Wednesday, March 9, 2011
"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
Monday, March 7, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
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."
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Saturday, February 26, 2011
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 salaries...so 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
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
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
Sunday, February 13, 2011
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
Friday, February 11, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
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!)
Sunday, February 6, 2011
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 futile...you 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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
The Daily just published a nice piece with profiles of the regent finalists.
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.