Monday, September 15, 2014

The Phantom Reduction Part II

The Conjurer
"The Conjurer," painted by Hieronymus Bosch. The painting accurately displays a performer doing the cups and balls routine, which has been practiced since Egyptian times. The shell game does have some origins in this old trick. The real trick of this painting is the pickpocket who is working for the conjurer. The pickpocket is robbing the spectator who is bent over. Source

The Phantom Reduction Part II

"OK, so you're not raising tuition; why do the costs increase so much that we have to buy that freeze?"

State Senator Terri Bonoff in the September 12, 2014 Star Tribune report.

There are two principal reasons for the continuing escalation of costs at the University of Minnesota:

(1) The promise to reduce the cost of administration by $90 million over a six year period will not reduce the U of M budget by a single penny. President Kaler intends instead to simply spend the $90 million on "mission and mission support." See The Phantom Reduction.

(2) Reductions in some categories of expenses are more than offset by increases in other categories.

There was a net increase of $41.7 million in expenditures for mission support and facilities (from $956,896,120 in fiscal year 2012 to $998,643,697 in fiscal year 2013). There was a net increase of $7.9 million in expenditures for leadership (from $263,801,546 in fiscal year 2012 to $271,699,441 in fiscal year 2013).

The one expense that is most symbolic of the cost of administration is the compensation for leadership. The highly paid senior administrators, deans and directors collected an additional $2,250,198 in compensation for fiscal year 2013. (The total compensation for those leaders in fiscal year 2013 was $104,088,093.) See A Complete Accounting.

A former interim U of M president observed in November 2013 that "with real productivity gains, tuition could actually be reduced, assuming that state funding for the U holds where it is at currently." (emphasis added) See A Question of Productivity.
The Star Tribune has advocated a concentration on greater efficiency:
A freeze at the price Kaler and Rosenstone propose appears to resume a pre-2008 growth rate that had long exceeded the rate of inflation. It wouldn't appear to give the institutions much incentive for changes in higher education that might slow that growth rate or bring costs down. 
See the September 18, 2014 Star Tribune editorial
It will be necessary to stop and then reverse the escalating costs of higher education in order to reduce the staggering amount of student loan debt. The eventual solution will involve substantial reductions in the cost of administration and better allocation of state appropriations. See Whose Fault--Crushing Student Debt  and Devouring Our Children.

Michael W. McNabb

University of Minnesota B.A., 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

For the Record: Most damning evidence in #Markingson case from Minnesota Board of Social Work

The U of M administration uses this 2005 FDA conclusion as a primary reason to reject calls for another investigation. But in 2012 the Minnesota Board of Social Work took corrective action against the social worker who was the study coordinator. Perhaps the most damning findings were these:

2(g)(1) Despite the large amount of data gathered as part of the CAFE study, the records are devoid of any evidence that the data was critically analyzed or used in the treatment planning process. . . 
2 (g)(4) There were critical omissions in Licensee's [U of M study coordinator] documentation that were relevant to suicide prevention and chemical dependency treatment. . . 
2(h) On March 17, 2004 Licensee received an e-mail message from the CAFE study sponsor warning of a new risk of hyperglycemia and diabetes for patients taking medications used in the CAFE study. This new information effectively invalidated client #1's [Dan Markingson's] original informed consent.

See pp. 3--4 of the report of the Minnesota Board of Social Work (emphasis added).

See also A Question of Accountability

Monday, September 8, 2014

For the Record: Univ. of Minnesota faculty concerns about investigation into clinical trials

Sep 7, 2014

Last fall 14 faculty senators at the University of Minnesota called for the Faculty Senate to take action to address ethical concerns arising from the tragic death of Dan Markingson in a clinical trial conducted at the University of Minnesota. The Faculty Senate passed a resolution last December calling for an independent investigation, and President Kaler agreed to conduct such an investigation. Unfortunately, events since then have led some of the senators who called for a review to have serious concerns about both the scope of the review and the impartiality of the team conducting it. The letter appended below, which we have sent to Vice President for Research Brian Herman and Professor Will Durfee, expresses some of our concerns. 

The team conducting the investigation will be on campus this week (Tuesday and Wednesday).

Two of the signatories of the letter, Naomi Scheman  have agreed to serve as our media contacts.

In addition, at the end of the email, you will find useful links that provide background information about the independent investigation.


Teri L. Caraway
Associate Professor and Faculty Senator
Department of Political Science
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities


Dear Vice President Herman and Professor Durfee 

As members of the University of Minnesota Faculty Senate who called for an investigation into human subject research at the University in the wake of the Markingson case (as detailed in the "whereas" sections of the resolution), we would like to express our concerns with the process as it is unfolding so far. Although the resolution passed by the Senate and supported by President Kaler called for a review of present policies and practices, it has been clear to us that a review can serve the stated purpose of clearing the cloud of suspicion about the treatment of vulnerable human subjects only if it also looks at relevant aspects of the past. In particular, an investigation of "present practices" needs to include how the University has dealt and is dealing with--including learning from--serious allegations concerning past practices. 

Our intention of communicating that conviction to the review team has, however, come up against concerns regarding conflicts of interest on the part both of members of the review team and of AAHRPP, which selected the team and is supervising the review. Put simply: we are convinced that a credible review would need to investigate the Markingson case, but that such an investigation would itself need to be credible, especially in light of the history of the University's appealing to clearly noncredible reviews as supposedly exonerating; and the conflicts of interest raise serious questions about the credibility of the present review. 

We do not want to prejudge the work of the review team or to impugn the integrity of its members. We do, however, want to put on the record our sense that the review is not proceeding in a way that seems likely to satisfy the principal requirements behind the resolution we brought to the Senate: for a genuinely credible, independent review that takes a hard look at how the University dealt--and continues to deal--with activities that are widely perceived as profound breaches of ethical responsibility.


Teri L. Caraway, Associate Professor, Political Science
Cesare Casarino, Professor, Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature
Francis Harvey, Associate Professor, Geography, Environment, & Society
Amy Kaminsky, Professor, Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies
Rick McCormick, Professor, German, Scandinavian, & Dutch
William Messing, Professor, School of Mathematics
Kevin P. Murphy, Associate Professor, History and American Studies
David Pellow, Professor, Sociology
Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor, American Studies
Naomi Scheman, Professor, Philosophy
JB Shank, Associate Professor, History
Karen-Sue Taussig, Associate Professor, Anthropology 

cc: Eric Kaler, Eva von Dassow, and Rebecca Ropers-Huilman


October 2013 letter from 170+ scholars calling for an investigation:

List of signatures from October 2013 letter:

November 2013 letter from faculty senators to the FCC:

Minutes from the Faculty Senate meeting that passed the resolution calling for an investigation (starts on page 16; the resolution was amended as described in the minutes):

The RFP:

The AAHRPP's proposal:

Professor Trudo Lemmens's et al April 2014 letter to President Kaler regarding the RFP:

Public Citizen's letter expressing concerns about the investigation:

Professor Trudo Lemmens's et al June 2014 letter to President Kaler:

Professor Leigh Turner's July 16, 2014, letter to the AAHRPP regarding conflicts of interest:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

U of M Scoreboard: Athletics Department 84, All Other Departments 16

U of M Scoreboard: Athletic Department 84  

All Other Departments 16

The U of M administration has announced a $25 million donation from Land O' Lakes. Of the total amount $21 million (84%) goes to the athletic department and $4 million (16%) goes to all other (academic) departments.

This new commitment and innovative model of support . . . will further position the U as a continued leader in addressing society's pressing challenges.

President Eric Kaler in the September 3, 2014 Star Tribune report at (emphasis added).

Especially that pressing challenge of winning football and basketball games.

The writer of a letter to the editor in the September 5 Star Tribune argued for excellence in both sports and academics at the U of M. But there is a limit to available funds. Most large universities, including the U of M, continue to provide annual multi-million dollar subisdies (in direct and indirect support) to their atheltic departments despite the exponential increase in TV revenues. See Athletic AccountingBeyond the cost, big time sports are simply irrelevant to the purposes of a university.

The window to the U of M is not athletics (as President Kaler claimed in the September 5 column of Sid Hartman) but rather its performance in the fields of education, research and public service. Imagine the effect of the Land O' Lakes $25 million donation if the U of M administration had persuaded the company to give most of the funds for those purposes. A donation for agricultural research would have promoted the University and the state economy as well as the corporate purpose of Land O' Lakes, the purpose of its foundation, and the financial interests of its shareholders.

Michael W. McNabb

University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974

University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member 

Comment by Bill Gleason:

I noticed a tweet from the Ministry of Propaganda this morning:

Seems a little misleading in light of the distribution of the loot ...

Perhaps they are embarrassed? 

Monday, June 23, 2014

For the Record: A necessary audit of University of Minnesota drug research

"It is time to eradicate this stain on the reputation of 
a splendid university."

Arne Carlson, former governor of Minnesota 

The announcement by the legislative auditor that he will be reviewing the drug-testing program at the University of Minnesota is welcome news. Most of the concerns revolve around the suicide of an enrollee, Dan Markingson, in May 2004. However, the ongoing problems center on large amounts of money being afforded universities by drug companies in return for extensive testing of experimental drugs on human subjects. At best, it brings together a problematic mixture of conflicts of interest and human tragedy.

Over the span of the program, it has drawn considerable negative press, including headlines in the Star Tribune in August 1993 — “University kept silent for 4 years on research misconduct by Garfinkel” (Dr. Barry Garfinkel was convicted and sent to prison) — and continuing to May of this year, when Science magazine published a lead article analyzing the Markingson case and continuing issues.”

During this time, Dr. Carl Elliott, a professor in the Department of Bioethics, and his colleague, Dr. Leigh Turner, have been critical of the oversight of this program, including the various reports that cleared the university of wrongdoing. A large and distinguished cadre of doctors, researchers and scientists from the United States, as well as Canada and New Zealand, has joined in this criticism. As a result of the publicity, Elliott and Turner continue to receive calls from parents and families of enrollees declaring their concerns over mistreatment, failure to protect the harmed and misinformation given to potential subjects. This has been verified by a local TV investigation.

Unfortunately, instead of this compelling matter being resolved internally, the debate has continued to spill out to the public, drawing national media attention from the likes of the New York Times and the Boston Globe.

The legislative auditor now has the opportunity to conduct a thorough and professional audit of this operation covering the past 10 years. It is imperative for the well-being of all concerned that his report be exhaustive and credible in order that the necessary changes are instituted. This means that inherent conflicts of interest be closely monitored, that the integrity of the study be improved and that the subjects be fully protected.

This audit should involve:

1) A thorough review of the finances, including the number of studies, payments to doctors and clinicians, administrative costs, etc.

2) An examination of the conflicts of interest built into the process. This should include a background inspection of all program personnel as well as those who serve on an oversight board. Transparency should be the rule.

3) A disclosure of the number of tests, enrollees, injuries and deaths.

4) A full understanding of the oversight process, commencing with the Board of Regents. Are its members independent of management? How do they manage dissent involving management, faculty and/or the public? Why did they not intercede, particularly knowing the ills of the past involving criminal misconduct and continuing with public reports of ongoing concerns relative to the care of enrollees?

5) That the legal and human rights of the enrollee are fully protected and that the family is involved. This includes upfront disclosure of all needed information, professional monitoring and care, if harm is caused.

Logic would indicate that certain areas of management require more oversight than others, particularly when significant money comes from drug companies for testing on humans. Somehow, that special attention appears not to have been there, even when respected members of the faculty raised red flags.

I am most hopeful that the legislative auditor not only will deal with these concerns but also will come forth with standards that will significantly improve independent oversight and be fully protective of our enrollees, who all too often are our most vulnerable citizens. It is time to eradicate this stain on the reputation of a splendid university.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

For the Record: U Flunks on Rigorous Core Courses - Professor Eva von Dassow

"Housework is a breeze. Cooking is a pleasant diversion. Putting up a retaining wall is a lark. But teaching is like climbing a mountain."  Fawn Brodie
My colleague, Professor Eva von Dassow,  has graced these pages before. Her comments to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents went modestly viral - twenty-five thousand views, and are still worth considering.  They may be found here:

When Professor von Dassow Speaks, Hopefully Somebody Will Listen...

The following material is reprinted with the permission of the author and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune where it was first published.

Counterpoint: U flunks on rigorous core courses

May 16, 2014

Article by: EVA VON DASSOW 

Readers may be interested in what faculty members at the University of Minnesota think of the curricular requirements celebrated for their breadth and rigor by Vice Provost Robert McMaster in a recent counterpoint article (“Quality of curriculum at U is second to none,” April 26).

McMaster, describing our set of liberal-education requirements as “comprehensive,” states that “all students must complete seven courses in what we call the core”; he then lists 11 categories of requirements.

There is in fact no set of core courses. Rather, hundreds of courses have been submitted by individual faculty members for approval to meet one or another of the LE requirements. The mechanism for obtaining approval is to write a proposal claiming that the course does this and adding similar claims to the syllabus; proposal and syllabus are submitted to the Council on Liberal Education. If the council finds the right words on the proposal and syllabus, the course is certified as meeting the selected liberal-education requirement. (You can see how many courses meet which requirements here:

Thus no student need ever take, for example, a course in history. Students can satisfy the liberal-education requirement in “historical perspectives” by taking any course, in any college, that has been certified as meeting this requirement. Same with “mathematical thinking” and the other nine requirements. All of the approved courses may be fine components of a liberal education, but then, what university course isn’t?

Faculty members submit courses for liberal-education certification under duress, in effect, because if we don’t, our courses will get insufficient enrollment, inasmuch as students are constrained to choose courses that meet requirements. Many of us nonetheless find it absurd to be required to prove that a history course is a history course, a math course is a math course, and so on. The chorus of faculty discontent with this structure of requirements has reached such a pitch as to provoke a movement to change it.

Of the university’s student learning outcomes, McMaster says faculty members use them “to make certain our undergraduates are indeed learning, and this learning is measured.” Indeed, for every undergraduate course, faculty members are required to claim that it meets one of seven prescribed outcomes.

One would think the desired outcome of studying anatomy is to learn anatomy, that of studying Arabic to learn Arabic and so forth throughout the course catalog. But the student learning outcomes were intentionally written to be so broad that at least one of them could be construed to apply to any course or subject — including nonacademic ones.

Our athletics programs could make a sound case that, through their participation in a sport, student-athletes meet the learning outcomes McMaster lists. Surely members of the football team “can identify, define and solve problems,” in practice and in play; they “can locate and critically evaluate information,” with lightning rapidity on the field; they “have mastered a body of knowledge,” namely, about football; and they can and must “communicate effectively” to play as a team. And “this learning is measured,” all right, game by game.

Though we may decry the liberal-education requirements as a travesty of liberal education and the learning outcomes as vacuous (a view not universally held; after all, we’re a university), the faculty still teach what we say we teach — anatomy, Arabic, Hebrew, history, math and so forth. What guarantees that students learn, or rather, how is anyone to know whether they did?

For a century or so, grades have been used as a proxy for assessing student achievement. Yet we all know of colleagues who just give all students As and Bs, because it’s much easier to do that than to conduct a true assessment and risk the trouble that can ensue. Those easy As are failing our students, while making the job ever harder for those of us who keep trying to uphold standards and grade accordingly.

No wonder employers are dismayed to find that, for all the tuition graduates have paid, they often lack either skills or knowledge. This is what results from emphasizing requirements instead of subjects, metrics over substance, credentials in place of learning and graduation rates over education.

Eva von Dassow is associate professor of classical and Near Eastern studies at the University of Minnesota. The views expressed here are her own.