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April 25, 2010

A New Covenant With The State of Minnesota? The Gospel According to Robert, Part III.

The president seems to be in denial over the fact that his new covenant (or compact) proposal was declared dead on arrival at the state legislature the day after he first made the proposal.

He also sets the stage for a Fall conversation with, among others Jonathan Cole, a former Columbia University provost, who will say what the president wants to hear. Other voices would be more appropriate. I am always amused by monologues being referred to as conversations.

Finally his lame duck status is pointed out. This makes it rather difficult for him to effectively negotiate any sort of covenant with the legislature or the new governor.

Fourteen months and counting...

April 24, 2010

Second Verse, Same As the First, a Little Bit Louder and a Little Bit Worse

Open forum: President Bruininks answers the question of Professor Van Dassow:

Thank you, Professor van Dassow, if only we had more faculty members like you at the University of Minnesota, we might actually be one of the third greatest public universities in the world...

Q: What are the priorities that are going to be used in cutting back the University, Mr. President?

A: Read the strategic positioning document... (Known to many faculty as the Strategic Propaganda Document)

Not an answer, Mr. President.

It ain't necessarily so... Response to President Bruininks' Open Forum, Part I

Professor Messing and the President have at it. Is athletics a drain on the University?

See 4:21 President Bruininks claims to be "A strong advocate of all the employees."

But has earlier said: "and I don't think the added protection for some parts of our work force is exactly worth it."

See 5:20

Here the President claims to be a "staunch advocate of P&A"

but he has earlier been surprised by Professor Messing's pointing out draconian P&A policy.

For more on this P&A disgrace, please see:

New P&A Policy: University of Minnesota President Bruininks in the Dark?

April 23, 2010

Forty People at the President's Open Forum?

I wasn't there myself so perhaps criticism is unfair. Certainly if I were on campus I would have been there and asked questions.

But from what I've seen in the Daily report of the event, I'm disappointed:

"Faculty, staff and students had one hour Thursday to question the president."

That's not really very much time, given that President Bruininks' specialty is killing the clock.

"Clarifying previous statements, defending recent decisions and asking for collaboration, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks fielded questions before an audience of about 40 people Thursday."
40 people? Third greatest yadda, yadda? In your dreams.
"The crowd's critical statements and questions were met with equally passionate answers that had Bruininks leaning forward in his chair in Coffman Memorial Union's theater and talking about finding common ground."
At least it sound like those who were there gave President Bruininks an earful. And I'd like to point out that finding common ground does not mean "my way or the highway" which is the management philosophy of the Morrill Hall Gang.
"It seems to me that open conversation spiced with passion and some controversy is indicative of a healthy institution," said Karen Himle, vice president for University Relations and the forum's mediator.

I am a big fan of Ms. Himle. She is intelligent and brings a certain amount of class to the U's PR efforts. Unfortunately passion and controversy could also be a description of a pro wrassling match. NOT necessarily indicative of a healthy institution!

"Faculty asked the president how he could ensure that the University wasn't "recklessly" spending money on non-academic activities like athletics. This led into questions of how the University evaluates programs to determine which can be eliminated in the near future.

Bruininks responded with a challenge to University faculty and staff to involve themselves in the task of cutting the "bloat" from the University's budget."

Bloat, Bob? Surely you jest. What some people might call bloat is what you call investment. I won't even go in detail into the absurdity of a statement like this. The stadium. The cultural czar. MoreU Park. Unnecessary buildings. The list goes on.

"Certainly it's preferable ... for academic units to examine their own missions to decide what we may be able to eliminate rather than having the administration do it from the top down," professor Eva von Dassow said. "But after years of cuts, you're essentially asking us which of our body parts we can amputate."

Well said, Professor von Dassow. We need more people like you.

Yes, the Morrill Hall Gang likes to spend money on what they consider to be good investments. Then they can take credit for new buildings and revamping the undergraduate experience and such-like. Let the groundlings do the cutting, there is no glory in that. We'll cut your budget by x% and you figure out how to do it? That's real leadership, Mr. President? Not.

"She, on behalf of a number of faculty, said they would like to see the central administration experience cuts first."

"I don't have a problem looking at central administration," Bruininks said.

Mr. President, this simply won't do. You have been saying this for years. Show us you're really serious. Do we need a cultural czar? There is an easy cut of ONE MILLION DOLLARS in the medical school administration, alone. Walk the talk.

"I welcome the debate," he said. "I'm going to be around here for 14 months, and until the last day I'm going to be working on these issues."


Poor succession planning is a big part of the problem. We should not be simultaneously replacing the president and going over a financial cliff. This is incredibly bad timing. And the president would do best - if we are able to hire a new one by the next legislative session - to step back and stay out of the way. Enough damage has already been done.

And let's get someone from outside who has a fresh perspective on things and demonstrated leadership skills. As a colleague at another institution who is on a presidential search committee put it: The most important qualification is integrity.

To make the same mistake twice at the University of Minnesota would be inexcusable.

"Diane Odash, a College of Liberal Arts teaching specialist, asked Bruininks to address comments he made at a March 25 Faculty Senate meeting. She said the remarks made it appear that he favored higher-paid staff over the rest, which justified a flat 1.15 percent pay cut instead of a scale cut. Bruininks denied that interpretation."

"If you knew anything about me, you'd know that was very far off the mark," he said.

I simply don't understand this response. Despite Bruninks' claim his plan is in fact what is called a flat tax. This is widely acknowledged as being unfair to those on the lower end of the economic totem poll. To claim that his solution is progressive - which he did in his interview with the Daily - is absurd.

"Bruininks said recent attacks on University students were "dramatic" and "disturbing," but noted that crime rates are actually decreasing. Still, he said safety remains a high priority and the continued partnership with surrounding neighborhoods is a step in the right direction."

Mr. President, once again, you just don't get it. To note that crime rates are actually decreasing simply indicates how little you understand about public perceptions of potential danger of being a student at the U. When someone gets shot right in front of a well-lit university dorm, knowing that the crime rate is really decreasing is not very helpful.

"He also addressed Minnesota Student Association 's desire to see student participation similar to that at the University of Wisconsin. In that system, a legislative policy called shared governance places students in some non-standing university committees, ensuring they have input in major decisions."

"Bruininks said he believes students have an active voice on campus and would support improvements, though he thinks the University can handle that on its own rather than doing it through legislation."

Mr. President, once again your position is absurd. You've admitted that the Wisconsin system is a good one and that it does, in fact, ensure that students have input in major decisions. That is not the case here at Minnesota now and you know it.

Why does the legislative option scare you so much? For the same reason that you settled the light rail situation punkt when the legislature threatened to step in with eminent domain?

I keep hoping against hope, Mr. President, that you will see the light some day.

Guess not...

April 22, 2010

Choices of a Hospital Can Put the Odds Against You

Health Care Choices in a Consumer Oriented Society

Questionable choices made some time ago have linked the University of Minnesota to Fairview. Alia iacta est, and all that...

Despite advertisements touting translational medicine and new cures at the U of M, what the average poor slob in the street (including me) cares about is: am I going to die in your hospital and where should I go to increase my odds of NOT dying in a hospital.

Data is becoming available and Yogi Berra's prophecy has come true - you CAN look it up. The consequences of this are that the powers that be on the U side of Fairview University Hospital had better do their damnedest to see that the numbers listed below improve, or we will not be the destination of choice for sick people and their referring physicians. Especially since this is Minnesota, average is not good enough.

First, do no harm. Second, do good medicine.
Then, do translational research.

Otherwise there will be no patients and we will be out of business at the U.

The Star-Tribune has an interesting article on this topic.

Your chance of dying may depend on which hospital treats you, data suggest. The numbers are prompting head-scratching, soul-searching -- and changes.

The two small-town hospitals could hardly be more alike. Just 20 miles apart in southern Minnesota, they're both run by the Mayo Health System and even share some of the same doctors.

Yet in Albert Lea, patients hospitalized with heart failure are twice as likely to die as those in neighboring Austin, government data show.

That kind of gap may seem improbable, especially in a state known for first-rate medical care. But new ratings published by the federal government have found startling disparities in hospital performance all across Minnesota.

Hospital officials say the federal statistics can be misleading and make even good medical centers look bad.

But the ratings, compiled annually and published on a federal website, are forcing the medical profession to confront a problem many have ignored until now: There are unnecessary variations in the way hospitals deliver care, and thousands of patients are dying or suffering needlessly as a result, with billions of dollars wasted in the process.

In Minneapolis, for example, the risk of dying from a heart attack can vary by as much as 40 percent, depending on where you're hospitalized. The chance of being readmitted within 30 days -- often a sign of medical complications -- is 50 percent higher at some Twin Cities hospitals than at others.

'Any institution needs to look at that number in a cold hard light and say: What's this telling me?" said Dr. Greg Gilmet, chief medical officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. "You begin to ask the question, why is there variation? That's the beginning of an interesting journey."

Until a few years ago, it was almost impossible for consumers to find out how hospitals compared on such life-and-death indicators.

"We can get information on the safety of a car, we can get information on the performance of a stock, yet for years we never had a clue how our doctors and hospitals are providing care, whether it's quality care," said Jennifer Sweeney, director of Americans for Quality Health Care, a national consumer advocacy program.

Now that's changing.

Since 2007, the federal agency that runs Medicare has compiled data to grade hospitals. Using its vast database (Medicare covers more than 44 million people) and controlling for the fact that some hospitals see more severe cases than others, it has tracked patients with three common conditions: heart attacks, congestive heart failure and pneumonia. To see how they fared, it calculates how many die or end up back in the hospital within 30 days.

Nationally, the gaps can be vast. Depending on which hospital you walk (or are carried) into, your chances of dying from a heart attack range from 1 in 10 to nearly 1 in 4.

In Minnesota, the gaps are less dramatic, but just as surprising. In St. Cloud, 12.5 percent of patients die following a heart attack; at Hennepin County Medical Center, it's close to 20 percent. In Austin, heart-failure patients have an 8.3 percent death rate; in Albert Lea, it's nearly 16 percent.

An interactive chart, showing how Minnesota hospitals stack up, can be found at www.startribune.com/hospitalscores.) Although Medicare mainly serves the elderly, it's the nation's largest payer of hospital bills, covering more than 1 in 7 Americans. That sweep gives it a unique ability to compare hospitals.

"If I'm running a hospital, I want it to be as good as my neighbors," said Dr. Gordon Mosser, an expert in quality measurement at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "Once the numbers start getting reported, they start caring a lot."

Even among hospital executives, there's growing acceptance that public comparisons, though painful, can be a healthy thing.

"It certainly creates the soul-searching when you see those numbers," said Wheeler, of Allina. It also pierces the myth that everyone is above average. As one doctor told her: "We were legends in our own minds."

For nearly 20 years, Methodist has been obsessively tracking patient outcomes, said Dr. David Abelson, chief executive of Park Nicollet Health Services, which owns the hospital. "There are times when we need to look at ourselves in the mirror," Abelson said, and ask: "What can we learn here?"

In 2009, Methodist had one of the lowest readmission rates for heart failure patients in Minnesota: 20 percent, according to Medicare.

The implicit message to everyone else: If Methodist can do it, why do some Twin Cities hospitals have readmission rates of 27 percent (the University of Minnesota Medical Center), 28 percent (Hennepin County Medical Center) and 29 percent (Unity)?

"That's pretty good evidence that a deliberate effort can improve the numbers," said Mosser, of the university.

Some Numbers:

Health Care Choices in a Consumer Oriented Society

Thirty Day Heart Attack Death Rates (numbers are percent)

Best: St. Cloud Hospital 12.5

Worst: Hennepin County 19.6

U of M - Fairview 18.1

Thirty Day Heart Failure Death Rates

Best: HealthEast St. John's 8.1

Worst: Albert Lea 15.5

U of M - Fairview 11.1

Thirty Day Pneumonia Death Rates

Best: Austin Medical Center 6.9

Worst: Albert Lea 14.9

U of M - Fairview 9.1

Hospital Readmissions - 30 day

Heart Attack

Best: Park Nicollet Methodist 17.8

Worst: Mercy Hospital 24

U of M - Fairview: 20.3

Heart Failure

Best: Park Nicollet Methodist 20.1

Worst: Unity Hospital 29

U of M - Fairview 26.6


Best: St. Gabriel 15.1

Worst: St. Francis 22.6

U of M - Fairview 19.6

Which hospitals in the state were in the "better than national average category" by these measures?

3x means rated better than national average in three categories, 2x, twice.

Fatality Rates

Park Nicollet Methodist - 3x

Austin Medical Center - 2x

Healtheast St. Johns - 2x

St. Cloud Hospital - 2x

Mayo St. Mary's - 2x

United Hospital - 1x

Abbot Northwestern - 1x


North Memorial - 1x

Park Nicollet Methodist - 1x

St. Josephs (Brainerd) - 1x

St. Mary's (Duluth) - 1x

Comment: It seems that metro patients might want to patronize Methodist, and other hospitals might want to emulate them...

April 21, 2010

A Shot Against the Bow - Dean Quam?

From the Center for College Affordability and Productivity:

Abolish Colleges of Education

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, new "normal schools" were created --colleges to train teachers. Established universities also added schools or colleges of education. There is mounting evidence that this was a mistake. It is time that public policy turn to doing something about it.

My wonderful CCAP Whiz Kids have written blogs exposing one huge scandal --that grades in virtually all schools of education are uniformly high. The best and brightest are treated the same, roughly, as those of medicore intellectual or interpersonal qualities. Looking at a sample of literally scores of institutions, the Whiz Kids found that the typical student earned a grade of A or A- in education courses, while the median grade in, say, economics courses was a B-. Yet I would bet $1,000 against $1 that on average the intellectual rigor in the economics classes was far higher than in the education ones. We offer Feel Good instruction emphasizing raising self esteem in education schools, crowding students out of legitimate courses in subject matter.

The proportion of college students majoring in education has undergone a deserved decline. But most teachers in K-12 settings today were either majors in education or took lots of education courses. And to what result? The overall student performance levels in the U.S. K-12 schools are embarassing low, although that reflects a lot of other factors beside so-so teaching.

Teachers in the Teach for America program do a great job by all accounts, and few of them have had the mindless education courses that most states require.

College professors teaching 18 and 19 year old kids are winning teaching awards (I would immodestly include myself) never having a class in how to teach. Yet they are forbidden to teach 17 year olds students in high school because they lack these vacuous courses. My own son was a Teacher of the Year nominee in his first year of middle school teaching --before he had taken any education courses. The examples abound.

Mediocre standards --or no standards--in education schools have returned to bite the colleges. We turn out teachers with mediocre basic knowledge skills but firm indoctrination in promoting student self esteem. A decade later, the products of these teachers return to study at the university --and often they are pretty mediocre, since the teachers have not challenged them to learn basic facts and principles on which our world depends.

Your thoughts, Dean Quam?

The Consequences of Not Taking Care of Business...

Third greatest yadda, yadda?

Not so fast, Tom. How about taking care of business first?

From the Daily:

Fewer options that fulfill liberal education requirements are causing a rocky transition to a new system.

With registration under way, many students may find they have fewer options for classes that fulfill liberal education requirements because of a rocky transition to a new system.

However, a One Stop search Tuesday showed nearly 900 fewer available class sections in fall 2010 that fulfill liberal education requirements than during the spring 2010 semester.

Classes are still being reviewed, and not all have been approved for next year. As a result, students currently registering for classes may not have access to all available options.

This change, along with the current shorter list of available classes, could delay graduation for some students, said Steven Ostrow, chairman of the art history department.

Since every course had to be reapproved to count toward a theme or core, some departments submitted fewer courses for consideration, he said.

"It takes time and energy to do that, and all the departments and faculty members have a limited amount of both," Hudleston said.

"To have this really onerous task imposed on us by an external committee is time-consuming and insults our intelligence," said William Beeman, chairman of the anthropology department.

"In the end, we've had most everything approved, but in some cases it has taken four or five submissions," Ostrow said. "Ultimately I think it's a colossal waste of time."

Some faculty have voiced concerns about the new requirement that liberal education courses must be taught by regular faculty members, which, considering the University's budget problems, could reduce the number of classes offered.

Hudleston said that while there are currently fewer classes available, the University is only required to have at least 3,000 spots available to students in each category.

But somewhere in Morrill Hall, some administrator - maybe many of them - will be claiming credit for having re-vamped the liberal arts program at Minnesota.

And so it goes.

April 20, 2010

And the Angels Wept...

The Strib has an interesting editorial on physicians and sunshine:

Buried deep within the massive health care overhaul passed by Congress are tough new laws that will soon shine a much-needed light on physicians' lucrative financial ties to industry. Known as the Physician Payments Sunshine provisions, these are some of the most significant, yet unheralded, reforms contained in the historic health care legislation signed by President Obama last month.

The financial ties between physicians and the medical device industry are also significant. Last year, a letter from Grassley's office to the University of Minnesota revealed that Dr. David Polly, a faculty surgeon, had received about $1.2 million from Medtronic from 2003 to 2007.

My comment - on the Strib's web site:

Congratulations to (former) U of M med school Dean Deborah Powll, current Dean Frank Cerra, President Robert Bruininks, and other administrators at the U of M for evading their responsibilities in this matter.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

The foot dragging at the U of M in this matter has been truly disgusting. It is sad, indeed, that we should be reluctant followers, rather than in the forefront of this much needed reform.

W.B.Gleason, U of M alum and faculty member

For a single example, from many, of the attitude of the university administration in this matter, please see:


(The speaker is our current medical school Dean.)

April 19, 2010

Emma Carew and Jake Grovum of the Daily Hit the Long Ball

My friends and distinguished U of M alums, Emma and Jake, were recently honored by the Society of Professional Journalists:

Their piece:

University of Minnesota Medical School Dean Dr. Deborah Powell is moving the institution toward weaker ethics reform than her own task force previously recommended, an unreleased draft report obtained by The Minnesota Daily indicates.

Incorporating some, but not all, aspects of what many viewed as hard-line and progressive recommendations by the school's conflicts of interest task force, Powell's draft moves the long-coming policy reform in a much softer direction than expected, sources close to the reform said.

From the 13-page report filed by the task force in August, Powell has solicited comments from faculty and consolidated the recommendations into a two-page draft, which will be the basis for a final report to the Board of Regents in April, said Academic Health Center spokeswoman Molly Portz.

Critics of Powell's report point to a disconnect between the task force's recommendations and the draft, saying the dean has eliminated some of the strongest and boldest recommendations with little to no explanation.

Despite a recent announcement from University President Bob Bruininks that she will leave the dean's post July 1, Powell will remain at the helm of the ethics reform as planned, Portz said.

The controversy from Powell's latest reform proposal is just the most recent example of a tenure at the school that been mired in questions over her position on the board of directors for Pepsi Co. and conflicts of interest concerns.

Even the Medical School task force's co-chairman, Dr. Leo Furcht, a Powell appointee, was disciplined for severe violations of the University's conflict of interest policy in 2004 - a fact that was not disclosed to other members of the task force until reported by the Star Tribune late last year.

An inquiry panel then stated Furcht "at a minimum should not be allowed to perform the conflict of interest responsibilities of a department head."

A signed letter from Powell accompanied the panel's findings, according to a copy provided to The Daily.

Unexplained changes

Key elements of the task force's recommendations, believed by some to be among the most needed changes, are notably absent from Powell's draft, among them a recommendation to sever financial ties between industry and continuing medical education programs.

If enacted, that recommendation "would've put Minnesota on the map," task force member and University journalism professor Gary Schwitzer said.

Powell also rejected the task force's recommendation to eliminate the level at which Medical School faculty and staff would be required to disclose financial relationships with industry.

Powell recommended lowering the school's current $10,000 threshold to $500, while the task force sought to do away with it all together.

The task force recommended that faculty fully disclose the source of research funding as well, particularly those with clinical trials funded by industry, something Powell did not include in her recommendations.

A semi-closed process

Although the task force filed its recommendations to AHC leadership last summer, some members of the task force and faculty at the school contacted by The Daily were unaware the new draft existed.

Schwitzer said he felt in the dark, and news of Powell's draft report "blindsided" him.

Powell's draft, dated January 2009, has been circulating through the Medical School at the discretion of the department heads who received it.

Dr. Aaron Friedman, head of the pediatrics department, sent the draft to his entire department.

"I wanted them to review this most recent draft and offer any comments, concerns, or questions," Friedman said in a statement provided by Portz. Faculty in his department had previously been given the opportunity to comment on earlier drafts of the proposed policy changes.

As of late Thursday Portz had not confirmed which department heads had received Powell's draft report.

'These are certainly weaker'

Powell's recommendations are weaker in many ways compared to those from the conflict of interest task force, Gabriel Silverman, American Medical Student Association Scorecard director said.

Still, even Powell's recommendations are an improvement from the current conflict of interest policies, which earned a 'D' from the AMSA Scorecard in June of last year.

In an interview with The Daily last month, Silverman said AMSA would commend the school if it enacted the task force's recommendations. Now he's not so sure.

"It's certainly not as strong as the initial recommendations, " he said. "Whether I would call it a strong policy overall I'm not sure."

They're "borderline," he added.

Silverman also pointed to the loss of the provision separating industry ties to continuing medical education at the school as a concern with Powell's recommendations.

The education program is the best way for doctors to stay current on medical advancements, he said, calling it "irresponsible" to allow that relationship to continue.

"If a doctor in the community can't go to a prestigious public university like Minnesota for continuing education programs that are free from industry sponsorship, then where can she go?" he asked.

Emma L. Carew is a senior staff reporter. Jake Grovum is editor of the projects desk.

A Dialogue is A Sometime Thing? A Dialogue Is Actually a Monologue, at the U of M?



From the U's website:

"Welcome to the Medical School Dialogue site. Let's have a conversation about how we can work together during challenging times to position the Medical School for future success."

So what happened? Apparently dialogue means monologue to yet another branch of the U of M Administration. Recall the conversations with the provost blog that went under immediately after the first questions were asked? To be understood is to be found out?

"University administrators have not yet cornered the market in acumen and foresight; a monologue will not suffice." Mark Yudof - inaugural address as U of M president

Here are my three comments on this site with no response, so far. I'll keep you posted on whether there is ever any response.

Dear Frank,

Thanks for doing this. Your counterpart, Tom Sullivan, actually started a blog entitled Conversations with the Provost. He dropped it very fast. Never even responded to the first questions he got.

I am a little disappointed that someone else hasn't already chimed in, but would like to start by congratulating you before bringing up some topics for discussion, e.g. homeopathy and how to save money in the med school.


Bill Gleason


Author Profile Page William Gleason | April 16, 2010 11:55 AM | Reply

OK, Frank, no one else seems to taken you up on your offer, so I'll roll the bocce ball.

1. Your write above about our medical school being positioned for growth. And yet you've been quoted elsewhere as saying that we need to shrink by about ten percent.

Which is it?

2. If we are going to shrink, then some things need to go. I'd suggest the Center for Spirituality and Healing (CSH). An operation that espouses homeopathy has no place in an evidence-based medical school.

Please see the posting - on the U's website - about homeopathy:


And then please see the posting over the defense of homeopathy by the Director of CSH at:


Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this suggestion about saving money and doing evidence based research.



Oh and by the way, I think you had better have a look at the most recent USNEWS rankings of medical schools. If I am not mistaken we have regressed both in Research and Practice.



Author Profile Page William Gleason | April 18, 2010 11:18 AM | Reply


What we seem to have here is a failure to communicate?



As with other recent events at the Medical School,
a Porgy & Bess song seems appropriate:

April 18, 2010

Calling for Candor: A Communication to the Board of Regents

Sent this morning:

Clyde Allen

Linda Cohen
Vice Chair

Anthony Baraga
Richard Beeson
Dallas Bohnsack
John Frobenius
Venora Hung
Steven Hunter
Dean Johnson
David Larson
Maureen Ramirez
Patricia Simmon

Members of the Board of Regents:

I think that the chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee has been less than candid with you at recent meetings.
For further thoughts on this, please see:

I attach a recent discussion of the Regents Professors with the Faculty Consultative Committee.
If you have not seen this exchange, I would strongly urge you to read the attached document. It is important for you to know about so you have a more accurate view of faculty perceptions of the challenges that face us, especially the views of the Regents Professors, who have made their careers here and have the best interests of our University in mind.

We have some very serious problems at our University. As an alum and faculty member I am quite disturbed about how this situation is currently being handled.

It is critical that we get some of the matters discussed in the attached document out in the open for discussion. Doing anything less is going to lead to disaster.

Thank you for your service.


William B. (Bill) Gleason

A pdf of the document: FCC_Meeting_With_RegentsProf.pdf

April 16, 2010

Stop Funding Homeopathy, Say British MPs



Despite being at an Academic Health Center that espouses homeopathy, I am compelled to point out (from the New Scientist):

23 February 2010

Homeopathic remedies work no better than placebos, and so should no longer be paid for by the UK National Health Service, a committee of British members of parliament has concluded.

In preparing its report, the committee [The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee], which scrutinises the evidence behind government policies, took evidence from scientists and homeopaths, and reviewed numerous reports and scientific investigations into homeopathy. It found no evidence that such treatments work beyond providing a placebo effect.

"We conclude that placebos should not be routinely prescribed on the National Health Service," the report says. It also says homeopathic hospitals should not be funded by the NHS, and NHS doctors should not refer patients to homeopaths.

The committee also says that prescribing of placebos, which have an effect because a patient believes they will, involves a "degree of patient deception" and so is "not consistent with informed patient choice".

The committee is also critical of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and its practice of licensing homeopathic treatments. This gives the incorrect impression that the evidence of efficacy for homeopathic remedies is as strong as for conventional medicines, the report says.

The committee rejected the MHRA's justification for licensing homeopathic remedies - that there is an "important homeopathic tradition" to uphold. "Witchcraft is traditional, so does that mean the MHRA should endorse that too?" Willis asks.

Homeopathic medicines are diluted so much that it is extremely unlikely that any active component can possibly be left in the solution. The committee failed to identify any plausible explanation for how such remedies might work.

Homeopathy has no place in an institution with a medical school that claims to be practicing evidence-based medicine. Third greatest public research university in the world? I wonder who will win the first Nobel Prize for Medicine by doing homeopathy?


Morrill Hall Gang to P&A: We own you... Time to wake up folks?


THEY CAME FIRST for the AFSCME members,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't AFSCME.

THEN THEY CAME for the undergrads,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an undergrad.

THEN THEY CAME for the P&A staff,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't P&A.

THEN THEY CAME for the graduate students,
and I didn't speak up because I was a faculty member.

and by that time no one was left to speak up.

The latest executive fiat from the Morrill Hall Gang:

Proposed for 30-day review (dates not specified):

"The University reserves the right to modify the appointment terms of Academic Professional and Academic Administrative (P&A) employees throughout the University system in order to address financial stringency.

Specifically, the University may:

1) reduce P&A salaries or percentages of appointment during the term of an employee's appointment;

2) impose unpaid furloughs or other mandatory unpaid absences;

3) postpone compensation; or

4) take other actions as determined by the University in its sole discretion.

All P&A appointments are made subject to this right, effective June 1, 2010.


Shared governance? Shared sacrifices? It sure doesn't look like it from this latest action by the Gang.

Not so strategic positioning...

From the Daily:


Maybe ASOK accidentally wandered into the Center for Spirituality and Healing?


See homeopathy espoused on University of Minnesota website:

How do I select a qualifed homeopath?

Or see its defense by the Director of the Center for Spirituality and Healing:

Director of University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing
Writes Approvingly of Homeopathy


Evidence-based medicine?


April 15, 2010

The Dirty Little Secret Finally Acknowledged - Research Funding From Outside Federal Grants is Subsidized

Senate Research Committee

Monday, March 22, 2010

2:15 - 4:00

Read it and weep, Morrill Hall Gang:

Dr. Mulcahy recalled that about 18 months ago the President appointed a working group to address financing the future of the University; the group issued a report that was subject to considerable discussion.

One question the report asked is whether there are revenue streams that might be enhanced. One suggestion was to increase the volume of sponsored research and thereby collect additional indirect-cost funds.

Many***, however, recognized the fallacy in that suggestion: The University does not recover the full cost of research, so increasing the volume of sponsored research would mean greater cost and that the University would have to increase its subsidization of research.

Many do not understand F&A costs, so he had a session with the President's executive team to introduce the idea that the University should introduce changes in its policies and practices.

***I have been harping on this point literally for years...

See for example:

If You Build It, Grants Will Come? Or, Could Someone at BigU Please Be Honest and Responsible About Expansion of Biomedical Research?

Trees Do Not Grow to The Sky or, Why the State Legislature Should Not Write a Blank Check to BigU for Biomedical Research Buildings

Who's Dismantling the Ivory Tower?

Honesty on the matter is going to be required from the Morrill Hall Gang if we are ever to dig ourselves out of the current mess.

April 14, 2010

Time to face the music? Ten questions

Upcoming Campus Conversations

Last week I met with the Minnesota Daily editorial board to discuss the 2010 State of the University Address. The extensive interview covered a wide range of topics and was my first occasion to interact with the University community since the speech itself was canceled.

As promised, I have scheduled two campus conversations during the next few weeks, in which faculty, staff, and students will have the opportunity to discuss the State of the University and ask me questions directly.

* Thursday, April 22, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Coffman Theater. Open to Twin Cities faculty, staff, and students.
* Tuesday, May 4, 3 to 4:30 p.m. via ITV. Open to coordinate campus faculty, staff, and students. Coordinate campus ITV locations to be announced.

I look forward to speaking with you and hearing your best ideas and concerns, not just during these two conversations, but also during standing meetings with faculty, staff, and student leaders throughout the remainder of the year. We have much work to do to move the University of Minnesota forward during these challenging times. Please join me if you are able!

Robert H. Bruininks

I can't be there Bob, so I'll post some questions here:

1. If the legislature does not sign on to the higher education renaissance, what will happen to the strategic positioning agenda?

You'll note that this is the same question the Daily asked you. You avoided answering the question. Please give a direct answer this time with actual examples.

2. When the mayor of Minneapolis calls the University out over light rail:

"Like virtually every other partner involved in the Central Corridor, I am fed up with the U. We are not siting a nuclear reactor here," he [RT Rybak] said.

You have a bad PR problem and, not only that, you have been perceived as arrogant and greedy by many citizens and legislators.

Why do you think the public has this perception?
Might there be some truth to it?

3. You have claimed that you have done modeling of many schemes to deal with the condition of financial stringency and that your plan is the best. Could you please share those models with us as you are supposed to do according to the tenure code.

4. Is the fact that you are a lame duck president in the middle of one of the most serious crises facing the University a problem? From a recent faculty consultative committee meeting with the Regents professors: "In response to a question about whether the presidential transition is a problem, Professor Luepker said he thought it is."

5. Apparently the Faculty Consultative Committee has no confidence in your dealing with our long term problems:

"Professors Gonzales and Oakes reported that they have been pressing the President and Provost for strategic plans and scope of mission discussions and have worked on the fiscal crisis the entire year. They have no idea what the plan is. That is a problem, which is one reason why the Regents Professors were invited to join the Committee today."

"If the Faculty Consultative Committee cannot make headway, who can? This situation represents a decline in a sense of the University shaped by the faculty, not just one where faculty members are employed by the University."

Your response?

6. Again from the FCC meeting:

"At what point do claims about steady-state quality (demonstrably untrue) in the face of repetitive severe cuts become counterproductive (for example, in the eyes of the legislature)? It appears that the University's response is that it will have a lot less and at the same time somehow get better."

Your answer?

7. What does a research grant of, for example, $100K, actually COST the university to perform? Please address the fact that for every dollar of research funds we obtain, this means that money has to come from SOMEWHERE to subsidize it. Where is this supposed to come from?

8. How much does it cost to educate one undergraduate at the University of Minnesota for one year? And I do not simply want a number, but explicit indications of how the number was obtained. This kind of transparent data is going to be necessary for us to dig out of the deep hole we are in.

9. Why don't we simply spend the money to get Northrop up to code instead of the ca seventy million dollars that is going to be spent? Do we need a cultural czar and the accoutrement to go with him at this time? Isn't the Northrop re-do simply to provide a kingdom for the czar?

10. If you even mention "private funding" in your answer to #10, please explain why private money should be allowed to be used at the whim of the administration and not justified and debated in the community. Private funding is raised in the name of the University of Minnesota and should not be used for the "ambitious aspirations" of the Morrill Hall Gang.

April 13, 2010

The Regents Professors Visit the Faculty Consultative Committee


Faculty Consultative Committee

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"One hopes that the Bruininks/Sullivan regime will be gone; the University needs new leadership."

"In response to a question about whether the presidential transition is a problem, Professor Luepker said he thought it is."

For more choice words, please see the Periodic Table.

Hey, Big Spender! U of M Lobbying Payments Skyrocket


From the St. Cloud Times via the Pioneer Press:

Other voices: The university lobby

A Sunday St. Cloud Times news report about University of Minnesota lobbying expenses raises some interesting questions about the practice of spending tax money to get tax money.

...the University of Minnesota is among the biggest spenders in higher education when it comes to lobbying in Washington. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog on campaign and lobbying spending, reports the university spent more than $1.7 million the past decade, including $510,000 last year. That amount ranked the university 20th among 872 education-related institutions that filed a report.

The university hired the top-earning lobbying firm in Washington -- Patton & Boggs LLP -- to sway the Federal Transit Administration and other agencies regarding the Central Corridor light-rail line, which is proposed to run though the campus.

The university was lobbying against other taxpayer-funded entities such as the Metropolitan Council and Ramsey County. In short, that means Minnesota tax dollars were spent lobbying for and against the same project.

At the least, in a situation such as this, shouldn't it be enough to work through in-house university lobbyists, members of Congress and the FTA to find resolutions instead of spending public money on both sides of one issue?

There is no easy formula to apply and determine whether the university's lobbying costs -- and the entire "education industry" -- are worth the public money being spent. That certainly must be hard for students to swallow, though, with tuition doubling in the same period analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

And that's why the center has it right when it notes that given how much public money is being spent, taxpayers need to know about it and especially what they are getting for their investments.

April 8, 2010

President Bruininks finds his voice?

From the Daily:

The president sits down for a frank discussion with the Editorial Board.

In his prepared University address remarks on Monday, President Bob Bruininks reiterated his view of the University of Minnesota's "new normal" financial situation and called for a "new covenant" with Minnesota, where a more stable funding stream would be met with more accountability from the University.

Early in our interview, Bruininks had strong and earnest words for budget-crafters in St. Paul: "You have arguably one of the best public research universities in the world; it is one of the most important strengths and comparative advantages of the state in the global economy, and you have to protect it."

[On Tuesday his request for a new covenant and an educational Renaissance was declared dead on arrival at the legislature.]

In the face of the state's historic divestment in higher education, Bruininks argued the reaction to scale back on the University's aspiring goals was a false choice, though he flatly admitted it was realistic to give up on parts of his ambitious 2005 strategic positioning agenda in light of University budget cuts.


While plans appeared in the works, and numerous successful cuts have already been made (particularly in the past two years), it remains difficult to square such assurances with the fact that administrative costs have outpaced University budget growth overall during the whole of the president's tenure. Bruininks was a bit uneasy with our use of certain numbers, saying, "I should examine them a little more carefully; I'm not prepared to deal in the deep weeds here with you."

Thankfully, Bruininks recognized that students raise a legitimate question when they ask for a specific breakdown of where their tuition dollars actually go. "Right now, Peter Radcliffe is working on a set of data that will help that become more understandable." Radcliffe is the director of planning and analysis for the University.

[This will be very interesting data to have. I've tried - without success - to get information like this myself in the past]

Despite ongoing and dramatic budget challenges, Bruininks was quite resolute that there will not be a return to "double-digit tuition increases," which he termed as "not fair, not the right thing to do."

Mark this down. When the federal subsidies are gone, this quotation will be a good one to have at the ready. Of course Bob will be gone when the big hit comes. That is part of the problem.

April 7, 2010

Private Money?

From the Daily:

Plans for a new stadium have been approved by University President Bob Bruininks and the Board of Regents.

Maturi estimates that the total cost of the project, which will rely entirely on private funds, will be between $15 million and $18 million.

In addition to the new baseball stadium, Maturi is working on securing funds to build a basketball practice facility. Maturi said practice facilities around the country range in cost from $15 million to $50 million.

Like the baseball stadium, the practice facility would be privately funded.

And we are going to cut salaries and lay off people.

The Morrill Hall Gang - and sadly the Board of Regents - should think about what kind of message these actions send.

Private money is a concept that the community needs to think about. It is the name of the University of Minnesota that is being used for fund-raising. The Morrill Hall Gang seems to think that if they use what they call private money, then they can do whatever they want with it.

This kind of thinking has got to stop.