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December 28, 2009

A Political Test for Teachers?


Cultural competence?

"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

More from Adam Kissel:

When a child doesn't finish his homework, who's at fault? The Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group in the University of Minnesota's teacher-education program wants every teacher blaming things like "white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity and internalized oppression." Those who don't, these professors believe, are unfit to be teachers.

These professors plainly want everybody to share their ideology. Fair enough. But they don't want to limit themselves to persuasion -- they want to use the university's power to demand that all teachers conform to their political litmus test.

Thus the task group's "final report" recommends ideological screening of applicants for admission to the school's teacher-ed program, with remedial re-education to "enlighten" anyone who is borderline.

They also don't want to let anybody become a teacher who cannot demonstrate sufficient "cultural competence." And that doesn't simply mean learning about cultural differences, but embracing specific views about how different cultures get along in America.

Did Johnny get a math problem wrong? Maybe it's because of society's "demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values."

Or maybe it's the school's fault. According to the task force, future teachers must "recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism . . . but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation." In other words, they suspect traditional curricula of imposing racist values -- and want educators trained by the Minnesota program to instead teach their radical values.

The task group also wants teachers to blame themselves. This isn't about admitting that they need to get better at teaching their subjects. In one exercise, future teachers are to reveal a "pervasive stereotype" they once held about an identity group (such as immigrants or senior citizens) and argue in a personal essay that their stereotype has been "challenged" because of experiences with that group.

You see, the teachers need to rid themselves of their oppressive ideologies in order to teach math, grammar and science well.

The task group evidently wants to invade the thoughts, values, attitudes and beliefs of future teachers to make sure that they have the proper "dispositions" to be allowed to teach our youth. They recommend tests of "intercultural sensitivity" and "cultural intelligence." They also want to test each person regarding "the extent to which they find intrinsic satisfaction" in being in "culturally diverse situations."

"Cultural competence" can be a good thing if it means accounting for all the different influences that make each child unique. But it becomes downright Orwellian when it means making everyone agree to a specific, deeply political set of beliefs about how race, culture, class and gender play out in America.

The good news is that the professors in the task group are not going to get their way. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I work, wrote the university's president a detailed letter last month. We pointed out that this proposal is the opposite of a liberal education in a free society because it would teach that the authorities get to decide which views are right and wrong.

As New Yorker and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote for the court during World War II, "Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom . . . If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

After we exposed the university's plans to the public, the university's general counsel finally promised us that the university will never "mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with 'wrong beliefs' from the University." Let's hold the University of Minnesota to that truly liberal promise.

Adam Kissel is director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (thefire.org).

December 26, 2009

A University's Priorities, Part III


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

The current administration at the University of Minnesota has seen "A Vision for the 21st Century" in which it builds "a University-founded community of 20,000 to 30,000 people" on land that the University owns in rural Dakota County (UmorePark). In November 2009 the administration released the latest report on its Vision. See UMore Park (under What's New).

The administration did not seek or obtain state appropriations for this adventure in land development. It is taking an end run around the legislature by raiding its Central Reserves Fund. Over the past three years the administration has depleted the Fund by $9.3 million for this enterprise. See p. 7 of the December 10, 2009 report of the Finance & Operations Committee of the Board of Regents.

Although the administration "anticipates" that the mining of sand and gravel at UMore Park will generate revenue in the future, it still is in the process of attempting to obtain an environmental permit. See the July 2009 update. The restoration of contaminated land at the site is an issue that has NOT been resolved (more on that issue later).

The purpose of the Central Reserves Fund is to provide cash for unexpected or temporary expenses.
See Section I of the Board of Regents policy. The Fund is supposed to be used for such CONTINGENCY expenses and not for RECURRING expenses. See (about half way down the page).

The policy authorizes certain "allowable allocations" from the Fund. See subdivision 2 of Section II of the Board of Regents policy. Even the general provision in clause (d) of subdivision 2 for "miscellaneous expenditures" cannot reasonably be applied to the allocations for UMore Park. The multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment by the administration and the Regents to residential and commercial development at UMore Park is far beyond a "miscellaneous expenditure."

This clear violation of the University's own policy on the use of the Central Reserves Fund will reduce the Fund to $12.6 million by the end of fiscal year 2010, far below the $26 million REQUIRED by the policy. See pp. 24-25 of the University of Minesota Operating Budget 2009-2010.

The current administration simply disregards University policy whenever necessary to accomplish its objectives. In spring 2009 the administration violated University policy on reorganization when it decided to reorganize the Graduate School without consultation with the faculty prior to making the decision.

In an unprecedented step the Faculty Senate adopted a resolution demanding that the administration follow the policy. The administration ignored the resolution.

The Board of Regents abdicated its responsibility by declaring that it does not have the authority to require the administration to follow University policy! With such a dereliction of duty on the part of the Regents, the administration is free to violate any inconvenient University policy.

The director of records and information management at the University has verified that the University paid the astounding sum of $150,681.10 to outside counsel to advise the administration about the appropriate form of business organization for the UMore venture and to draft the documents to organize the UMore Development LLC.

When it is necessary to retain outside counsel, the University should select a law firm that has expertise in the specific area. The expertise should enable the firm to do the work in less time. A law firm with expertise in forming business organizations should have been able to determine fairly quickly the appropriate form of organization for the UMore enterprise and advise the University accordingly. Drafting the documents to organize a limited liability company is not a difficult task.

When I was a young lawyer, it was typical for a senior partner to perform the legal services on his own. Now large law firms assign multiple young lawyers to work with the senior partner. The client pays for the time of the senior partner to do the work and pays for the time of the senior partner to instruct the younger lawyers and pays for the time of the younger lawyers to learn their craft. The client is paying for the training of the younger lawyers. This is likely the explanation for the extraordinary amount that the University paid to its outside counsel here. The billing from the law firm should identify the number of attorneys who worked on the UMore assignment, their hourly rates, and the number of hours each lawyer spent on this matter.

Lawyers charge a certain dollar amount per hour. The 10 cents at the end of this bill indicates that other costs were also billed to the University--such items as postage, photocopy expenses, and computer legal research. Until fairly recently lawyers' hourly rates were set to cover all the overhead costs of the firm. Now some law firms charge separately for these costs in addition to the ever-increasing hourly rate.

The University also pays a princely sum for the EIGHTEEN attorneys in the Office of the General Counsel. In his 2009 Annual Report (at p. 13) the general counsel explains what the University receives in return:

"The use of in-house counsel is far more economical for the University, as
costs per hour for comparable legal services performed in-house are
approximately 40% less than those of outside counsel. In addition, and
beyond the issue of cost, the QUALITY of legal services the University
receives is enhanced by OGC's comprehensive knowledge of the University's
unique structure, operations, strategic priorities, and mission. This
reduces preparation time that would be required by outside counsel less
familiar with the University, and provides more focused counseling
tailored to the unique issues facing particular University clients.
Routine feedback from our clients suggests that OGC provides high quality
legal services on a level at least equal to that provided by leading
private firms."

Yet the OGC has nary a qualified attorney in business organizations?

In 2009 the University paid $5.7 MILLION in fees to outside counsel. In his Annual Report the general counsel assures us that he considers cost in selecting outside counsel. He does not explain the discrepancy between his assurance and the expenditure of millions of dollars on outside counsel in addition to the compensation to the 18 attorneys in the OGC. See p. 13 of his 2009 Annual Report.

The fees and costs paid to the outside counsel for UMore Park may be just the tip of the iceberg. So far the administration has spent $9.3 million on its Vision. Who has the responsibility for oversight of the bills submitted by the numerous consultants and vendors? Has this task been assigned to any auditor or inspector general? Or are the consultants and vendors, just like the lawyers, taking advantage of the endless flow of
cash from the Central Reserves Fund of the University?

The members of the University faculty have expertise in their fields. The University has a College of Design. Why was it necessary to spend $9.3 million (and counting) on outside experts?

In 1945 the federal government manufactured ammunition on the land in Dakota County that is now UMore Park. In 1947 the federal government conveyed 4700 acres of that land to the University. In 1948 the government conveyed an additional 3320 acres to the University.

The University and the federal government have not resolved the issue of the responsibility to remove the contamination that was the result of the manufacture of the ammunition. In 2005 the Army Corps of Engineers declared that only the 1947 parcel is eligible for federal funds for restoration.

The University is continuing its decades long quest for federal funds for the 1948 parcel (the site of most of the manufacturing). The failure to obtain the funds has not stopped the administration from pouring millions of dollars into planning a new community in UMore Park.

The author of the November 2009 report on UMore Park is the assistant vice president for statewide strategic resource development. We have lost track of the number of senior vice presidents, vice presidents, and assistant vice presidents in this administration.


Twelve Dancing Vice Presidents

The Empire Strikes Back

At Least One Reader Was Not Fooled

The U Can't Explain the Waste

In the preface to her report the assistant vice president lists numerous questions, such as: "How might people, businesses, schools and organizations in the state and region benefit?" She then gushes: "A cascade of answers will flow from these questions as the University of Minnesota pursues the future of the UMore Park property."

It might have been prudent to attempt to answer some of these questions before the University spent $9.3 million to plan the development of a new town on contaminated land in a rural area that is miles away from any existing municipal services.

In its 2010 Capital Request to the legislature the administration is seeking $100 million in HEAPR bonds for the maintenance and renovation of its EXISTING academic facilities. [With the exception of the new biomedical buildings (and the new football stadium) the academic infrastructure at the University is beginning to crumble.]

So how does the administration justify its plan to build an entire new town? By not using current state appropriations the administration has attempted to avoid having to justify to the legislature the expenditure of millions of dollars in public funds to build its "Vision of the 21st Century."

In his now famous June 1, 2009 article in The New Yorker magazine Dr. Atul Gawande quotes Dr. Lester Dyke, a cardiac surgeon in McAllen, Texas regarding the high cost of medical care in his community: "We took a wrong turn when doctors stopped being doctors and became businessmen."

We will also take a wrong turn when educators stop being educators and attempt to become entrepreneurs. It is easy to make decisions to take huge monetary risks on new ventures when you are not using your own money.

December 25, 2009

COI Policy Fiasco Coninues at the University of Minnesota


Rowing in tar...

Simply put the U needs a conflict of interest policy for the Medical School and the Academic Health Center immediately. These organizations are the ones who've put the U in a bad odor. The one policy fits all business is effectively being used as an excuse to put off needed reform. The fact that this matter has dragged on for years is a sad commentary on the incompetence of the University of Minnesota administration, particularly in the medical school and the Academic Health Center.

The Strib has an article about this continuing agony:

"U draws fire over plan to regulate business ties"

Featured Comment:

The Carnival Midway at the University

After attending a so-called CME put on by the psychiatry dept at the 'U' and sponsored by pharmaceutical companies I would like to believe ... read more that my doctor has read all the new and pertinent 'peer' reviewed medical literature as his first resource in trying new treatments.

As a realist, I've come to question the reliability of any medical research done at the 'U' and the utter corruption of psychiatric research in particular.

The entire CME was nothing but a midway carnival atmosphere with the so called researchers from the psychiatry dept. barking for THEIR paid sponsors. It was embarrassing. The entire medical school is built around 'show me the money' we don't care anymore about "first do no harm"

From the article:

Recently, two nationally known bioethicists in the university's Center for Bioethics, Steve Miles and Carl Elliott, went public with their concerns. The draft "is an incomplete and flawed document that will do little to regulate the kinds of misconduct and concerns that have brought this university and many other United States universities before congressional inquiries and harsh media scrutiny," Miles wrote.

The draft -- which likely will change after the comment period -- places new restrictions on reporting financial relationships between faculty and staff and business interests. It also bans gifts, ghostwritten research papers and product endorsements. A final draft is expected in a few months. Because the draft is an administrative policy, it will not need the Board of Regents' approval.

The U is not alone in considering a new policy -- at least 35 universities and colleges nationwide, particularly medical schools, are crafting new rules to guide these relationships, according to the American Medical Student Association.

Elliott, a professor in the U's Center for Bioethics, wrote, "The biggest problem with this document is that it will do little if anything to fix the conflict-of-interest problems which have embarrassed the university." For example, he questioned why no cap was placed on the amount of money faculty and staff can receive from industry. Further, he said, the policy does not address conflict of interest related to continuing medical education -- doctor training that often is paid for by drug and medical device companies.

The current draft calls for an automatic review once an individual's compensation from industry tops $100,000. But Miles said income from each business entity should be reported. The current draft makes it possible for businesses "to slice its compensation to faculty in small pieces that understate the conflict of interest."

He also pointed out that the ban on gifts and entertainment fails to include free drug samples distributed by pharmaceutical companies. There is increasing recognition nationally that these samples are a marketing tool that promotes more rapid introduction of costly drugs, he said.

December 23, 2009

Text of Rotenberg Letter to FIRE

pdf of this material

Office of the General Counsel 360 McNamara Alumni Center
200 Oak Street S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Office: 612-624-4100
Fax: 612-626-9624
December 21, 2009

Mr. Adam Kissel, Director
Individual Rights Defense Program
Foundation for Individual Rights of Education
250 West 57thSt., Suite 1830
New York, NY 10107

Dear Mr. Kissel:

President Bruininks has asked me to respond to your letter concerning the Teacher
Education Redesign Initiative ("TERI") at the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development ("CEHD").

The University takes seriously the concerns you have expressed, and respects your
organization's stated mission to defend individual rights on our country's college campuses. Our University Board of Regents Policy on Academ:ic Freedom and Responsibility for many decades has enshrned the principle of academic freedom for all members of our academic community, a freedom that includes the opportnity to "discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write without institutional discipline or restraint on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the University."

Many of the fears you expressed in your letter are based on an unfortnate misunderstanding of the facts. Let me state them plainly. Neither the University nor CEHD has adopted or implemented any "new policies" discussed in the particular TERI task force report submitted in July 2009 from which you quoted extensively. The task force report at issue was one of seven separate task force reports; none of them has been adopted as CEHD policy, nor is there any commitment by CEHD to adopt all the myrad faculty ideas contained in the various reports. Far from articulating CEHD or University policy, the various task group reports reflect the creative thinking of many faculty members charged with exploring ideas to improve P-12 education and student achievement. CEHD created TERI for the purpose of re-exploring the designs of our teacher education programs and involved more than 50 faculty members and Minnesota educators in the initiative. CEHD Dean Jean Quam has characterized the various task group reports as "faculty brainstorming" on how best to accomplish this currcular redesign. As reflected in our Regents Policy, the University considers it essential that both "teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding...." Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 250 (1957) (plurality op.).

No University policy or practice ever wil mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out
people with "wrong beliefs" from the University. To the contrary, as Dean Quam repeatedly has emphasized, an essential component of CEHD's currculum initiative wil be to expand - not restrict - the horizons of future teachers. CEHD's commitment in this regard was recognized by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in its 2006 evaluation of the College, which praised CEHD for "exposing candidates to a diversity of ideas and viewpoints," and for "respecting the variability of race/ethnicity, nationality, culture, language, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability status, and human potentia1."

Consistent with these observations, it is also clear that the CEHD faculty has the right -
indeed, a duty - to engage in creative thinking, dialogue, and advocacy with respect to a broad range of ideas for improving P-12 education. Surely FIRE can acknowledge and support the right of our faculty to engage in a robust exchange of viewpoints and proposals to this end, including controversial proposals and perspectives that may well require further refinement in the coming months. Academic freedom means little if our teaching faculty is inhibited from discussing and proposing currculum innovations simply because others find them "iliberal" or "unjust."

In view of the nature of the teacher's relation to the effective exercise of the rights which are safeguarded by the Bil of Rights and by the Fourteenth Amendment, inhibition of freedom of thought, and of action upon thought, in the case of teachers brings the safeguard of those amendments vividly into operation. Such unwarranted inhibition upon the free spirit of teachers ... has an unmistakable tendency to chil that free play of the spirit which all teachers ought especially to cultivate and practice....
Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 487 (1960) (quoting Wieman v. UpdegrajJ 344 U.S. 183, 185 (1952) (Frankfurter, J. concurrng).

Inevitably, choices must be made.about what to teach, and how to teach, our University
students. Those currcular choices are made by our faculty on an individual and collective basis throughout all of our many campuses, colleges, and academic departments. Such choices, and the deliberative processes (like the TERI task forces) from which those choices emerge, are broadly protected by principles of academic freedom, principles that lie at the heart of American higher education. Rest assured that the University of Minnesota wil protect and defend those principles.

Mark B. Rotenberg
General Counsel

Victory for Freedom of Conscience as University of Minnesota Backs Away from Ideological Screening for Ed Students

From Fire:

MINNEAPOLIS, December 23, 2009--In response to sustained pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has backed away from its plans to enforce a political litmus test for future teachers. The plans from its College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) involved redesigning admissions and the curriculum to enforce an ideology centered on a narrow view of "cultural competence." Those with the "wrong" views were to receive remedial re-education, be weeded out, or be denied admission altogether. In a letter to FIRE, however, the university's top lawyer has now promised that the university will never "mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with 'wrong beliefs' from the University."

"We are relieved that the University of Minnesota has finally committed itself to upholding the freedom of conscience of its students," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "Prospective teachers will keep the right to have their own thoughts, values, and beliefs. FIRE will continue to monitor the situation to make sure that the university does not define 'cultural competence' or 'dispositions' requirements in a way that interferes with individual rights."

Indeed, the next version of the college's plans must reflect the university's promise. To learn about other cultures is one thing, but the college may not demand that future teachers hold certain moral and political "dispositions" or specific views about pedagogy. The college should understand that not all great teachers have the same views about politics or education.

December 21, 2009

On The Integration of Fairview and the University of Minnesota Hospital - or What'd He Say?


Trust me, I'm a doctor...

Executive Summary: "... we will not be merging the two organizations into a new corporate structure at this time."

For some background on this little stunner, have a look at the post: A Brutally Honest Exchange at a Faculty Committee Meeting

Sample from Senate Committee on Finance and Planning - October 20, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Professor Luepker next reported on the last Board of Regents' meeting, where Senior Vice President Cerra made a presentation on "Evaluating Integration of the Clinical Enterprise." Copies of the slides that Dr. Cerra used with the Regents were distributed to Committee members. This is a massive reorganization in a major portion of the University, Professor Luepker commented, and it caught his attention not only because it is a new direction for health-care settings but also because this is a billion-dollar-per-year enterprise (or more). The reorganization proposes the integration of the Fairview hospital management corporation with the University of Minnesota Physicians (UMP) and the University of Minnesota.

It struck him, Professor Luepker related, that apart from the financial magnitude of the proposal, there are a number of other questions that should be addressed.

-- Where does research and education fit in with this new, integrated organization? The presentation was mainly about the reorganization of clinical practice.

-- Who runs the organization? It appears that the proposed Board of Directors will be composed of non-University people, and it appears that the organization will be run like a business.

-- There are no dollars figures included in the presentation, but the amounts involved must be very large. Where will the dollars come from and what is the University getting involved in? One motivating factor is to gain market share and compete better with other health-care systems--but those systems now take University students and train them for free.

There are a number of elements to this plan that go beyond the Academic Health Center, he concluded, and the AHC is such a big part of the University that this issue clearly falls into this Committee's bailiwick.

What leapt out at her, Ms. Kersteter said, is that there is little about the teaching mission in the presentation, and that is more expensive in a teaching hospital. She said she was also concerned about the residency program; if that is done badly, there would be a big impact on the community.

If the new Board of Directors is primarily external, Mr. Erikson said, it is not likely it would focus on the educational mission of the Medical School. One could look at this proposal from a very different perspective and not understand that it more expensive to have a teaching hospital.

Professor Konstan said that if one looks at this from the 50,000-foot level, one can understand that the health-care industry is in a storm and people want to lash the rafts together, but one needs to be concerned that the University doesn't lash itself to a rock, which this could be.

Second, he said he would like to see a statement about the mission that the Board of Directors would be sworn to uphold, because it does not appear the mission would be the same as the University's mission.

Finally, he recalled the time when the University sold its hospital to Fairview; that was supposed to solve the problems.

Now this document shows a whole bunch of problems that weren't solved.

Why is the current system not serving the academic mission? This is like trusting the people whose last rocket didn't reach the moon when they say this next one will -- why trust the rocket scientists who failed? Will this arrangement just be in place for the next dozen years and then will there be something new?

This feels a lot like "trust me," he said.

A strange email:

To: Board Members, Faculty Members, and Leadership Teams

From: Frank B. Cerra, MD, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences
Bobbi Daniels, MD, CEO, UMPhysicians
Mark A. Eustis, President and CEO, Fairview Health Services

Re: AHC/Fairview/UMP Integration Discussions

Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 3:07 PM

Over the past several months, we have been working through a process to collectively understand the feasibility and value of further integrating Fairview and UMPhysicians and creating an integrated clinical enterprise. The work has been extremely productive and has reaffirmed the value and strength of our partnership and our mutual commitment to clinical integration and building an academic health system. Management and governance have worked closely together to create a shared understanding of our respective organizations, positioning us well for continuing dialogue as we address future challenges.

•We are committed to our shared vision of becoming an academic health system.

•Clinical integration is critical to our success and we need to create systems and processes to deliver consistent outcomes and enhanced value for our patients.

•Further integration of Fairview and UMPhysicians can produce additional market and financial value, even though we will not be merging the two organizations into a new corporate structure at this time.

•We believe clinical integration must engage physicians and clinicians from across the system.

•We are collectively committed to achieving much of the value identified during the evaluation process using our current organizational structures and agreements and will reconsider our corporate structure when we believe it impedes our ability to substantively realize the value of the integration effort

The decision to defer structural integration should not be taken
as any indication that we are not committed to advancing the work of our partnership. As we reflected on the challenges associated with a merger and such complexities as organizational states of readiness, the complexities of legal / organizational structures, and each party's varying sense of urgency, we were concerned that the work surrounding structural integration could distract us from the critical work we need to do to advance our vision.

Going forward, UMP, Fairview and the AHC have agreed to pursue several specific initiatives that will promote continued organizational convergence into a patient-centered, integrated health system.

These include:

•Expand joint strategic planning among the partners to better align strategies, commitments, and operating interfaces to achieve the common vision of being and academic health system

•Invest in new models of care delivery designed to improve clinical outcomes, provide an exceptional user experience, and reduce total cost of care

•Determine and implement, within each organization, the needed changes to achieve a more advanced state of readiness to meet the challenges of system integration

•Improve system performance to generate the resources for investment in our collective vision of becoming an academic health system

•Develop and implement integrated, branded clinical service lines

•Promote physician-to-physician relationships (Fairview Medical Group, UMPhysicians and independent physicians) across the organization.

•Capture the value of the University brand for the partnership through UMPhysicians and existing agreements.

We are excited about the work we need to do and the renewed commitment to work together to achieve our partnership goals to more effectively position the partnership to grow and enhance the clinical enterprise while bringing the academic enterprise to greater prominence.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment and dedication to Fairview, UMPhysicians, University of Minnesota and, most importantly, the patients we serve.

Merry Christmas, Dr. Cerra...

December 19, 2009

Subject: Bruininks ousted in coup by blogger

From the Finals Week Edition of the Daily:

* Subject: Bruininks ousted in coup by blogger
* Date: 12/10/2009 2:59:30 PM Central Standard Time
* From: mraiker@mndaily.com

[From the University of Minnesota Daily Final's Edition...]

After an unexpected uprising by a disgruntled University of Minnesota blogger threatened the destruction of TCF Bank Stadium yesterday, University President Bob Bruininks has forfeited his title.

Professor Bach McStabber entered Bruininks' office in Morrill Hall around 9 a.m. He forced all those present in the office into a back room and locked the door, according to a source inside the office who spoke on the basis of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

The source said Bruininks bravely refused McStabber's demands until the professor pulled out a remote car starter and said he had planted high-powered explosives in the stadium, strategically placed to demolish the entire structure.

University police arrived shortly after McStabber seized the office. Deputy Chief Mus Tache said Bruininks demanded they leave for the safety of the stadium.

"We could hear [McStabber] threatening to push a button," Tache said. "Bruininks asked us to back down."

Two hours and 15 minutes after he entered the office, McStabber released his hostages.

Curiosity drew a crowd of about 52,000 faculty, staff and students outside Morrill Hall, about 100 feet behind a wall of UMPD officers in riot gear. Bruininks announced he had given up his position as president.

McStabber, a professor in the Medical School, has taught at the University for 22 years. He operates a variety of blogs that are critical of the University's increasing tuition, construction projects, stance on light-rail transit and lack of free smoothies for faculty on Fridays.

The latest entry on McStabber's blog suggested his first changes as president would include cutting administrative salaries by 100 percent and severing the University's ties to UMore Park, a large slice of developing land the University owns in Rosemount, Minn.

Tache said no one expected the outspoken blogger had the capacity to stage a successful coup single-handedly.

Police said they don't keep up on McStabber's blog and therefore were not prepared for his actions.

"We'd never even heard of this guy," Tache said.

McStabber released a statement almost immediately after Bruininks surrendered. It stated the bomb threat was a bluff.

Bruininks helped police search the entire stadium anyway.

Any resemblance to a blogger, living or dead, is purely coincidental?

December 17, 2009

Minutes from Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee, In Re: TERI

These minutes will eventually be posted on the University of Minnesota Website. They are public documents. Because of the timeliness of the issue, I wish to have an unmodified version available for anyone to inspect. Thus no highlighting or special emphasis has been done. There may be further use of them found in postings on The Periodic Table, the sister-site to this blog.

Minutes* Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee Friday, December 4, 2009 9:30 - 11:30 300 Morrill Hall

Present: Barbara Elliott, Karen Miksch (co-chairs), Yusuf Abul-Hajj, Tracey Anderson, Arlene Carney, William Craig, Linda McLoon, Paula O'Loughlin, Christine Marran, Gary Peter, Paul Porter, Carol Wells

Absent: Joseph Gaugler, Barbara Loken, Terry Simon

Guests: Dean Jean Quam (College of Education and Human Development)

1. Teacher-Education Curriculum Notes and Publicity

Professor Elliott convened the meeting at 9:30 and noted several items provided to Committee members: a column by Katherine Kersten in the Star-Tribune about teacher-training proposals in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), a response by Dean Quam, and a letter to President Bruininks from FIRE [Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, http://www.thefire.org/. "The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience -- the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE's core mission is to protect the unprotected and to educate the public and communities of concerned Americans about the threats to these rights on our campuses and about the means to preserve them."] Professor Elliott pointed out that the issue has not come to the Committee from the President or the General Counsel; it is a public matter, not one in which the Committee has been invited in. She suggested that Professor Miksch, a faculty member in CEHD, introduce the issue. [The letter from FIRE is appended to these minutes.]

Professor Miksch said that the letter from FIRE was sent to the President and forwarded to the Committee for discussion by a faculty member. It reads like a demand letter, she said, sent to the University by an attorney asking for a response. The Committee has not been asked to weigh in on it.

Where would the Committee's response go, Professor Abul-Hajj asked? It has not yet been determined if there will be a response, Professor Elliott said; the discussion will continue on December 18 and the Committee can decide at that time what it wishes to do. This is clearly an academic-freedom issue, Professor McLoon said; why was the issue not sent to the Committee? Because the Committee does not adjudicate cases, Professor Miksch said; this letter is about a specific case. But it still involves the broad issue of academic freedom, Professor McLoon maintained.

Professor Elliott at this point welcomed Dean Quam to the meeting and asked her to describe where things stand and what the role of the Committee might be, if any.

Dean Quam told the Committee that there was a request from the Bush Foundation to select colleges in Minnesota and the Dakotas that train teachers asking if they had any interest in redesigning their teacher-training curriculum (because the Bush Foundation is worried about an upcoming shortage of teachers). The research shows that the teacher is critical to student success. CEHD applied for the funding, and divided the faculty into seven task forces to look at different parts of the curriculum. The task forces worked with school districts around the state about what they thought was needed in future teachers. They had workshops and a two-day retreat where each task force provided ideas to facilitate discussion. The notes from the task forces were put on the college intranet so that everyone could read them.

She was contacted by Mitch Pearlstein, an alumnus of the college and chief executive of the Center for the American Experiment, who informed her that someone had sent the notes from the task forces to a number of people, including some at the Bush Foundation, President Bruininks, the Minnesota Board of Teaching, the Center for the American Experiment, and columnist Kersten. The senders identified themselves as a group of concerned alumni. The Bush Foundation and the Minnesota Board of Teaching both dismissed the message because it was anonymous. She invited Mr. Pearlstein to talk with the faculty who served on the task forces; he did so, for two hours, and understood the ideas they had been discussing. She then learned that Ms. Kersten was writing a column, so she (Dean Quam) provided her all the information she had and the names of people to interview. Ms. Kersten then wrote a column. She (Dean Quam) wrote an op-ed piece responding.

Dean Quam related that she has been stunned by the viciousness of the attacks on her, the faculty, the college, and the President. Most of them have been offensive name-calling, not substantive criticisms. The low point was a podcast that referred to the college as the Adolf Hitler College of Education that is leading students to the gas chambers and that made offensive comments about faculty without knowing them (and referring to them as "chicks" and "guys").

Where are the recommendations now, Professor Elliott asked? They are not recommendations, they are notes, Dean Quam said. CEHD has received the Bush grant, $5 million over ten years, to help with teacher-education redesign. The Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI) will look at the notes, but this will be a long process. The goal is to have the curriculum change recommendations done by the summer of 2010 and the new curriculum in place for the fall of 2011. The process takes a long time because the changes need to be vetted with teachers, principals, superintendents, and other college partners.

Professor Elliott asked if Dean Quam had any insights about a response to the FIRE letter. Dean Quam said it is her understanding that the Office of the General Counsel will respond on behalf of the University; attorney Tracy Smith has been provided the information from CEHD. The letter assumes that the notes are requirement for the teacher-education program; they are not, they are just ideas expressed by faculty members. They have no closed meetings. She has read all of the notes several times and finds nothing to disagree with; some faculty members expressed their views in strong terms, but people do that in this kind of process to ensure that their voices are heard as the process moves forward.

Professor McLoon asked what "dispositions . . . of candidates" means. Dean Quam said she does not know about the specifics, and they do not talk about "dispositions" any longer, so the term probably should not be used. Will teacher candidates go through pre-screening, Professor McLoon asked? Dean Quam related that she had served for a number of years as Director of the School of Social Work, and pointed out that they are careful about their admissions--as are all professional schools. She said she was unaware of any litmus test at the end of the teacher-training process to determine if someone should be allowed to work with children.

CEHD offers the Masters in Education, Dean Quam said, while many programs in the state funded by the Bush Foundation are undergraduate programs. About 20 years ago, CEHD went with a Masters program, admitting students who came with a baccalaureate degree in a substantive field who then learn pedagogy. Principals and superintendents believe in the CEHD program because it admits more mature students who are committed to the profession.

Professor McLoon asked if all students are required to take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). Dean Quam said she did not know if all must; that was one suggestion. The FIRE letter indicates the recommendation is that all students must take it, Professor Abul-Hajj said. That is their interpretation, Dean Quam said, and the letter is full of inaccuracies. Professor Abul-Hajj asked if the University intends to address the issues raised in the letter without bringing them to this Committee. Dean Quam said she did not know if Mr. Rotenberg intended to bring them to the Committee.

Professor Elliott asked if there are questions or issues on which the Committee could be a resource. Dean Quam said the experience has been eye-opening for her, on a number of levels. It is remarkable how quickly information gets out on the new social media, and if someone says the wrong thing, it can be very damaging. She said she has a student who is working on cyber-bullying; these comments in the social media are a strange form of attack on the faculty. Academic freedom means faculty should be able to say what they want, and to defend what they say, without offensive comments in response. The discourse should be civil, and a scholar should have research to support what he or she says. She said she worries that these kinds of attacks will make faculty fear to talk to each other because someone will tape the conversations or prepare notes and pass them along. She related that while she does not read blogs, she has a niece who does and who has sent her a great deal of what has been written about the controversy. Dean Quam commented that it appears that not being required to identify oneself gives a license to be highly offensive and say things that have no basis in fact.

In the field of Social Work they have talked about "cultural competency" for 40 years; business, medicine, and law all talk about it as well. Fields need to pay attention to the way the world is changing; there are 70 languages/dialects represented in the St. Paul schools alone. "Teachers are going to classrooms that we have never seen," Dean Quam commented, and they need to understand that not everyone learns the way they do when the students come from very different backgrounds.

Professor McLoon commented that academic freedom does not mean that one can presume everyone will be nice and civil; that is the point of academic freedom. Academic freedom and free speech is only as free as the worst examples. She went on to note that "cultural competence" appears a lot; what does it mean when they say that they want teachers to have it? It must be deeper than what appears in the materials provided to the Committee. If the IDI is a benchmark used to measure cultural competency, she said she has not seen data demonstrating that cultural competency helps to address the achievement gap in the schools between different groups of students--which is what this is all about. Dean Quam said there are such data. The data need to be presented, Professor McLoon said, demonstrating that cultural competency reduces the achievement gap.

Dean Quam said that Professor Michael Goh, chair of the task force, responded with a long list of research articles. There is ample evidence that teachers who are sensitive to cultural differences help improve student achievement. There is a body of empirical research, Professor Miksch agreed, on the impact of a highly-qualified teacher on the achievement gap, and cultural competency is a part of that effect. The question is what that means, but there has been a lot of work in the sociology of education that has improved teacher practices. Professor McLoon said she was interested in the link between cultural competence and achievement, not whether everyone was happy. Professor Miksch said there is a great deal of research demonstrating links between the cultural competence of the teacher and reductions in the achievement gap.

What is cultural competency defined as, Professor McLoon asked? Professor Miksch said in research on "highly qualified teachers," how to define cultural competence is part of the discussion and how it assists student, teacher, and parent interaction. One example of research in this area is an ethnography conducted by a Sociologist of Education (Valdes, 1996) who interviewed teachers and parents regarding their views of education. The teachers mistakenly thought that the parents were not interested in education whereas the parents had learned to have so much respect for teachers that they thought it was rude to ask questions. The crux to her, Professor McLoon said, is how cultural competency is defined and the link between it and achievement. Aside from that, the problems with the way that children are educated arise because the school day and year have not been changed and there is insufficient focus on school readiness. It is not just the teacher that is the issue. But the teacher is one piece, Professor Miksch responded.

Dean Quam agreed and noted that the Bush Foundation press conference announcing the awards pointed out that the most critical factor in the child's education is the teacher. She said she agreed with Professor McLoon about the need for other changes in the schools. When a child has a teacher who is sub-par, the student loses a year of school and can fall behind. Professor McLoon said she has seen data suggesting that the effects of one year of bad teaching can last for three years.

In terms of academic freedom, Professor McLoon said she does not see clarity in the definition of cultural competency. The definitional issues are not only in education curricula, Professor Elliott responded; they come in law and medicine, and other fields as well. When one tries to create a curriculum that addresses cultural competency as part of it, what does that mean? She has, for example, talked with tribal elders about what it means for Native Americans.

Dr. Craig reported that he and his wife read the Kersten column Sunday morning and had a conversation about it. His wife is a CEHD graduate and worked in the Minneapolis Public Schools for 20 years; she believes that inadequate cultural competency is a problem for many teachers. What bothered them in the article was the indoctrination of University students -- what about their academic freedom? Dean Quam said she did not believe it was the intent of any faculty member to narrow the perspective or beliefs of any student, but to expand them ("have you thought about . . . .?"). The intent is to broaden views, not restrict them. The translation in the Kersten column and FIRE letter, however, was "we will tell students what to believe," rather than asking students to explore a full range of views.

These are notes by faculty members, Vice Provost Carney said; academic freedom includes faculty members composing notes without harassment. They were not intended to be released and they are not recommendations. Everyone has been on groups where people changed their mind, but it is important to protect the right to express preliminary ideas that may not ever come out in a report. Everyone has been involved in meetings where the early discussions were not released, and if they all will be, people will not be bold. She reported that she serves on the TERI advisory board and said it is doing very interesting work. One can disagree with a final report that comes out and it was unfortunate these notes were identified as a final product. She said that as a board member she has read all the notes from all the task forces--but she read them as NOTES. Some of them are bold and exciting and she looks forward to seeing how they appear in the final recommendations. But she said she believed the institution should protect the academic freedom of faculty who engage to do this kind of work.

Professor McLoon said she was not sure that supporting faculty having opinions negates the ability to disagree, because that opens up more dialogue, even if some go too far. These notes talk about students recognizing white privilege and all taking the IDI.

Professor Anderson said she was upset because this is a flash in the pan about something that is not final. What this controversy argues for is the need to create a safe environment in which to pursue discussions. One can say strong things while brainstorming. Things should be taken public at a certain time, and these notes were perhaps contributed prematurely. The notes were available to task force members and forwarded by someone to the press and others, Professor Elliott said. Which violated the understanding of those doing the work, Dr. Carney added. Professor McLoon asked if she could not look at the notes. They have made them all open, Dean Quam said, and it is healthy for everyone to look at them. As a dean, she has found this a teachable moment for the faculty: the worst thing that could happen is that faculty could influence policy but will be inhibited from seeking to do so because of the risk that would be involved. As the person responsible for the college, she would expect it and the University to support the right of faculty members to express their views.

Professor Abul-Hajj said that he agreed with Vice Provost Carney and Dr. Anderson but now that the notes are available publicly, the committee needs to think seriously about the use of cultural competence and by making it an obligatory goal of teacher education. In retrospect, the fact that this issue has surfaced at this time before any final decisions are implemented may not be as bad as one would expect. This should provide the committee with the necessary ingredients to address before they make their final recommendations. Dean Quam agreed but said that two or three faculty of color who served on TERI have said to her "why are you surprised?" because they feel at risk every time they talk about cultural competency. It is regrettable that faculty members feel fear at expressing their concerns.

Professor Elliott said that Dean Quam's point goes to the discrepancy in students' academic achievement, which is part of Minnesota's reality: "we have not been able to work to address the consequences of racial differences because the conversations and efforts are routinely averted." The culture in Minnesota does a good job of keeping people invisibly in their place. The issues raised by this curriculum debate need to be acknowledged and discussed.

There is a difference between supporting faculty and saying things that people disagree with, Professor McLoon said. If one does not have data to back up what one says, one should re-think what is said. She said she has experienced criticism of what she wrote; one needs thick skin and that is why tenure is important, so people can say what needs to be said. Dean Quam said that some of the faculty members on the task force are probationary faculty, so more vulnerable.

Professor Wells said she came to the meeting thinking this would be a different discussion, about the merits of the policy, assuming a policy had been adopted. Now she sees that these were informal notes. The reality of the world is that one puts nothing in an email that one does not want the world to know about in five minutes. That is reality of cyberspace; if faculty members want to communicate, they need a password-protected website. This was password-protected, Dr. Carney pointed out; someone released the information from the website. One has to rely on the integrity of the individuals participating in the discussions. Professor McLoon said that if she were confronted with something that violated her basic values, she would respond. But one should respond to the task force and talk right back, Dr. Carney objected, not distribute materials to the media. Professor McLoon agreed.

Professor Elliott commented that she was intrigued by the issue of transparency and its relationship to academic freedom in this case; it makes these issues and the creative process even more complex

What can the Committee do to assist, Professor Elliott asked? Be quiet? Noisy? Dean Quam said she did not know what Ms. Smith in the General Counsel's office will do, but a statement affirming the right of faculty to express their opinions could help. This is about transparency. New, young, smart faculty use stronger language than she would have, she related; she would suggest to them that they should say what they believe but that they may need to do so carefully. Academic freedom is under attack and this is the group to address it.

Professor Elliott thanked Dean Quam for joining the meeting.

Professor McLoon said that she worried that it would be difficult for dissenting faculty members in an environment supporting one type of test of cultural competency, but with her school-district experience, where all had to take the IDI and read and discuss "White Privilege," there was no ability for someone who criticized the fallacies in the IDI measurement or its interpretation to say one opposed the viewpoint of these items, and there was no room for the flip side, no room to question assumptions. It is an environment promoting a point of view and people are uncomfortable expressing doubt or concerns. If this were established policy that this is part of the curriculum, that would be a different question, Professor Elliott said. These were notes, think-tank kind of work.

Every health profession has statements with specific cultural-competency criteria, Dr. Carney said, and it is left to the institution to document its achievement. She said she is very quantitative, and wants data, but the first time one suggests something it is an hypothesis and there are no data (e.g., increasing cultural competency to help close the achievement gap--at some point one is the first to propose it--and one does not always need data. But eventually one must have them.)

Professor Wells said it would be more worthwhile to discuss the policy, if a policy existed; she said there was not much more that needed to be said about the notes from a preliminary discussion. That is a no-brainer. Discussions could lead to policy, Professor Abul-Hajj said, and Dean Quam said there will be recommendations in the future. Does the Committee want to be involved then? Professor Wells said the Committee could deal with the facts when there is a policy to consider. Professor Anderson urged that the Committee not deal with decisions by individual colleges; what else will it start evaluating, she asked?

Companies face this all the time, Dr. Craig said, and they have people who watch social media who put in comments to calm the waters. He said he did not know how far this has gone and surmised that the University as an organization did not, either. It is not just email; people want everything open.

No one should be surprised that others object to what they say, Professor McLoon said. Dr. Carney said Dean Quam was not surprised, but was taken aback that the comments became so vituperative so quickly about notes that are not a policy.

Professor Miksch distributed copies of an article from Inside Higher Ed reporting on the case of a graduate student at the University of Minnesota who is being investigated by federal officials for withholding information about animal-rights activists that he gathered in the course of his research. It was agreed that the Committee would like to hear from Mr. Rotenberg about that case as well when he joins the meeting on December 18.

December 16, 2009

You knew it was coming... TERI makes Bill O'Reilly

TERI = Teacher Education Redesign Initiative

[Note added December 19: Clip has now also been posted by Minnpost.]

This is what it has come to. Nice job CEHD!

What the fuss is about:

U. of Minnesota Takes Heat for Proposal to Gauge Future Teachers' Sensitivity

[From the Chronicle of Higher Education - not just some right-wing rag...]

December 11, 2009

Why can't U grads finish on time?


Front page, above the fold, today's Star-Tribune:

Why can't U students finish on time?

U of M graduation rates are far lower than those of competing public universities.

The print version of the article (p. A10) has a table indicating that we are dead last among our self-selected - by the admin - peer group on both 4yr and 6 yr grad rate.

For example:

#1 Penn State 68/92 (students starting in 2004, 2002)

#3 Michigan 72/88

#4 Wisconsin 50/82

#5 Illinois 67/82

#10 Ohio State 49/73

#11 Minnesota 45/66

As the Daily put it:

"As for commitment to quality education at an affordable cost? Meaningless drivel. The administration has flatly failed on its promises of excellence and affordability." Daily (13 Oct 2009)

Leadership matters.

Time for a change?

December 10, 2009

Does this include you, President Bruininks?

from MPR: U of M, MnSCU plan tuition hikes to cope with state budget deficit

"But it's not going to be easy for us," Bruininks said. "We're going to have to ask all of the people who work here at the University of Minnesota to share in the sacrifice. We're going to have to defer a number of investments that we think are important. We're going to have to work with even more diligence to reduce the costs."

What would these investments be? UMore Park? The Northrup renovation for our cultural czar? Unnecessary biomedical research expansion? What exactly are you talking about when you say "defer a number of investments"?

Say the magic words after me: "I'm going to take a 20% salary cut and all of the other folks making +$250 K are going to take a 10% cut." Show us you are really serious about shared sacrifice. Or is this, as usual, a case of do as I say, rather than do as I do?

For a few previous posts on this matter, please see:

One of these folks is not like the other...


President Bruininks gives another non-answer to salary cut question...

One way or the other, President Bruininks, the jig is just about up. Do you want to go out carrying your shield - or on it? Figuratively speaking, of course.

How Others See Us... (more TERI consequences)


More TERI consequences from University Diaries. President Bruininks or Dean Quam should be making comments on this, NOT Mr. Wolter.

December 6, 2009

Guess who serves on conflict of interest committee at Minnesota?

From Gary Schwiter's blog on UThink:

Guess who serves on this conflict of interest committee???

By Gary Schwitzer on December 4, 2009 5:24 PM | 2 Comments

An interesting little fact came my way today - something I had never realized before about the University of Minnesota's conflict of interest review infrastructure.

Guess who is on the University Academic Health Center Conflict of Interest Committee? (Hint: he has been investigated by the US Senate for conflict of interest violations.)

Go to this site for a clue.

Still can't get it?

It's Dr. David Polly. If you don't know the story, you can read a Star Tribune editorial. (pdf file)

Bill Gleason | December 5, 2009 6:05 AM | Reply

Thanks for pointing this out, Gary. As you probably know, this fiasco has been the topic of an article in the Star-Tribune: http://bit.ly/7vOZUA

This is perfectly consistent with the U's appointing Leo Furcht as co-chair of the original team that was to come up with a new policy. See: http://bit.ly/QnpeF

It is also noteworthy that Dr. Polly was a lecturer in the University of Minnesota's mini-medical school last Spring. Topic? Ethics of university/industry interactions. I have pointed out the absurdity of this to Dr. Frank Cerra, med school dean, in person one on one, and at a public meeting:

http://bit.ly/zLxTA (We're not violating a legal statute...)

I keep thinking that this can't go on. But it may as long as the gang that couldn't shoot straight is in charge. Disgusting.

mike howard | December 6, 2009 5:03 AM | Reply

Perhaps the University should offer a graduate course on dealing with pharma and conflicts of interest. Hustlers of all types can find their life's calling or just an exciting part time job to offset tuition by following Dr.'s Schulz and Polly's proven method of carnival barking for big(top) pharma. The job offers good pay (sometimes in excess of $450,000 a year) in lucrative locales, includes paid travel, meals and excitement. Short hours are the norm, often two day seminars are standard; but strong vocal cords are a must. It is necessary to learn the carnival pharma language, a barker is a research psychiatrist, a patient is a mark, a booth or concession is a hospital or clinic and prizes are cheap awards for obtaining informed consent.

December 4, 2009

Another Minnesota Bioethicist Speaks Out Against COI Draft

What's it going to take? Dr. Cerra? Dr. Bruininks?

As a graduate of the University of Minnesota and a faculty member in the Medical School, all I can say is that I am appalled by the behavior of Dr. Cerra and his predecessor in this matter. Blame is shared by the central administration - especially President Bruininks - for this almost comical, but certainly tragic, situation.

From Gary Schwitzer's health news blog:

Carl Elliott, MD, PhD of the University of Minnesota (Professor, Center for Bioethics; Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Medical School; Professor, Department of Philosophy, College of Liberal Arts), wrote to me this afternoon as follows:

"The biggest problem with this document is that it will do little if anything to fix the conflict of interest problems which have embarrassed the university. In addition to the problems highlighted by Steve Miles, consider these:

1) The policy places no caps on the amount of money faculty members can receive from the pharmaceutical industry as consultants. It simply lowers the reporting threshold.

2) The primary mechanisms for dealing with conflicts of interest in the draft document are disclosure and "management" by a Conflict of Interest Committee. But there is no published evidence that disclosure reduces the bias created by financial conflicts, and besides, the Academic Health Center already has a Conflict of Interest Committee. It has not exactly been a great success. Is there any reason to think that the new policy will change this?

3) For the most part, this policy still requires faculty to report potential conflicts only after they arise, rather than asking a committee to review potentially troublesome arrangements in advance. This means that troubling industry arrangement may become evident only after they are concluded.

4) The policy initially seems to limit faculty members from giving marketing talks for the pharmaceutical industry, but in fact, the conditions it outlines are unlikely to limit those talks in any meaningful way. Specifically: the policy says that such talks must reflect the speaker's views, be evidence-based, and disclose the funding for the talk. But most marketing talks for the drug industry already meet those criteria. (The problem is not that the talks are not evidence-based; the problem is the particular spin that sponsors and speakers put on the evidence.) The only new condition here is that speakers are required to disclose the specific amount of money they are being paid. This may deter some speakers, but in general, the empirical data shows that industry-funded speakers and authors rarely disclose their funding sources even when they are required to.

5) The policy will permit the pharmaceutical industry to provide educational materials to students, residents and faculty, as long as the funding is disclosed and the marketing purpose is not outwardly obvious. But the problem with industry-produced educational material is precisely that its marketing purpose is not at all obvious, even when it has been produced by the marketing department of the company.

6) The policy proposes to manage the potential conflicts of interest for medical researchers by having researchers ask research subjects if they would like to have the researcher's financial relationships disclosed to them. There is no evidence in the medical literature to suggest that this is an adequate solution. The problem with financial incentives is not secrecy; the problem is that financial incentives may lead researchers to expose subjects to interventions that are not in their best interests.

7) The first draft of these guidelines recommended that the university office of Continuing Medical Education institute a plan to be free of pharmaceutical industry funding within five years. That recommendation has disappeared."

If we have no integrity at the University of Minnesota Medical School, what do we have?

Minnesota Ethicist, Steve Miles, Criticizes COI Draft

My colleague, Gary Schwitzer, writes an excellent blog and is one of the country's premier health care journalism experts. He has a post up on Schwitzer Health News blog:

The draft conflict of interest policy being considered by the University of Minnesota is insufficient according to Dr. Steve Miles, a UMN med school professor of medicine and bioethics. He wrote to me:

The document identified as Administrative Policy: Individual Conflicts of Interest (DRAFT 11/09/09) (text downloaded from http://blog.lib.umn.edu/bgleason/pt/Coi_draft.pdf) is an incomplete and flawed document that will do little to regulate the kinds of misconduct and concerns that have brought this University and many other United States universities before Congressional inquiries or harsh media scrutiny. I agree with those who are also frustrated with the lack of transparency of the drafting of this fourth generation document.

University collaboration with industry groups is necessary and can be ethically done. However, these relationships must be managed to prevent biasing of education, presentations to the media, testimony to public policy groups, or scientific publications. These relationships must also be done in a way that prevents research from being corrupted or that abridges protections for human subjects.

My comments arise from my perspective in the health sciences and may not apply to this policy insofar as it may affect Conflicts of Interest in other University Endeavors. My comments are not comprehensive given that it is not clear that the process is open to debate in its scope or fundamentals.

SECTION I. Reporting. By reporting rough dollar amount of income for "each compensated relationship with a business" rather than income from each business entity, it is possible for any business to slice its compensation to faculty into small pieces (i.e., discrete relationships) that understate the extent of the Conflict of Interest. For example, if BIO INC gives a faculty member $99,000 in honorariums and a 24,000 travel budget, the faculty would not trigger the Conflict of Interest review and the categorical disclosures would add up to 60,000 to 125,000. This problem with reporting has implications for the clarity of the disclosures that are addressed in SECTIONS IV and V.

SECTION III. Managing Conflicts.
On the important question of the relationship between a conflict of interest review committee and the Institutional Review Board, it is left unspecified if the conflict committee is supervisory to the IRB or advisory to it. Furthermore, it is entirely unclear how a conflict of interest committee is routinely informed of human subjects research since it receives its information through the REPA system and there is no specified obligation on the part of the IRB to check back to the conflict of interest or REPA program. Finally, the most problematic studies involve the use of devices or off label uses that are not part of prospective study protocols, e.g. the much discussed INFUSE study. The Draft policy does not address non-IRB clinical innovations by researchers with conflicts of interests.

SECTION VIII, X, XI. Speaking Engagements, Commercially Produced Education Materials, Gifts etc.
The policy does not address conflicts of interest as they pertain to continuing medical education. It would be easy for the University to adopt wholesale the standards and interpretive guidelines of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (http://www.accme.org).

SECTION XII: Nationally, there is increasing recognition that "free drug samples" are a marketing tool that promotes the more rapid introduction of costly drugs at variance with responsible practice guidelines. This is why schools like Johns Hopkins and the University of Iowa have abandoned the practice and The American Society of Health System pharmacists opposes it. The trend is clear. This draft gives no reason for electing not to lead or for narrowly restricting the kinds of free samples might be distributed (i.e., highly costly, non reimbursed drugs that have immediate life saving effect on persons with very rare conditions).

The Conflict Review Committee (CRC) is defined on page 12. Apparently there are many of these since the document throughout used references to an "appropriate" or "a" "conflict review committee." It is not clear whether the repeated use of the generic non-capitalized "conflict review committee[s]" meet the same membership standards and accountability of standards as the CRC.