is interesting that in the middle of a hiring pause we are still able to to feed this elephant and even give him a 25K$ raise. And now people are being laid off? I guess some pigs (elephants) are more equal than others. Since he is the director of a center, does this make him an administrator? That might explain it...

Now where are those peanuts?

September 27, 2009

Ghosting Matilda

From Healthcare Renewal, posted by Bernard Carroll:


Once a jolly bagman signed on to some articles.
Corporate ghosts even promised him a fee.
And he sang as he watched and waited till they were in print,
These will be grand right up there on my CV.

Ghosting Matilda, ghosting Matilda,
Who'll come a-ghosting Matilda with me?
And he sang as he watched and waited till they were in print,
These will be grand right up there on my CV.

This month it's Janssen, next it's Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Wyeth and Lilly soon might want to talk to me.
Novartis might sign me up, also AstraZeneca ─
Soon I'll be famous like that guy at Emory.

Ghosting Matilda, ghosting Matilda,
Who'll come a-ghosting Matilda with me?
Novartis might sign me up, also AstraZeneca ─
Soon I'll be famous like that guy at Emory.

Up came an editor, looking for the telltale signs.
Ghost writing's hard to cover up, you see.
And he found them in the documents: metadata do not lie ─
Bagman just sold his name and passed these off on me.

Ghosting Matilda, ghosting Matilda,
Who'll come a-ghosting Matilda with me?
And he found them in the documents: metadata do not lie ─
Bagman just sold his name and passed these off on me.

Up jumped the bagman, pointing fingers right and left,
You'll never prove that I lied, said he.
I will say that underlings failed to send disclosure forms;
Let them be blamed instead, while I get off scot-free.

Ghosting Matilda, ghosting Matilda,
Who'll come a-ghosting Matilda with me?
I will say that underlings failed to send disclosure forms;
Let them be blamed instead, while I get off scot-free.

Out! said the editor, you're now persona non grata.
So, too, the Dean and the Provost agreed.
Bagman's ghost may be heard now, sighing in the library ─
Could have been grand right up there on my CV.

Ghosting Matilda, ghosting Matilda,
Who'll come a-ghosting Matilda with me?
Bagman's ghost may be heard now, sighing in the library ─
Could have been grand right up there on my CV.

I cannot think of the song, Waltzing Matilda, without remembering the song by Joan Baez...

September 25, 2009

Graduation and Retention Rates at the University of Minnesota - The Elephant in the Top Three Living Room

I've posted on this topic before, please see:

Latest Statistics on Incoming Students - SAT/ACT (10/11), HS top 10% (11/11)

A related post is:

More Happy Talk from Provost Sullivan?

Now the Daily has an article about retention rates:

U's retention rates among Big Ten's lowest
... the numbers of students who are staying on board for their second, third and final years at the University of Minnesota are comparatively low.

According to a U.S. News and World Report survey, first-year University students are among the least likely in the Big Ten to return for a second year.

Issues with low retention rates often resurface in low graduation rates, and the University is no exception to this trend.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 66 percent of University undergraduate students graduate within six years. This places the University last among its peer institutions, its closest competitor being Ohio State University with a six-year rate of 73 percent .

I suggest that retention and graduation rates are our currently most serious problem. From discussion at the last Board of Regents meeting, they appear to finally have recognized this. To claim that things are improving is not enough. If our administration is to have anyone take seriously their top three goal, then not only do we have to improve in this area, we have to do better than at least some of our competitors.

The clock is ticking. Tom? Bob?

September 24, 2009

Daily Cartoon on Light Rail Situation

From the Daily:


Where are the guns?

Or, as Warren Zevon put it:

September 23, 2009

U of M Admin's Bad Faith Negotiations on Light Rail Revealed

I've been quite disturbed about the U's lawsuit over the light rail route, since reading the actual document that is mentioned in an earlier post.

The first newspaper to have read and published on the document appears to be the Pioneer Press and they have done a pretty good job. I've got a piece up on my other site that excerpts from the Pioneer Press and has a few choice words of my own, e.g.

While saying [General Counsel Rotenberg] the U was working with the Met Council to make the budget work, "It's fundamentally not the U's responsibility to come up with a budget that is adequate to the project that they want to build."
[These are stupid, arrogant, and insensitive words to use, Mr. Rotenberg. They will come back to haunt you. Wait until you hear something like this from the legislature: "It's not the legislature's responsibility to come up with a budget that is adequate for the buildings they want to build." ]
For the whole rant, please see: More Details Emerge in Pioneer Press Article About U's Beef With Light Rail.

Medtronic Needs To Use Sword?


From the Pioneer Press:

Medtronic chief has a rocky tenure

Bill Hawkins has led the company through a massive recall, the great recession and conflict-of-interest questions over a consultant's pay

When Bill Hawkins took the top job at Medtronic two years ago, his predecessor presented him with a sword.

The replica of a 16th-century blade measures more than 4 feet in length and is mounted in Hawkins' office as a reminder to cut through red tape and take on competitors in the medical device industry.

Turns out the sword might have been a bit on the small side.

In time, the recession started hitting some of Medtronic's customers, and health care reform surfaced as a political football that could spike industry profits. Finally, this summer, Medtronic found itself at the center of controversy over the medical device industry's practice of paying big bucks to hire physicians as consultants -- a practice that has raised questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Hawkins received his sword on Aug. 22, 2007, from Art Collins, the retiring CEO who, in turn, had been given a different sword at the outset of his term at the top by predecessor Bill George.

On the day Collins presented the gift, Medtronic's stock traded at $52.64. On Wednesday, shares closed at $37.85.

The total return on Medtronic's stock during the period has been off by 26 percent, which is comparable to the Standard & Poor's 500 index but worse than an SP index of health care companies.

At the outset of his CEO term, Hawkins didn't expect Medtronic would be caught up in controversy surrounding payments to physicians who serve as product consultants to the company. But that's precisely what happened this summer with the release of billing documents filed by University of Minnesota spine surgeon Dr. David Polly.

The records were released by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, as part of his ongoing probe of financial ties between companies and physicians. Among other things, they show Polly billed Medtronic on nine occasions between 2005 and 2007 for phone calls or meetings with Hawkins.

Hawkins said he was surprised to learn Polly billed for the interactions -- especially a $2,000 bill for time Hawkins spent watching surgery in a Minneapolis operating room. "I can't remember ever in my 32 years that I was billed for being in a procedure," he commented.

But that surprise shouldn't be misinterpreted, Hawkins said. Polly did not err in submitting the bill, he said, and Medtronic did nothing wrong in paying it.

Medtronic needs close relationships with physicians -- so much so that, even as CEO, Hawkins has tried to maintain a steady schedule of similar operating room visits.

"It's very important for me to ... see exactly how our products are being used, just so I can have a better appreciation for what we're doing to advance a certain disease state, or maybe some of the challenges that (doctors) are having," he said.

Is the Best Health Care To Be Found in Academic Medicine?

This debatable proposition is espoused in the latest advertising campaign at the U:

University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital recently launched its Fall 2009 advertising campaign, which focuses on the experiences of real hospital patients. Focused on reaching Twin Cities parents, the campaign promotes the benefits of academic medicine. Because our physicians and nurses not only deliver the latest innovations - they create them - University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital is the best place to receive specialty care for common to complex pediatric and maternal-fetal health conditions, right from the start.

As evidence accumulates on cost and effectiveness of health care options, this hypothesis will become testable. Consumers of health care services already have access to data on performance indicating that academic medicine (whatever that is) may not be the best option.

See for example:

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

As an article in the Strib put it:

"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 and those managed last year by Aspen Medical Group, which has since merged with Allina."

As such comparisons becomes more readily available, performance may start to become more important than advertising campaigns. Talk about evidence-based medicine will need to be translated into action.

And another big question involves the cost of these new facilities that price out at about two million dollars per bed. For further information please see:

Redundant Children's Hospital Coming Back to Haunt U?

September 22, 2009

What College Football Is All About?

From City Pages:

The Gopher football stadium has football fans pretty pumped, but some people are more excited to get sloshed in the parking lot outside.

The game is already sold out, but the parking lot spots could cost you even more. Some scalping sites are listing parking places for as much as $350.

Ticket King says this is the only market where people are willing to pay so much for a tailgate spot. Tickets for the actual game on scalping sites range from $163 to $600+.

Isn't it great to have football back on campus for everyone to enjoy?


Oh, and I understand we have the biggest locker room in college or the pros and our coach takes a helicopter to recruit locally... Sort of makes you sick, doesn't it?


And how much will tuition be going up after next year? Would that be $2000+ ?


U files suit over light rail [sic]

Another bad mistake by the geniuses in Morrill...

From the U of M website:

University of Minnesota files suit seeking protection from adverse effects of Central Corridor light rail line

Contacts: University News Service, (612) 624-5551

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (09/22/2009) -- The University of Minnesota filed suit against the Metropolitan Council today in Hennepin County District Court, seeking protection from the adverse effects of construction and operation of the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit (CCLRT) project on the university's East Bank Campus.

"This action is being taken because we are simply not far enough along in reaching a solution to the very real challenges this light rail line poses for the University of Minnesota's core research mission," said Bruininks. "The Board of Regents and I have a solemn responsibility to protect the university's core research mission, decades of public investment in research infrastructure and hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants brought into this state each year by faculty research in facilities that are at risk."

Bruininks added that the university has long been a supporter of the CCLRT project and is eager to reach agreement with the Metropolitan Council on scientifically effective mitigations so that the project can move forward. "But the consequences of not protecting our land grant university's research infrastructure along the Washington Avenue corridor from the adverse effects that could result if this public works project is not done right are just too great to risk."

University researchers along the corridor are working to develop treatments and cures for life-threatening illnesses like cancer and diabetes, and the state's medical device and high-tech industries depend upon research happening in these labs. There are 80 laboratory facilities in 17 buildings along or in close proximity to the proposed CCLRT Washington Avenue route.

"We have said on a number of occasions that our fundamental objective is to identify effective solutions, based on sound science, that will move this transit project forward while protecting our public research mission and resources from potentially serious degradation. It remains the university's goal to find these solutions. This lawsuit does not preclude us from continuing to sit down with our project partners and work through the remaining issues to find scientifically effective solutions that will protect our research mission." said Bruininks.

The suit's timing was largely dictated by Minnesota law that requires filing of environmental claims within 30 days of the Metropolitan Council's final decision on the adequacy of its environmental review of the project in August. The suit alleges that the final environmental impact statement and related decisions about the project fail to adequately address serious adverse effects the rail line will cause, according to university General Counsel Mark Rotenberg, who filed the claim today.

Letter to the Editor on MnSCU Bonuses

From today's Star-Tribune:

There's a better use for the money at MnSCU

I have an excellent idea: The personnel at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system who received "bonus incentives" (Star Tribune, Sept. 17), if they had any honor, would return them to assist in the pain of budget reductions.

Generally speaking, those who received these bonuses are some of the highest-paid people in the system and probably can live quite comfortably without this additional unnecessary compensation. It is interesting to note that the bonus paid to Chancellor James McCormick is an amount greater than many AFSCME members earn in an entire year.



The spirit of these remarks is applicable also to the situation at the U of M.

September 17, 2009

Another Showboat on the Mississippi?

From the Daily:

Brewster made a good impression

Not. Disgraceful is what I call using University of Minnesota funds for such an ostentatious display. Maybe in the future Mr. Brewster can dip into his own pockets for that kind of stuff. What's 2200 bucks?

In the meantime, President Bruininks, buddy, there is a big church parking lot across from where I live. Can you send a helicopter to pick me up one day soon? I teach math. I try to do it well and my students are impressionable. With the latest budget cuts, the Math Department doesn't even have enough money to pay for homework paper-graders in our undergraduate classes, something we have had for well over 30 years, and a real boost in helping students learn. Over 900 students are affected. Can anyone say 'misguided priorities'?

Dennis A. Hejhal

University professor

Some reactions from the legislature to the U's budget proposal

About what you'd expect.

From the Daily:

A $242 million state funding request will go before the University of Minnesota Board of Regents in October before being handed over to the state Legislature for consideration next session.

The proposed request includes $100 million in system-wide building renovations in what is called Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funding. If the request passes intact, the Twin Cities campus could receive $24.3 million for interior renovations to Folwell Hall and $53.3 million for a new physics and nanotechnology building.

"All the requests really stretch the bonding bill," Higher Education Budget and Policy Division chairwoman Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, the ranking minority member on the Higher Education Budget and Policy Committee, said she thinks it is wise of the University to not include the Bell Museum in its request this year.

Robling offered an amendment to the bonding bill last session that would have taken the Bell project out and put the funds toward HEAPR instead. The amendment was barely defeated

Getting the requested amount in HEAPR funds is always difficult. In 2008, the University requested $100 million for building renovations but only received $35 million once the bonding bill passed. The same was true in 2009 when a smaller request of $35 million was submitted, but the University only received $25 million.

Pappas said she is supportive of substantial HEAPR funding, but it is hard to give.

"The best way to get HEAPR funded would be to not ask for anything else,"
Pappas said.

As for new University projects, Pappas pointed to the physics and nanotechnology building as a hefty one that may struggle for full funding. The University is requesting state funds for design and construction, but Pappas said she suspects the state could only fund the design portion of the project.

Robling said the University will have to address the Legislature about its need for a new building rather than renovations to an existing one.


Folwell the best bet. HEAPR slashed. Nano lucky to get planning money, BUT in this economic environment that would be a win...

September 16, 2009

Ah, this is getting serious folks! Major income erosion in Minnesota - implications for U...


Richard Florida in the Atlantic reports bad news for Minnesota:

The big story last week was the census report on the fall-off in Americans' incomes. The New York Times' David Leonhardt called it a "lost decade" with 2008 median household income of $50,303 falling beneath the 1998 figure of $51,295. While the national pattern is troubling, the trend in U.S. income varies widely by state.

The first map below shows the change in income for the 50 states. There were some big losers - New Jersey (-$7,214), Vermont -($5,757), Georgia (-$3,304), Delaware (-$2,558), Minnesota (-$2303), Tennessee (-$2218), Arizona (-$1,891)and Florida (-$1,890).

Now part of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of our do-nothing governor. And our do-nothing President is about to pull off the same stunt. He has used stimulus money to artificially keep tuition down. Instead of making the difficult decisions that need to be made now - as Pawlenty did - he has borrowed forward on the backs of the students.

This strategy needs immediate and vociferous examination. The tuition increase next year should be as advertised and he should be forced to make the difficult choices that this will require - including cutting his own salary - rather than more of the usual smoke and mirrors for which Morrill Hall is becoming famous.

As the income situation of Minnesotans outlined above becomes clear, the President cannot reasonably expected the legislature to bail him out because the knife will be at the throat of students - which is apparently his current strategy. This kind of behavior has been common in the past: Give us the money we want, or we'll take it out on the students.

The jig is up, Bob.

More Happy Talk from Provost Sullivan?

From a blanket email from the Provost:

"As the University's chief academic officer, I see the University of Minnesota as a place where we all work together to help understand and solve some of the world's most urgent problems. Our University is an exciting and leading center to think and debate the important issues of the nature and meaning of life."

Wow! The meaning of life... Leading center to think and debate... Maybe we could have a conversation about more pressing problems? Maybe a little faculty consultation? You do remember what happened this most recent academic year?

Inadequate Consultation: a Hallmark of this Administration?

"The University of Minnesota is making enormous strides in the effort to transform itself into one of the top three public research universities in the world. New programs have been launched and are being developed to enhance the undergraduate and graduate educational experience. Our undergraduate application numbers and yield are unprecedented; the Class of 2013 is simply exceptional. They are not alone--since 2000, more University of Minnesota students have been awarded Rhodes Scholarships than students from any other public research university, except one."

Exceptional? This is a mantra that the Morrill Hall crowd has used repeatedly in their marketing campaign. Apparently they believe that if they repeat it often enough, this alone will make it true. To claim that our undergrads are exceptional, as compared to those at our other self-selected peer institutions, is simply a condition contrary to fact. And Provost Sullivan is well aware of this from his own most recent report to the Board of Regents.

Tom, you are aware that almost any university in the country can make the same claim about unprecedented application numbers? You do realize that students apply to many more places than they used to? As to the exceptional nature of our undergrads, please see:

Latest Statistics on Incoming Students - SAT/ACT (10/11), HS top 10% (11/11)

"Our faculty continue to receive international and national attention. Since 2007 one of our faculty has been awarded the Nobel Prize, 8 were selected as Guggenheim fellows, 5 were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 3 to the National Academy of Sciences, and 14 to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Our total research awards rose from $524 million in 2004 to $675 million in 2007."

We have a great faculty. But do not make the mistake of equating, say, membership in the National Academy with greatness. It is not a game we can win:

What We're Up Against in Top Three Trek - U of M Faculty Membership in National Academy

"Given the new budgetary realities of the State of Minnesota, we as a University community will have to be even more prudent, even smarter, and even more creative so that we can continue to invest wisely in the academic initiatives that distinguish the University of Minnesota as preeminent. We will not diminish our intensity of purpose or our significant momentum achieved through strategic positioning as we look to the future. We will need to make choices, but our investments in great teaching and research must and will continue."

It is time for new priorities, Tom, or a return to our core values? Chest-pounding about "ambitious aspirations" and "strategic positioning" is inappropriate given our resources.

Time to start playing with the cards we've got? Time to get those retention and graduation rates up? Time to start paying attention to our mission - the education of the youth of our state? Time to back pedal on the tuition two step?

Have a good year, Tom. But I am afraid the noises from Morrill Hall sound to me like the usual ones. The football coaches get criticized for failing to make second half adjustments. That criticism seems appropriate for the academic administration as well.


September 15, 2009

The Daily Nails President Bruininks on the Tuition Smokscreen


From the Daily:

It's time to talk tuition

Amidst a stimulus smokescreen and little outcry, tuition continues to soar.

This paper ran a story last Tuesday detailing the federal stimulus money which has been allocated to the University of Minnesota. The story failed to mention an essential piece of information: the funds designated to offset enormous increases in tuition will expire after next year, leaving students and families to absorb the full burden starting fall 2011.

This past legislative session the Higher Education Omnibus bill, from which the University of Minnesota receives its state funding, included $50.1 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to buy down tuition increases over the next two years. Undergraduate resident tuition increased this year by $720 or 7.3%. Next year tuition is projected to increase again year by roughly $780 or 7.5%. Thanks to the ARRA, also known as the federal stimulus package, tuition payments will provisionally increase by about half that much, or $300 and $450, respectively.

In the fall of 2011, however, students will begin paying the full $1500 increase on top of the tuition hikes which may result from the reduction in state allocations. Unlike the misleading 3% increase readily touted as this year's tuition figure, students and families should be very clear that tuition has already increased this year alone by 7.5%. While students and families don't have to pay that yet, they will in they very near future, and it likely gets worse. A nine percent tuition increase for the 2011 academic year, entirely possible given the largely unresolved state budget crisis, would put tuition well over $12,000 for undergraduate residents. In 2000, tuition for a resident undergraduate was a mere $4,401. Oh, how very near the good 'ol days seem.

University of Minnesota Treasurer and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter stated that President Bruininks has made it a priority to seek more money for scholarships to help offset these increases, but he acknowledged that it would be unrealistic to expect all of the federal stimulus money to be replaced with new scholarships.

Minnesota Student Association President Paul Strain is advocating for students to become educated on the tuition issue early, so that they can have the most influence when the Fiscal Year 2012 budget is being crafted. "Student apathy is the number one way for tuition to go up."

Paul Strain is right. Administrators don't seem to take students, families and other critics of skyrocketing tuition seriously mostly because criticism has remained disorganized and casual. As a result, undergraduate resident tuition at the University has increased well over 150% in the last decade. Of course, during May testimony President Bruininks assured the Minnesota legislature that "We can't add very much. I don't want to burden our students and their families." Although he did admit that tuition increases are the "quickest and easiest way" to raise money for the University.

Students cannot expect this unbearable tuition situation to improve without dedicated and vocal involvement. Join your college board, join or attend the meetings of the Student Senate or the Minnesota Student Association and help address these exorbitant tuition hikes. Write letters to the editor, write the Board of Regents and other administrators. Better yet, organize, raise awareness and protest. Students were once known for their activism. Reclaim that legacy; the time for passive acceptance of inexcusable tuition hikes has passed.

Note: In "Rappin' with Robert" in the September 15, 2009 issue of the Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks is quoted as saying, "Student tuition increases will not exceed 3 percent this year and not exceed 4.5 percent next year." But these numbers hide their temporary nature. In fact, tuition increased by more than 7% this year and is projected to increase by 7.5% next year. The Daily Editorial Board is not calling President Bruininks a liar, but he is definitely [not?] telling the whole truth.

There is a fast shuffle going on here with tuition. And guess when President Bruininks is [currently] scheduled to retire? Right....

The necessary sacrifices will be made after he has gone?

What, me worry?

Mad As Hell Docs Make a Stop

From the Strib:

U Med School grad on cross-country caravan for 'single-payer' plan

A University of Minnesota Medical School graduate is among six doctors from Oregon who are meandering across the country in his recreational vehicle, promoting a single-payer plan as the best option for health care reform.

Joseph H. Eusterman, a retired doctor of internal medicine, is on the Mad As Hell Doctors Tour that arrives in the Twin Cities on Wednesday in a Winnebago on its way to Washington, D.C. An earlier stop Wednesday is scheduled in Mankato.

"The current health care system we have is terminal," Eusterman, 79, wrote on the tour website, www.madashelldoctors.com. "And these 'options' that keep coming out of Washington is like prescribing aspirin for a tumor."

After earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame, Eusterman received graduate and Medical School degrees from the University of Minnesota.

The trip began Sept. 8 in Oregon and is scheduled to end Sept. 30. A meeting with President Obama has been requested.

On their website, the doctors acknowledge that a Canadian-style health system would "take a miracle" to happen, given that the prospect for any increased role by government in health care delivery is being fiercely contested.

Even so, they say, "Our message to the president and Congress is clear: Single payer is the solution. We demand it now."

Norman Borlaug and the Value of a U of M Education


Today's Star-Tribune has a letter from Peter Agre, a native Minnesotan and Nobel Prize winner.

Norman Borlaug was unique in many ways, but the importance of his U of M education cannot be overstated.

Borlaug's modest agrarian roots would have restricted his career choices, but the opportunity to gain a full university education - particularly at an outstanding land grant university providing advanced scientific and technical training - made all the difference.

Like other native Minnesotans who have gone into science, I have always found Borlaug's story inspirational. My own research career began as a young Augsburg student working at the U of M Variety Club Heart Hospital on the East River Road. Those experiences were transformational.

All Minnesotans - whether they reside in the state or follow their careers elsewhere - should be proud of Norman Borlaug and the University of Minnesota.

Peter Agre, MD
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

September 14, 2009

Faculty Governance - An Oxymoron?

From the June 12th meeting of the Board of Regents:

"The progress of initiatives this year and the rich dialogue surrounding
issues ranging from . . . to graduate education attests to the value of
faculty participation in governance. . . ."

"The U of M can be proud that it represents the gold standard among the
CIC institutions with respect to the effectiveness of the
administration/faculty governance. . . . "

From the Report of Professor Emily Hoover, chair of the faculty/senate
consultative committee (at p. 35 of the minutes)

As a friend pointed out:

On what planet has Dr. Hoover been living? Is she aware of the resolution adopted by the Faculty Senate on April 30, 2009 demanding that the administration act in accordance with the University Policy on Reorganization?

If so, why did she not report on the resolution to the Regents? How are the Regents to learn of the actions of the Faculty Senate?

For further evidence of this gold standard of behavior of the administration toward faculty governance, please see:

We Don't Need No Steenkin' Graduate School


Inadequate Consultation - a Hallmark of this Administration


Faculty Senate Disapproves Engulfment of Graduate School by Office of the Provost

How Dr. Borlaug Came to the U

I thank a friend for pointing me to the link for this wonderful story.

See: http://www.alumni.umn.edu/Bread_and_Peace.html

In February 1933, I entered a Midwest AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] tournament in Cresco. Most of the other entrants were university wrestlers. I hadn't wrestled for a year but got into the finals and wrestled a person from Iowa State Teachers College. He beat me in overtime. As I was leaving, the Iowa coach said, "You should come to Iowa State Teachers College." There were no athletics scholarships at that time, but the coach said he would get me a job.

Shortly before I was to leave for Iowa, George Champlin (B.A. '34), a football player for the University of Minnesota who lived in Cresco, drove up. He said, "My dad said you should be at the University of Minnesota. I'm going to early football practice tomorrow. Come and ride along. You can hitchhike back if you don't like it there." I went and never came back.

I had a good high school academic record, but when I came to Minnesota they said, "You're short a year of credits." At that time Minnesota didn't count ninth grade as high school, so they said I had to take a special exam. I took it and flunked it and figured, hell, I'm a complete washout.

But George took me to see Fred Hovde (B.S. '29), dean of the General College, which was just starting. George told him what had happened and Hovde said I should start in General College. I spent fall and winter quarters there and had very good grades, so Hovde said I could transfer to any of the University's colleges. I went to the forestry college.

My friend comments: "It's a great story. The U used to be proud of telling it. Seemed like Borlaug was happy to tell it."

September 13, 2009

A Can of Worms That Is The University of Minnesota, Rochester

Given the contraction that is inevitable in higher ed, I have been slightly puzzled by resources being poured into U M Rochester, especially considering the enrollment numbers. There have also been some, shall we say, unintelligent things done in the areas of medical technology and bioinformatics. And of course a cynic might conclude that the U pushed for Rochester funding as a sop to (gasp!) politicians in southern Minnesota.

But the Rochester situation is perhaps a topic for another day.

For now, the Daily has just published a thought-provoking piece on UM Rochester:

Last week, the three-year-old University of Minnesota-Rochester opened its doors to 55 bachelor of health sciences first-years, marking a major milestone for the youngest campus of the University of Minnesota system. The cadre of first-years joins current graduate students in a variety of biotechnology and medical fields, and plans call for continued growth in coming years.

In a recent agreement, the Board of Regents and the renowned Mayo Clinic agreed to jointly develop academic and research programs at Rochester, but the agreement also designated the UMR Chancellor, not the University Regents, as Rochester's chief agent of communication and negotiation. Instead of approaching the Mayo partnership for the benefit of the University of Minnesota system, benefits will inevitably be focused on Rochester.

This Rochester-centric attitude poses a long-term threat to the Twin Cities campus. Demand for medical innovation may make the Rochester campus fundamental to both the state economy and the University's academic reputation. The gravitational pull of these expanding programs combined with Mayo Clinic and the $500 million bio-business investment in nearby Pine Island means that Rochester could soon offer and dominate such Twin Cities strongholds as cellular and molecular biology and chemistry. The medical school itself may eventually call Rochester home.

Existing schools and research centers must remain in the Twin Cities and vital new academic programs should not be given exclusively to UMR. Ultimately, the University must maintain the Twin Cities as the system's flagship campus in all major fields while it expands educational opportunities in Rochester.

Athletic Exceptions...

I've posted on the Mbakwe situation previously:

Given our past history, should we really be playing fast and loose with the University's student-athlete code of conduct?

Now the Daily comments on the situation:

University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi recently allowed player Trevor Mbakwe to begin practicing with the rest of the men's Gopher basketball team, even though Mbakwe faces a felony trial in December for an alleged assault in Miami, Florida. To allow Mbakwe into practice required Maturi to waive the student--athlete code of conduct, which states that a player charged with a felony may not enroll for courses and may not practice with the team. The code of conduct has clearly outlined rules for a reason, and regardless of his talent, Mbakwe should have been prohibited from practice.

This is an unfortunate example of an athletic department bending the rules for a premier recruit. If Mbakwe were not expected to play or contribute much in the future, Maturi likely would have adhered to the policy and not allowed Mbakwe to practice. And Maturi certainly has the authority to waive the code of conduct and lift Mbakwe's suspension, but doing so sets a dishonorable and dangerous precedent. If players know that they can violate the student-athlete code of conduct with no repercussions, as long as they are important enough, the conduct code has no real authority and members of the team are invited to disrespect team rules and wider athletic standards.

Per the code of conduct, Maturi should not have allowed Mbakwe to practice with the Gophers. Instead, he should have acted to preserve the integrity of purposeful standards and waited for the verdict of Mbakwe's trial.

Bread for Circuses?

New Stadiums aside, higher ed is far from flush...

As Lori Sturdevant writes in today's Strib:

In terms of entertainment value, taking stock of the gawkers wandering around outside TCF Bank Stadium might seem lame, especially compared with the action expected inside the place on autumnal Saturdays.

Still, the trickle of Minnesotans getting to know the new Golden Gophers football palace has been fascinating to Margaret Sughrue Carlson.

A few of those stadium admirers must have been struck by the incongruity it represents. Here's a stunner of a stadium, with a $288 million price tag, rising next to a row of pricey bioscience research buildings that will cost three times as much.

They're emblems of a proud and prosperous state, one that appears willing and able to spend big money on its biggest educational institution and on the promise of a new industry.

But those familiar with the state budget know a different story.
The University of Minnesota and its public-sector counterpart, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, each just took a $50 million cut in operating funds from what the Legislature authorized for 2010-11, courtesy of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment.

Real fiscal pain is due to hit higher education in 2011 and beyond, as the 2011 Legislature closes what's been projected to be an 18 to 20 percent gap between state spending and revenues in 2012-13.

"We want to engage the people of this state with the university, not just ask donors to give back. We want people to do a whole lot of things: Speak up for the university. Recruit a student. Attend events. Mentor a student. We need 5 million people to have a story that they can tell somebody else about how the university has affected them. We need them to tell those stories."


Dr. Carlson is described in a photo as "among the TCF Bank Stadium's leading cheerleaders." The above paragraph is a good example of her modus operandi.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of baggage at the U of which I am sure she is aware.

What does the large amount of money being spent on a stadium and buildings say about priorities at the U?

What does the lowest graduation rate in the BigTen and among our self-selected competitors say?

What does the highest debt load in the BigTen for our undergraduates say?

These are the kind of bullets that are difficult to dodge, Dr. Carlson. And when going hat in hand to the legislature or donors these questions and many others will be asked.

Have a good retirement. It is well deserved.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, Outstanding U of M alum, has died

From the Associated Press:

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Norman Borlaug, father of the 'green revolution,' dies at age 95

DALLAS - Agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, the father of the "green revolution" who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in combating world hunger and saving hundreds of millions of lives, died Saturday in Texas, a Texas A&M University spokeswoman said. He was 95. The Nobel committee honored Borlaug in 1970 for his contributions to high-yield crop varieties and bringing other agricultural innovations to the developing world. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives.

Equal parts scientist and humanitarian, the Iowa-born Borlaug realized improved crop varieties were just part of the answer, and pressed governments for farmer-friendly economic policies and improved infrastructure to make markets accessible. A 2006 book about Borlaug is titled "The Man Who Fed the World."

"More than any other single person of his age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world," Nobel Peace Prize committee chairman Aase Lionaes said in presenting the award to Borlaug. "We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."

Borlaug often said wheat was only a vehicle for his real interest, which was to improve people's lives.

"We must recognize the fact that adequate food is only the first requisite for life," he said in his Nobel acceptance speech. "For a decent and humane life we must also provide an opportunity for good education, remunerative employment, comfortable housing, good clothing and effective and compassionate medical care."

In Mexico, Borlaug was known both for his skill in breeding plants and for his eagerness to labor in the fields himself, rather than to let assistants do all the hard work.

He left home during the Great Depression to study forestry at the University of Minnesota. While there he earned himself a place in the university's wrestling hall of fame and met his future wife, whom he married in 1937. Margaret Borlaug died in 2007 at the age of 95.

After a brief stint with the U.S. Forest Service, Norman Borlaug returned to the University of Minnesota for a doctoral degree in plant pathology. He then worked as a microbiologist for DuPont, but soon left for a job with the Rockefeller Foundation. Between 1944 and 1960, Borlaug dedicated himself to increasing Mexico's wheat production.

In July 2007, Borlaug received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.

He is survived by daughter Jeanie Borlaug Laube and her husband Rex; son William Gibson Borlaug and his wife Barbie; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

They asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Borlaug International Scholars Fund. It helps students from developing countries pursue graduate studies or short-term experiential learning activities at Texas A&M or other land grant universities in the U.S.

It should be noted that Dr. Borlaug initially started at the U of M in General College, because he was considered academically unqualified for regular admission...

September 12, 2009

What We're Up Against in Top Three Trek - U of M Faculty Membership in National Academy

"You gotta know when to hold 'em, you gotta know when to fold 'em..."

First the latest numbers from the Board of Regents Meeting yesterday:


And now for some more unpleasant facts...

The strategic propaganda initiative has been going on for five years with little impact on the above numbers.

Are they important?
Well yes, but mostly no.

They have an effect on our rankings in most of the popularity polls. But schools further down the pecking order, even than us, have managed to have decent graduation rates.

Can we, or do we want to, get these numbers up?

First look at Berkeley.
Why we even have Berkeley in our so-called peer comparison group is beyond me. Earlier posts have demonstrated that fully 98% of the incoming class comes from the top ten percent of their high school class. It makes a lot of sense that this place is so competitive because California is our most populous state at 37 million and our population is 5 million.

[Hello, Bob? Hello, Tom?]

Berkeley is the premier educational institution in the state and it shows.

Now Berkely has an almost unbelievable 214 Academy members and has increased that figure in the last five years by six percent.
For comparison, we have a mere 36 and over the past five years that number has decreased by five percent. I will point out that Paul Barbara was recruited from our chemistry department by Texas. A year or so later he was elected to the academy. The so-called Texas National Science Foundation (the Welch Foundation) had deep pockets and has taken two other chemistry faculty members within recent memory. I will bet a six-pack that within ten years, one or both of them will be elected to the Academy - my money is on Ben Liu, but XYZ is also a great scientist.

So what's the conclusion?
We simply can't compete in increasing the number of Academy members significantly because we simply don't have the resources. And we are not going to climb up the greasy poll on this metric because the next rung is occupied by Illinois with twenty more members than us. We are not going to see an increase of twenty members in my lifetime and by then Illinois will have even more. When most of our hotshots become hot, they leave. And who can blame them given the horrible climate for scientific funding in this country. Going to Texas and having to worry a little less about grubbing for money is extremely attractive to any academic.

And this is not to diss the faculty at Minnesota. Don Truhlar was recently elected and he has been here his entire career. He is one of the best computational chemists in the world and this is not yet another slice of baloney from the strategic propaganda initative. In the area of ecology Dave Tilman is a member and has made fundamental contributions at a world class level to our understanding of such things as the economic benefit of producing alcohol from corn vs. other sources. And he has suffered from the slings and arrows of people who don't like his results. But that is what research at a great university does. Go, Dave.

So is this an important metric? I don't think so. Note that Penn State, Florida, and Ohio State are even lower than we are in this regard. One can make a pretty good case that they are doing a better job than we are.

Let's quit complaining about the quality of the students and the quality of the faculty. Why don't we start worrying about our priorities and the quality of our academic leadership?

Let's start playing with the cards we've got, President Bruininks. Let's get those graduation rates up? Let's start walking the talk of: "People are our most important product."

Latest Statistics on Incoming Students - SAT/ACT (10/11), HS top 10% (11/11)

The Morrill Hall crew insists on comparing us with a self-selected group of public institutions, some of which are totally inappropriate. BigTen school numbers (our natural competition) would be better.

But let's have a look. It is educational and indicative of the absurdity of "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]."

1. Students Graduating Top 10% of HS Class (11/11)


2. SAT/ACT Scores of Incoming Students (10/11)


I want to make it clear that I do not believe the above data are the reason for our poor performance in graduation rate. It should be noted that Penn State incoming students have comparable numbers and yet they are leaders in graduation rates. What is important is the job we do with the students we admit. As I tell my undergrad researchers: if you do well at Minnesota, you can write your own ticket. You can go anywhere and do anything. What more could one ask from a state university?

Well maybe a decent graduation rate - and we are last among our self-selected peers and last in the Big Ten. So where are our priorities? President Bruininks? Provost Sullivan?

Another bad effect of ratcheting up admission standards is that we are squeezing out qualified Minnesota students to the benefit of those from out of state. This allows the Morrill Hall crew to "improve" numbers for USNews. The fire sale on out of state tuition has the same effect.

Why are we subsidizing out of state tution? Now the administration will claim that this is not so, we charge them $2,000 more per semester. Why is it that our legitimate competition charges more like $10,000 per semester? If you can't compete on quality, compete on price?

The claim has been made that out of state students - at these fire sale rates - are paying full freight. How about some numbers on this matter? I think the state legislature and many citizens would be very interested in learning exactly how much the university spends to educate an undergraduate for one year at the university of Minnesota and details on how this money is spent.

The clock is ticking on the ambitious aspirations of President Bruininks and Provost Sullivan. It started in 2004 and we are now at about the half-way point. Given that essentially no progress has been made vis-a-vis our self-selected peer group, perhaps the strategic propaganda initiative should cease?

Instead of stubbornly chanting the same mantra, perhaps it is time for them to change course and establish new priorities in light of the dire financial situation. Learn to play with the cards you've got? Stop riding the same horse endlessly around and around in circles? Aim for being one of the top schools in the BigTen?

Ah, I guess I'm just a doubter, President Bruininks?

I've been here as long as you have, President Bruininks, and the current condition of the University of Minnesota reminds me of the biblical verse:

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"

Is the soul of the University of Minnesota that of a state university or are we a world university? Do we have an obligation, primarily, to educate the youth of this state or of the world?

If the Morrill Hall crowd wants to become essentially a private university, then so be it:

"Raise that tuition, dig that gravel, buy that Coke, push that credit card, fill that stadium, take the Pepsi money, take tthe Medtronic money, tolerate double dippers, sell that soul..."

September 11, 2009

University of Minnesota Graduation Rates (11/11)


The clock is ticking....

Data below is extracted from an accountability document for today's Board of Regents Meeting. The university administration insists on comparing us with a self-selected group of institutions, some of which are BigTen schools, but others are totally inappropriate for comparison. It would be much more informative in taking steps for improvement to compare us with our natural competition, other BigTen schools, but that would be even more embarrassing for the smug crew in Morrill Hall. If we can't even get into the top half of the BigTen, how are we ever going to become one of the top three public institutions in the world? And of course anyone who points this out is referred to as "a doubter."

The figures were not presented as a slide nor explicitly discussed at today's meeting although Regent Simmons intimated that there would be much discussion about them during the upcoming year. As well there should be.

These numbers are a disgrace. Lauding President Bruininks for the great improvements that have been made in this area is laughable. The only way such a claim is even remotely plausible is because the numbers have been so pitifully low in the past.

For Provost Sullivan - as he did again today - to talk about "our top three goal" is extremely disappointing in the face of these numbers. Where are our priorities?


Now you don't have to be a rocket scientist, a VP for institutional research, or a former law school dean to figure out that with numbers like these, there must be some leakage.

Where is it? A table summarizing retention rates for undergrads at Minnesota and peer institutions is given below.


So let's see, after three years, roughly three of ten of our undergrads walks? No wonder our graduation rate is so low. This means that no matter what we do, if we don't fix this we will never get our graduation rate up! Fix this!

Now the geniuses in Morrilll Hall would have us believe that if we just continue to jack up admissions standards, these better students will cause the graduation rate to go up. WRONG! As will be seen in the next post, schools with less lofty credentials than ours kill us in the graduation rate metric. Preview of coming attractions: Penn State.

"Raise that tuition, dig that gravel, buy that Coke, push that credit card, fill that stadium, take the Pepsi money, take the Medtronic money, take double dippers, sell that soul..."

Testing, testing


The Price of Greatness?

"The more I learn, the less I know, I think," said Regent John Frobenius after looking at the pricing, deductions and comparisons for graduate and professional programs.

Our alum, Jenna Ross, has a Strib article about grad school:

What price grad school at the U?

How much does a graduate student pay for a degree at the University of Minnesota? It's complicated, regents learn as they review new data.

Tuition for University of Minnesota graduate and professional students ranks in the middle to high range compared with the University of California-Berkeley, Penn State and other "peer" institutions. The price that in-state dentistry students pay tops the list. The average U medical student graduated with $137,268 in debt from that degree alone in 2008.

The new data were presented to the U's Board of Regents Thursday.

Graduate and professional students got support from a few regents in raising alarms earlier this year when undergrad tuition hikes were kept to a few percentage points, but theirs were not. Administrators promised numbers about how these students fund their degrees.

"The more I learn, the less I know, I think,"
said Regent John Frobenius after looking at the pricing, deductions and comparisons for graduate and professional programs.

Frobenius had expressed deep concern about tuition hikes for graduate and professional students last spring, and eventually voted against the budget when his motion to reduce the increases failed. He joined other regents Thursday in emphasizing how important it is that the university keep tuition for these students affordable and competitive -- yet high enough to maintain quality.

"The programs described in these documents are the unique mission of the University of Minnesota," he said. "If we don't do this superbly well, the state of Minnesota will suffer drastically."

About 800 students are enrolled in the university's M.D. program, which last year cost in-state students $32,360 in tuition and fees -- the second-highest among the university's 11 comparable institutions that offer degrees in medicine. The University of Wisconsin charged $23,102 for its residents last year.

At their meeting Thursday, regents discussed how that much debt affects students' career choices.

"If people are driven to high-end procedures and fields because they can pay off their debt and live, that drives up the cost of health care," said Regent Dr. Patricia Simmons, calling it an issue "we can help the state and the nation try to address."

The report also emphasizes that some programs are particularly expensive to run, and students are asked to pay a small portion of that cost.

"Medicine is a case in point," the report reads. "Tuition for M.D. students is higher than for most other programs, but the tuition that M.D. students pay covers a smaller percentage of the cost of their education (i.e., less than 25 percent) ..."

Provost Tom Sullivan pointed out that tuition also sends a message to prospective students about the quality of a program.

September 10, 2009

Is the University of Minnesota's formation of an LLC (Limited Liability Company) for MoreU Park an Attempt To Evade the Open Meeting Law?


From Wise Choices:

Minnesota Limited Liability Company Formation

Your Minnesota LLC create a flexible corporate governance environment for you. Unlike a standard corporation which by law must conduct annual meetings and produce written meeting minutes, your Minnesota LLC operates under no such standard, rather your Minnesota LLC can determine its own meeting and reporting requirements as set forth in your Minnesota LLC operating agreement.

MoreU Park Documents for Tomorrow's Regents Meeting

If anyone is interested:


Board of Regents Ready to OK MoreU Park as LLC

This situation is absolutely crazy and is the reason we are in the mess we are in at the University of Minnesota. We have already spent more than five million dollars on this fiasco. Becoming a land development operation is NOT in the university's mission.

For background, please see:

MoreU Park or Muscoplat's Folly

MoreU Park - The Smoke Screen Continues...
But at least some faculty members can penetrate the haze...

Gold from Gravel

So much for consultation...

From the Star-Tribune:

The University of Minnesota has big plans for UMore Park -- now 5,000 acres of largely open land in Rosemount and Empire Township. On Friday, the board of regents will decide whether to create a limited liability company to handle those plans.

It will consider two resolutions: One would organize a UMore Development LLC; the second would create a legacy fund to manage any revenue from the development and mining of the land.

Under the plan, the university would be the company's sole member. A nine-person board of governors would direct its business, while a chief manager would oversee day-to-day operations. The regents would appoint the board, while the chief manager would be a paid university employee.

The university has owned the land since the 1940s. In 2006, the regents passed a resolution to prepare plans for its development. University officials envision a master-planned, environmentally friendly and education-rich community there. They also have discussed mining 1,711 acres for gravel.

Should the regents approve it Friday, the company's legacy fund would be "used for the long-term support of special university academic research, education and public engagement opportunities not otherwise adequately funded by tuition or state, federal or other resources as determined by the president of the university," according to the resolution.


Atul Gawande on Obama's Health Care Reform Speech

From the New Yorker Website:

September 10, 2009

Atul Gawande: The Road Ahead

Before President Obama's speech on health care, I wrote out a list of what I thought we needed him to do.

1. Make clear the stakes.
2. Make clear what we get under his reform.
3. Understand our fears.
4. Convey strength in the face of them.
5. Speak to our core beliefs as a nation.

I thought he did this and did it amply. He made clear that our present system is damaging our people and damaging our economy. He made clear that if we accepted the challenge and the struggle, we could have better insurance coverage without preëxisting condition exclusions or sudden disappearance of benefits. Those of us who are self-employed or unable to get coverage through work could have the kinds of insurance choices and discounts that big companies and congressmen can get. Those who don't have the money for this coverage could get tax credits to offset the costs. The elderly would get a better drug-benefit package.

There was nothing here that was watered down or unfamiliar, either. He did not skirt the realities that this would have to be paid for--that government would be requiring many businesses to cover their employees and most individuals to carry insurance coverage, and that he would be using money from ending subsidies to Medicare HMOs to help finance the bill. And he spoke with podium-pounding conviction in response to the absurd charges that this would involve government takeover of our doctors' offices and to the deeper fears that those charges fed into.

After far too many weeks, he again became the Barack Obama one could rally behind--the cool-headed president willing to face long odds and enemy fire, rather than the coolly calculating professor with the academic's annoying certitude.

As I said, he checked all the boxes on my list. And yet I remain concerned that he may not have done enough.

The stone faces of his conservative enemies made clear the limits of what words could do. I was struck that for nearly the entirety of his speech, he spoke facing not the camera or the Democrats but the Republican throng. This debate has become a test of whom we will trust. Are we going to trust the Republicans, with their predictions of dark disasters that will result from going along with a President they do not believe should be allowed even to speak to our schoolchildren? Or are we going to trust this still new and untested President enough to give his changes a chance?

Obama has continued to defend policies that would push us, for the first time in history, in the direction of encouraging doctors to make more rational, better coördinated, less costly clinical decisions. This includes experiments with changing the way doctors are paid, a clinician board to identify inappropriate care, and a "fee" (i.e., tax) on extremely high-cost insurance premiums. I was also made hopeful by his willingness to break with Democrats and admit that the medical malpractice system is itself broken and, although not the cause of our cost crisis, a wasteful contributor.

But this is just a start. Our current health-care system--bloated, Byzantine, and slowly bursting--presents seemingly insurmountable difficulties. It is too big, too complex, too entrenched. What may be most challenging about reforming it is that it cannot be fixed in one fell swoop of radical surgery. The repair is going to be a process, not a one-time event. The proposals Obama offers, and that Congress is slowly chewing over, would provide a dramatic increase in security for the average American. But they will only begin the journey toward transforming our system to provide safer, better, less wasteful care. We do not yet know with conviction all the steps that will rein in costs while keeping care safe. So, even if these initial reforms pass, we have to be prepared to come back every year or two to take another few hard and fiercely battled steps forward.

In this way, successful reform will have to be more like a series of operations, with x-rays and tests in between to show how we're doing. Embarking on the effort will be among the most severe challenges we take on as country. Outside the settings of war and economic collapse, we've never sustained any policy effort of this scope and duration. It is perfectly possible that our next push will be defeated, or used as an opportunity to dismantle the progress we've already made. But I can see no other choice. We can only forge ahead.

A rational interpretation of the present situation - presented by a very intelligent, compassionate, and practicing doctor

Representative Wilson to Obama: You Lie

The Daily: Win Some, Lose Some


There have been some changes made in the Daily starting this Fall.

1. Registration is now required for posting

Result: Comment numbers plummet.

Discussion: This may be because certain bomb throwers are unwilling to reveal themselves as other than anonymous. Or it may be because it is just too much trouble for said sad bomb throwers to register. Hopefully comments will pick up in the future, but see below.

2. Plug Pulled on Campus Tweets

Result: #UMN hashtag still works, but availability on main Daily site is gone.

Discussion: Mistake! I hope that the Daily will reconsider this (bad) decision. Ironically Richard Florida tweeted today that "Twitter is the water-cooler of the creative class." http://bit.ly/HHG5M

The Daily makes some claims:

"Only 4 percent feel Twitter is an important source of information"

[This is not at the U of M but a Zogby poll concerning the "general public." Tweeters must identify themselves. What has happened to the # of comments since some self-identification has been required? Any connection?]

"Most of the tweets that appeared under Campus Tweets were press releases from other organizations or links to personal Web sites, rather than news tips and posts related to campus happenings. Although this was not always the case, it happened frequently enough that editors expressed concern that the application was not serving its intended purpose of enhancing the Daily's coverage."

[If you look on Twitter, you'll see that most of the tweets contain links to other sites. Given the 140 character word limit, do you really expect "enhancing Daily coverage" on the basis of the logical equivalent of a sound-bite? Without a further link? And is a link to a personal Web site - about the topic at hand - inappropriate? I was not too happy about the fact that the U of M's propaganda operation repeatedly RT'd the same messages over and over and over again...]

So, win some, lose some. But I thought that the U of M was supposed to be a place where the next generation of creative thinkers hung out. Guess not?

Certainly it should be a place where people are willing to put their own names to their ideas.

Pharma Funded Continuing Medical Education: A Conflict of Interest

From (believe it or not) USAToday:

Our view on doctors and ethics: Medical conflict of interest

When pharmaceutical companies underwrite courses, trust suffers.

Patients trust their doctors to give them unbiased advice about the confusing array of new drugs and vaccines that hit the market each year. Do they work better than the old drugs and vaccines? What are the side effects? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

In 2007, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than $1 billion to cover half the cost of doctors' continuing education in the USA. Not surprisingly, industry-supported programs gave more favorable treatment to sponsors' products than independent programs, an American Medical Association ethics panel found.

The latest stir came last month, when The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that three major groups concerned with adolescent and women's health received sizable grants from Merck, maker of a new HPV vaccine, to teach doctors, nurses and others about, yes, Merck's HPV vaccine. The courses dovetailed with Merck's marketing message and gave short shrift to the vaccine's limitations and potential risks, says report co-author Sheila Rothman, of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

Leaders of the three physicians' groups insist that their courses are balanced and independent. They also argue that no other sources of funding exist for education. But many professionals pay to stay up to date, and doctors could chip in as well.

Education bought and paid for by drug companies is a blatant conflict of interest, no matter what its content. If doctors fail to change this system, they'll lose their most important asset, a patient's trust.

September 9, 2009

An epidemic of dysfunctional leadership in Minnesota? First the politicians, next the academics...

Sadly, I note similarities in the situation described below and that at the University of Minnesota. Simply substitute University administrator for politician and the parallels are remarkable. A future post will pursue this idea. But what is below is very relevant to the U of M because the consequences to us are inevitable. Hard decisions will have to be made - of the type that the current residents of Morrill Hall seem to be unable to handle. New priorities, or a return to the old ones, are in order.

I've written before about this and still think that this old post reads well:

From Minnpost

Minnesota's dysfunctional politics takes center stage Analysis by Doug Grow | Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009

In fairness to DFLers, Republicans were invited to join what was billed as a leadership summit at the state Capitol. Current GOP leaders -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem and House Minority Leader Kurt Zellars -- said, "No thanks," and met instead with business leaders in Eden Prairie in what was described as a "jobs summit." Pawlenty took along most of his cabinet to the alternate meeting.

[And at the U of M, Pawlenty's former chief-of-staff seems very interested in the business climate in the state. Perhaps he should be more concerned about the educational climate at the U of M?]

Worse than the rejection of the invitation to meet in St. Paul was the assumption by the governor that he knew the outcome of the meeting at the Capitol before it even was held.

"A predictable meeting with a predictable outcome," he said. He went on to say that DFLers were only interested in protecting "the social welfare state."

Brutally candid presentations

In fact, former Republican Govs. Al Quie and Arne Carlson were on hand at the state Capitol event, as was former conservative state Sen. David Jennings. Giving brutally candid presentations (PPT) were two nonpartisan officials, the state's economist, Tom Stinson, and the state's demographer, Tom Gillaspy.

Minnesota's getting older, Gillaspy said, which means Minnesotans will be demanding more services, not fewer.

Minnesota can't cut its way out of its budget problems, (PPT) said Stinson. Neither can it tax its way out. It will take a combination of cuts, revenue increases and other reforms to bring stability to the state budget.

The 2012-13 deficit is estimated at anywhere from $3 billion to $7 billion, and there won't be $2.6 billion in stimulus funds to ease the pain.

The point? This St. Paul summit was not about how to increase the "social welfare state." It was about how the state can increase productivity, cut costs and still provide services to an ever-aging population at a time when revenues will continue to lag.

But that growing deficit problem may be the least of Minnesota's problems. The bigger problem may be how Minnesotans can find leaders who will make the hard decisions that lie ahead.

"Let me be blunt," said Carlson. (There was laughter in the room, since bluntness is a Carlson trademark.) "To some extent, we have been practicing the politics of avoidance."

In Eden Prairie, Pawlenty looked and sounded more and more like a man with his eyes on the White House than on Minnesota. He's off on a campaign trip to Virginia Thursday to campaign on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert McDonnell.

Quie spoke of how, in difficult times, political leaders always face a huge dilemma.
"What's good for the state," he said, "may conflict with what's good for self."

If the big race in Minnesota is between state interest and self-interest, Tuesday's dueling events showed that self-interest is in the lead. Nothing showed that more than Pawlenty's absence from the Capitol, said Jennings, who currently is superintendent of schools in Chaska.

"The Legislature and the governor have the right to disagree, but they have to communicate," said Jennings. "This breakdown of communications is destructive. It's not good for Minnesota. That he's not here today is a very serious problem. If they [the governor and legislative leaders] can't fix that [relationship], we're kidding ourselves about being able to communicate the size of the problem with the public. ... That he's not here is emblematic of where we are. It's sad he wasn't here. I'm not angry, just sad."

Pawlenty, GOP pooh-pooh bleak assessments

Pawlenty pooh-poohs the statistics that Stinson and Gillaspy are using to underscore the breadth of Minnesota's demographic and fiscal challenges.

"These forecasts bounce around," said Pawlenty, brushing off the work of the state's longtime advisers.

Back at the St. Paul meeting, though, the views were broader. The former leaders struggled with current leaders over how to make Minnesotans understand the depth of the state's economic problems and other pressing issues. Everything from achievement gaps in education to the extremely high cost of caring for the elderly in their final months of life was on the table.

Former Gov. Wendell Anderson offered one policy suggestion: raising taxes on cigarettes to the higher levels they have in Wisconsin. On a lighter note, the former DFL governor also cracked that he was among the few who didn't regret that Gov. Pawlenty wasn't on hand. "I played hockey against him. I'm glad he wasn't here.''

Carlson also came up with an idea for getting all parties and all leaders involved. He suggested that all four legislative caucuses and the governor each come up with a proposal and take those plans to the people. Let the next election be based on "substance and not just politics."

"Each plan will inflict pain," Carlson said. "But evasion is not leadership."

But evasion is what we have.
At this point, our leaders can't even agree to meet in the same city.

Given our past history, should we really be playing fast and loose with the University's student-athlete code of conduct?

Headline in the Daily:

Athletics director overrules code of conduct, clears Mbakwe for practice

Mr. Maturi, I don't think that this is a good idea and here is why:

August 17, 2009

Mr. Doug Belden
St. Paul Pioneer Press
345 Cedar Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101

Dear Mr. Belden:

While the headline on the front page of the Sunday Pioneer Press regarding the new TCF Bank stadium at the University of Minnesota is on the money ("Not All Golden"), the content of the report shortchanges your readers. The fact that the new stadium may generate $1 million less in revenue than expected (and that the Athletic Department will continue to need millions each year as a subsidy from the general revenues of the University) is small change compared to the much greater losses that the University has already sustained as a result of all the resources allocated to the construction of the stadium.

During each bonding session of the legislature the University submits its request for HEAPR bonds that are necessary for the maintenance and renovation of existing academic facilities. In the 2006 "stadium session" the legislature slashed the HEAPR allocation from the $80 million requested by the University to $30 million. In 2008 the legislature cut the HEAPR request (the "cornerstone" of the 2008 Capital Request of the University) from $100 million to $35 million. So as the Regents and senior administrators celebrate the opening of a new football stadium (that will be used for six football games each year), they can literally watch the academic facilities begin to crumble around them.

As the University cajoles the legislators for funds for athletic facilities, the best and brightest faculty members are being lured away by offers of greater compensation at other institutions (as then CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone noted at the January 2007 legislative briefing). As the University loses these faculty members, it also loses tens of millions of dollars in research money from government, foundations, private industry, and alumni with an interest in the subject of the research.

In a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on August 24, 2008 the president of the University asserted that there is "a critical link" between the stadium and academic interests." He claimed that the University had received $45 million for academic purposes as a direct result of fund raising for the stadium! There was no evidence presented to support a claim that was apparently accepted without question by the reporter.

If big time college sports actually produced widespread alumni support for academic programs, then the universities with winning teams would dominate the rankings of school in alumni donations. Yet schools such as Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin are not even in the top 75. In fact, smaller schools that provide a quality academic experience for undergraduate students dominate the rankings. See America's Best Colleges 2008 published by U.S. News & World Report (enclosed).

This leads to another problem with the priorities at the University. The president has declared that it is a goal for the University to be one of the top three public research institutions in the world. There is 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 undergraduate students.

Moreover, a goal of being 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 adequate financial support from the legislature.

In the 20th century intercollegiate athletics evolved from club teams to big business, especially in the primary revenue sports of men's basketball and football.
There was a transition from a game in which a limited number of coaches with relatively modest salaries instructed local students to an annual $58 million financial enterprise at the University in which numerous coaches with extravagant compensation engage in the national recruiting of young men merely for their athletic skills. The result has been an endless series of embarrassments for the University: the on court riot instigated by the thugs recruited by Bill Musselman for the basketball team; the cash doled out by Luther Darville to the football players of Lou Holtz; the group sex after a basketball game in Madison by the players of Jim Dutcher; the academic fraud during the tenure of Clem Haskins; the 2007 conviction of a Gopher football player for criminal sexual conduct for ejaculating on the face of a young woman who was intoxicated to the point of being unconscious; the April 2009 arrest in Miami of a new Gopher basketball player for felony assault for attempting to pull a young woman's pants down and punching her twice in the face; the dismal graduation rates for the men's basketball and football teams.

There is a solution that would permit the University to disentangle itself while allowing those programs to continue. Organize the men's basketball and football teams as separate corporations. The University would grant a license to those corporations to use the University name for the teams. The fee for the license would be a percentage of the revenues the corporations generate from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, advertising, etc. The University would use part of the license fee income to support the non-revenue sports it decides to retain, such as track and swimming. This is a solution that would enable the sports fans to continue to enjoy the games and enable the University to focus on its academic mission--the reason for its existence.

The adverse effects of the big money sports on education and research will increase as universities continue to participate in the accelerating athletic arms race. See, Sperber, Beer & Circus: How Big Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education (New York: Henry Holt & Co. 2000). It will take persons of foresight and courage to reset the priorities at their institutions. The time is long overdue for a critical review of the priorities of the senior administrators and the Regents at the University of Minnesota.

Sincerely yours,

Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association lifetime member


September 7, 2009

Full Text of President Obama's Back to School Speech

Arlington, Virginia September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone - how's everybody doing today? I'm here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we've got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I'm glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it's your first day in a new school, so it's understandable if you're a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you're in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could've stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn't have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday - at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn't too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I'd fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I'd complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I'm here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I'm here because I want to talk with you about your education and what's expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I've given a lot of speeches about education. And I've talked a lot about responsibility.

I've talked about your teachers' responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I've talked about your parents' responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don't spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I've talked a lot about your government's responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren't working where students aren't getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world - and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that's what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer - maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper - but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor - maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine - but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life - I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You're going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You'll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You'll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You'll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don't do that - if you quit on school - you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country.

Now I know it's not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that's like.
My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn't always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn't fit in.

So I wasn't always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I'm not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn't have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don't have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there's not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don't feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren't right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life - what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home - that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That's what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez
, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn't speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I'm thinking about Andoni Schultz,
from Los Altos, California, who's fought brain cancer since he was three. He's endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer - hundreds of extra hours - to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he's headed to college this fall.

And then there's Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she's on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren't any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That's why today, I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education - and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you'll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you'll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you'll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don't feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you're not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject you study. You won't click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That's OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who've had the most failures. JK Rowling's first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can't let your failures define you - you have to let them teach you.
You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one's born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You're not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don't hit every note the first time you sing a song. You've got to practice. It's the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it's good enough to hand in.

Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don't know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust - a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor - and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you - don't ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough.
It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It's the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what's your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions
. I'm working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you've got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down - don't let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

It is a sad day, indeed, for our country when people complain that the above message is political and should not be delivered in our schools.

September 2, 2009

The University will use all appropriate means... (Light Rail)

Hold our breath? Stamp our feet?

From a blanket email from the University of Minnesota Legislative Network:

Central Corridor LRT Update

The Metropolitan Council, the governmental agency in charge of the project, in late June submitted to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), detailing the potential impacts of the Central Corridor light rail transit (CCLRT) project along its proposed route.

While a strong advocate of public transit and supporter of the CCLRT project, the University has raised concerns about the use of Washington Avenue at grade since planning for the CCLRT began in 2001. The University has stated on numerous occasions that its fundamental objective is to identify effective solutions - based on sound science - that will move the project forward while protecting the University's public mission and resources from potentially serious degradation.

In late July, over 170 University supporters sent letters of concern to the FTA asking them to protect U research along the CCLRT proposed route. These letters, along with the University's own comment letter, became part of the FEIS that was reviewed by the FTA. On August 19, the FTA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the CCLRT project. The FTA made no significant modifications to the FEIS in the ROD, despite the University's and supporters' letters. The ROD constitutes the federal government's determination that the FEIS meets all the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and approves the environmental mitigations identified in the FEIS for the project, as submitted by the Met Council.

The University will continue to work with the CCLRT project staff and the project partners (Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Minneapolis, and St. Paul) to reach agreement on identifying scientifically proven solutions that will protect the large investment of tax dollars in the University's research infrastructure. However, the University will use all appropriate means to protect its research. As the situation unfolds, we will continue to update you.

A few brief comments.

I hope the members of the legislative network took the time to examine the documents available on the Met Council's web site. The U's effort to drum up 170 letters was almost laughable. The solicitation on the web site was included in the FTA response. The awkward form letter showed up multiple times as did some pretty pointless arguments about motherhood and apple pie. This kind of rote repetition of the same inaccurate message actually made the situation worse.

After the disgraceful foot dragging behavior of this administration the threat at this point, to not hand over Washington Avenue, is absurd.

Why don't we just make a bad situation worse?

How about a little display of common sense and leadership in this matter, President Bruininks?


September 1, 2009

The Robert Delahunty torture-memo controversy at St. Thomas

[Note: Professor Delahunty served as a visiting professor at the U of M law school - not without controversy.]

Dr. Steven Miles, a U of M bioethics professor, writes in MinnPost:

"Should Robert Delahunty, an author of memos leading up to the Bush administration's fateful decision to abandon the Geneva Conventions with regard to war-on-terror prisoners, hold the position of associate professor of law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law?"

"Delahunty will not publicly debate his critics. His supporters say that Delahunty does not support torture. Some supporters argued that he was simply laying out options, although the memos clearly express a legal conclusion."

"Delahunty was a mature lawyer who had a position as a senior public servant when he wrote his opinions. He did not have to sign those documents. His peers, including William Taft IV, in the administration dissented. Delahunty has a right of free speech -- but the debate is not about free speech. It is about the quality of Delahunty's work, the sycophancy of his service, and the destructive impact of his work on the edifice of law itself. For these, he does not merit the honor of being a professor of law."

Steven H. Miles, MD, a professor at the Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota, is the author of "Oath Betrayed: America's Torture Doctors."