Monday, October 29, 2007

The NYT Makes It Clear Why Very Few Will Make Money on Big Time Football

(and why it is foolish to try…)

The ever vigilant UD has picked up on this article and posted. Mr. B. cherry picks a few choice words for your enjoyment:

October 28, 2007

The Business



Not so long ago, a middle-age freelance speech writer named John Pollack came by my office. Pollack, who once wrote speeches for Bill Clinton, had a bone to pick with the University of Michigan, which he has been rooting for since he was 6.

Michigan Stadium was the reason Pollack stopped by. A few years ago, Bill Martin, Michigan’s athletic director, proposed renovating the Big House for $226 million. Given that it’s 80 years old, the place could use an update. But included in the renovation plans — which the university’s trustees approved earlier this year — are skyboxes and other expensive “premium seats,” something the Big House has never had.

“Michigan doesn’t need to keep up with the Joneses,” he said. “We are the Joneses.” He added, “One of the great things about college football, especially Michigan football, is that it is a great public space — a place where autoworkers and millionaires can come together to cheer on their team.”

Naturally, the new stadiums will have skyboxes, giant television scoreboards, naming rights and all the other “revenue enhancers” that were long thought to be the hallmarks of professional sports franchises. That’s the whole point.

In short, behold the college football arms race, where the rich (like Michigan) continue to get richer and the poor (the University of Central Florida) try to claw their way to a place where they can stand alongside the rich. Given this state of affairs, there is simply no way Michigan is going to be left behind. In Division I football, either you buy into the sports equivalent of mutually assured destruction or you drop out entirely.

Big-time college football is now so divorced from what actually goes on at a university as to be a kind of subsidiary, not even tangentially related to education.

As a result, schools erect the fanciest stadiums, build the most up-to-date weight rooms, fly expensive chartered jets to away games — spend money on all sorts of things — in order to attract the best athletes. “Since the players don’t get paid, you can’t just go out and hire the Tom Bradys of college sports,” Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist who teaches at Smith College, says. “So instead they throw money at everything else.” One of Zimbalist’s favorite examples is the salaries of top college coaches. “They get paid pretty much the same as coaches in the N.F.L., about $2 to $3 million,” he says. “It doesn’t make any sense from a normal economic point of view, because the average revenue of a top-30 college football team is about $30 million, whereas the average N.F.L. team takes in $200 million.” But it happens anyway because when it comes to recruiting, Zimbalist says, schools “want to be able to say that they have a coach with a national reputation, someone who has sent kids off to the N.F.L.”

A similar rationale holds for stadiums, according to Zimbalist: “They say, ‘Come play for us because you will be in an N.F.L.-quality stadium, with a big new scoreboard with your picture shown whenever you make a good play.’ ” But, he adds, while every school builds, or renovates, a stadium with the belief that it will ultimately make money and help defray the cost of the program, this doesn’t happen all that often.

Maybe the best thing that can be said about pouring money into football is that, as Sheldon Steinbach told me, stadium construction is hardly the worst thing that goes on in college sports. “Skyboxes are not the most cancerous elements in most athletic departments,” he says. And what is? His reply: “How about the recruitment of athletes who do not have the ability to benefit from a college education?”

No doubt OurLeader will make sure that the feeding frenzy of our new football recruiter/coach is kept under control and that only academically qualified footballers with a decent chance of graduating will be admitted...

Ciao, Bonzo

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dave Durenberger Weighs In On Various and Sundry

Dave Durenberger publishes a regular commentary on health policy that is available via email subscription or download at: .

This week's commentary touches on a wide variety of important topics: health care policy (of course), medical device ethics, childrens hospitals and the medical arms race, the going rate for lobbyists (Dave is also an expert on this matter), and of all people, Clarence Thomas. Enjoy.

Selections from the 10.25.2007 Commentary:


For 35 increasingly knowledgeable years I’ve watched the medicalization of health and healthcare. There are rich financial rewards for medical specialization. The line between specialty medicine’s financial interest and its patient interest is blurred to the point of being unrecognizable. Hospital emergency rooms are expanding everywhere because psychiatric patient beds aren’t available for people who should have found a place in this “health system” long before the ER. And no one respects the growing need for or the economies associated with rewarding geriatric care.


Not many trained medical doctors signed the various constitutions in this country and the medical industry we have today didn’t exist. Today it does and we spend nearly a trillion dollars of tax revenue providing access to the service production of the medical industry for a majority – but not all Americans. Why?


The need for a national policy response rather than waiting out state by state coverage initiatives should be obvious. Dr. Ron Anderson, the CEO of Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas, reminded an audience of physician leaders at the University of St. Thomas last week that “over 43% of low income Texans are without insurance.” A respected Latino leader in MN believes 34% of our fast growing Latino population is without insurance coverage.


Dr. Barry Straub is the chief medical officer of CMS with responsibility for Medicare and Medicaid. He keynoted our Medical Arms Race Syndrome forum at the University of Minnesota last Sunday. Among his observations: “U.S. healthcare quality is inferior to that in other developed nations. It is a national disgrace that so much medical practice does not meet standard performance guidelines.


One of Minnesota’s best companies volunteered to take their Sprint Fidelis ICD leads off the market because of detected failures in the leads in some defibrillators.

Patients were advised if they wanted theirs replaced, to seek out a surgeon who does this and nothing but this for a living because it is a procedure requiring a great deal of skill to avoid adverse impact on the tissue of the vein around the implant. It was also obvious from the dialogue that companies like Medtronic went to the thinner and thinner leads like Fidelis to make it possible for more and more cardiac surgeons to perform the procedure.

What should I make of this? That the device design is driven by the potential for greater volume? or higher performance quality? That the patient public has a lot to learn about the practice of medicine and about the performance levels of individual physicians and surgeons. If we know what doctors know, and device manufacturers know, about quality performance we might demand more of everyone in this medical arms race and less from the FDA, CMS, and private insurers.


Five manufacturers of orthopedic devices agreed to end a Justice Department investigation into charges they created phony consulting arrangements with surgeons who do hip and knee replacements. The five will pay a total of $311 million to avoid larger financial penalties or criminal charges under anti-kickback statute....No mention of what penalties, if any, the many orthopedic surgeons will pay for accepting money they haven't earned.


People in need of implants don’t buy the implantable device. And do not pay for it. Device companies determine the market and a price which will maintain corporate pre-tax margins north of 50%. Surgeons decide what devices to use and hospitals buy and pay for them. Hospitals all belong to Group Purchasing Organizations which negotiate prices with manufacturers and make millions for the folks that run the GPOs. Then the device distributor takes a piece of the action and a certain number of surgeons in every profession involved make triple digit supplementary incomes for making the “buy and use” decision.

Nowhere in this process is patient assessment of performance quality an issue so how can we call them “prices” and why pay $100,000 a shot for national advertising.


We wondered aloud about the value to our Minnesota community in pediatric medical excellence and community costs of Fairview-University and Minnesota Children’s decision to raise nearly $500 million to improve and expand pediatric medical facilities rather than agreeing to a joint center of excellence. This after hearing that jilted UMN football suitor Denny Sanford had committed $400 million to renaming Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. on condition they commit much of his gift to improving medical care for children in the area. It’s also being used to build a 3rd heart specialty center in Sioux Falls.

The attendant publicity may have dampened enthusiasm in the philanthropic community for two "modernization" plans. So Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN is asking the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to provide much of their expansion funding through public tax-exempt bonds. Unfortunately that doesn't exempt those of us who pay property taxes from contributing to the new buildings. Nor will we be exempt from paying part of it in the health insurance premiums we pay. And a third levy on us comes with the multi-million dollar tax exemption hospitals like this have from income, property, and transaction taxes.


Having had a brief fling as a lobbyist in my post-Senate career, I remember well the “going rate” for big-time access and influence. Like my friends Bob Dole and George Mitchell who partnered for a while. The 1995 rate was $35,000 a month and a minimum 12-month contract regardless of what you wanted your policy professional to do for you or how long it took. Today’s prices make our generation look like pikers. We read where it costs Turkey (or anyone else that wants a piece of a $71 million a year time-selling business) $1.2 million a year for former Louisiana Republican Congressman and almost-Speaker (after Newt) Bob Livingston. Bob can subcontract with former N.Y. Rep. Steve Solarz if he needs a big Dem. Retired Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt costs you the same $1.2 million.


Seeing someone you know in a lengthy (by 60' standards) television interview reveals the emotion that goes with deeply held convictions. Clarence Thomas really believes that the many efforts by a variety of Republican and Democratic lawmakers - from the civil war to the civil rights era - somehow cheapens all that he was able to accomplish on the trip from Pin Point, GA to Washington, D.C.

I was reminded that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor graduated, not at the middle of a Yale Law class, but no. 2 at Stanford Law. The best job offer she received was as a legal secretary in a gender-prejudiced legal world. Instead of doing the "15 cents sticker" on her degree, she has celebrated the civil rights achievement that people like she and the Supreme Court on which she was "honored" to serve have brought to all of us Americans.


"I'm looking forward to getting some things done for the American people...and if it doesn't get done, I'm looking forward to reminding the people as to why it's not getting done."

- President George W. Bush

The editors of the San Francisco Chronicle said of this:

"Sometimes it seems like the ultimate goal in Washington is not to accomplish anything, but to successfully blame the other party for a failure...OK, let's check the list [of policy problems]. The planet is heating up. The first Baby Boomers are qualifying for Social Security, a fiscal time bomb. The immigration system is broken. The health care system is falling apart. Millions of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure. A war rages on. All of these issues are getting more rhetoric than resolution from each end of Pennsylvania Avenue."

Thanks, Dave, for some interesting commentary on a wide variety of topics.

Ciao, Bonzo

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Redshirts Redux - The WaPo Reviews Redshirts

Mr. B. has previously posted on Lou Bellamy's Penumbra production of "Red Shirts."

The Washington Post has a pretty favorable review, selections of which are below:

As the central character in "Redshirts," Dana Yeaton's new play about an academic scandal, freshman running back Dante Green is an irrepressible rhymester, channeling college experience into riffs of hip-hop braggadocio. Living up to his literary first name, Dante's brand of versifying is practically a full-contact sport.

In the absorbing and suspenseful production at Round House Theatre Silver Spring, actor James T. Alfred turns Dante into 200-plus pounds of restlessness and swagger. And Alfred's is just one of the vivid performances that makes "Redshirts," directed by Lou Bellamy, a seductive entertainment.

Fortunately, most of the actors have such energy and presence that you can't see their characters simply as sluices for Very Important Ideas.

As the soft-spoken Bigelow, Williams gives demureness an edge of terrifying ferocity, and James Craven is hugely watchable as her wary antagonist, the imposing, ethically compromised Coach Tyrell Moore. Ahanti Young has such a riveting, glazed-eye shtick that it becomes fascinating in itself -- you almost forget to read his character, the perennially concussed athlete Curtis Combs, as an object lesson in why football should be illegal.

The actors playing the athletes smartly emphasize their characters' physicality, fidgeting, tussling and fooling around with a football at odd moments. Their macho jitters liven up C. Lance Brockman's stiff and ugly set: a football-field floor stretching in front of a wall where video and slide projections depict gym rooms, classroom buildings and other institutional vistas.

[I liked the set a lot. De gustibus...]

But the athletes have a larger vulnerability, as their encounters with English literature suggest: They've missed out on valuable cultural grounding enjoyed by society's elite. " 'Moor' and 'prayer?' That's a rhyme now?" Curtis complains in frustration while studying Emily Dickinson. "Man, they just keep makin' this [stuff] up!" Language is a kind of power, but it's one that largely eludes these students.

Reporting from flyover-land, where good things occasionally happen.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth: Medical Schools Are Expensive

Another Truth: The Folks at St. Thomas Are Not Stupid

Mr. B. has posted previously on the possibility that the University of St. Thomas, in collaboration with Allina, would start a new medical school. They have run the numbers and apparently the outlook is unfavorable.

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

St. Thomas, Allina vote not to open medical school

The University of St. Thomas and Allina Hospitals & Clinics will not move ahead with a plan to open a new medical school "at this time," the pair announced this afternoon.

St. Thomas trustees this morning voted not to move forward with further planning of a medical school. The Allina Board of Directors reached a similar conclusion at its meeting on Monday, the organizations said in a prepared statement.

While a six-month feasibility study reaffirmed the need to train more primary care physicians in new models of care, Allina and St. Thomas have agreed that each organization has higher priorities at this time and should not use existing resources to open a new medical school, they added.

Hospital and St. Thomas leaders said they'll continue to talk and did not rule out future collaboration on a medical school "should sufficient resources become available."

Earlier this year, Allina and St. Thomas announced they were studying the possibility of a new, small medical school focused on training primary care doctors.

From the Star-Tribune:

There was no mention Wednesday of medical school funding when St. Thomas announced with great fanfare the launch of the most ambitious capital campaign in its history and a $60 million gift to the university.

The board of directors at Allina Hospitals and Clinics voted Monday on whether to move forward, but it delayed announcing its decision until the St. Thomas board could act, said officials for both organizations. They declined to comment on the issues debated by either board.

Together, they said in May, they would study the feasibility of a new medical school making use of the St. Thomas campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Abbott Northwestern, Allina's flagship hospital in Minneapolis. They envisioned a med school of about 40 students per class year committed to practicing primary care, which comprises family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics. Over the summer, they conducted the feasibility study.

Neither Allina nor St. Thomas ever put a price tag on the cost of building and operating the schools. But it could cost at least $40 million a year to operate a four-year medical school of 40 students per class year, said Dr. Joseph Scherger, the founding dean of the last new medical school in the country, Florida State University's College of Medicine.

Dave Durenberger, the former U.S. senator who heads the National Institute of Health Policy based at St. Thomas, said he hasn't been included in the medical school talks.

Durenberger said the issue of how to raise a significant amount of money is likely to be the biggest hurdle, rather than any religious considerations.

"This is not like building another law school," he said.

These earlier posts give the back story:

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

University of St. Thomas to Establish New Med School?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

BigU’s MedSchoolDean Comments on St. Thomas/Allina

Feasibility Study for New Medical School

Friday, May 25, 2007

Blanket Email from Senior Vice President for Health Sciences

Kudos and Questions for Proposed Medical School

Friday, June 29, 2007

Needle Stick! The Latex Gloves Come Off...

Apparently Some Duplications are OK

(Children's Hospitals),

But Not Others (Medical Schools)?

Monday, July 9, 2007

On the Explosion of New Medical Schools Nationally and The Possibility of a New One Locally

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Sleeping Giant Awakens and He is Hungry

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Academic Year at BigU MedSchool

Ciao, Bonzo

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Where Do We Stand at BigU With Respect to Research?

Selections from the Minutes of BigU’s Research Committee

Is this a time to be talking about getting into the top three? When units cannot maintain their research capacity, how can they get to the top three? There is little to suggest that the University is on an upward trajectory.”


Senate Research Committee

Monday, October 8, 2007

12:30 - 2:15

238A Morrill Hall

Present: Dan Dahlberg (chair), Linda Bearinger, Jerry Cohen, Donald Dengel, Steven Gantt, Tryphon Georgiou, Shikha Jain, Paul Johnson, Michelle Lamere, Frances Lawrenz, Jennifer Linde, Virginia Seybold, Charles Spetland, Joel Slaton, Barbara VanDrasek, Sanford Weisberg, Jean Witson

Guests: Professors Tim Ebner (Neuroscience), Wayne Gladfelter (Chemistry), John Sullivan (Political Science), and Kate VandenBosch (Plant Biology)

Professor Ebner said that the metric for rankings in the Medical School is NIH funding. He concurred with the point about the relationship between department size and ranking: 75% of the ability to get funding depends on the size of the faculty. His department is highly-ranked but it is also one of the biggest. What would it take to move up in the rankings? That is a tough question; more research funding would help, but NIH is ‘in a recession’ right now.”

“Professor Johnson said it seems odd that the University aspires to be in the top three and yet does not seem to think creatively about what to do if department rankings are declining. How can the University be in the top three unless a lot of its departments are in the top 10? That seems to be a contradiction. To be in the top three requires resources, but departments are not staying in the top ten. He said he felt he was missing something; the path to the top three must not mean providing resources to departments to be among the best. Professor Ebner agreed; he reported that since 1999 the Medical School has lost 59 tenure-track faculty positions (it gained a lot of clinical faculty, however). They cannot gain in the rankings if they are losing tenured faculty. One analysis has suggested that for the Medical School to be in the top three, it would have to hire the number of faculty equivalent to the current CLA. “

Professor Sullivan commented that this all sounded familiar. His department also hired a large number of assistant professors; it has now been given permission to recruit some senior faculty—but they cannot match salaries. The top political scientists now make $200,000 and the Minnesota department is nowhere near able to compete. Salaries in Economics have skyrocketed even faster. For the first time, salary has become an issue for us, Professor Sullivan said. It is a question of retaining all their young faculty; there are a lot of McKnight Land Grant Professors now teaching elsewhere. "We are competitive in salaries for young faculty, moderately competitive in the middle range, and not at all competitive at the top."

“Professor Dahlberg said that Physics has about a 50% retention rate. Professor Gladfelter related that Chemistry lost two of nine retention cases, one of which they did not seek to match. Professor VandenBosch said her department is in the process of losing a retention case and lost another individual several years ago who is now in the National Academy. Professor Sullivan said his department had nine retention cases in the last three years and lost five of them; people left for various reasons but they received phenomenal offers. Professor Bearinger reported that her school lost two faculty at the point of tenure, both of whom had RO1 grants, because they could not compete on salaries.”

Professor Dahlberg asked the guests if they were able successfully to recruit at the senior faculty level. He said he hears often that Minnesota is a great place to steal very good junior and midcareer faculty and is curious if we can replace them. Professor Weisberg said that two of their last four hires were senior associate professors. Professor VandenBosch reported that her department could have but chose to seek junior faculty. Another factor that came into play was start-ups; they cost $400,000 at the low end, plus summer salary; for senior faculty start-ups are $1 million plus.”

Much of what has occurred has been initiative-driven, dating from the Yudof initiatives, Professor Ebner said. There are also external pressures (e.g., to do stem-cell research) that affect strategic positioning.”

“Professor Sullivan said his department has for 40 years tried to identify what it needs to get in and stay in the top ten, but in recent years, most expansions have been initiative-created or interdisciplinary. His department identifies where it needs to make strategic investments to be really good, but those investments often do not match University strategic initiatives.”

“Professor Ebner returned to the cost of start-up packages. Theirs have averaged about $525,000 over the last few hires but the numbers are escalating "to places we do not want to go." $1 million for assistant professors has become common, which his department does not have and which means he can't hire people—why would someone take $525,000 from Minnesota when they can get $1 million elsewhere?”

Professor Sullivan said that in the old budget model, CLA had a lot of soft money and could almost always meet start-up needs. Now there is no money and there will not be, but it was not a problem in the past. There is no established structure, Professor VandenBosch said; it is an ad hoc process, and for their last hire they scrambled to put together a package or else they would have lost the candidate. Professor Ebner said the new budget model is a total disaster for the Medical School; when it started, it put the Medical School so far behind it can never catch up. That problem appears to be widespread among the colleges, Professor VandenBosch commented.

Professor Dahlberg said the O&M budget increases every year on average; where does the money go? Professors Sullivan and Ebner said to central initiatives. Professor Weisberg, however, said the money goes to the colleges; there are only a couple of initiatives in the Provost's office. Professor Sullivan responded that a lot of money is now going to central initiatives. But not enough yet to set up premier centers, Professor VandenBosch added. Professor Sullivan agreed: departments are hurt by taking the money away but there isn't enough money to build the centers. At the same time, the budget model has increased significantly the amount of money available for compacts.”

Professor Cohen said it appears that departments that do a lot of teaching but do not have a lot of grants are in trouble, and that departments that have low tuition revenues and a lot of grant funds are in trouble. Professor VandenBosch said it appears that a lot of colleges are in trouble. But funding from the state is up, Professor Weisberg observed. The state has been cheap in recent years, Professor Ebner said, and the positive years have provided a trivial amount in meeting faculty salary needs. Professor VandenBosch commented that it is rare to receive state funds for faculty salary increases (other than for star faculty). Professor Weisberg reported that the Provost has said the legislature has chosen not to fund salary increases except for stars.”

“Professor Bearinger said that her school has lost approximately 10% of its tenured and tenure-track faculty, even two assistant professors who had just received a positive tenure decision. Is this a time to be talking about getting into the top three? When units cannot maintain their research capacity, how can they get to the top three? There is little to suggest that the University is on an upward trajectory.”

“Professor Dahlberg asked the guests about infrastructure and staff needs. Professor Ebner said that if the University is to maintain a world-class research enterprise, faculty must have the tools to do research, some of which are very expensive. In the Academic Health Center they have gone to Internal Service Organizations (ISOs), so faculty must pay for equipment use. The University must pay for equipment, and while the faculty should pay some marginal cost for use, the ISOs are supposed to break even, which is a struggle, so they can't begin to buy new equipment because it's so expensive.”

Professor VandenBosch agreed that in an area where the University wants to grow, it makes a difference if faculty have to pay their own way. What the University does is strategic planning, not strategic budgeting, and it does not decide what it should not do, or do less of. And it cannot change its mind every few years – there needs to be continuity to build a strength. In terms of infrastructure, staff are important, but funds are invested in faculty lines so staff lines are cut—or the faculty grows but the staff does not. Faculty do not have staff help with grant proposals, especially for centers.”

One of the most important infrastructure needs is funding for graduate students, Professor Ebner said. The University has not paid enough attention to the recruitment and support of graduate students. Some new funds have gone into the area, but they are inadequate. The University also does not pay attention to graduate education; in one review of a Medical School department, a reviewer wrote that he had never seen a university that invested so little in graduate education. There is little understanding across the University about the importance of graduate education in the research enterprise.”

“Professor Sullivan said it has been increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the best people. That situation has to do with departmental autonomy and the strength of core discipline. His department was in the top 15 from the 1920s until recently, and it was in the top because it made decisions on the basis of the authority of the department faculty. Will departments make decisions on the basis of the faculty working together or will decisions be made by a central unit? In his case, for example, the Dean's office changed department salary recommendations—and in his department, the faculty all review all the salaries and make recommendations. That is an example of the loss of autonomy. Moreover, there has been a shift in funding away from core disciplines toward interdisciplinary centers. Professor Sullivan said he is not optimistic that the social sciences can get back to the top three because there is nation-building occurring: colleges are taking over many department functions and colleges are being constrained by central administration.”

Professor Dahlberg observed that in his department, they are expanding in areas they believe either are or will be the next frontiers in Physics will be (e.g., cosmology), but not medical devices, and energy, two areas the University wants to emphasize. Many faculty feel it is now more difficult to expand in areas that would move Physics up in the rankings while likely easier to hire people in the research areas directed by the University.”

Professor Dahlberg asked the four guests to grade faculty recruitment, retention, and support at the University. The grades were:

Recruitment: B-, B+ junior faculty and B overall, B, B+ for junior faculty and D for senior faculty

Retention: C, B-, B-, B+ for junior faculty and D for senior faculty

Support: D-, C-, C, C- (for the most recent ten years)

Not a very good report card. OurLeader and ET might consider the opinion of these folks and think about engaging in a discussion, rather than continuing to avoid one.

Ciao, Bonzo

Monday, October 22, 2007

Big Week at BigU

Win some, lose some

Despite last week’s lack of new posts, it was not a quiet week in Lake Wobegun [sic]. Mr. B. did not post last week, however, because he wanted the situation at BigU to sink in. One of the best science bloggers in the business, Pharyngula, aka my own colleague PZ Meyers at the excellent U of M, Morris, campus was kind enough to cite my post in giving his opinion: "Depressing News from My University," wherein he writes:

"UMM recently hosted the University of Minnesota board of regents, and we got a look at the status of the whole U of M system. It's not a happy story. We have an administration with ambitious goals (that's good), but they seem to be a bit divorced from reality — they want to turn us into one of the top three public research universities in the world. That sounds like a great 50 year plan, but I'd rather see an ambitious and feasible 5-year goal, myself."


"The ultimate problem is declining investment in education, both in higher ed and our source of students, the Minnesota public schools. Rather than touting grand dreams, it might be wiser of our administrators to highlight the deficiencies in the support our government is giving us, and get them to quit taking the UM system for granted."

[ET, Chairman Bob, hello - are you listening? Do you really want a dialog or do you just want to continue on your merry way, with the volume of the propaganda machine turned up full blast?]

Regular readers will recall that the last post dealt with the miserable ranking of the U compared to our self-selected peers in a number of factors related to the administration's “ambitious aspiration” for BigU to "become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic].”

Sigh… Denial - It’s not just a river in Egypt.

So what else happened?

This week Leo won the big one, Mystic Lake casino made a 12.5 million dollar donation to BigU, the “little green guys” ran over the Gophers, and yet another example of denial surfaced at BigU.

Leo Hits the Ball Long

Leo is of course Professor Leonid Hurwicz, who is an emeritus member of the economics department and this year’s Nobel Prize winner in economics along with Professors Maskin and Myerson of Princeton and the University of Chicago. Another recent economics laureate with Minnesota connections is Ed Prescott who left a few years ago - in the middle of the academic year - due to an apparent tiff with BigU’s administration. Ed moved to Arizona State where he subsequently received the economics Nobel Prize. Mr. B. notes without further comment that BigU’s economics program has recently hired a large number of new profs.

By all accounts Leo is a modest man and a great teacher. Thus it would appear that work of the highest quality can be done at BigU, despite the fact that we are not currently one of the top three… (You know the drill.)

Little Green Men Stampede Over Gophers

BigU’s football team is struggling this year. Mr. B. was once an ardent Gopher fan, but he has recently lost interest because of the disgraceful performance of the revenue producing teams in graduating student athletes. We are at the bottom of the BigTen. Until we are at least in the respectable middle, enthusiasm will be hard to generate. Mr. B. was an undergrad at Northwestern, so he knows how tough playing football can be in the BigTen. But NU has been to a real bowl game more recently than the Gophers, despite having high academic standards and the best graduation rate in the BigTen.

We have won a single game thus far this year and last weekend we lost to some little green men, approximately the term applied by our football coach to the North Dakota State University Bison who stampeded over the Gophers. Most of the Bison are from Minnesota. I read somewhere recently that the newest NDSU class has more Minnesotans than North Dakotans. It was a home game but the ratio of NDSU fans to Gopher fans must have been about 3/2 in favor of NDSU. The Bison are in a football division below the BigTen and have fewer athletic scholarships. So a loss to them was quite a disappointment, given the large amount of money that was spent last year in order to try to get things in order for future opening of the new, expensive, stadium that will need to be filled. The Bison have now won 20 games in a row, their last loss having been to the Gophers a year ago. NDSU apparently has a great coach who knows how to play the people available to him to best advantage.

$ for Twin City Federal Stadium and

Student Scholarships

The Mystic Lake Casino is a tribal operation that generates a lot of revenue. Alex Bonzo used to work there during summer vacations while he was attending college, so Mr. B. has a soft spot for the casino, even though he is not a gambler. They gave the U 10 mil for the naming rights (which will not be exercised by the casino, but rather the tribal owners) for an area near the front of the stadium. They also donated 2.5 mil that the university is going to match for a student scholarship endowment for native Americans. That should generate about 250K/yr for students which is great. You can’t lose them all.

Disingenuous or Merely Being a Good Cheerleader?

Our provost sent out an odd blanket email last week in which he raved about how wonderful were the ACT scores of our incoming freshman as well their class rank in high school:

“Also featured in local newspapers, and on local radio and television, is the Twin Cities campus's incoming freshman class, which is the best prepared, highest achieving...”

“The Star Tribune's article “U's freshman class has its ACT together” succinctly points out such facts as the class's elevated ACT scores, the increase of students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class.”

Mr. B. is not so sure that citing ACT scores or class ranking is a good argument that we are making progress toward entering the upper echelons. Honesty would seem to require admitting the following:

Our 2006 ranking for Exceptional Students:

Top 10% of High School Class: 10th

Average ACT Score: 10th

2-Year Retention Rate: 10th

6-Year Graduation Rate: 11th

The self-selected peer group consists of:

University of Florida

University of Illinois

University of Michigan

The Ohio State University

Pennsylvania State University

University of Texas

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Washington

University of Wisconsin

I would prefer that we compared ourselves with the other BigTen schools, Northwestern excepted, since they are our actual competition and struggle with the same realities we do. The fact is that even as we improve so does our competition,
the so-called Red Queen effect.

Another little problem may be found in the athletics department. There is much chatter about the outstanding recruits who will soon be flooding BigU due to the salesmanship of our new million dollar football coach. Whether he can actually coach is still an open question, see "little green men" above. But he is in good company with OurLeader and ET, since talk, rather than performance, seems to be in vogue at BigU, see "Disingenuous" above.

One of the new recruits, a 4* - meaning that he probably is an outstanding football player - apparently has an ACT score of 13. Sound like business as usual? Maybe OurLeader should look into this...

Don't hold your breath.

From the Land of the Green Giant with neighboring little green men,

Ciao, Bonzo

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Where Do We Really Stand at the University of Minnesota?
Accountable to U (2007)

Yesterday the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota met at the Morris campus, a fine undergraduate institution with a national reputation for excellence.

The lengthy agenda for the meeting included a report from the measurement and metrics (M&M) crew.

(Warning, this is a large pdf file.)

Selected information from that report is presented here in the hope that it will lead to a dialog within the University community about where we are and where it is desirable to go in light of this information. For another view of the situation, please see: "Oh Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble, When You Have Ambitious Aspirations."

From the M&M report:

The following institutions have been selected for comparison with the University of Minnesota:

University of Florida

University of Illinois

University of Michigan

The Ohio State University

Pennsylvania State University

University of Texas

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Washington

University of Wisconsin

(I would prefer that we compared ourselves with the other BigTen schools, Northwestern excepted, but be that as it may…)

Our 2006 ranking for Exceptional Students:

Top 10% of High School Class
Average ACT Score
2-Year Retention Rate
6-Year Graduation Rate

Exceptional Faculty

National Academy Members
Faculty Awards

Total Research Expenditures 8th

Some Details

Percentage of freshman in top 10 percent of high school class

99 %
U Michigan
U Washington
U Florida
U Texas
U Wisconsin
U Illinois
Ohio State
U Minnesota
Penn State

Our ranking by this index is 10/11. The actual figures are quite instructive and give further indication of the difficult task ahead of us if we believe that we can significantly improve our rankings in this index of quality.

Converted SAT and ACT scores of new, entering freshmen

Ohio State
Penn State

First and Second Year retention rates

Penn State
Ohio State

Four, Five, and Six Year Graduation Rates

Penn State
Ohio State

Pertinent question: What is Penn State doing right? Maybe we can learn from them? I understand they also have a football team...

National Academy Members

Penn State
Ohio State

Membership in the National Academies is a particularly interesting topic in trying to understand the folly of our ten year march to Greatness. Mr. B. believes that membership in the academy is correlated strongly with the perceived quality of an institution. For example there are many faculty members at the U of M who would be in the Academy if they were at institutions higher in the pecking order. And some members of the academy would certainly have been elected earlier than they have been if they were located elsewhere. This is an academic example of the Matthew effect: "Unto everyone that hath, shall be given" colloquially expressed as: "them as has, gits."

So the sad facts are: Berkeley - an astonishing 212 members [sic], UWashington - 85, UCLA - 73, UMichigan - 73, UWisconsin - 71, UTexas - 56, UIllinois 55, UMinnesota 36. There is a gap of approximately twenty between us and Illinois. At this point we should worry more about Penn State and Ohio State closing the gap with us.

So in round numbers Berkeley has almost six times as many National Academy members; Washington, UCLA, and Michigan have more than twice as many. We simply are not going to be able to catch up to these folks on any realistic timescale. Nor do we have the money to catch up by buying National Academy members. In fact quite the opposite. Texas recently bought one of our chemistry faculty members. We simply could not meet or even approach the Texas offer. This faculty member was subsequently inducted into the national academy having moved to Texas.

Total Research Expenditures and Percent Increase Over the Last Five Years

809 $mil
47 %
Penn State
Ohio State

In total research expenditures (2005) we ranked 8th in the peer group. In our five year percentage increase we ranked 10/11.

Federal Research Expenditures and Growth Rate for the Last Five Years

606 $mil
56 %
Penn State
Ohio State

So in Federal research funding we ranked 6/11, but a disturbing trend is clearly evident. In terms of our increase over the past five years we rank dead last, 11/11. Thus our formerly very strong position enables us to look respectable but obviously it is steadily eroding.

Food for thought? Is it really credible to continue on with this "ambitious aspiration" to "become one of the top three public research universities [in the world]?" Let's admit we have some serious problems here and concentrate on fixing them. Let's also commit to getting the University of Minnesota at least to the mid-point of the BigTen rankings outlined above. That will be a difficult enough task.

In the hope that our administrators will soon get real,

Ciao, Bonzo