Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For shame!

Guess who proposed stripping collective-bargaining rights from most public-college faculty members in Ohio? Bruce E. Johnson, aka the president of the state's Inter-University Council! Ohio's Senate recently passed the proposal as part of its evisceration of collective-bargaining rights in the public sector.

His reasoning?

"We are anticipating significant budget cuts, and so we view this as a rational step in terms of moderating our expenses on campus," Mr. Johnson said. "It is a leverage issue. It enables us to have more influence on scheduling issues and faculty-pay issues."

In other words, the bottom line trumps internationally recognized labor rights. The association's advocacy of this position also betrays pledges made by public-university presidents to remain neutral in the legislative debate on collective bargaining rights. The pending legislation classifies most faculty as management and hence bars them from bargaining collectively. Faculty are management, these folks argue, because we serve on powerless faculty senates and vote on things such as hiring, promotion, and tenure.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ex-lawmakers as Regents

Still stinging from the last round of Regents' appointments, the DFL is striking back with a bill that would limit the number of ex-lawmakers that can serve as Regents. DFLers are miffed by the selection of two former Republican representatives, Steven Sviggum and Laura Brod. These two appointments bring the total number of lawmakers on the Board of Regents to three, which is one-fourth of the board. What irks me about the Regents is not the number of lawmakers who serve as Regents but the rubber stamping of the administration's lousy proposals. This bill will do nothing to fix that...and it doesn't have a snow ball's chance in hell of passing anyhow.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This week @Minnesota

More university PR featured on You Tube. So far there have been four installments.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Academic freedom and the corporate university

Check out Bill Gleason's post on the Chronicle's Brainstorm page. Bill is a faculty member at the University of Minnesota. He draws on some examples from the University of Minnesota to illustrate how corporate money undermines academic freedom and compromises research ethics.

More propaganda...

As part of its propaganda campaign, the U has released a study about the U's economic impact on the state of Minnesota. Since the U paid for the report, the results are undoubtedly quite satisfactory to administrators. The message: the U is a good economic investment, so give us more money. One can view the equivalent of the executive summary at the link above. Madradprof did not see a link to the full report there. Setting aside the idiocy of contracting the report in the first place, the report strikes me as utterly unconvincing. The main claim is that through the direct money that the U spends, and the indirect spending that results from others who spend that money in turn--the multiplier effect--the U contributes gazillions of dollars to the state's economy and provides lots of jobs. Ok, so what? By this logic using this money for other public services would be just as beneficial in that it would also create jobs and put money into the economy. So why give the money to the U? The case for research money is a little more convincing, since this money comes from outside the state, but they omit that these grants don't cover their costs and are in effect subsidized by bonding bills--needed to build the fancy facilities to carry out the research--and tuition-generating units of the university.

The company that prepared the economic impact report, Tripp Umbach, wrote another report for the U in 2004 to convince legislators to sink money into biomedical venture capitalism. The report claimed that this investment would create over 12,000 jobs. Alas, things have not turned out so well. One expert consulted back in 2004 commented, "One should always be leery of written-to-order studies."

P&As get screwed...again

The admin has decided once again to place much of the burden of adjustment of budgetary constraints on the backs of P&A employees. The U currently provides P&As with 11 years of service one year of notice before layoffs. The proposal will cut it to six months. This change in policy is less egregious than the long-held practice of simultaneously issuing a non-renewal notice and an appointment letter to P&As. By doing this, the U gains enormous flexibility in controlling the size of the P&A workforce. But this flexibility comes at the price of treating P&A staff as disposable workers. Those who get the boot not only lose their job. Since the window for applying for severance pay is 60 days after the termination notice, many employees could potentially miss the opportunity to claim their severance and extended medical benefits. Madradprof's P&A contacts state that this practice is rife at the U for instructional P&A. Any chance that faculty senate committees would initiate a resolution condemning this practice?

The high cost of college sports

PBS's Need to Know recently aired a segment on the impact of big athletic spending on higher education. It does a nice job of demonstrating that students are subsidizing lavish spending on Division I athletics through high fees and that universities continue to shovel money into athletics while allowing classroom infrastructure to fall into disrepair and cutting academic programs to the bone.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How the FDA got the Markingson case wrong

Carl Elliott digs deeper into the U's claim that the FDA's investigation of Markingson's death is sufficient to exonerate the U. He concludes that it is not. Why? The FDA's investigation was shoddy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Yet another bill to rein in administrators

State legislators have already proposed legislation that would limit the power of university administrators to raise tuition. Now Senator Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) has introduced legislation to reduce spending on administrative costs by 10% at state universities. Interesting....the devil is in the details. Money is fungible so I worry that academic programs, which are already suffering from years of deep cuts, would take the hit. In spite of reduced funding, the enthusiasm of administrators for new building projects and new reporting requirements for faculty (which of course means that more administrators must be hired to conduct the monitoring) has not waned. Faculty have proven unable (and perhaps unwilling) to act collectively to alter this course. So now the legislature weighs in. Faculty must find a way to open a productive dialogue with these legislators.

Tenure protections weakened at University of Louisiana

The changes at the University of Louisiana now permit administrators to layoff professors whose programs have been discontinued and reduced the required notice for layoffs.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Proposed cuts to faculty retirement plan

Many readers have no doubt been following the recent attacks on public sector workers. Republicans have asserted that public sector workers are pampered in comparison to private sector workers, earning higher salaries and benefits. The NYT recently analyzed differences in public and private sector salaries and found that this assertion only holds for public sector workers without college degrees. If you have a college degree and work in the public sector, you are paid less than similarly educated workers in the private sector. (But we knew that already as do most folks who live in a fact-based universe.) Public sector workers have often accepted lower pay in exchange for better benefits packages and greater job security. With strained state budgets, benefits are on the chopping block.

The University of Minnesota is not immune to these forces. We already know that we're not getting raises next year. We're paying more for our health benefits. And now it's time to go after retirement benefits. Madradprof strongly encourages everyone to read the most recent SCFA minutes, which discuss in some depth the plans for changing the faculty retirement plan, which also covers P&A staff. None of the proposals involve leaving the plan as is, although Carol Carrier states that this option is still on the table. On the menu: creating a two-tier system in which new faculty get an inferior plan while existing faculty get to keep what we have. (This is supposedly Prez Bruininks's preferred solution.) This route has the advantage of getting around the pesky tenure code, since if the administration wants to cut faculty compensation, they *might* have to get a vote from the Faculty Senate--the ambiguity here arises from inconsistency across sections in the tenure code with some sections requiring faculty approval for cuts in compensation and others for cuts in salary. Since new faculty would be enrolled in the inferior program from day one of their employment, they would not experience a cut in benefits. This proposal may fly politically since a lot of current faculty will probably be ok with it as long as their retirement benefits aren't cut. (Yes, I'm cynical.) The other two items on the menu are regressive as both entail across the board cuts in the U's contribution, regardless of income--from 13 per cent to 10 per cent, varying in terms of whether the cut is done in one fell swoop or over a period of three years.

Please share comments about what you think should be done. IMHO it is always a mistake to agree to two-tier systems, since this creates yet more divisions among us. Madradprof also has doubts about the ethics of saving our own asses at the expense of new colleagues. The tenor of the discussion also seems to me to be a bit insincere, i.e. that it is being driven by the political climate rather than by money. As you'll note in the minutes, cuts in contributions for new faculty are discussed in the context of offering higher starting it is a bit of a shell game. Let's move the money around so that politicians don't get upset about the retirement plan! Bad idea. Make the conversation about TOTAL COMPENSATION. Faculty salaries at Minnesota are on the low end in comparison to peer institutions. Our total compensation package, however, is more competitive. So leave the retirement plan alone.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lowering Higher Education

Inside Higher Ed has published an interview with James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar, authors of the new book Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education (University of Toronto Press). Among other things they discuss the expanding links between corporations and institutions of higher ed, the transformation of universities into corporate-like institutions, the vocationalization of higher education, the consumer model of education, and restoring liberal education. Some of the comments are interesting, in particular those that note the complicity of professors in the corporatization of higher education and the expressed desire of many corporations for graduates who can write and think (i.e. many corporations don't want worker bees with just vocational credentials).

Bye-bye Faculty Senate

The Faculty Senate at Idaho State had the nerve to pass a no-confidence resolution in the president. Their reward? At the urging of the prez, the Idaho State Board of Education voted to suspend the Faculty Senate. The U's prez has been ordered to replace the Faculty Senate with an interim faculty advisory structure. (Hopefully Idaho State faculty will boycott this new advisory body.) Faculty at Idaho State were considered to be obstructing progress because they refused to rubber stamp the administration's reorganization plan and raised doubts about President Vailas's honesty. So instead of firing the prez, the Board of Education fired the Faculty Senate. The AAUP has threatened to investigate. Unfortunately what has happened at Idaho State is yet another illustration of the weaknesses of shared governance in higher education today. Administrator's will consult with faculty, but if faculty are too vocal in their opposition to administrators' plans, these bodies are ignored or disbanded with a stroke of the pen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

MLA counter-conference

Don't despair if you missed the MLA counter-conference on strategies for defending higher ed. You can watch parts of it here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tell MPR how the budget cuts are affecting the U

Link here to fill out MPR's survey about how the budget cuts are affecting higher education in the state.

University Inc Part II

For an excellent analysis of what ails the U, see Michael McNabb's recent post on the Periodic Table blog. You can link to part I from this page as well.

Tuition freeze?

Senator John Carlson, a member of the Senate Committee on Higher Ed, has introduced legislation calling for a temporary tuition freeze and permanent limitations on tuition increases at UM and MNSCU. The first committee hearing on the bill is Wednesday, February 16. Carlson argues that the bill would force higher ed systems "to make true structural reform to push revenue into the classrooms and reduce administrative overhead."

President Bruininks opposes the bill.

The bill has some limitations, but it has the potential to open up a fruitful discussion with legislators about some fundamental problems at the U. Without strong outside pressure, university administrators are unlikely to shift money from administration to instruction. They will also continue to be duplicitous about how tuition is being used to subsidize the expansion of expensive scientific research. Note: this is not an anti-science or anti-research tirade--research is a cornerstone of what we do. But there's no denying that the U has continued to make big investments in science even when facing brutal budget cuts. Administrators are counting on federal grants to fill the flashy new buildings with brilliant scientists at a time when federal grants are becoming harder to get. The grants don't cover the full cost of the research, meaning that the money to cover the rest of it has to come from somewhere. Expanding scientific research therefore means increasing cross-subsidies from other parts of the university. Perhaps this bill will prompt an honest conversation of what it costs to educate students and the true costs of research.

Monday, February 14, 2011

University violates spirit if not letter of open meeting law

Back in November MPR filed a request under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act for documents related to the scheduling of meetings, interviews, and meals between the regents and Kaler. The documents show that the regents had a "social dinner" with him on November 17th. Social dinners are not covered by the state's open meeting law. As long as they don't talk business, they are kosher. (But how would we know that they didn't talk business?) Additional private meetings were held the day before Kaler was hired. The regents again skirted the open meeting law by scheduling a series of three one hour meetings, each with three regents in attendance. As long as the meetings don’t contain a majority of members, they comply with the letter of the law, even though when combined they do. Read more here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

OIP becomes GPS Alliance - Why you should give a #%&@*

Back in December madradprof read with some consternation the November 23 minutes of the Committee on Faculty Affairs. One of the guests was Dean McQuaid of the Office of International Programs (OIP). Effective January 1, 2001, OIP was renamed the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance (GPS Alliance). The plan the Dean proposed sounded too ridiculous and I figured it would go nowhere. But a grad student in CLA was recently denied permission to do research in Nigeria because these folks decided it was too dangerous. For some years OIP has limited travel destinations for undergraduate study abroad, but it has not restricted graduate student travel. And they have plans for monitoring faculty as well. So it's time to shed a bit of light on what's going on with the transformation of OIP because something must be done to STOP them!

The concern about "risks and liabilities" when faculty travel abroad is driving the conversation. To avoid risk, faculty (and grad students) must be tracked. Right now faculty apparently go dashing off to all sorts of dangerous places and nobody knows about it. They must be protected by university bureaucrats! Texas A&M is held up as a model--there they deny reimbursement to faculty who do not report their international travel ahead of time. According to the Dean, the policy being developed will require reporting overseas travel but not require faculty to obtain permission. Sanctions for not complying are still under discussion. Apparently grad students are being required to obtain permission, as evidenced by the experience of the CLA student.

What is missing in the Dean's narrative is any evidence whatsoever that faculty have needed rescuing by the U. In other words, there is not really a problem, but there might be one, so the U should erect a vast monitoring (the Dean says it's not monitoring but methinks she doth protest too much) system and require yet more reporting from faculty--on top of the already onerous reporting and permission seeking that we already do. (How many hours did you spend on IRB applications last year?) It will be costly to monitor faculty travel and the benefits of doing so are minimal, so this seems like a ridiculous plan at a time when the U is facing huge budget cuts.

Even if we had loads of money, the plan is paternalistic and just plain dumb. The bureaucrats themselves admit that the liability issues associated with international travel are the same as for domestic travel. Even if we do report our travel, how will they know something bad has happened to us--will we be required to check in every day? Maybe they should just microchip us (GPS-Alliance could GPS us!) so that they know where we are all the time. Perhaps faculty could also be mounted with distress buttons so that we could call out for help. What are they gonna' do if we do get in trouble...send in a private military corporation to save us from the dangerous natives? No, they'd probably just do what our families and friends would do, which is call the State Department.

But the most important issue is that of academic freedom. Will grad students (and perhaps faculty) be barred from doing research in large swathes of the world?

EXCERPT from the 11/23/2010 minutes of the Faculty Affairs Committee

1. Faculty Travel Abroad and Possible Policy

Professor Sheets convened the meeting at 2:30 and welcomed Dean McQuaid to discuss issues associated with faculty travel abroad and a possible proposal about registering for such travel.

Dean McQuaid began by noting that she is both Associate Vice President and Dean of the Office of International Programs, a central office that provides service to all campuses. As she had noted earlier for the Senate Research Committee:

OIP is a system office that serves all five campuses; OIP has about 100 employees and a budget of about $22 million (approximately $17 million of which is funding from students studying abroad, which is then redistributed to the providers of the study abroad opportunities). Dean McQuaid talked about the unique nature of her particular decanal role. Much like Wendy Lougee (Dean, University Libraries), her responsibilities reach across the academic units, requiring cooperative, supportive efforts to accomplish goals. She has been in the position for four years and has seen interest in internationalization grow dramatically, particularly with respect to the types and amount of international research by faculty and among graduate students. She has been in a number of meetings with Vice President Mulcahy about what is occurring with respect to international research funding, the risk and liabilities associated with those projects, and which central offices have responsibility for which aspects of this emerging phenomena. This is an evolving and growing field, particularly with respect to the kinds of funding available from around the world, and the types of issues/questions being addressed by the research. OIP has always been responsible for oversight and coordination of international undergraduate student experiences, but over the past 4-5 years there has been more demand on OIP for assistance, support, funding, advice, and coordination from faculty and staff as well. In light of this change, OIP has finalized and adopted a new five-year strategic plan, to better align resources and expectations.

One result of the strategic plan is that the office will change its name, effective January 1, 2011, to Global Programs and Strategy Alliance ("GPS Alliance"). The unit is not really an office, a center, or an institute; it really is an alliance. In order to achieve "comprehensive internationalization," (a term of art in the field), University units, colleges, and campuses must work together, through an alliance of interests and efforts.

When she took this job, she was asked to assess the University's international programs, so she worked with a small committee of key faculty and administrators to consider the range and type of risks and liabilities inherent in this kind of work. One resulting product of that work was a "heat map" charting the risks and liabilities and how well the institution was prepared for harm. For student mobility, the University is well prepared. The question before this Committee today is that of the level of risks and liabilities that arise when faculty travel overseas, Dean McQuaid said. The University often has no idea where faculty members are; faculty MIGHT tell their department head or dean that they are traveling abroad, but the practice varies by department and college. From conversations Dean McQuaid has had with faculty, deans, and administrators and staff around the system, it seems that both policy and enforcement varies widely.

A valid concern, she said, on behalf of the University, is for the safety of faculty members who travel abroad.

The reaction of some faculty to the idea that they need to report international travel is "what do you mean, I have to tell you where I'm going? Mind your own business." With more and more faculty members traveling overseas, however, the risks are increasing. For example, when there were bombings in Uganda, there was good reason to believe that University faculty and students were likely there—but the University had no idea precisely who. There have been incidents in India, Brazil, and Mexico as well (e.g., during the H1N1 outbreak) that put faculty members at risk.

The impact of not knowing ranges from public embarrassment for the University when it does not know who is where (something that also tends to irritate some in the legislature) to a lack of ability to help faculty members who may be in trouble. Things happen; the University wants to be able to help, not monitor. This is NOT "tracking," Dean McQuaid emphasized, because they are not particularly interested in what the individual may be doing or with whom they are meeting when they are overseas. But, she said, their whereabouts are critical to any effort to assist with getting someone home.

One step she has taken in response to the issues raised by assessment of the risks and liabilities is to appoint an international Health, Safety, and Compliance Coordinator, Stacey Tsantir. Ms. Tsantir is doing a lot of work to provide resources to faculty so they can educate themselves about international travel, prior to leaving the country.

The Proposal Routing Form (PRF) has recently been modified for several reasons, and among the modifications is a question that asks whether any of the research work associated with the funding will be conducted over seas, Dean McQuaid said. Her office is apprised of that situation, and can reach out to ask whether OIP can assist with visas, bank accounts, hiring employees, etc.

With respect to purchasing, Cliqbook [] is currently the University's only travel-booking site and people can obtain deep discounts if they use it. In the future, Purchasing could be able to assist with identifying who was scheduled to have been in a place that is experiencing crisis because of travel arrangements made through Cliqbook. Texas A&M, for example, plans to require use of a single travel agency beginning early in 2011; currently, the University is only encouraging use of Cliqbook.

The question remains whether the University should require more reporting. Texas A&M has adopted a policy which denies reimbursement to faculty who did not report international travel in advance of the travel. That is a discussion that is being held here and it was an issue when Dean McQuaid visited this Committee a year ago. What happens to the information that is collected? That is a good question. Their thought is that only the travel site collects the information, it is not necessarily distributed to the department—and is later purged.

This is an issue for all major research universities, Dean McQuaid related. None of them have any clear idea where the faculty go or what they are doing, so they cannot effectively tell the broader community what their institution is doing around the world—and it cannot help faculty who encounter problems. The University of Michigan, Michigan State, Duke, and the California system are each at different points in considering policies and enforcement. At some universities, these conversations are non-starters, at others there is more compulsory enforcement of policies, and others (like the University) are still finding their way. But, international crises of all kinds are not waiting for higher education institutions to develop a response.

Professor Kulacki asked whether there is a liability issue; if a faculty member is injured abroad, what is the University's liability? The same as it is for domestic travel, Dean McQuaid said. Ms. Tsantir said that there are employee benefits that cover people who are injured. So there is no downside to receiving support from OIP, Professor Kulacki concluded.

There is also the travel-assistance program Medex, Mr. Chapman reminded the Committee—but that is only helpful if the faculty member can get in touch with it. If they are being held incommunicado, it can't help. And if someone does not show up when expected, it may be only the spouse or partner who knows that a person is in trouble somewhere, Dean McQuaid added, and the University would be unable to help.

Professor Miksch reported that she has to fill out a form indicating when and where she will travel. That practice varies by college, Dean McQuaid said, as does the disposition of the form once it is filled out. It may end up in a paper file in an office and it could be that no one knows where it is; the information may be inaccessible to the office or unit that could help someone. Professor Hanna asked if there are units that provide a good model that could be adopted more broadly. Dean McQuaid said that she understands that the School of Nursing ties reimbursement to completion of a travel form. Her concept is that of a travel registry; the college would not own the data, and when the traveler returns, the data would be purged. Some faculty members are unwilling to have their department or chair know of their travel—something it is difficult to cannot understand—and may make arrangements for their classes and so on, and just go.

Professor Sheets said he was puzzled why this would be controversial. If that could be ascertained, the problem could be overcome. Several Committee members expressed incredulity that faculty members would travel without notifying their department. Professor Sirc commented that perhaps if one is traveling to interview for another job, one might not want the department to know, but otherwise he was flabbergasted that faculty members would travel without letting anyone know. Mr. Orlic said that there could be a problem if the faculty member skips class, but perhaps has the TA teach. That would also be doing something wrong, Professor Sheets responded.

What reasons do faculty members give for not indicating travel plans, Ms. Stenhjem asked? It is not the University's business, they are fulfilling job responsibilities, and the like, Dean McQuaid said. They are doing so on the University's dime, Professor Sirc commented. Dean McQuaid reported that some faculty members said they would not report unless required to do so, but the tenor of the times is more persuasive than a worry about academic jealousy or some such reaction, because more faculty members now know about others who were sick or stuck abroad. A central repository of information would take the matter out of college hands.

Professor Sheets asked if it would be helpful for the Committee to take a position on the issue. Dean McQuaid said that the University must decide what it wants. It is a big issue and the University needs to figure out its response. She has been invited to talk to the senior executives about oversight; she will draft a policy and see if the institution feels strongly enough to take a position. There could be multiple responses: the institution should not adopt a policy, it must adopt a policy, it should further investigate such a policy. But for the four years she's been in this position, the question she is asked most often is "how come you don't know where people are?"

Dean McQuaid said that any policy proposed would go through the normal process, which would include review by appropriate Senate committees. The proposal being developed provides that faculty and staff travel overseas must be reported in advance; she said that no decision had been made regarding repercussions for not following the policy, including but not limited to denying reimbursement if the reporting does not occur. She emphasized that the policy would not call for obtaining permission, only for reporting.

Professor Cline said he supported the idea of a policy but noted that there is a great deal of reimbursement that comes from outside the University. He suggested that people should notify both their college and Dean McQuaid's office. What about when traveling on University and personal business, Professor Bornsztein asked? Dean McQuaid said the policy would cover travel on University business.

The sanction need not be either/or, Professor Sheets suggested. If one is negligent in reporting the first time, expenses could still be covered.

Professor Sirc asked about the 35% figure for UMTC students who have a study-abroad experience. Is that between the time they come to the University and the time they graduate? Or is it per year? In any given academic year 35% of students will be outside the U.S., Dean McQuaid said. Many go without earning credit; the number would be higher if those students were counted. That would be useful information for the University to project, Professor Sheets said; does University Relations know that our study abroad numbers are this high? They do, Dean McQuaid said, as do the President and vice presidents, and they often use the fact in public remarks. Dean McQuaid reported that her office also has great websites that her staff has developed that are known nationally, and they are asked to provide training nationally on both study abroad procedures and programs, as well as on international recruitment, orientation, enrollment and support. OIP websites can be accessed

Professor Bornsztein asked what the policies at other Big Ten schools are. Dean McQuaid said that Michigan State has a voluntary registry (which her counterpart said does not work very well; there generally needs to be either a carrot or a stick approach). The University of Michigan also requires reporting and, for the first year of the policy, there will be no repercussions for failing to report, though that may be added later. She said she does not favor unnecessary or ineffective policies and forms, which is why she wants to keep it simple and clean and have the data destroyed after the travel is complete.

Professor Sheets thanked Dean McQuaid for her report and for bringing the proposal up for discussion

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Myth of Charter Schools

Madradprof is catching up on back issues of The New York Review of Books and came across this gem by Diane Ravitch. It's a review of the film Waiting for Superman. She does a nice job of trashing the argument that teachers are to blame for the failure of the nation's public school system. She also demonstrates quite convincingly that privatizing education has not (and will not) produce the positive results that its advocates claim.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

U still clueless on conflict of interest

Very disappointing...

And the reason...the Regents deem that since the FDA and Minnesota Board of Medical Practice said everything was hunky dory, the U should not expend resources on it.

Perhaps instead of spending millions of dollars on the Driven to Distraction/Because propaganda campaign the U should concentrate its efforts on strengthening its conflict of interest policy. Fat chance of that happening though, because it would mean FOREGOING CORPORATE $$$$ and upsetting RAINMAKERS, who might leave Minnesota for another institution where they can feed unhindered at the trough of big pharma.

Leigh Turner nicely sums things up: the response simply says “people have looked at this, so there’s nothing left to look at.”

Nevermind that the state legislature was so disturbed by the case that it passed a law barring patients under civil commitments from consenting to medical research. Or that Minnesota's mental health ombudsman questioned the recruiting practice. It doesn't take much in the way of critical thinking ability to figure out that getting paid by pharmaceutical companies to recruit subjects for clinical trials creates incentives for people to do bad stuff.

As far as the Regents and top administrators are concerned, however, if it ain't illegal, then the U is in the clear and there's no need for introspection about how the U's lax conflict of interest policy contributed to a tragic outcome. (And no, the new conflict of interest policy does not fix this problem!)

Revenue trumps research

Nice article in the Daily about turning research land in UMore Park into a gravel mine and housing community. One researcher, Dr. DiCostanzo, was reprimanded for publicly criticizing the U's plans for UMore land. Wait a minute...Doesn't the U's academic freedom statement protect such speech??? The Senate's AFT Committee should look into this. Other faculty are also upset about it and complain that the U did not consult with them sufficiently before moving forward with the plan.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

You will be assimilated

The U's omnipresent branding campaign makes madradprof think about the Borg episodes of Star Trek Next Generation. The Borg, a race with a collective consciousness, are bent on assimilating all sentient beings into their collective. "Resistance is will assimilate," they told the Enterprise's captain, Jean Luc Picard.

The branding campaign has expanded beyond "Driven to Discover" (or to Distraction, or to Disaster, or to Dismay...pick your Dis!) to incorporate the "Because..." slogan. Before entering the legislative briefing in January, attendees were required to have a mug shot taken with a "Because..." slogan of their choice. Michael McNabb kindly shared his mug shot with me. (What a good sport, look at that big smile!)

To spread the brand, the U has set up a branding home page. Here one can access logos, pre-made brochures, etc. There are even Because logos for downloading. Tempting to produce some of our own Because messages. A friend suggested "Because the financial crisis requires the elimination of the extravagant compensation paid to administrators" or (2) "Because the University can no longer afford multi-million dollar subsidies to the athletic department each year." But upon reflection we thought that the U's branding police might come after us...

If you haven't already, watch the vomit-inducing ad for which the U probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars Since 2007, the U has paid the Olson & Co. advertising firm over $6 million for its assistance with the branding/marketing campaign. Evidently this ad along with the Because and Driven to Disaster mumbo-jumbo are supposed to make the citizens of Minnesota love the U and support giving it a bigger budget.

Conflict of interest redux

City Pages digs deeper on the potential role of conflict of interest in UofM clinical trials in the death of Dan Markingson...Dr. Schulz does not come off well in this with drug company researchers, questionable presentation of data in this co-authored work, and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug companies for research, consulting fees, and other compensation . But perhaps most distressing:

In a separate deposition, Barden (note: a lawyer deposing Schulz) read an excerpt from a bioethics book arguing for the importance of informing patients about a doctor's financial ties to drug companies.

"Do you agree or disagree with that statement?" asked Barden

"I don't agree with that statement," replied Schulz, arguing that disclosing this information could "confuse" the situation.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Higher Ed discussions on Midmorning

Two interesting discussions this week on MPR's Midmorning show:

Richard Arum and Mark Taylor, "Is Higher Ed Losing Its Meaning?"

Philip Babcock and Andrew Perrin, "A's for Everyone: The Problem of Grade Inflation on College Campuses"

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Prez’s Budget Update

The budget outlook is gloomy. The state’s projected budget shortfall is $6 billion. The U’s forecast base for 2011-12 is $642.2 million, which is $51.1 million per year higher than this year’s state allocation. The U has asked that this forecast base be maintained, but there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that will happen given the political map and the state’s budgetary constraints. So brace yourself for another round of cuts, which the prez anticipates will hit hardest in 2011-12 academic year. Bruininks announced that there will be no raises in 2011-12 and all units will be asked to model 5 per cent cuts, and as in the past two years, the actual cuts will vary among units. Two-thirds of the budget gap will be closed with cuts and the remaining third with additional revenue. (Translation: tuition will increase, but the higher tuition will be taxed by central via cost pools, then reallocated away from instruction to feed the administration’s other priorities, and students will get screwed again…i.e. they will pay more but get less…) Read the entire message here.

Higher ed committees

Useful profiles of the members of the state legislative committees...

Poverty wages for adjuncts

A new study confirms what we already knew…adjuncts get screwed when it comes to pay and benefits. My guess is that the data would show even sharper differences if the measure used was the number of students taught rather than just number of classes taught. (This might be in the full report, which you can link to from the article…)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Academically Adrift

Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, have generated a lot of buzz with their new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press).

The argument: students are not learning very much in college

The evidence: the authors track 2,300 students enrolled at a range of four-year colleges and universities, assessing their progress with the Collegiate Learning Assessment. The test assesses gains in critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and other “high level” skills—it is NOT a subject matter test. Almost half of students demonstrated no significant improvement in learning in the first two years of college, and after four years of college over one-third (36 per cent) still had not learned much. Even students who did improve showed only modest gains.

The explanation: lack of rigor – student surveys show that about a third of students avoid classes with more than 40 pages of reading and more than 20 pages of writing, and students only spend about 12-14 hours/week studying, often studying with other students rather than on their own. (So about 2-3 hours per course/week.) They found that students who took demanding courses and studied more actually learned more than students who took less demanding courses and studied less. (Shocker!) Notably, students majoring in the liberal arts demonstrated "significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study," although the authors were uncertain whether this is caused by greater rigor or the subject matter in the liberal arts. Another interesting finding is that students who received grant-based financial aid learned more than those who had student loans. There are also some disturbing findings about ethnic and racial disparities in learning.

Implications: There are a bunch, some that the authors stress, others that they don’t, but here are some obvious ones

- Courses need to be more rigorous (esp. more reading and writing)

- Reduce class size – grading writing is more time consuming than grading multiple choice tests

- Reduce teaching load/pay adjuncts more! – at schools where faculty have crushing teaching loads, and for most adjuncts, there are not enough hours in the day to do the grading for writing-intensive courses. Adjuncts are paid so little that they must teach many courses to make ends meet—if they were better compensated they could teach fewer courses.

- Grade harder – are 40-60% of the students in your course really doing A-level work? When students receive As for mediocre (or worse) work, they leave the classroom thinking, “I totally rocked on that assignment!” So why strive to do the reading or put more time into your essay when you’re getting As without doing the reading and half-assing the written work? Of course, the elephant in the room is student evals, which are the main tool for evaluating teaching effectiveness. It’s well known that the anticipated grade affects how students evaluate a course/instructor. Are assistant profs and adjuncts going to turn the screws on students if the outcome could be losing their jobs? Another issue is that some faculty, jealous of protecting their research time, may prefer to assign less work.

- The obsession with 4-year graduation rates must end – we should be more worried about the quality of the education that students receive and less concerned that they don’t finish in four years. Many of my students work 20-30 hours/week—few of them can manage a full course load of rigorous courses. They would get a better education if they took more time to complete their degree.

- High student debt impairs learning – students taking out huge loans work more and have less time to study. Ever-rising tuition means more debt. Tuition hikes need to be kept under control if we expect our students to be able to concentrate on their studies.

- Back to basics – stop flushing millions of dollars down the toilet on fancy facilities, sports, and administrative overhead. Shift the money to instruction.

Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle have nice summaries and discussion of the book, and an excerpt from the book.

Regent candidates

The Daily just published a nice piece with profiles of the regent finalists.

Some highlights:

Steve Sviggum, candidate for the 2nd Congressional District “stressed the importance of reform and diversity.”

Laura Brod, the only female candidate, is also up for the 2nd Congressional District. She gushed about the positive impact of a good education. Maybe she’ll advocate for shifting money from administration to instruction? Oppose disproportionate cuts to units that teach undergrads?

Tom Devine, also for the 2nd District, is an insurance executive who likes to hang out with frat boys. He was praised for his knowledge of student life.

My money is on Brod…

Norm Rickeman, a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, focused on diversity and equity. “Equity doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. You’ve got to recognize everyone needs an equal opportunity to succeed.”

Dr. Roby Thompson Jr, also for the 3rd District, used to be on the faculty of the Medical School. Unclear what substantive views he has—from the article it seems that he decided to run on a whim.

David Larson, up for reappointment as a Regent from the 3rd District, stated that he didn’t do enough during his first term and considers himself to be a “change agent.” As a former Cargill exec, he wants the University to be run more like a private business, for example, by adopting a new “policy ensuring every employee receives ‘candid, written, annual reviews,’ and the coaching they need to be fully engaged at the University.” He also wants to keep tuition affordable (Failed big time on that one last time around, buddy…)

Prediction: Larson will be reappointed…

Robert Ostlund is a candidate in the 8th Congressional District. He boasted about his “calming influence” on others. He’s served as a superintendent at schools across the metro area.

William Burns, also up for the 8th District regent post, seemed to be unsure whether he had enough time to be a Regent. Not much in the way of specifics about his stances on higher ed, other than his desire to make the U LESS reliant on state funding while remaining affordable to students. (Um, how will you do that?)

Robert Kennedy, the outgoing prez of the University of Maine, is also a candidate for the 8th District spot. The Committee focused on his budget cutting savvy, efforts to increase research, and experience commercializing the products of university research. (He also admitted that he was an applicant for the U’s presidency.)

The final candidate for the post, David McMillan, used to chair the MN Chamber of Commerce. He thinks the U should endeavor to commercialize more of its research by partnering with the private sector. Wait…Do I hear the motor for the state’s economy cliché coming? Vroooom!

If Kennedy meets the residency requirement, I think he’ll be the pick…

For the At-Large seat, there’s Allen Anderson (ag background, volunteers at the MN Agri-Growth Council, unclear what his stance is on higher ed issues), Steven Hunter (reappointment, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, he stressed the pain the U will endure with the budget cuts and emphasized the need to “rightsize”—i.e. cutting programs, reducing admin costs via staff reductions, and focusing on areas of strength—and of keeping tuition affordable). Given the anti-union sentiment of the Republican majority, my bet is that Anderson will be selected.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Weapon of the weak?

A clever University of Colorado undergrad recently paid his tuition in one dollar bills. Guess how much $14,309 in dollar bills weighed? It took three people nearly an hour to count the money. Imagine if UofM students collectively protested tuition hikes by paying their tuition in $1 bills!?!

Friday, January 14, 2011

For shame!

Thirty-six highly paid executives in the UC system have heralded the new year with a threat to sue UC unless it increases their retirement benefits. The cost of the added benefits would be about $5.5 million/year plus another $50 million or so to make the changes retroactive to 2007. With the UC ship sinking, and the pension system underfunded to the tune of over $20 billion, these overpaid execs decide to add more water to the boat...which just goes to show that highly paid execs care more about the almighty buck than the public institutions where they work. Tuition increases, layoffs, increased class size - no matter, they want their pound of flesh and then some! The public reaction has been...well...pretty darn angry. See the cloudminder blog for more coverage.