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.

The Promise Scholarships at the University of Minnesota - Another Whopper?

Posted by: Bill Gleason under Society, Education and literacy, Government, Politics Updated: June 19, 2011 - 6:15 PM



 But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep...


"Affordability for students here and at the University's four coordinate campuses remains a primary concern for the Bruininks administration. In 2009, the president announced the rebranding and expansion of the University's need-based aid strategy to include guaranteed aid for all Minnesota students from low- and middle-income families."  (source)

Here's the start of an investigation into the shell game that is the so-called Promise Scholarships at the University of Minnesota.  These have been held up as an answer to the dilemma posed by a high tuition model at the U. Supposedly students with great financial needs would be sheltered from the devastating costs of college and the resulting staggering debt loads.

The promise is an illusion.

To begin this discussion results may be found below for a cost comparison between two public universities, the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina.  These results were obtained by entering data  in forms provided by both universities on the web  to estimate the actual cost of attendance, as well as debt load.   If you'd like to try it yourself, go here and sign in as "guest."

Then fill out the forms for these colleges making sure that the so called AGI is zero, so that the student/parents are absolutely unable to contribute to the cost of education.  You should get the following numbers.  I intend to discuss them in a little more detail shortly, but the results are striking and indicate that Promise Scholarships need re-thinking.  The net cost at the U of M is $11,268 and the student/parent is expected to borrow $8,600 per year for a staggering four year debt of  $34,400.

Contrast this to the situation at the University of North Carolina where a student with the same financial resources would see a net cost of $2,700 with loans of ZERO to the student/parent. 

Some quibbles may be made over this analysis but it is obvious that something smells bad in Morrill Hall and it is not the President's fish.


 To illustrate the challenge of getting Morrill Hall to face reality, see a portion of the short video of President Bruininks being interviewed by Esme Murphy this morning on 'CCO. Truly a Five Pinocchio performance.


1. Very few universities have not seen a marked increase in applications: More than 28,000 students applied to be part of UW-Madison's freshman class in the fall, a record number and the biggest increase in at least 20 years

2. The Promise Scholarship pot of gold - $350 million - at 5% will yield $70 per student based on an enrollment of 25,000 undergrads.

3. President Bruininks has the chutzpah to claim: "The quality of education is better now today than it has been in any of the 42 years that I have been at the University of Minnesota."


There is plenty of evidence to counter the President's claim, for example:

a. "As for commitment to quality education at an affordable cost? Meaningless drivel. The administration has flatly failed on its promises of excellence and affordability." Daily (13 Oct 2009)

b. "Davis-Blake said that quality is going down because the quality of the student experience has declined, which is related to uncontrollable central costs. At the Carlson School, they have fewer TAs, fewer classes, more students in classes, the building is less clean, there are fewer advisers, they have more adjuncts, and they have less information technology. All of these things are happening." Former Carlson School Dean Davis-Blake who has left for Michigan.

There will be more on this in due course. We have a lot of work to do at the University of Minnesota so that we can be an institution of which the state can be proud.  I hope the next administration does a much better job and re-establishes our land grant priorities.

However it is important to face up to our problems and not try to sweep them under the rug. This strategy has been a dismal failure.



Perhaps Now Would Be A Good Time To Re-evaluate Plans for the University of Minnesota's UMore Park?

Posted by: Bill Gleason under Disasters, Education and literacy, Government, Politics Updated: May 15, 2011 - 7:33 AM

Mining for sand and gravel, image: Wikimedia Commons

Now that gravel mining has been put off at UMore Park and considerable discussion has occurred recently by the agricultural faculty at the University of Minnesota, perhaps taking a step back and re-evaluating the whole situation would be a good thing to do?  A real economic analysis might also prove useful...


On the Continuing MoreU Park Fiasco Is the University of Minnesota a Land Grant Institution?
MoreU Park The Public be Damned?
An Ag Researcher at the University of Minnesota Questions Priorities for MoreU Park
More on MoreU...
More on MoreU Sunshine is the best disinfectant...
Exactly how long is the UMore Park craziness going to continue?


Part I. Are We A Land Grant Institution or A Gravel Mining and Development Corporation?

Senate Research Committee
Monday, April 25, 2011

"Professor Linn, Head of Animal Science, said that his department has conducted research on land at UMore Park for over 50 years, including with sheep, dairy and beef cows, and swine, and at present it has research facilities for turkey and beef cattle. Their research facilities are on the edge of the area where the proposed gravel mining will start. They have expressed concern all along about the loss of agricultural land and their animal facilities."

"What is key for them, Professor Linn said, is replacement of the facilities. There has been no discussion of the loss or replacement. This is a multi-million-dollar problem. Second, this is a primary turkey-producing state, but they have no idea what the effect of mining will be on the research facilities. They bring in $300,000 – 500,000 per year to support the facilities the research facilities at UMore Park, and the impact of the mining has to be addressed."

"The land is their laboratory, Dr. Braun explained, and UMore Park turns their labs into a gravel mine. The value of the lab far exceeds the value of the gravel mine. They have asked for alternative land but are skeptical that will be provided with the kind of land that is needed."

"The University is abdicating its land-grant mission, and he[Professor Baker] does not know of another land-grant school that does not have land close to its campus to train undergraduates. To sell off an asset to pay for operations is like selling one's kidney to pay for groceries, he said, which is why they are so upset with the plans for UMore Park."

"The land that has been suggested as an alternative is not equal to what they have now, Professor Orf said, nor does it have the millions of dollars of infrastructure (storage sheds, irrigation, and laboratories for threshing and storage of plants, etc.) that currently exists in the land they use. There was great concern about the impact of the light-rail trains on research on the Minneapolis campus; they have the same concerns about the dust and equipment storage and safety of the people working at their sites."

Professor Hutchison, the Head of Entomology, said that his department still has active research at UMore Park and they have not seen enough consultation with faculty members; he thanked the Committee for hearing about their concerns. Their faculty see these recent discussions as re-arranging deck chairs on the "Titanic."

"A number of faculty members (23) in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) wrote to the Board of Regents in July, 2010 to express their concerns. The Regents wrote back to respectfully disagree about the quality of the land and the lack of a farm for the University."

"Dr. Becker also noted that when the University received the land at UMore Park after WW II, University Agronomists and Soil Scientists conducted surveys and determined the agricultural plots needed to be where they are because most of the landscape at UMore Park was disturbed in building the munitions plant. Topsoil and subsoil were mixed or significantly altered, rendering those areas wholly unsuitable for research other than reclamation research. We cannot just move onto other lands impacted by the plant construction. "

They and others have been doing studies for ten years or more and will not be able to continue because of the gravel dust. E.g., photosynthate measurements will be erratic and altered because of widespread gravel dust deposition.

These sites encompass the entire Agronomy farm research areas, and he would not want to be around them, nor would he want his students working on the land near them. Dust, noise, VOCs from the asphalt plant, conveyors transporting rock overhead, and heavy equipment traffic - they cannot co-exist. The take-home message is that the University has to acquire new land in the area. As Dr. Al Levine, Dean of CFANS put it; it is like taking buildings down on campus and making no alternative arrangements for the faculty who were housed in them.

Professor Linn said that the Regents' letter indicates the plans will go forward even though most faculty members on the St. Paul campus oppose them. Dr. Braun reported that the gravel mining has been postponed because of the economic situation (an 80% decline in the demand for gravel), which buys them time to explore alternatives, such as mining on the east side and not disrupting the agricultural land.

Professor Vaughan asked if the Regents made the decision without consulting the faculty. Essentially they did, Professor Baker said. The Board was led to believe there would be additional discussions about what would serve the research needs of the faculty, but those discussions have not taken place.

Professor Linn said that from the time the process started and all along, they have said that what is going on there is not acceptable. There will be mining and a new community; the key issue is the lack of responsibility for agricultural research that has been there for 50 years. They are not looking at the importance of how to replace that land—the focus has been on the mining and the new community.

Dr. Braun reported that it was in March 2010 that agricultural researchers were informed about the plans for UMore Park. Many had no idea anything was being planned, even though UMore Park had been in the works for years.

The implication is that Vice President Mulcahy talked about the cost of relocating the NMR machines because of the light rail trains, which involved a cost in time and expense, including the effect on graduate students. One would have thought they would have had similar relocation costs as part of the UMore Park project, but apparently they did not, which reflects a misunderstanding of the research enterprise.

The argument was that things cannot go on like they have been, Professor Cleary said. What does that mean? That the value of the land and gravel outweighs the value of the research? Professor Orf said that, per Professor Baker, some of this research has a history and it would take 15 years to get back to the same point. Will NSF provide funding for another 15 years? That is not likely. Professor Cleary said he could not understand the negative views about the agricultural research being done on the UMore Park land.



These are merely excerpts.  There is even more horrible stuff available where that came from.



Part II.  Follow the Money

My fellow University of Minnesota alumnus, Michael McNabb comments on the situation:

Recent discussions have confirmed concerns about the UMore Park development.  The gravel pit will be located on land that has been used for agricultural research that has produced hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy of Minnesota.  See the remarks of the professors from the College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resources Sciences at the April 25, 2011 meeting of the faculty research committee at More On MoreU Park.

In July 2010 the Regents dismissed the concerns expressed by CFANS faculty members about the decision (already made) to transform UMore Park.  At that time the Regents were under the impression that the gravel pit would generate $3 million to $10 million in revenue per year.  That projection by senior administrators was wildly unrealistic.  See Section 1 of University Inc. Part II.  

See UMore Park Craziness for a partial list of the numerous consultants who have received part of the $9.3 million (and counting) that the administration has spent planning the development of UMore Park.  Note that there is not a single consultant from the fields of agriculture or veterinary medicine.  (The Vet School has an entire farm at UMorePark.)  It appears that the senior administrators and the Regents made the decision on UMore Park without consulting either the professors who were engaged in research on the land or any agricultural economists!

The decision of the administration on UMore Park fails to recognize the essential value of agricultural research for a land grant university:

CFANS is a college devoted to solution-driven science; we use critical and innovative thinking plus all the tools of the arts and sciences to make our planet a productive, friendly, and sustainable environment--to solve everyday problems.  We study the health of the land and the health of the living.”

See the message from the Dean on the University of Minnesota web site.



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

Posted by: Bill Gleason under Society, Crime, Disasters, Education and literacy, Continuing education, Government, Politics 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 under Society, Education and literacy, Continuing education, Government 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 under Society, Crime, Education and literacy, Continuing education 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.

Should a faculty member or University of Minnesota employee serve on the Board of Regents?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: April 15, 2011 - 8:05 AM


Justice - Image credit: Wikimeda


Mr. Steve Sviggum, one of the newest members of our board of regents, recenty resigned his teaching position at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, so that he could continue to serve on the university’s board.

Mr. Sviggum has a history as a partisan member of the GOP and is serving as a lightning rod for the now politically polarized state of Minnesota. He is a former Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representative. He has also been doing some teaching at the Humphrey Institute for the past few years and I have heard nothing but enthusiasm for the work he does there. Sviggum has a B.A. from St. Olaf (in math) and has been both a teacher and a farmer.

He certainly seems qualified to be a member of the board.

Mr. Sviggum was appointed to his position by the legislature, which is now controlled by the GOP. Some have said that the process is too politicized, which may indeed be the case.  When the DFL (Democratic Farmer Labor Party, sigh…) was in control of the legislature last year they appointed their own partisan, Dean Johnson, a former minority and majority leader of the Minnesota House. Currently we have three (25 percent) former members of the state legislature serving as board members.

There is also a student member of the board.

Now a three-member panel of the Board has decided that for Sviggum to serve as both a member and as a faculty member is a conflict-of-interest that apparently cannot be solved by simple recusal when appropriate.

Personally I would like to see a dedicated seat for a faculty member or other employee of the university on the board. I think this would give faculty direct input into deliberations. Currently at board meetings, the administration’s spin is overwhelming. Once a year the public is allowed an hour of three-minute presentations to the board. These are politely ignored for the formality they are.

According to The Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities:

“In 2010, 50.3 percent of public college boards included at least one student as a voting member of the board, and 28.2 percent included at least one nonvoting student member.”

“Of public colleges, universities, and systems, 13.3 percent included at least one faculty member as a voting board member, and 9.7 percent included a nonvoting faculty member.”

Further this same group also answers the question:

Why wouldn’t a school have more faculty and students on its board?


“Service on governing boards creates conflicts of interest for faculty and students, and that is why many boards do not include either as voting members.

Which raises the question at Minnesota and other institutions having governance boards with voting student members, how are faculty conflicts different?

The reasons given by the ad hoc committee responsible for adjudicating the matter seem rather flimsy.

A faculty member would have a conflict in matters of resource allocation.

Surely faculty members right now can be found who take actions for the good of the university as a whole rather than parochial interests?

The board deals with employee compensation and benefits?

The board sets the president’s salary and he is de facto a member of the board and attends every meeting, often with a large amount of uncontested input.

Sviggum’s status as a faculty member provides him with rights and responsibilities not afforded to other members of the board because of academic freedom?

How, exactly, is this a problem?

Sviggum’s contractual responsibilities “create an actual or potential conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics, Sec. V, Subds. 2,5.”

And how to deal with this is also spelled out. It is called recusal.

A rather tortured argument is then presented that somehow Sviggum might create confusion in the minds of the public because only the president or the board chair can speak for the board. Faculty members are already quite aware of this distinction. I do not represent an official University of Minnesota in my writings or lobbying efforts. It would be very easy for Regent Sviggum to state: “On this matter I speak as a faculty member and not for the Board.”

Finally, I note that Regent Sviggum is giving up a post that pays $80K/year so that he can remain on the board. Regents are not compensated for their service.

He sounds like just the kind of man who could deal fairly with any conflict issues that might arise.


This is an edited version of an opinion piece that has appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


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