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June 30, 2010

Who Writes the Presidents Words? And Who Is Responsible for Them?

Apparently Mr. Wolter is back at it...

From the Daily:

Justin Horvath 30 June 2010

Regrettably, my voice in this column slot is replacing President Robert Bruininks -- who has been one of The Minnesota Daily's most important contributors for years. The Daily requested voice verification from Bruininks that he gave his submission a green light, a request University of Minnesota Spokeman Dan Wolter, denied. So we declined to publish Bruininks' submissio

Wolter has in the past negotiated deadlines via e-mail and edits all of Bruininks' submissions with the Daily.

Recently, Wolter sent us an e-mail stating "Bruininks" was working on a submission for our consideration, but he later stated "they" could get the submission down to a certain word count, which got us wondering just who writes and edits Bruininks' columns. We said in an e-mail that we'd print the submission if Bruininks first called us verifying that he himself wrote it, along with all of the other submissions we've printed under his name. Wolter replied they would have problems making our 11 a.m. deadline for the next day because there was a Board of Regents meeting.

After that exchange, Wolter sent us another submission for consideration in this issue, and we revised our request: a voice confirmation from the president that he approved the draft Wolter had sent us.

But Wolter, in an e-mail, called the request "unusual and unacceptable."

"We have never had that kind of requirement from the Daily nor any other publication and have never had any problems. President Bruininks and our entire team treat Daily reporters and writers as professionals and expect that same treatment in response."

Our request stands and we do think voice verification is a much more professional policy than printing a submission without hearing from the person who wrote it.

Crafting a presidential column

In light of this disagreement, we set out to understand just how a newspaper submission under Bruininks' name is crafted.

Plenty of Bruininks' communications staffers and administration officials provide input for his submissions before they see ink, and some told me that most of the words -- and all of the ideas -- are the president's. The process appears to be comparable to that of a newspaper, in that a single byline does not give credit to the dozen or so editors who shape the piece.

Wolter, as former communications staffer for Terry Branstad, the former Republican governor of Iowa, wrote his speeches, including one state-of-the-state. He said that having come from the political world, the meticulous editing process for Bruininks' columns is at times frustrating.

"Every word is essentially his. The process is not quick, either," Wolter said. "We are an academic institution. We are not a spin machine. We do compromise a lot in time. If the question is about the genuineness of the product, it's no question that it's his."

Wolter said that Bruininks initiates his columns. "He comes in with a hand-written and hand-scrawled page of notes. And somebody takes it from there."

That somebody is likely Jim Thorpe. He is the man whose words you might hear or see a lot, even if you don't recognize his name. The University pays him $75,000 annually to serve as Bruininks' communications officer, a post he's held since 2007. He handles most of Bruininks' substantial written communications, including speeches, correspondence, University-wide e-mails and newspaper submissions.

A Yale alumnus who has also worked as a newspaper reporter and managing editor, Thorpe is now the man catching the president between meetings and appointments, trying to grab a few hours to go over ideas and notes for a speech or column. When he's not reviewing ideas with Bruininks, he says he is usually researching them.

"Typically, I say, if it's a piece that's actually going to be represented in print, five to seven rounds of revision aren't uncommon," he said.

Thorpe shops Bruininks' columns around to University officials -- like senior vice presidents -- with knowledge of suggestions and changes. He said he then makes edits accordingly and brings them to Bruininks, or sometimes brings Bruininks their notes.

"He's always got an idea of what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. It's just a matter of making sure we get the details right," he said.

The professionals

University media law professor Jane Kirtley chuckled when I asked her if she thinks powerful people write their own newspaper submissions.

"Important people, quote, unquote, get their staff to ghostwrite for them all the time," she said. "I think news organizations do have to ask themselves if they want to be complicit in this fiction."

Even if Bruininks' columns come from his fingertips, he does have an expensive communications apparatus behind him. Printing submissions that might be churned out from the staffs of powerful figures charged with message control is dangerous for newspapers that do not want to print their press releases.

To prevent that, Scott Gillespie, the editorials page editor for the Star Tribune, said newspapers should ask that people like Bruininks be pointed in their submissions. "The more focused we get these people to be in what they write -- the more opinionated we can get them to be -- the better," he said. "If we get them addressing a specific issue and making an argument about it, it becomes more personal."

Mike Burbach, the editorial page editor of the Pioneer Press, said that for editors, what matters is judging whether the content of a submission represents the writer's stated views. "I think we should be assured that anything that appears under their name is their position, their ideas and their work," he said.

Both said they seek confirmation from writers, whether by e-mail or over the phone. "Most of the time, people appreciate that because they know that you're looking out for them as well," Burbach said.

In Bruininks' case, we fear his arguments and the facts supporting them might be misrepresented. The extensive editing process a column appearing under Bruininks' name undergoes is comforting and concerning. Editors make mistakes as well as catch them, and the writer usually knows best. That's why we want to hear Bruininks' assuring us he's approved his final draft; a quick call for a column he's worked hard on is not demanding. Until then, we'll miss his voice on this page.

Bob, I don't think this is too much to ask. You should be aware by now that not all of Mr. Wolter's advice is good advice.

June 29, 2010

Homeopathy at the Academic Health Center - Ethical Questions

From the Journal of Medical Ethics, 130-31 (2010)

Homeopathy is Where The Harm Is

Homeopathic remedies are not actively harmful, as they contain no active molecules: nonetheless, the harm done by omitting evidence-based medical treatment is potentially significant.

Second, it is ethically dubious to spend NHS funds on treatment that has no evidence base (beyond that of placebo effect); NHS patients rightly expect valuable resources to be well spent.

The third ethical issue with homeopathy is that it can involve deceiving the patient; indeed, if the only effect is placebo, it is probable that deception is essential to the practice of homeopathy.

A less direct ethical issue is that the NHS's support for homeopathy could weaken patient confidence in the organisation, and in science and medicine more generally.

The fifth and final unethical effect is that funding homeopathy distracts attention from the fact that there are other complementary therapies that are efficacious.

To conclude, it is likely that homeopathy is where the harm is.

And yet, if you do a search on the U of M website for "homeopathy" - here's what pops up:


Third greatest public research university in the world?

In your dreams...

June 28, 2010

The more I read about homeopathy on the U's website,

the sicker I get...

"If there is a serious, complex, or chronic health issue, the patient needs a homeopathic practitioner who is classically trained."


A serious, complex, or chronic health issue should certainly not be treated by a homeopath. For the Academic Health Center to recommend such a course of action is both unethical and unconscionable.

If you can stomach it, here's some more.

June 27, 2010

Homeopathy at the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center

I've started blogging on the Star-Tribune Community Voices site.



Other recent entries include:

The UGospel According to President Bruininks - The Apocalypse


Transformational Verbigeration at the U

June 21, 2010

Ambitious aspirations are not enough...

Wanting something very badly and pursuing it to the detriment of the community is not leadership.

From the commencement address at Smith College this year by Rachel Maddow:

It is important to remember Prohibition because enacting it was a disaster for our nation, but it was a personal triumph for Carry Nation.

I would like to offer the hypothesis on this beautiful graduation day that personal triumphs are overrated. Someone at Yum! Brands this year achieved their personal triumph of getting KFC to remove the bun from a cheese and bacon sandwich and replace that bun with pieces of fried chicken. The Double Down sandwich designer's personal triumph. ...

Someone invented the payday loan. ...

All these people dreamed their dreams. Some dreams are bad dreams.

Gunning not just for personal triumph for yourself but for durable achievement to be proud of for life is the difference between winning things and leadership. ... It's agreeing that you are part of something, taking as your baseline that you will not seek to reach your own goals by stepping on the neck of your community.


June 20, 2010

Now be honest, do you know what verbigeration is?

Eva von Dassow rightly gives President Bruininks and the Board of Regents (BoRe) a well deserved tongue lashing. In the process I learned a new word.

I also thought of Jesus going (slightly) berserk in the temple because of the moneychangers. Righteous anger about what is going on at our University is certainly in order.

From YouTube I give you a video of Professor van Dassow's contribution to an open forum opportunity provided by the Regents recently.

To show you how seriously the BoRe takes these little tête-à-têtes, Chair Allen - he of the fast gavel - dismissed criticisms such as that leveled by Professor von Dassow as narrow in view.

"I think some of the criticism may come about from the changing emphasis on disciplines," Allen said. "But our world is changing and we need to keep up."

A statement such as this demonstrates a lack of understanding of higher education equivalent to that demonstrated by Governor Pawlenty's recent diatribe about the University of Minnesota as a haven for boring Econ and Spanish profs that could easily be replaced by $199 courses from iCollege.

I suggest that Professor von Dassow knows a whole lot more about changing emphasis on academic disciplines than does chair Allen, whose higher education experience appears to consist of having been head bean counter for Concordia College.

Given the lack of knowledge about academics exhibited by Pfutz, our own CFO, this is scary indeed.

The U's website indicates that Chair Allen also did time as research director for the Minnesota Taxpayer's Association, fondly known in some parts as the Minnesota Tax Evader's League.

verbigeration (vuhr-bij-uh-RAY-shun)

Obsessive repetition of meaningless words and phrases.

From Latin verbigerare (to talk, chat), from verbum (word) + gerere (to carry on).]


"Some words are standard, but with a twist; some are liberated from patriarchal prejudice and restored to archaic meanings; some are new and sharp as an ungrateful crone, and a feast for (Mary) Daly familiars. A sample: 'Abominable snowmen of androcratic academia: freezers and packagers of learning; chilling throng of frigid fellows, specialists in verbigeration and refrigeration of knowledge.'" -- Audrey DeLaMartre; Bible Speaks to Fill Readers With 'Holy Chutzpah', The Star Tribune (Minneapolis); Nov 1, 1987.


"In this message, I will share some thoughts with you on recent initiatives regarding the stewardship of our intellectual resources. As many of you realize, we live in a knowledge-based economy in which our fundamental mission as a University must be deployed in service of the broader transnational learning process." {Provost Sullivan}

"share some thoughts" "recent initiatives" "stewardship of our intellectual resources" "knowledge-based economy" Sounds like the output of a computer program that strings together random adminspeak buzzwords. The phrases roll off the tongue like the patter of a State Fair turkey leg hawker.

"our fundamental mission as a University must be deployed in service of the broader transnational learning process"

Q: What the hell does this mean?
A: It doesn't mean anything. It is not supposed to. It is an example of transformational verbigeration.

June 15, 2010

Three minutes to make your point?

Hard, when the Administration has virtually unlimited access to the Board of Regents...


But here goes the first public reaction to Monday's open forum on the budget, from MPR:

To balance the books, President Robert Bruininks has proposed a budget that raises tuition, gets rids of dozens of faculty positions and reduces class offerings. The plan also includes a temporary pay cut for most employees and a mandatory three-day furlough for all university workers.

Feelings on next year's budget at the university seem to fall on one side of the fence or the other. Nine of the 19 people who testified at a public forum on Monday said they think the university's administration is properly handling the looming budget shortfall.

[It all depends on the ownership of the ox being gored. Some supporters of the Morrill Hall Gang were deans and such-like. Hard to imagine them going against the administration, isn't it?]

Tammy Thompson is part of the support staff at the university's medical school. Thompson thinks the budget is being balanced on the backs of the school's lowest paid workers.

Some at Monday's public forum worried that cuts to next year's budget might hurt the quality of an education at the University of Minnesota, especially in the College of Liberal Arts.

University administrators say next year the CLA is likely to lose dozens of faculty positions. Some classes could disappear altogether, and others will be offered fewer times during the semester.

This is how to achieve excellence?" asked Eva Von Dassow, a professor of Classical and Near Eastern Studies. "This is how to achieve an extraordinary undergraduate education?"

Only one undergraduate student spoke at Monday's meeting. Jessie Simmons said he is concerned that because of faculty reductions, fewer classes will be taught by qualified instructors.

[Maybe if these exercises were held when the regular U semester was in session there would be better participation? Oh, I see, that is the idea...]

"I have had classes that have been taught by instructors, but at the same time these classes are taught partially, or mostly in some cases, by teachers' assistants," Simmons said. "That's not an accredited, university education in my point of view."

Simmons also worried about the jump in tuition in next year's budget. Most students face a 7.5 percent increase, but federal stimulus money will help hold down the increase for in-state undergrads to around 4.5 percent, on par with recent tuition increases announced by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the state's private liberal arts colleges. The increase would put a a year of tuition at the university at just over $11,000.

[And wait until students and their parents realize that they are going to be socked in the 2011 season for the increases currently being covered by stimulus funding. This means an increase in 2011 of a minimum of 7.5%, even if no further increases are taken -> inyourdreams.]

"We need this university to share the pain that we're experiencing. How does that happen? Reduce salaries of administrative staff, chop from the top," she said. "A 4 or 5 percent reduction on a six-figure salary can't be compared to the pain of a lay off for someone making $35,000 a year."

For many of the university's lowest paid workers, it's the mandatory furloughs that seem to be the problem. Phyllis Walker, president of the union that represents the school's clerical workers, thinks furloughs should only be mandatory for the highest paid employees at the university.

"Those 85 people who are the senior administrators, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, associate vice presidents -- there are quite a few of them -- they make very, very high salaries and should take a lot more days off," Walker said.

Bruininks said the budget reductions are necessary not only because of rising costs, but because the university saw a nearly $200 million cut in funding from the state in the last two years. He says more painful changes are coming for the university as the 2012 and 2013 budget years could shape up to be even more challenging.

[And of course he will have bailed by then.]

June 13, 2010

Goin' off the Rez...


Some FRPE faculty folks met with State Senator Cohen - chair of the Finance Committee and member of the Higher Ed Committee.

As Mr. Spock would say: "Interesting..."


My version.

June 11, 2010

Tim Paw-lenty Confusin'

from the Unqualified Economist:

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty sat down with Jon Stewart Thursday night. For the most part he seemed collected and partook in downright friendly banter with Stewart, despite differing opinions on some topics .

Then Governor Tim Pawlenty said this [all bold text is transcribed exact quotes]:

"Do you really think in 20 years someone is going to put on his back pack, drive a half hour to the University of Minnesota from the suburbs, haul their keaster [yes, he really said keaster] across campus and listen to some boring person drone on about econ 101 or spanish 101?"

University of Minnesota professors must be thrilled that their governor has such confidence in their ability to bore the crap out of students. And what is with all the econ 101 bashing?

Pawlenty later continues...

"what I am getting at; is there another way to deliver the service rather than a one size fits all monopoly provider that says show up at 9 o'clock on Wednesday morning for econ 101? Can't I just pull that down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it?"

Okay, so he seems to be making the case for distance learning/Econpolio's point. And then this happened:

"and instead of paying thousand of dollars, can't I just pay $199 for iCollege instead of .99 cents for iTunes?"

First of all, iCollege already exists and it is not what Pawlenty thinks it is. See here.

Tim, the reason kids attend college is because they need to be educated. Here's what happens when they actually do go to lectures, imagine what they are doing when they aren't going!

The colleges are also certifying that the students earned a degree. Would he let a surgeon operate on his child because he showed you all the podcasts on open heart sugery he has downloaded?

iPander: Minnesota Governor Pawlenty Disses U of M: Go to iCollege?

Please see minute 5.00.

Note that this song and dance is an old one for the governor:

June 8, 2010

No Alcohol in TCF Stadium - The House That Bob Built

The Daily relates the continuing story:

University to continue alcohol restrictions

Despite a law allowing the University to sell liquor under certain circumstances, officials announced the continued ban Friday.

As indicated, the University of Minnesota will maintain current restrictions on the sale of alcohol in licensed properties like TCF Bank Stadium despite a new law allowing them to do otherwise under certain conditions.

The new legislation was the third attempt by lawmakers this session to change the restrictions. It was proposed in the House, which had previously opposed any change in the law.

Restrictions from 2009, also originating in the House, required alcohol to be sold everywhere or nowhere. The Board of Regents opted to make all the University's sports facilities "dry," changing the longstanding practice of providing alcohol in premium seating at Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, part of the bill's conference committee, said she wished the University had not come to a decision so quickly. Pappas proposed the first round of Legislation on the subject in March that would have repealed the ban completely.

Pappas, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, called the new law a "reasonable compromise."

"We have the well-being of our student and community to consider," Regents Chairman Clyde Allen said in the statement. "This new law does not change the board's strong conviction that we will not be selling alcohol in general seating areas."

There is an ironic similarity between the U of M administration and Governor Pawlenty on a lot of issues.

To both of them, compromise seems to mean: "Do it my way." One of our great supporters at the legislature, Senator Pappas, is of the opinion that the latest legislative action was a reasonable compromise and even got the support of another one of our friends, Representative Rukavina, who had previously insisted: alcohol for all or alcohol for none. The U immediately threw this offer back in their faces.

And this administration wants to negotiate a "new compact" with the legislature?

Perhaps it is best that alcohol be served nowhere in the new stadium. As Regent Hunter reminded us all last year, alcohol was not served in old Memorial stadium.

And it was there that the best Gopher football ever has been played.

June 7, 2010

Twin Kill - Ethical Problems at NIH

From the Chronicle:

A yearlong effort by the National Institutes of Health to toughen its policies against financial conflicts of interest was led by an administrator who quietly helped one of the most prominent transgressors get hired by the University of Miami after a decade of undisclosed corporate payments led to his departure from Emory University, a Chronicle investigation has found.

[sound familiar?]

The administrator, Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, also encouraged the researcher, Charles B. Nemeroff, to apply for new NIH grants, even though Emory had agreed on its own to restrict Dr. Nemeroff from NIH grant eligibility for two years. The NIH also allowed Dr. Nemeroff uninterrupted eligibility to serve on NIH advisory panels that help decide who receives NIH grant money.

"It leaves everybody scratching their heads as to what Insel's posture and NIH's posture about ethics is," said Bernard J. Carroll, who served as chairman of the psychiatry department at Duke University from 1983 to 1990, while Dr. Nemeroff was a professor there.

Dr. Nemeroff began offering help to the now-director of the NIMH in 1994, when Dr. Insel was facing the nonrenewal of his research job at the NIH, Mr. Carroll said, bringing him to Emory to serve as a professor of psychiatry and director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center. Dr. Nemeroff also led a lobbying effort that helped ensure Dr. Insel's appointment in 2002 as NIMH director, Mr. Carroll said.

Mr. Carroll, who supervised Dr. Nemeroff for six years at Duke, describes the career assistance for Dr. Insel as part of a strategy in which Dr. Nemeroff would "put people in debt to him, and then call in the chips later."

Bernard Carroll himself, had to say:

The latest exposé is from Paul Basken in yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education. Mr. Basken laid out the appearance of hypocrisy within NIH, with Insel leading an NIH initiative for strengthening ethics rules for medical researchers while he was "quietly help(ing) one of the most prominent transgressors get hired by the University of Miami after a decade of undisclosed corporate payments..." That, of course, would be Nemeroff.

Let's think about what is going on here. If Insel wanted to do favors for Nemeroff, because he owes Nemeroff big time, his rationalization was that Nemeroff has not (yet) been adjudicated a felon.

[This also sounds familiar, gentle readers.]

All of this new information validates concerns that I raised over recent months here and here. I said then that Dr. Insel appeared disingenuous in trying to put distance between himself and Dr. Nemeroff. These new revelations by Paul Basken confirm the cronyism in their relationship. In his recent published commentary, Insel downplayed the gravity of the ethical issues surrounding Dr. Nemeroff and some other academic psychiatrists. Basically, he allowed for them to cop a plea on the issue of disclosing payments from corporations, and he tried to point fingers at other medical specialties, while he glossed over the evidence of their wider corruption. With some sadness, one needs now to say that the Director of NIMH cannot or will not recognize the corruption of his cronies. Is that the style of ethical leadership we should expect from an NIH Institute Director?

June 4, 2010

An Open Letter to the Regents from the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education

from the FRPE website:

We write to express our concern about how the administration proposes to address the budgetary crisis facing the University of Minnesota, and in particular about its proposals for new construction. The University faces significant challenges in the upcoming biennium, challenges that are all the more daunting since they are taking place in the midst of a leadership transition. We urge the Board of Regents to carefully consider how the decisions made in this year's budget will affect the future restructuring of the University. In particular, we fear that new building projects will saddle the University with increased debt and ancillary costs that will hobble the institution in future years, thus posing significant risk to its quality and stature.

We have not seen a single budget projection that anticipates increased state funding in the near future. New projects that add to recurring costs or debt can therefore only be paid for by making deeper cuts to existing units, raising tuition, or some combination of the two. Embarking on new projects is imprudent in a fiscal environment in which existing academic units have already undergone cuts that severely damage the educational and research missions of the University. These cutbacks have already resulted in reduced teaching support, increased class size, layoffs, furloughs, and temporary pay cuts. Students have already endured both a decline in the quality of their education and repeated tuition increases.

The citizens of Minnesota and legislators may question the wisdom of major capital projects in today's dire fiscal situation, in particular those investments that do little to enhance the teaching mission of the University. In addition to the concerns expressed above, we fear that spending on new projects at a time when existing programs are suffering could appear profligate to the wider public and hence jeopardize future state allocations.

Please go to link above for full post.

June 1, 2010

Homeopathy at an Evidence-Based Medical School?


The U of M's attitude about homeopathy seems to be, as in so many other cases, if you ignore a problem, maybe it will go away. For a classic example of this avoidance mechanism please see "Old story, still no answers."

For earlier posts on this situation, please see:

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


And med school dean Frank Cerra's response to my questions about homeopathy.

(Last paragraph, see also my comments 1 and 7)