Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. He's also a fellow at the U's Supercomputer Institute. Read more about Gleason.

Posts about Continuing education

Adam and Eve Help Out At The University of Minnesota

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: August 4, 2011 - 6:58 AM

Wikimedia: Adam and Eve
Lucas Cranach The Elder (1528)


(Originally posted on Brainstorm at The Chronicle of Higher Education.)


Those ethically challenged folks at the University of Minnesota are at it again… A couple of years ago we had a dean who served on the Pepsi board even though it seemed a little incongruous for a med school dean to be involved with a company that made products that rotted children’s teeth.  But of course we were assured by the Vice President of the Academic Health Center that this conflict had been declared manageable.  Then we had the spectacle of a different dean pointing out that after all what was happening with respect to conflict of interest policies was not illegal: “We’re not violating a legal statute.”

And then there have been a number of bimbo eruptions at the Carlson school.  An older one involved a faculty member who said of a potential speaker “It’s one thing if you’re bringing in a criminal to speak. But if someone’s under investigation, that’s fair game.” To what should be no one’s surprise given such an environment a student group has recently demonstrated what seems to be, at least, unethical behavior. A Missouri start-up is accusing students in a University of Minnesota class of copying its idea for a business.

So now what?  The University of Minnesota has just announced a sizable donation from an outfit called Adam and Eve, purveyors of among other things, porn and hard-core DVDs.  The press release announcing this happy marriage contains a link to the Adam and Eve site where wares may be inspected (probably NSFW and must be 18 to log on).

When asked about hardcore porn – something that’s believed to distort a person’s view of sexuality, Eli Coleman, director of the university program on human sexuality replied:

“If this was a company that was into child pornography or something like that, that was illegal, I don’t think we could morally accept something from people who are involved in illegal activities. But this is a company that’s responsible and is law-abiding…”

It is a sad day at a university when the ethical standard is: “If it is not illegal, we can do it.”

Censorship of Thoughtful Post By University of Minnesota Alum Further Illustrates Pattern of Suppressing Criticism

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: May 7, 2011 - 10:00 AM

Added Later: Response from Chris Coughlan-Smith:


Hi, Professor Gleason. I can assure there is no effort to suppress discussion on this community. We have a policy in place on the approval of discussions, filtering commercial and promotional items to the correct area and deleting only profane and offensive material.

An error appears to have been made over the weekend and our policy has been reiterated with all who moderate the discussions.

I've personally approved Mr. McNabb's comments in the past and will continue to do so. I wish one of you would have asked someone in this office for a clarification. Thank you.

Chris, group founder and owner





Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Recently I learned of yet another attempt to stifle criticism at the University of Minnesota. It is sad, indeed, that the administration and the alumni association are engaging in the tactics of censorship and intimidation. 

I sincerely hope that the next president will not tolerate this kind of activity at our university.
From my friend and fellow alum, Michael McNabb:


The University of Minnesota Alumni Association has a LinkedIn web site for posts submitted by alumni.  I have sent several single sentence posts with links to essays in The Periodic Table, such as:

On The Cost of Administration Part II 


State (and) University

See the attached My Activity section of the UMAA site.

On April 30 the UMAA site blocked the submission of a single sentence post [Administration seeks to stifle criticism of research] with links to these posts:

Freedom Means Restriction? 

Constitutional Law

When I scrolled down to the end of the My Activity section I saw the following question:

Are you sure that you want to permanently remove, block and delete all contributions from this member?

Then I checked the main section of the UMAA site and saw that my previous posts had been deleted.

The mission statement of the Alumni Association states that it is "dedicated to connecting alumni, students and friends in lifelong support of the University of Minnesota and each other." 

See the UMAA web site.

It appears that the Alumni Association considers the current administration and the University to be one and the same for it excludes any perspective that challenges a course of action undertaken by the administration.  (It is far easier to exclude than to allow alumni to hear different perspectives and to engage in an exchange of ideas.)

A "guiding principle" of the Alumni Association is that it "represents the independent voice of the alumni."
  See the UMAA site above.  By excluding different perspectives of alumni the Alumni Association acts as the representative of the administration to silence the independent voices of those alumni.


Chicago Philosopher Calls Out U of M General Counsel on "a quite brazen attack on academic freedom"

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: April 29, 2011 - 6:37 AM


Goneril and Regan from King Lear

Image credit: Wikimedia commons


I have earlier written about this matter. See University of Minnesota General Counsel: Is Defamation Protected by Academic Freedom for some background.

Since that post there have been further reactions to the situation at Minnesota, including articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, and the Bioethics Forum at the Hastings Center.

The time for weary negligence in this matter has long passed.

Today a nationally respected professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Chicago posted a strongly worded piece on his widely read blog, Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog.

From his post:

The University of Minnesota Clinical Trials Fiasco and the Apparent Attempt to Silence Faculty Critics

A clinical trial of an antipsychotic medication at the University of Minnesota in 2003 resulted in the death of a patient; bioethicist Carl Elliott at Minnesota investigated, concluding that the patient should not have been enrolled, and that the clinical trial itself was run by doctors with financial ties to the drug manufacturer sponsoring the clinical trial, and that many such trials are really aimed at marketing the drug, not testing its safety:

Professor Elliott and others appealed to the University's Board of Trustees to investigate.   Now the University's General Counsel is trying to stop faculty from pursuing this matter!   This latest development--a quite brazen attack on the core of academic freedom.

This blog also offers a useful timeline of the recent events :

November 23, 2010.  Eight professors and bioethicists submit a letter to the Regents requesting an independent investigation into the death of Dan Markingson while he was participating in a clinical trial at the University.  See Faculty Letter at
December 10, 2010.  General Counsel Mark Rotenberg meets with the Regents regarding the request.  See U of M Attorney at
February 7, 2011.  Regents deny request for independent investigation.  See Regents Play Innocent at
February 24, 2011.  General Counsel Rotenberg submits to the FCC [the faculty council] the following question:  What is the faculty's collective role in addressing factually incorrect attacks on particular U faculty research activities?  FCC refers the question to the AF & T Committee.  See the February 24 report of the FCC at
This is a case where the University President needs to exercise some real leadership, including, at a minimum, instructing the General Counsel to back off.  This whole episode is also indicative of how important tenure is to protect faculty whose research adversely affects corporate interests.



University of Minnesota General Counsel: Is Defamation Protected By Academic Freedom?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: April 25, 2011 - 5:16 PM
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Stained glass window of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.
“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
Academic freedom can be a double-edged sword. It can serve the useful purpose of allowing the discussion of controversial or difficult issues. But it can also be  used by opponents to try to beat down the opposition by claiming that their own academic freedom is being violated by people with whom they disagree.
Two recent examples of this kind of  behavior have occurred  at the University of Minnesota and I am sure that the tactic is not foreign to most higher education institutions nowadays.
Enforcement of political correctness was an item of dispute between those in the College of Education and Human Development and some right-wingers led by the Star-Tribune's house conservative columnist, Katherine Kersten. Her opinion piece, “Battle lines drawn against U initiative,” drew quite the fire-storm (pun intended) when a well-known Philadelphia organization (FIRE) became involved in leading the fight against what Ms. Kersten referred to as “thought control.” After a few rounds of correspondence, the University of Minnesota essentially cried uncle. Further details available on the FIRE web-site: Victory for Freedom of Conscience as University of Minnesota Backs Away from Ideological Screening for Ed Students.
Two thing were disturbing about this matter. First, it was assumed by some that just because Ms. Kersten opposed the actions of some in the university concerning this matter, that she must be wrong because she is a conservative. Now I don't agree with her on much of anything, but I was on her side in this matter.
The other, perhaps more discouraging aspect of this matter, was the attempt by some of the University of Minnesota administration to try to used the claim of bullying and disrespect of academic freedom to quiet critics. Thus Jean Quam, the Dean of the College of Education and Human Development commented at a Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure meeting (12/4/09): “Academic freedom means faculty should be able to say what they want, and to defend what they say, without offensive comments in response.” During this same meeting she opined  that anonymous bloggers seem to have a license to be highly offensive and say things that have no basis in fact, although she, herself, does not read blogs, but has a niece who does.
Such an attitude is hardly conducive to free and open discussion.
The latest controversy is a little more complicated, but the issues are framed more starkly.
The General Counsel at the University of Minnesota, Mark Rotenberg, has asked the Academic Freedom and Tenure committee at Minnesota to  consider whether "factually-incorrect attacks on particular University faculty research activities" are protected by academic freedom.   

Of course they are not. Why would anyone ask such a question?
This development has provoked an outcry that the very process of developing a policy on this matter could have a chilling effect on academic freedom and perhaps that is the intention. Obviously the First Amendment protects free speech and it is generally accepted that a state university may not exercise prior restraint.
What is behind this odd request by the General Counsel?
A time line (provided by Mr. Michael, McNabb a fellow University of Minnesota alum. Four of his six children have also attended the university.)
November 23, 2010.  Eight professors and bioethicists submit a letter to the Regents requesting an independent investigation into the death of Dan Markingson while he was participating in a clinical trial at the University. 
December 10, 2010.  General Counsel Mark Rotenberg meets with the Regents regarding the request. 
February 7, 2011.  Regents deny request for independent investigation
February 24, 2011.  General Counsel Rotenberg submits to the FCC the following question:  What is the faculty's collective role in addressing factually incorrect attacks on particular U faculty research activities? 

What is the sub-text?
The stained glass picture of Thomas Becket above is a stand in for Dr. Carl Elliot a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota who has written extensively on the pharma-academic health center complex. For the best overall picture of what is going on here, his piece in Mother Jones is highly recommended: “The Deadly Corruption of Clinical Trials.” From that article: “The University of Minnesota doesn't exactly have a stellar record of investigating internal misconduct.” I'm sure that Dr. Elliot is not Mr. Rotenberg's favorite person.
Lest the gentle reader think that Dr. Elliot is some sort of low life muckraker, he has just been awarded a fellowship by the Edmund J. Sifra Center for Ethics at Harvard. His research topic: Corruption in Clinical Trials.
It would seem that the General Counsel of the University of Minnesota could use a refresher course in constitutional law.

Is it really the case that we Minnesotans now value college education less than the rest of the country?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: March 29, 2011 - 8:28 AM


Oliver Twist asking for more

Image Credit


In the University of Minnesota's mad scramble to stop the bleeding a provocative op-ed has appeared by my esteemed colleague, history professor Giancarlo Casale.  I urge people to read his important post.

[Prior to the Casale post, I had earlier examined this hypothesis in the post  Subsidy for Education and Related Expenses - 2008 data - for 50 Flagship Universities.  The data is behind a firewall unless one is a paying subscriber so I have transcribed it below.]

In this Star-Tribune op-ed Casale asks a provocative question that I believe has to  be answered in the negative: Minnesota seems to be abandoning its commitment to flagship university. Is it really the case that we Minnesotans now value college education less than the rest of the country?

In order to start a discussion on the matter - in which I will not participate because of the recent intellectual equivalent of drive by shootings - I offer the following:


From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
March 13, 2011

Education Financing for Major Public Universities: Which Ones Get the Most and the Least

The Chronicle chose one large public research institution per state—often the flagship—and examined its subsidy for education and related expenses per student in 2008, the most recent year for which those data have been reported. This figure is the share of educational spending not covered by tuition. For many but not all flagships, state appropriations finance a significant portion of this subsidy. 
Subsidy for education and related expenses per student, 2008
U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
U. of Washington*
U. of California at Berkeley
U. at Buffalo
U. of Nevada at Reno
U. of Texas*
U. of Hawaii—Manoa
U. of Minnesota—Twin Cities
U. of Alaska*
U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor
U. of Wyoming
U. of Tennessee*
U. of Connecticut*
Ohio State U.*
U. of Florida
U. of Utah
U. of Arkansas main campus*
U. of Iowa
U. of North Dakota*
Rutgers U.*
U. of Kansas
U. of Wisconsin at Madison
U. of Arizona
U. of Idaho
U. of Massachusetts*
U. of Delaware
Louisiana State U.
U. of Virginia
U. of South Dakota
U. of Kentucky
U. of Maryland at College Park
U. of Missouri*
U. of Nebraska at Lincoln/Omaha*
U. of Alabama*
U. of New Mexico/New Mexico State U.*
U. of Mississippi*
U. of Oklahoma at Norman
U. of Vermont
U. of Illinois*
Indiana U. at Bloomington
U. of Maine*
U. of Georgia
U. of South Carolina at Columbia
West Virginia U.
U. of Montana*
U. of Oregon
U. of Rhode Island
U. of New Hampshire*
Pennsylvania State U.*
U. of Colorado at Boulder**
There is something very wrong here, although the interpretation of the numbers is complex and this was pointed out in a subsequent article.  But the trend is clear and Minnesota is far from the lowest in state support for higher education.  Even President Bruininks has admitted this. For fiscal year 2011 state monies provided for higher education in Minnesota were: $1,381,065,000. This ranked ~18/50 for all states. The comparable number in Wisconsin is $1,363,029, 136.  [The last I heard UW-Madison is cleaning our clock both in academics and in other less important matters such as football and basketball.  One might ask why but that is a different topic.] Again it is clear that the claim that Minnesota values higher education less than the rest of the country is false. Nitpickers may find fault with any set of numbers I might provide, but the evidence is overwhelming. To argue that Minnesota is worse than any state in the nation has about as much credibility as climate denialism.
In the op-ed we found a disclaimer: "I am not an expert on state finances or budgetary policy." It behooves some of those on the faculty at the University of Minnesota to start asking some serious questions. A history professor  is certainly capable of understanding basic economics.
Whining without justification simply is no longer acceptable. This is one of the main problems of the current university administration.
Playing Oliver Twist and asking for "More?" is a failed strategy. Hard  facts about the cost of education, how unreimbursed research costs are funded, and the outrageous costs for administration need to be provided. Minnesota citizens have a right to expexct that tuition increases are used for educational purposes and not to support unreimbursed research expenses, the cost of new - and unnecessary - buildings, or grandiose schems for the University of Minnesota to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]. Once Minnesotan's are made aware of the actual cost of education and assured that this is, indeed, our first priority, will we be in a position to ask for "More?" Unreimbursed research expenses and the source of funds to pay for them must be made explicit. Since even the current majority party seems to believe in research and development, explicit funding for these activities should be sought at the legislature.   The bloated cost of administration is beyond dispute.
Trying to pin the blame for this situation on Minnesota citizens, because they don't properly value  education, is an unfair and losing proposition. The citizens of the state, some of whom are literally -  not figuratively - hungry, will not be very sympathetic.

University of Minnesota Regent Johnson is Confused about Higher Ed funding in Alabama and Ohio

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: March 21, 2011 - 12:17 PM
"I was sitting here thinking,  I wonder if Alabama and Ohio are cutting their universities?...I would venture to say that Alabama and Ohio have not cut their state appropriations to their major universities....You know why? Because those fans won't let their legislators do it, " University of Minnesota Regent Johnson, March 11, 2011.

Au contraire...

"Alabama's fiscal year 2011 cuts to higher education led to 2010-11 tuition hikes that ranged from 8 percent to 23 percent, depending on the institution. "
"Other states cutting higher education operating funding and financial aid include Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin." Source: An Update on State Budget Cuts, February 9, 2011

An excerpt from the Board of Regents meeting of  March 11, 2011 is given below. The full video is available to view at the University of Minnesota Board of Regents web site.





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