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.