Monday, December 21, 2009

More Loftin trial balloons floated

The Eagle reports:
"Get two or more faculty together, and they're going to talk about the administration," said Slack, who admittedly has done a lot of the complaining in the past. "But the general feeling was people were positive about [Texas A&M Interim President R. Bowen] Loftin."

He continued: "He's taken a big bathtub splashing back and forth and just calmed it. He had the right personality and demeanor to keep the [A&M] System officials from the necks of the faculty and the faculty from the necks of the System officials."
Some at the CPI might disagree with the part about keeping System officials from the necks of the faculty. However, Vision 1920's faculty contacts have nothing but praise for President Loftin. The most common refrain: it could be a lot worse.

That's the standard around here these days.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Will Loftin lose the interim tag?

The Eagle updates the search news:
Texas A&M Interim President R. Bowen Loftin appears to be one of about four candidates still in the running for the university's presidency.

"As far as I can tell, I am still being considered," Loftin said during an interview in his office Thursday. "I can't tell you anything more than that."

The advisory committee is expected to forward three or four names to the Board of Regents, the Texas A&M System's nine-member governing authority, at the regents meeting scheduled for Jan. 22, Box said.

Aggies won't know who the new president is until regents decide on a sole finalist. The search is in an "opaque" period in which secrecy is key to protecting the reputations of the candidates, said Box, who also is a regent and a former campaign treasurer for Gov. Rick Perry.
Vision 1920 wonders whether we have ever been in a nonopaque period for this search. However, Regent Box's concern about the reputations of the candidates is valid. Who would want to risk being known as the kind of quisling who would be willing to work here, unless they were assured of the payoff of a contract?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Search an academic exercise?

The same piece in the Eagle updates the status of the Presidential search
Richard Box, chair of the search committee looking for Texas A&M's next president, said that the process is on schedule and he plans to forward three or four names to regents next month.

Box, who also is a regent, said there were now fewer than eight candidates but declined to give a more precise number, saying the number would fluctuate. The remaining candidates all are from academia, he said.

"We're in a period that I call the opaque period -- we can't be very transparent in what we do. Confidentiality is of major importance," said Box, who asked each member of his 16-person committee to sign an agreement stating they won't reveal candidate names.

Fluctuate is not the adjective Vision 1920 would normally associate with narrowing the field. But it covers the possibility of adding new candidates, given that the remaining ones don't include the nonacademics mentioned in earlier releases.

Vision 1920 points out to members of the search committee that they would not be violating a promise to not reveal candidate names by leaving information about their current positions in the comments.

Getting what you pay for

The Eagle describes how our Chancellor is trying to keep A&M cheap.
Texas A&M has been instructed to plan for how it would deal with no increase in tuition next year, Chancellor Mike McKinney said during a Board of Regents meeting Thursday.

McKinney wrote in a letter last month to Texas A&M Interim President R. Bowen Loftin and other leaders in the 11-university A&M System that any tuition increase recommendation should be between zero and 3.95 percent.

Vision 1920 expects that we will need to hire several new administrators to keep the tuition increase recommendations within these limits.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Phil Gramm knows how to say no without saying no

Former Senator Phil Gramm was a faculty member at Texas A&M before he got into elected to the House of Representatives. As a former faculty member at A&M, Gramm probably knows that it's a terrible job. But as a prominent possible choice, how do you make sure you don't get stuck with it? You can't actually say you don't want the job, especially when you've previously said it's your dream job.

Gramm had to face this dilemma in 2002, when he was being touted as a stealth candidate. The George W. Bush appointees stuck with Gates while the Perry appointees (plus Erle Nye) wanted Gramm. But Gramm made sure that he would lose support from the Ag constituency by voting against the 2002 Farm Bill.

Now, out of the Senate, with another search for an A&M president ongoing, how can Gramm make sure he's not asked to fill the job? Like this:
Gov. Rick Perry backed Phil Gramm's stealth 2002 candidacy for Texas A&M president, but the former U.S. senator isn't returning the favor in the governor's re-election bid.

The 67-year-old was one of more than 60 Aggies or those with ties to the university who pledged support earlier this month to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's rival in the March Republican primary.

Friday, November 20, 2009

We can understand going after the Seahawks...

But forcing the Reed Rowdies off campus?
The MSC Bookstore has decided to enforce a rule that gives them exclusive merchandising rights to the entire campus. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, except that they haven't enforced it for anything or anyone else in the last five years (that the guys have heard of.) They are not allowing the Rowdies to sell their shirts this season inside the arena, and have said that they will fine them $100 for setting up anywhere else on Reed Arena property (i.e. outside entrances, parking lot, etc).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

10 years ago

It's been 10 years since the Bonfire tragedy.

There has been much debate since then about whether or not to bring Bonfire back, and whether or not it can be done. Today we should focus on remembrance.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Elite 8

The Eagle reports
At least eight candidates remain in the running for Texas A&M's presidency, officials said Thursday.

They include both men and women, but an exact breakdown wasn't immediately available, said Richard Box, chair of the 16-person search committee looking for the university's next leader.

Box said that there also were two "alternates" and that, though the soft deadline for applications passed last month, he hadn't "completely closed the door" to exceptional candidates who hadn't yet applied.

The committee met on campus Oct. 30 for about two hours and whittled the pool of about 50 applicants down to the current list, Box said.

"It was a process of elimination," said Box, an Austin dentist who once served as treasurer to the governor's campaign fund, Texans for Rick Perry. "The members of the committee had a very active and deliberate manner in which they went about it."

The candidates come from academia, government, the military and the business world, Box said. He declined to elaborate further.
Vision 1920 wonders if the finalists have been sent copies of Chancellor McKinney's Inside Higher Ed interview, so they know what our expectations are around here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Loftin's hat is in the ring

In the Eagle:
Texas A&M Interim President R. Bowen Loftin said that he would accept the university's presidency post if it were offered to him and that it would be an honor to lead his alma mater.

Loftin suggested that he was a candidate for the position but didn't directly say that he had applied.
For how this might be received on campus, we get the views of noted faculty relations expert Regent Gene Stallings:
"He has the ability to communicate with faculty. He's got the respect of faculty," said Regent Gene Stallings. "I'm sort of outside looking in, but I think he's done an outstanding job under some pretty tough circumstances."
Faculty Senate leader Bob Bednarz reacts as predicted by Vision 1920 in June:
"Faculty have generally found his decisions reasonable," said Robert Bednarz, speaker of the Texas A&M Faculty Senate. "They've been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt."

Bednarz, who was speaking as a spokesman for the faculty, also is a member of the 16-person search committee that is looking for Texas A&M's next president.
An alternative wording might be:
The faculty are resigned to their concerns being ignored

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

30 rocks

In Friday's Eagle:
Texas A&M has more than 30 candidates for the university's presidency, including nationally recognized names and individuals who have been "highly placed" in federal government, officials said Thursday.

Not on the list are Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a former Aggie yell leader, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former Texas A&M president, said Richard Box, chair of the 16-person search committee looking for the leader.

Thursday was the soft deadline for applications, though Box said "great candidates" would still be considered if they applied.

The candidates are from academia, business and government, though a breakdown wasn't immediately available, Box said. He disclosed no other details, including where in federal government they may have served.

"If I did that, I'd almost be telling you who they were," said Box, an Austin dentist.
Vision 1920 is tingling with speculation about who the "nationally recognized names and individuals who have been "highly placed" in federal government" might be.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The green-eyed monster

A notable comment from the Inside Higher Ed article
McKinney chalks up criticism [of the NCTM] to jealousy, adding “why anybody, anybody with pure motives, would be opposed to NCTM I have no idea.”
Chancellor McKinney did not add that he also has no idea why anyone with pure motives would criticize the late Anna Nicole Smith's marriage to billionaire J Howard Marshall.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Murano's performance evaluation explained

More brilliant PR from the Chancellor, as he gives an interview explaining events from last Spring:
Early in her presidency, McKinney says, Murano made a controversial promise, agreeing to hire the Board of Regents’ favored candidate to head research operations on the campus. Such a promise would fly in the face of well-established norms in higher education – where hires of this nature are typically subject to national searches and faculty input – but McKinney openly admits that he and the regents expected Murano to deliver on “her word.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The guidelines for this year's Student-Led Awards for Teaching Excellence have just come out:
The guidelines for the system program called “TAMUS Teaching Excellence Awards” (a.k.a. SLATE) have been issued. The program has been changed from our pilot SLATE program run by the students last year. In particular, there will be no inquiry to departments concerning the rigor of any course or its grading with respect to expectations in the curricula, and no review and recommendation by a student committee this year. Although the students advocated for small courses (less than 15 students enrolled) and courses that grant less than three hours of credit, the System guidelines have stated clearly that those variations are not allowed in the program.

The departmental and student committee reviews were added in response to criticism that SLATE was an easily gamed popularity contest that made TAMU an international laughingstock.

Vision 1920 is glad to see that A&M is showing the strength to remove the concessions to the critics... even if they might be right.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Building a great physics department

Texas A&M has added another Nobel Laureate to the faculty:
For the second time in four years Texas A&M University has hired a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Later this week the university will announce the hiring of David M. Lee, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in physics. Lee, 78, will move his laboratory from Cornell University to College Station.

“Change is good,” Lee said of the move from Cornell, where he has worked for half a century. “You have new colleagues and new ideas. It's very stimulating.”

The addition of Lee means A&M now has two Nobel Prize winners on its faculty. It hired the other, 77-year-old physics laureate Dudley Herschbach, in 2005.
TAMU Physics seems to be following a plan modeled on another top Physics Department described by blogger Michael White.
I stumbled on this amazing set of videos: physics legend Hans Bethe giving lectures on theoretical physics to his retirement community neighbors.

It's not as crazy as it sounds - a running joke around Ithaca (where I grew up and where Bethe's university, Cornell, is located) is that one of the top physics departments in the US is at the Kendal retirement community in Ithaca.

Update: In the comments, it is pointed out that the Houston Chron missed a Nobel Laureate at TAMU. Prof. Bruce McCarl was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the Peace Prize in 2007, and Vision 1920 should have noted the Chron's omission earlier. Dr. McCarl also has the distinction of having done his Nobel work while at Texas A&M instead of being bought brought in later. However, it should be noted that Dr. McCarl himself on his vita only describes this as "Nobel Peace Prize participant" rather than listing himself as a Nobel prize winner. Since the IPCC had over 2000 members and one usually thinks of a Nobel prize winner as being one of three or fewer who share an award, this humility seems appropriate (and admirable) to us here at Vision 1920.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

An idea for additional funding for the NCTM

Dear Sir:

I have been requested by the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing has recently received approval of the Texas A&M System Board of Regents for a plan immediately producing moneys equaling US$48,000,000. The National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing is desirous of moving forward immediately on highly profitable vaccine development for H1N1 flu and other diseases, however, because of certain regulations of the Texas Government, spending of these funds cannot be used for desperately needed supplies, such as soda, ice, and cups.

Your assistance is requested as a citizen to assist the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing in making these funds available for vaccine development. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your United States account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing. In exchange for your accommodating services, the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or US$4.8 million of this amount.

However, to be a legitimate transferee of these moneys according to Texas law, you must presently be a depositor of at least US$100,000 in a development account which is regulated by the Texas A&M University System. For an additional $100,000 you will be eligible for a job in the Texas A&M University System.

Yours truly, etc.

Onward with the NCTM!

As predicted, the Regents approved the NCTM on Friday. The Houston Chronicle reports
Friday's vote wasn't a surprise; regents already had earmarked $42.5 million of the grant to build the center, and the building is expected to open in 2011.

But the transition from a good idea with a fancy building to a profitable research enterprise and business venture will depend upon A&M officials finding additional funding and forming partnerships with other academic and health care enterprises.

Giroir said he expects an announcement on that subject soon.
Stay tuned.
A number of faculty members and alumni initially opposed the idea, citing it as a factor in no-confidence votes over the summer by both the A&M Faculty Senate and the Council of Principal Investigators, which represents faculty involved in research.

But the most vocal criticism appears to have died down.
That must mean they don't oppose the idea any more, right? What other possible explanation could there be?

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's not THAT big

The Batt on the ILSB
The facility provides space for the additional 447 faculty members that joined the University in accordance with the five-year faculty reinvestment plan, a University-wide initiative to increase faculty diversity that ended in 2008, said news & information services director Lane Stephenson.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

ILSB opening

Today was the long-awaited grand opening of the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building here at Texas A&M. Here's a description of the project from a few years ago:
The ILSB will be located near Simpson Drill Field and the Memorial Student Center on the Texas A&M campus and will include approximately 220,000 square feet of space for research laboratories, teaching, and related activities.
In addition to providing stellar accommodations for research and education...
Here's what Bob Gates said back when the ILSB was being planned
"This new facility will enable Texas A&M to play a critical role in the most advanced scientific research and teaching. It will greatly aid in our recruitment of additional high-quality faculty, in attracting significant new research grants and in enrolling the very best students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels."
Here's what President Loftin is saying now:
“It will unquestionably help in our Vision 2020 quest to rise among the ranks of the country’s top public universities and, even more importantly, serve our state and nation admirably in teaching and research endeavors in a host of emerging and exciting fields.”
Vision 1920 looks forward to seeing some pictures of the state-of-the-art teaching facilities in the ILSB.

The CPRIT of Aggieland

Sent to campus email today:
Subject: Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) Briefing

Date: September 28, 2009
Time: 1:00 - 4:00 pm
CPRIT: 1:00 - 2:30 pm
ETF: 2:30 - 4:00 pm
Location: Amphitheater, Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies
800 Stotzer Parkway, Bldg. 1904, 979-847-8477
Parking: Behind the building (map included)

Leadership from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) will be on campus Monday, September 28, to provide information updates about these programs. Attending will be:

Alan Kirchhoff - Director of the Emerging Technology Fund
David Nance - Executive Director, Innovate Texas Foundation
Ryan Confer - Director of Operations, Innovate Texas Foundation
Bob Pearson - Chairman of ETF Advisory Committee

Dr. William (Bill) Gimson, Executive Director, CPRIT
Dr. Alfred (Al) Gilman, Chief Scientific Officer of CPRIT
Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Garcia, Chief Prevention Officer, CPRIT
Ms. Heidi McConnell, Office of the Governor

You are invited to attend the briefing and meet key CPRIT/ETF staff members and learn how to apply for CPRIT and ETF funding. Breakout rooms will be available for you to meet one-on-one with both CPRIT and ETF staff regarding your specific research interests.

Teleconferencing capabilities will be available at all campuses for those who are unable to attend the briefing. You will receive information listing the remote TTVN locations shortly.

CPRIT is the Texas initiative to spend $3B over 10 years on cancer research. Al Gilman, the CSO of CPRIT, is a Nobel prize winner from UT Southwestern who described what they want to do to Science earlier this year (pdf at the CPRIT site)
Q: Is there going to be any attempt at geographic diversity?
A.G.: Not much. (Laughs.) I’ve said a pretty consistent line here that I’m going to take the politics out of this.
What's the point of having an Aggie governor if politics can't steer CPRIT money to A&M? Vision 1920 is confident that the ETF folks know who where their loyalties belong.
But if you look at the data, roughly half of NCI [National Cancer Institute]funding in Texas goes to M. D. Anderson [Cancer Center]. All of the UT components account for about 75% of NCI funding in the state. Now add Baylor [College of Medicine], and you are at about 90%. So that’s not evenly distributed geographically. It’s based on peer review. And so I think it will shake out roughly that way.
According to the NIH reporting tool, there are 1,406 NCI awards to Texas. 22 of them are listed as being in the 17th Congressional district, which includes A&M. Of these, 2 are to Lynntech, a local company. That's about 1.5% for A&M. If even if we only get that share of the CPRIT funding, it works out to about $4.5 million per year.
But I think the high-risk, high-impact program will provide opportunities for people in smaller schools to compete. A great idea can come from anyplace.
Smaller schools?!!

Vision 1920 is confident that Dr. Gilman will be impressed by the kinds of great ideas for biotech we embrace here at TAMU. After all, David Nance, who is on the ETF part of the event, was one of the founders of Introgen, a company we were ready to partner with.

BoR meeting

The BoR is meeting again this week. The next phase of NCTM approval is on the agenda. Thanks to a vigorous campaign of dealing with the insurgency, open dissent seems to have been successfully crushed.

Vision 1920's sources indicate that the attitude among the faculty is that even if the NCTM turns out to be a wildly overoptimistic money sink, it will get a new building for Engineering so it's not all bad. And it's not their money that will be thrown down the rathole. Assuming the IDCs really won't be swept... which is not a problem for those faculty who don't generate any IDCs anyway.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Changing Face of Texas - update

Today's Eagle covers the "Changing Face of Texas" Summit on Friday. One of the speakers, Bill Flores '76, past chair of the Texas A&M Association of Former Students noted our recent turmoil:
Bill Flores, a major financial contributor to Texas A&M who spoke about the responsibilities of former students, said that Murano, who resigned in June, was treated in a "disrespectful" and "unprofessional" manner.

The 1976 Aggie graduate told the crowd that former students have responsibilities, including maintaining the reputation of the school, mentoring younger Aggies and holding the university's governing authority accountable for its actions.

Chancellor McKinney's reaction was not reported.

Norman Borlaug

Vision 1920 notes with sadness the passing of Dr. Norman Borlaug.

Borlaug was a visionary, a hero, and a model for how science can be used to benefit humanity. Rest in peace, Dr. Borlaug.

Not dangerous?

Yesterday's Eagle:
Three upperclassmen have been removed from their Corps of Cadets outfit while officials investigate an incident they say caused blisters and abrasions to a freshman cadet's hands.

The injuries resulted from an exercise known as the "bear crawl" -- which is like crawling, but using feet instead of knees -- that was performed Monday on a concrete surface in the university's central parking garage, officials said.

"It's not the exercise," said John Van Alstyne, Corps commandant. "It's the place they chose to do it that resulted in injury. You can do the same thing on grass and it wouldn't be dangerous."
Vision 1920 notes that the high for Sept 7 was 98 degrees. And what about the fire ants?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

President Loftin, check with Austin

President Loftin on Sept 6:
Loftin also said he had no intention of considering bringing bonfire back to campus. Murano had settled the pending legal action surrounding the 1999 collapse that killed 12 Aggies and injured 27 others and had met with most of the families of the dead.

"I think it would take an extraordinarily large amount of interest on the part of our students here for us to get back to look at that again. ... I don't hear the students rising up and demanding it," he said. "To have it happen to you one time is something that you can get past. If you did it again, and it happened again, you have no way to excuse yourself."
Texas Monthly Senior Editor Pam Colloff, on Paul Burka's blog, Sept 8:
During our conversation, the governor made an intriguing comment about the future of the tradition. “It’s really going to be interesting when Bonfire is reintroduced on the campus again, and it will be. I will not be surprised if it happens by 2011, maybe even 2010. I think Bonfire will be back on campus. The kids will have the experience again.”
How would Bonfire be brought back to campus, I asked the governor? “I’d leave that up to the board and the current administration to sit down and decide the safety parameters, the oversight, et cetera,” he said. “They are very capable men and women, and I trust their judgment.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reversing trends at tu

The Austin American Statesman reports on tu Regents ignoring the Governor's suggestions for their Chancellor
Revealing new details about the behind-the-scenes selection process, three men who were on the University of Texas System's governing board when it hired Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said Tuesday that Gov. Rick Perry privately encouraged them to back another candidate for the job.

The three former regents — Perry appointees Robert Rowling, John Barnhill Jr. and H. Scott Caven Jr. — said Perry urged them to hire John Montford, a former state senator and Texas Tech University System chancellor who is a telecommunications lobbyist. While others have said Perry favored Montford for the job, the regents had remained silent about his involvement until Tuesday.
Barnhill said he thought one of Perry's concerns was that universities had been overrun by liberal professors and he thought bringing in Montford could help reverse that trend.
Vision 1920 wonders how that was going to work.

Open forum on Tuesday

Apparently President Loftin had another open forum earlier today, with Grad students.

Leading by example

The Eagle reports
Texas A&M's former vice president of university advancement, who left the post when his position was eliminated following former President Elsa Murano's resignation, has been offered another administrative position.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Easing anxiety

The Eagle profiles President Loftin
"I've had to really prioritize and say, 'What can I do to bring stability to campus ... and to ease their anxieties and make them recognize that this place is going to go on just fine?'" Loftin said during an interview in his office Thursday, about 2 1/2 months after he was tapped by the Board of Regents to serve while a search committee looked for a permanent president.

Vision 1920 points out to President Loftin that easing anxiety is another benefit of our proposal for the NCTMj.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The important stuff

Aggies BTHO New Mexico to open the 2009 football season.

Search committee open forum

The Eagle reports on yesterday's open forum with the search committee:
"How are we going to make sure this is an independent search?" asked Daniel Dick, a senior political science major, adding later that he worried that "influence from Austin" would have a negative impact on the quality of candidates who apply.

"The next president of Texas A&M will have to go through this committee," responded Richard Box, committee chairman and former treasurer of Texans for Rick Perry, the governor's campaign fund. "The work that we do will put that question to rest."
Vision 1920 is has no question about whether this is an independent search. No influence from Austin will be applied or needed.

The Governor expects loyalty

The Houston Chronicle explains what happened with Tceh Regent Mark Griffin:
Griffin, who made a recent public appearance endorsing Hutchison, told The Associated Press that Perry's former chief of staff, Brian Newby, called him days later with the message: ``The governor expects loyalty out of his appointees.''
The governor isn't getting full compliance from his Regents appointees. Griffin isn't the only one to run afoul of the governor's expectations
One of the former regents, Windy Sitton, said that Scott Dueser, then chairman of the board, told her last year that the governor's office had said for Sitton "to cease and desist supporting Kay Bailey immediately or resign from the board." She said that she did neither. Perry replaced her this year after her term expired.
Former tu regent Robert Rowling and our own Erle Nye have joined the opposition team. Perhaps this is the real reason we need Jay Kimbrough as a special advisor to the BoR. Kimbrough can make sure anyone with wobbling loyalties gets the message that Griffin got:
[Griffin] withheld a public endorsement until after the legislative session ended in June so his political activity wouldn't harm legislation and funding for Texas Tech.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cost savings reported

The Eagle writes about a draft of the Shared Services reports:
About $15 million in savings has been identified by teams responsible for merging administrative functions of Texas A&M University and the 11-university system that governs it, according to a draft report.

The ideas include combining lobbying efforts in Washington at a savings of $298,000; eliminating LEED certification -- a designation of environmentally sustainable construction -- "while still meeting requirements," to save about $190,000;
Skipping certifications "while still meeting requirements" could save even more money if applied more generally. Vision 1920 wonders how much money we waste on things like maintaining our accreditation. It would be so much cheaper to just say we meet the requirements.
and sharing purchases of desktop computers systemwide at a savings of $2.5 million.
To save $2.5M/year on desktop computer purchases it seems like we must be buying a lot of computers. For the estimated 2,000 computers expected to be bought in FY10, that comes to a savings of $1250 per computer. How do we do it? From the draft report:
Based on the FY10 contract, we estimate a total savings of $908,000, and an increase in savings over FY09 of $227,000.
Translation: if we calculate total savings based on a high enough retail price, which we are not paying now, we can claim massive savings. The actual savings comparing what was done in FY09 vs what we could do in FY10 is a lot smaller.
"It's taking that money and saving it for the next biennium. I really think some of the California schools wish they would have gone through the same exercise a lot earlier," he said.
We get to save it for the next biennium?

Lifelong learning

Educators often like to talk about lifelong learning, and faculty will point out that they continue to learn in their roles as teachers. Vision 1920 points out an example of this in Thursday's story in the Batt about the NCTM.
The Council of Principal Investigators, CPI, which consists of faculty and researchers, expressed opposition for construction of the new center and institution during an open faculty meeting with the CPI, Faculty Senate and Giroir in late July.

Members of the CPI declined to comment on the center and institution.

"We assembled a lot of information about this at one point and it had a lot of comments from our members. We raised some issues, and I think the state is going to go ahead with this," said Norman Guinasso, director of Texas A&M's Geochemical Environmental Research Group.

He declined to comment any further.
See? They're learning.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Changing Face of Texas

In an email sent around campus:
Former students of The Texas A&M Hispanic Network will host their bi-annual Summit on the Texas A&M University campus this fall semester. With a focus on "The Changing Face of Texas: Achieving the Dream of Vision 2020 Imperative 6," the Summit will take place Thursday and Friday September 10 and 11, 2009. Interested faculty and staff are invited to attend and participate in the Summit. To defray costs this year, a $50 registration fee is being charged for the event.

The program will include a panel featuring distinguished legislators from across Texas. Other anticipated speakers include:
  • Dr. Raymund Paredes, commissioner, The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board,
  • Dr. Michael D. McKinney, chancellor, The Texas A&M University System,
  • Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, interim president, Texas A&M University,
  • Mr. Pete Garcia, vice president (retired), Continental Airlines, and
  • Mr. Bill Flores '76, past chair, Texas A&M Association of Former Students.
For more information about the Summit and to register, visit Questions? Call 979.862.4440 or email

The same event described at the Hispanic Network site:
Fellow Aggies, as you are probably now aware, we have had a very rough year with the resignation of President Murano. Our TAMHN leadership have met with the chancellor, Chairman of the Board of Regents and the Interim President to express our concerns and continued dedication to achieving the goals of Vision 2020 and Imperative 6.
The latter doesn't mention the $50 fee, or that Loftin and McKinney are scheduled for just 15 minutes each.

This is leadership! Vision 1920 bets that members of Congress wish they'd had the idea to charge a registration fee for the recent town hall meetings.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Welcome students!

Vision 1920 celebrates the first day of class for the Fall Semester of academic year 2009-2010. We welcome the Fish to Aggieland and are glad to see our returning students back in College Station.

You may notice that over the summer there have been a few changes at TAMU. Some of your professors may seem unhappy with recent events, but here at Vision 1920 we hope that you'll just think of it as part of your "other education".

President Loftin corrects the record

President Loftin looks back on the summer in an interview with the Batt, and uses the opportunity to set the record straight:
Contrary to statements by local media, Provost Jeff Vitter was not asked to resign, Loftin said.

"He came to the conclusion that because of the leadership change that happened here it was really appropriate for him to go back to the faculty again," he said. "We met several times my first week here, for lengthy periods, to work on issues and ultimately he made the decision not to continue as provost."
Vision 1920 never really believed he was asked.

A voice from the past BoR

On Sunday, the Dallas Morning News had a letter from former Regent Douglas DeCluitt
The recent turmoil within the Texas A&M University community springs from a basically unstable organizational structure. It has been unstable from its beginning, but has managed to be somewhat effective because, in the earlier days at least, the chancellor was an academic who was careful to not encroach upon the turf of the president of Texas A&M. The president ran the university.

It is Texas A&M University that has the potential to become a Top 10 public university, not the Texas A&M system.

It makes no sense to have such a large and dominant part of the system report to a supervisor. The president of TAMU should report directly to the board of regents rather than through the filter of a chancellor.

The chancellor could also report to the regents and supervise the other institutions of the system, or the chancellor could report to the president of TAMU and supervise the other institutions of the system.

This is an ideal time to make this organizational change. The new organization would demonstrate the institution's desire for strong and meaningful leadership, thereby enhancing the possibility of attracting outstanding candidates for president.
Vision 1920 fears that Mr DeCluitt is out of touch with the priorities of his successors on the BoR. They've already demonstrated our plans with respect to strong and meaningful leadership from the President, Provost, and chair of the CPI.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Something for the shared services panels to consider

Despite their landlocked location, students at Texas A&M University can attend courses while they lie on a virtual beach at the university’s new “Second Life” campus. The university has opened dedicated learning spaces in the three-dimensional world for instructor and student use in time for the fall semester, which starts Monday (Aug. 31).
Vision 1920 sees tremendous budget savings potential here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Texas A&M clearly didn't have enough direct connections to Gov. Perry, with only Chancellor McKinney (former chief of staff), Regent Jones (former General Council for the Governor) etc. Today we learn
Gov. Rick Perry's former chief of staff began serving this month as a special adviser to the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents -- a new position -- at a $260,000 annual salary.

Jay Kimbrough, who finished as the governor's chief of staff in July, has bounced between the governor's office and the A&M System, giving critics of the Aggie governor's influence at his alma mater more ammunition.
Some are upset that a new position was created for Mr. Kimbrough at a time when budget cuts are being demanded at Texas A&M. But Kimbrough used to make $300,000/year with the System, so we're saving $40K/year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bluff or ABET

KBTX notes that the Qatar campus just received accreditation from ABET... but Murano claimed this as an accomplishment in February:
Engineering programs at Texas A&M's campus in the Middle East have earned a high honor, but it's one the former university president seems to have claimed had already happened.

A&M announced Tuesday that the four programs based in Qatar have been accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET.

“We are pleased that Texas A&M’s Qatar campus has been accredited by ABET, which validates something that we have known for a long time — our Qatar engineering graduates are of the highest caliber and will be a part of the next generation of Aggie leaders,” said A&M Interim President Bowen Loftin in a press release Tuesday.

But the accreditation that came Tuesday was something former Texas A&M president Elsa Murano claimed had happened under her watch.

In the now-infamous self-evaluation which led to low marks from A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney, Murano wrote as a major accomplishment that she "successfully obtained accreditation for our four engineering programs at our campus in Qatar from ABET. This opens the door for the establishment of a full-fledged graduate program and adds great credibility and prestige to our Qatar campus and its graduates."

Chancellor McKinney noted, among other things, that Murano had poor honesty and integrity, and sources with knowledge of the Murano evaluation tell News 3 her statement on ABET accreditation was a factor in the divide that eventually led to Murano resigning the presidency.
Vision 1920 understands how the Chancellor would find this troublesome. How could Ex-President Murano predict the ABET accreditation that would not happen for another 6 months. Just because the ABET site visit was completed (pdf) by November 2008:
Dr. Bennett added that the ABET accreditation process was just completed at the Texas A&M University in Qatar; the University
just graduated their first engineering class last year.
and TAMU would have already received the evaluation committees report and had a chance to respond to any concerns. In her February 24 report to the Chancellor, Murano had no business relying on these things, or the news release from the engineering program referred to here:
CORRECTION: March 24, 2009

The original story (February 13, 2009) did not accurately reflect the current status of the ABET accreditation process at Texas A&M University at Qatar. The original headline, “Texas A&M at Qatar celebrates ABET accreditation,” should have read, “Texas A&M thanks faculty for helping prepare Qatar program for accreditation process.” Changes to the text for clarity have been made; the complete corrected text is below. Texas A&M Engineering Communications sincerely regrets any ambiguities or inaccuracies reflected in the original story.
This mendacious behavior explains the "QATAR" in the Chancellor's handwritten notes (pdf). It couldn't have had anything to do with other rumors that have been flying.

The cost of Higher Ed.

Chairman Foster back in June:
As the new chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, I am determined to trim costs in order to keep our flagship university affordable. Since 2000, tuition and fees at Texas A&M have risen from a little more than $1,500 per semester for 15 hours to more than $3,900 for the same course load. Even if you factor in inflation, the cost has more than doubled for our families.
At the Carpe Diem blog, Prof Mark Perry of the Univ. of Michigan has some graphs about the drivers of costs at US universities.

Vision 1920 wonders what the data looks like for A&M and for the TAMU System.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Peer institutions

The Eagle reports
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni rated course offerings for 100 colleges, and Texas A&M was one of only seven to earn an "A."

The council based its rankings on how many of the institutions had general education requirements that include composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and science.

Texas A&M was among seven institutions that included six of those categories in its general requirements. None of the 100 schools required courses in all seven general education categories. Texas A&M requires study in all of the covered areas except economics. Just two universities in the sampling -- the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and West Point -- require economics.

Along with Texas A&M, the group's highest ranking went to Baylor, West Point, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Arkansas, City University of New York-Hunter College and City University of New York-Brooklyn College.
Like Vision 2020, Vision 1920 is about making A&M a top 10 pubic university. We just plan to do it by use different criteria. BTHO Baylor! BTHO Arkansas! Whoop!

There are always critics, of course:
Critics of the ACTA review, however, said the group's methodology and criteria were inadequate.

"They have basically just looked at the course catalogs of 100 colleges, and that's it," Debra Humphreys, vice president for communications and public affairs at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Others might note that universities above us in other rankings expect students to have had this stuff in high school.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is this a virus or something?

The Eagle reports:
Texas A&M Student Body President Eric Beckham resigned his posted Tuesday, according to an e-mail he sent to students.

Kolin Loveless, who was elected as speaker of the student senate in April, will take over Beckham’s duties. Such action is outlined in the Student Government Association’s constitution, officials said.

The e-mail offered no specific explanation for the resignation, saying only that Beckham had done so “after a great deal of reflection and thought” for “a variety of personal reasons.”
There certainly have been plenty of role models for Mr. Beckham of late. Unlike the others at TAMU, Mr. Beckham doesn't get to go back to a tenured faculty position.

KBTX points out that Beckham was the student representative on the Presidential Search Committee, and wonders if he will continue in that position or be replaced.

I get no kickbacks from Champaign

The Chicago Tribune reports:
Four University of Illinois trustees offered their resignations Tuesday, bowing to the wishes of a governor who has vowed to overhaul the board following an admissions scandal that has jolted the state's most prestigious public campus.

Board members Kenneth Schmidt, Robert Vickrey, Devon Bruce and David Dorris said they had notified Gov. Pat Quinn's office of their decisions and awaited his response. All four said they would prefer to finish their terms and help rebuild public confidence in the school.

The resignation offers come nearly two weeks after Quinn called for them and mere hours after he threatened to fire holdouts.

"It's not the hand I'd like to play, but it's the hand that was dealt," Schmidt said. "I wish it would have rolled out differently."

Seven of nine trustees now have volunteered to step down, setting up a showdown between the governor and the two remaining trustees: Frances Carroll and James Montgomery. Both have expressed reluctance to step down, with Montgomery going as far as to say he would challenge the decision in court.
Whoever heard of firing the trustees for a great State University? What's going on in the land of Lincoln?
Mr. Quinn, who accepted Mr. Shah’s resignation, had set up a commission in June to review admissions at the university after The Chicago Tribune reported that hundreds of applicants won acceptance at the intervention of well-placed family members or friends, including trustees like Mr. Shah.
The people of Illinois should expect better of the trustees. Vision 1920 suggests that they look to Texas as a model for how to deal with the politically well-connected. Using Universities for mere admissions interventions shows a real lack of imagination.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Congrats to the August Grads

Vision 1920 didn't make it to graduation, but we are confident that no one left early and Regent Stallings gave sage advice, at least if they have a future in university administration.
Rank and file has its privilege. A colonel can't tell a general what to do. ... A chancellor's job is to run the system. A president's job is to please the chancellor.

Friday, August 14, 2009

System investment policy

In the comments, kzNtvHQ42Poq1tCrtK05_PlccxYebCL_9qE- (or kz for short) asks:
how does the updated system policy regarding investment change the previous systeM?

Well, kz, Vision 1920 has no idea. The changes in the policy can be seen in the marked up copy of the BoR agenda book (pdf, 391 pages).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Survey says

Earlier this week, KBTX reported
The search committee to select the next president of Texas A&M University today added a survey feedback form to its online website to increase input from the public and Aggie stakeholders.
In addition to the email address to send input, an online survey is being used. The questions address what qualifications a new president should have, what parts of the student experience are most important, and what the greatest challenges facing Texas A&M are. Taking the survey requires an access code, so it's not exactly open to the public, and it isn't clear from the story who is getting the codes. [Update: See comment below. Vision 1920 seems to have used the wrong URL?]

Chairman Foster has stated that the search criteria and job description will be released prior to starting the outreach to candidates. This does not necessarily mean releasing what the survey participants or the various committee members think the criteria or job description should be. Vision 1920 has heard that the Regents do not want the criteria to rule out leaders from outside academia, and releasing a survey suggesting that A&M needs a president with actual experience at a top-notch university might be off-putting to those kinds of candidates.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


There's an interesting side note in the Eagle story about the resignation of the CPI chair.
Last week, lawyers from the A&M System asked the CPI to take down from the group's Web site "proprietary documents" related to the centers that contained profit estimates and a strategic plan titled "Redefining the Biomedical Enterprise." The CPI complied.

Rod Davis, a spokesman for the A&M System, said the concerns that the system had were related only to the documents containing the proprietary information and said no pressure was put on Bell-Pedersen to step down.

"To have that posted would have been breaking the law, so our general counsel sent a letter to the CPI asking them to take it down," Davis said. "When advised, they took it down."
Some may wonder what kind of proprietary information would be in the documents about a taxpayer-funded public institution. Especially since we've been assured that there are no deals with any companies. Doesn't the public have a right to know what the strategic plan is for their tax dollars?

Well, no.

Universities have a lot of legal requirements for confidentiality under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA ensures that academic records can only be disclosed with a student's consent, event to his parents. So, even if they think they're the most unintentionally entertaining things they've ever read, the faculty aren't allowed to post a student's reports on the internet where his parents might see them and cut him off.

Resistance is futile

Another opponent of the Vision 1920 steps aside
The chair of a group representing the Texas A&M research community stepped down last week, saying in an e-mail to members that she was leaving for personal reasons and to pursue research interests.

Deborah Bell-Pedersen, whose yearlong term was scheduled to end in May, on Saturday announced in an e-mail that she was leaving her post at the Council of Principal Investigators. The group in recent weeks has been critical of the A&M System's proposed National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing and a pair of other therapeutics-related centers.

Nancy Amato, a computer science professor, will serve as interim chair of the group. Neither Bell-Pedersen, who was out of the country, nor Amato could not be reached for comment.
Looks like the faculty are starting to understand which way the wind is blowing.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The (Virtual) stars are bright

Commenter ebrazos points out
...TIGM is co-recipient of a $3.2 million grant from the EPA.
ebrazos provides a link to the HSC website
TIGM will receive $750,000 over three years in collaboration with the University of Houston and Indiana University through a new entity called the Texas-Indiana Virtual STAR (TIVS) Center.
The Texas-Indiana Virtual STAR Center is designed to provide a more reliable chemical risk assessment by creating in vitro (controlled environment) screening models of mouse embryonic stem cells (TIGM) and zebrafish (at the University of Houston) for toxicity. Data from these models then will be used by Indiana University to produce predictive computer models for toxicity on processes that are also relevant in human embryonic development.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

When we do something twice in Aggieland, it becomes a tradition

In today's Houston Chronicle, Loren Steffy compares the NCTM to the earlier deal with Lexicon for TIGM
Brett Giroir, A&M's vice chancellor for research, said he alone chose Introgen.

“Rick Perry had nothing to do with my interacting with Introgen,” he said. “This was strictly a decision based on there's a company right here's who's a major player in that field.”

That's similar to the argument the A&M System used in 2005 to defend its now defunct partnership with Lexicon Pharmaceuticals of The Woodlands. Had that deal succeeded, it would have benefited Lexicon's shareholders, which included several prominent Perry campaign contributors.
The precedent is arguably older than Lexicon/TIGM. Some at A&M say the Institute for Biosciences and Technology was created to support the bovine embryo research of Granada Biosciences, which was owned by former Regent David Eller. But the IBT went in other directions, and Granada wound up going under and selling their patents to a rival. The ETF and TEF provide creative new funding mechanisms that weren't available to Granada.

Pandemic alert

Loren Steffy takes shots at A&M again in the Houston Chronicle
Texas A&M's plan to develop a world-class medical research facility could use an injection of integrity.

In January, the state awarded A&M $50 million from the Emerging Technology Fund, which purports to benefit private-sector technology startups, for the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing, which plans to develop new vaccines.

Unfortunately, the infusion of taxpayer money is showing some disturbing symptoms that have been found in other state economic development deals: a web of political relationships and arrangements with financially shaky companies with ties to key decision makers in the process.
Steffy reviews material that will mostly be familiar to readers of the Vision 1920 blog. There are a few things we've missed here, though:
Bob Pearson, an Introgen director at the time of the grant and a Perry campaign contributor, is also a member of the 17-member advisory board that reviews the tech fund grants.

Introgen was founded by David Nance, a major Perry supporter who's currently on the statewide finance committee for the governor's re-election campaign. Nance, who quit Introgen just before the bankruptcy, donated $50,000 to Perry's campaign in 2005 and 2006, records show, and Perry has appointed him to three different technology committees — including the tech fund advisory panel — dating to Perry's stint as lieutenant governor.
Steffy has been a potbanger over A&M's tech vision before. He loses credibility, though with this:
“There's not a single dollar I've gotten off of any patents,” he [Giroir]said. “I never took a single dime from Xoma.”

Maybe not, but the A&M System has taken five million dimes from taxpayers, and they deserve better. The public may benefit from the NCTM's vaccine research, but it's the sort of deal that leaves taxpayers feeling sick.
5 million dimes is only $500K. The NCTM got five hundred million taxpayer dimes.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More misconceptions about TIGM

Rick Finnell's email (pdf) also discusses the origins of TIGM
Your second major concern was about how the decision was made to go after this Texas Enterprise Fund award. I certainly do not know when the conversations began, as I was a faculty member brought in to give my input sometime long after the process had already started. I had my own opinions as to whether or not TAMUS should get involved and what other options might have been explored.
This might seem to be surprising, given Guy Diedrich's account during the Giroir open forum
Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations and Commercialization Guy Diedrich on Monday called claims that TIGM started in the system offices "revisionist history." He told those at the forum that proposals first came from faculty members and people in the office of former Vice President for Research Richard Ewing.
If Finnell only came in later, who was driving the formation of TIGM? Let's look at the minutes(pdf) from the BoR meeting in July 2005
Mr. White said that the Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine (TIGM) is a great example of collaboration within the System. He commented on the involvement of Dr. Bob McTeer, Chancellor; Dr. Bob Gates, President of TAMU; Dr. Dick Ewing, Vice President of for Research at TAMU; Dr. Nancy Dickey, President of the System Health Science Center (HSC); Dr. Rick Finnell, Director of the Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT); and Mr. Guy Diedrich, Managing Director of the Technology Commercialization Center...

Mr. Nye said that on behalf of the Board and others, he wanted to recognize that Mr. White was very instrumental in receiving the idea, getting it germinated at the state level, attracting the funds and bringing it to the university when it could have gone many other places. He commended Mr. White and said that this was a wonderful undertaking and it was appreciated.


Dr. McTeer commented that the morning before the press conference, TIGM held its organizing board meeting and Mr. White was elected as chairman. He said that this was probably the most important thing that would happen during his administration.
Dr. McTeer said that there were many people who should be commended, such as Mr. Diedrich and Mr. Doug Centilli, Congressman Kevin Brady’s Chief of Staff.
In 2006, Dr. McTeer spoke to the Texas Lyceum
Not long after TIGM was formed, I had breakfast with Alan Greenspan in Washington. He asked me what was going on in my new world. When I started explaining all this to him, he interrupted me to ask why it was that most research mice are white rather than brown. After a long moment that seemed like an hour—a place I’d been before with him—I finally said, “Mr. Chairman, It’s a conundrum.”

Pretty soon, Guy Diedrich, who had brokered the TIGM deal (and who will be on your program tomorrow) brought me another deal to sign.
The record supports Diedrich's account. The idea for TIGM didn't start with the System; it started with Regent White, who probably heard about Lexicon from his time working with the Houston Technology Center. Diedrich, working in the VPR's office at TAMU was tasked with making it happen, so the proposals originated with TAMU, not TAMUS.

Misconceptions about TIGM

The CPI has posted an email (pdf) from Rick Finnell giving his take on the TIGM story. The email was in response to comments made during Brett Giroir's open forum by Prof. Mary Meagher. Excerpts:
First, the RFA that TIGM responded to from the NIH specifically requested conventional over conditional clones. If you read the RFA, and I trust that you have since you specifically commented on this point, then you would see that the request was for a straight (conventional) knockout with a reporter in C57BL/6 ES cells. That is it. While the scientific community, of which I am a part, would have preferred that NIH invest in a conditional asset, that is NOT what the RFA requested. So TIGM was absolutely responding to the RFA.
Vision 1920 blogged about the RFA here. Our tame faculty member says Finnell is correct that the RFA expressed concerns about high-throughput generation of conditional knockouts. However,
  • Finnell does not address the requirement in the RFA for a plan to go after at least 25% of the genes missed by prior gene trapping approaches. TIGM is still based on gene traps, while the RFA emphasized the need for a targeted approach.
  • Meagher's comment about conditional knockouts may not be relevant to what happened during the KOMP grant process, but it is relevant to the likely demand for TIGM knockout mice going forward
Vision 1920 points out, however, that low demand is a good thing, since Giroir said TIGM loses money on producing mice from ES cells.
The fact that TIGM barely existed (I was the only TIGM member, devoting 25% of my effort at the time of the submission), we had no track record which, as you know from submitting grant proposals to NIH, weighs heavily upon the reviewers. Yes, we could pretty much guarantee a successful outcome to Francis Collins, as we were in the position to put up the 273,000 ES cell clones from the 129 OmniBank 1 gene‐trap library, up to 3000 already made Lexicon knockout mice, and the 350,000 C57 ES cell clone gene‐trap library that was under construction. But we lacked credibility as we had no reputation for shipping products to end users...
Who could have predicted that a lack of a track record was an issue when the prospect of the KOMP grant was used as the basis for its original TIGM business plan?

Finnell also suggests shenanigans:
One could speculate endlessly about the other reasons why TIGM did not get the KOMP RFA (see the attached Science article), but that is really only self‐serving and no good can come of it at this point in time. Suffice to say that the review and its outcome were highly irregular, prompting Francis Collins and his senior KOMP staff to fly to Houston to try to explain to us in person why we were not funded. I don’t know about you, but when my NIH applications are not funded, my program officer doesn’t spontaneously call me and jump on a plane to talk to me in person about it. Quite the contrary, they are usually hard to find. This was unusual. That is all I can really say.
If Collins went forward with KOMP funding to TIGM rivals despite a "highly irregular" review, perhaps he should be asked about it when he comes up for confirmation as NIH director.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A proposal for the NCTM(j)

Vision 1920 thought that with the Regents' approval of tIIT, the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing was already approved. But earlier today, emails were circulating at TAMU seeking input on a proposal for the NCTM that VC for Engineering Kem Bennett wants to present at the next meeting of the BoR. Apparently the NCTM has only cleared the first hoop in System Policy 11.02.1 (pdf)
... Centers and institutes shall be discussed with the board in concept prior to full-scale development of a proposal for its approval except where the delay for such discussion would jeopardize grant and contract funding of the center or institute because of externally imposed deadlines....
The BoR only approved the concept and now has to consider the full-scale proposal.

Based on what Vision 1920 is hearing, the NCTM proposal may be attacked by the potbangers for not having a contingency plan in case the estimates of demand for partnerships in the industrial consortium are overly optimistic and the Center has a hard time generating the revenue needed to keep it going. About a year ago, BioPharm International Magazine discussed market trends for contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) in pharma:
The biomanufacturing building boom is merging with several other industry trends to create a looming overcapacity situation in the industry.
The excess capacity at the major bio/pharmaceutical companies could be a real challenge to the contract biomanufacturers. We've heard of at least one major company that has recently begun selling its excess capacity in the contract market. We've also heard from some CMOs that clients are reducing production at their CMOs in order to fill underutilized internal capacity.
This was before the economy crashed last fall. Because the NCTM won't be finished for several years, perhaps the plan is that TEES will be able to buy capability low now, and sell high when the economy rebounds. But this may not satisfy the critics.

Vision 1920 humbly offers an alternative contingency plan. We keep the NCTM acronym and tweak what it stands for. Faithful readers, Vision 1920 gives you a proposal for the:

National Center for "Therapeutic" Marijuana (NCTMj)

We admit that the inspiration for the NCTMj is comes from ideas to solve California's budget problems.
Ammiano introduced legislation last month that would legalize pot and allow the state to regulate and tax its sale — a move that could mean billions of dollars for the cash-strapped state. Pot is, after all, California's biggest cash crop, responsible for $14 billion a year in sales, dwarfing the state's second largest agricultural commodity — milk and cream — which brings in $7.3 billion a year, according to the most recent USDA statistics.
Texas is in a perfect position to exploit this market in the way we pwned California in the glory days of Enron. Some of the benefits of modifying the NCTM to the NCTMj include:
  • Provides a role for AgriLife in tIIT
  • Would help Texas A&M recruit football stars who would otherwise go to the "Bonghorns"
  • Would stimulate business at Frito-Lay, a major Texas company
  • Problems with the Federal DEA will be moot after Gov. Perry has Texas secede (Note that this would also simplify implementing the Texas Policy Foundation's proposal to have our own accreditation system)
  • People would not have to ask "what are they smoking?" when evaluating the revised proposal

Shared governorance

In Monday's Dallas Morning News:
In his latest campaign report, Perry collected $106,000 from five A&M regents - all of them his appointees. But a review of the latest campaign reports indicates that when it comes to money from College Station, challenger Kay Bailey Hutchison is the favorite of Aggieland.

Hutchison raised more than $27,000 from College Station contributors - among them, professors, administrators, A&M boosters and an associate dean. Also, former A&M President Ray Bowen gave Hutchison $1,250. Perry got less than $500 from College Station.
This is what Vision 1920 means by shared governance. TAMU should be run by people who share something with the Governor.

Watson, come here, I need you

President Loftin names Karan Watson as interim provost.
exas A&M Interim President R. Bowen Loftin said Tuesday that he wants to hold off on the search for a new provost until a new university president is selected.

He also announced that he selected Karan Watson to serve as interim provost, a day after noted academic Jeffrey Vitter resigned the post after serving for less than a year.

Watson, the vice provost for strategic initiatives under Vitter, has held several administrative positions at Texas A&M, including dean of faculties from 2002 until December. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"During this time of transition, it is imperative that we maintain our focus on our academic mission of teaching, research and service," Loftin wrote in a statement released Tuesday morning announcing the appointment. "I thank you in advance for supporting Dr. Watson in her interim position and new era of service at Texas A&M."
Vision 1920 admires President Loftin's chutzpah:
a person who kills his parents and pleads for the court's mercy on the ground of being an orphan.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Skins game

The last part of Bret Giroir's presentation was about the administrative structure of the Institute for Innovative Therapeutics. Giroir talked about how the participating components - TAMU, TAMUHSC, TEES, and AgriLife would each have primary responsibility for one of the components. In the current plan, TAMU will run TIPS, TAMUHSC will run TIGM, and TEES will run the NCTM. AgriLife will eventually have responsibility for another component, as the Institute expands into a "One Health Plus" mission, and becomes a campus bridging space between the university and the site of the planned new medical center.

The idea is that each of the System components will have "skin in the game" for all of the Institute components, with a larger share of the responsibility and revenue for the piece they run. A preliminary version of how this would work is in the strategic plan (pdf) posted on the CPI website.
The Chancellor and the CEO constituency committee should develop a model for sharing shortfalls and excess revenues across the Institution and participating components

A recommended strategy would be to have the institutional shortfalls and excess revenues assumed according to the following type of structure, using TIPS as an example. The percentage allocation should be decided upon by the Chancellor and the CEO Constituency Committee but should adhere to the principle of shared "skin in the game":
  • 60% assumed by the primary owner (e.g. TAMU as primary owner of TIPS
  • 20% assumed by the Institutional Partners (e.g. HSC and TEES)
  • 20% assumed by TAMUS
The percentages presented by Giroir yesterday were different. The primary owner shares where reduced to 40%. Vision 1920 did not catch how the exact percentages were adjusted for the other components, but the plan included a way for AgriLife to have significant skin in the game even before it becomes a primary owner of a component.

The story in today's Eagle touches on the question of how much exposure is involved
"We would like to understand much better where the money is coming from and what the risks are," said Tim Hall, a professor in the College of Science.
"I would say the risks are incredibly* minimal," he said in an interview after the meeting. "Anything you do has risks. I can only say that we have done more financial due diligence and have more [backup] plans that I have seen at any university in my experience."
The fiscal risks are hard to estimate, as they require assumptions about the income streams of TIGM, TIPS, and NCTM. Interestingly, Giroir said he expected TIGM to continue to lose money; as a core facility it is designed to subsidize other research (currently that subsidy is to other institutions outside TAMUS). This makes the outdated technology of the TIGM knockout collection a feature, not a bug; if more labs ordered TIGM mice, it would have an even bigger deficit!

The documents posted by the CPI include a couple of different sets of fiscal estimates. In the strategic plan, which projects out to 2013, TIGM is projected to lose $2-3M/year. TIPS has two projections based on how fast imaging equipment is purchased. These show a $5M profit from a "Governor's loan" and two ETF projects in FY2009, followed by losses ranging from $2-6M/year. This does not include a hoped-for $65M deal with Xerion. The strategic plan does not have a projection for NCTM. The CPI has also posted a best/worst case analysis by Greg Anderson, the System treasurer. This shows a best case of rising profits of 1-3M/year for TIPS and $7-8M/year for NCTM by 2017. TIGM is projected to lose money in the best case scenario. The worst case scenario still shows NCTM making a $4M profit by 2014. In this scenario, long-term NCTM profits almost offset losses by TIGM and TIPS by 2017. The basis for the income projections is not clear.

*Incredibly = in(not)+credibly.

Vision 1944

In the new Texas Monthly, Paul Burka compares the current situation at Texas A&M to travails at tu in the 1940s
Rainey’s presidency occurred during a period when the dominant Democratic party was dividing into pro- and anti-Roosevelt factions. O’Daniel’s appointees were anti-Roosevelt. Stevenson’s were too, including one D. F. Strickland, the leading lobbyist of the day, and a timber baron named Lutcher Stark. In 1942 the regents voted to fire three economics professors who had supported the limiting of the workweek to forty hours. The American Association of University Professors sent an investigator to Texas, who concluded that a violation of academic freedom had taken place.

This was soon followed by Strickland’s attempt to have John Dos Passos’s trilogy, U.S.A., removed from an English Department reading list. He failed. Strickland later attempted to ban tenure at UT (he had been successful in influencing A&M regents to do so) and did get the tenure policy revised. Stark wanted Rainey to fire three employees of the University Interscholastic League for changing eligibility rules for high school football, which rendered two of his sons, who were seniors, unable to compete. Rainey refused. Each of these incidents caused him to lose support, though he never really had much to begin with. Rainey hung on until November 1944, when the regents terminated him
Things have improved since then: Rainey was at tu for five years; Perry's appointees got rid of Murano in less than two.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Open forum with Bret Giroir

Vision 1920 is still trying to digest nearly 3 hours of open forum where Vice Chancellor Giroir, occasionally assisted by Vice Chancellor Diedrich dazzled the faculty with the real stories behind TIGM, TIPS, NCTM, and tIIT. Dr. Giroir took us all the way back to his days at Harvard (subtly reminding those uppity faculty that he had taken courses from a better class of profs than one finds in the faculty senate or CPI) when he and his roommate snuck into a restricted area to get research jobs. He described his rise through the ranks at UTSW and his time at DARPA, and explained how everything he's doing for us here at A&M is driven by his love of science and the memories of dead children he couldn't save. He pointed out how the tIIT project is about supporting our brave men and women overseas. And about saving the world from pandemic H1N1 influenza.

It's a sign of how depraved those faculty whiners are that some still seemed skeptical at the end of this marathon.

In addition to the revelation of the meaning of Giroir's chicken, much of the discussion was about TIGM. The highlights:
  • Giroir and Diedrich setting the record straight on TIGM. Shorter version: Things are great and it's not the System's fault. TIGM was a university initiative from the start, driven by the late Dick Ewing, who was VPR at the time.
  • Two free mice for A&M researchers (whether A&M researchers not working on mice can sell the rights to their pair on eBay was not addressed).
  • TIGM has submitted lots of grants and is now likely to get one to do screening of ES cell lines for drug discovery (?). Unlike working with mice, this can be done on a large scale.
Vision 1920 overheard some faculty potbanger saying something like "the ES knockouts are heterozygous, so they'll only see effects if haploinsufficiency has a phenotype." He also said something about RNAi.

Giroir pointed out that TIGM is a core facility and that it is currently important for research at about 200 other universities. Someone else asked for examples - what do they expect TIGM to do, collect references to papers that acknowledge them?

This is just a little bit of what happened on Monday afternoon. Vision 1920 is having a harder time reconstructing the discussion about TIPS and NCTM, and welcomes comments to help reconstruct those parts.

Giroir's chicken explained

Previously Vision 1920 was perplexed by this figure in Brett Giroir's presentation. At his open presentation today, Dr. Giroir used it again, and explained what he has against chickens: As explained in this Scientific American article
Today's flu vaccines are prepared in fertilized chicken eggs, a method developed more than 50 years ago. The eggshell is cracked, and the influenza virus is injected into the fluid surrounding the embryo. The egg is resealed, the embryo becomes infected, and the resulting virus is then harvested, purified and used to produce the vaccine. Even with robotic assistance, "working with eggs is tedious," says Samuel L. Katz of the Duke University School of Medicine, a member of the vaccine advisory committee for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Opening a culture flask is a heck of a lot simpler."
One of the goals of the NCTM is to revolutionize vaccine production by moving it out of eggs. This cutting edge idea is a niche in the vaccine industry where A&M can clearly leap ahead of the competition, which only includes the likes of Novartis, Baxter, and Merck.

Selling drugs to the faculty

Notice from the Faculty Senate:
All faculty are encouraged to attend the open presentation by Dr. Brett Giroir, The Texas A&M University System Vice Chancellor for Research, on Monday July 27th at 3:00 pm in Rudder 601. Dr. Giroir will discuss TAMU System initiatives to develop a flexible drug discovery and manufacturing pipeline at TAMUS, including TIGM, TIPS, and the new National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing (NCTM). Each Center requires significant resources from TAMU, TEES, AgriLife, and the HSC.

Dr. Giroir has agreed to have an open discussion and take questions on System-related research issues.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Who's next?

Image from McKinney's notes(pdf).

Vitter out

This apparently was not brought up at yesterday's open forum.
Texas A&M University Provost Jeffrey Vitter, the school's No. 2-ranked administrator, has been asked to resign by Interim President R. Bowen Loftin, a top-level administration official and others familiar with the situation confirmed to The Eagle.
Vision 1920 admires how President Loftin is not letting his "interim" title restrain him. Loftin was asked about his interest in the permanent job during yesterday's forum:
When asked whether or not he is considering himself for the position, Loftin said its too soon to tell. Loftin says once the committee defines the profile of the next president, he will think about it.
Unlike soon-to-be-ex-Provost Vitter, President Loftin is not tainted by having been selected by a search committee of faculty whiners.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Head hunters

The System announced today that the search committee will have some help
The 15-member search committee to select the next president of Texas A&M University announced at its initial meeting today that it has retained the consulting firm Academic Search, Inc. to assist the committee in finding and recruiting the best and most qualified presidential candidates. One of the firm’s senior consultants, Dr. Robert W. Lawless, a former president of the University of Tulsa, former president of Texas Tech University, and former CEO of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, will be the principal consultant.
A list of presidential searches handled by Academic Search is on their website. Florida State is also using the company for their current search. Lawless has connections to A&M
A native Texan, Dr. Lawless holds three degrees: an Associate Science in Chemistry, Lee College; a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, University of Houston; and a Doctor of Philosophy in Operations Research and Statistics, Texas A&M University.
He was also on the faculty here in Industrial Engineering. Importantly for the future of Texas A&M, Lawless has extensive experience with the NCAA.

[monkeyboy commented on this post here]

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum

Vision 1920 was not able to attend President Loftin's second open forum, and is relying on the KBTX story to figure out what happened.
Texas A&M Interim President R. Bowen Loftin held the second of open forums for the Aggie family to ask questions and make comments Friday morning. Loftin has been told by the Board of Regents to slash 20 million dollars from next year's budget. Loftin says over 6 million dollars has already been saved at the central administration level.
Is the number shrinking? When the Regents met, the savings were reported as $6.8M.

The beauty of asking all units to cut the same amount is that the pain is not based on arbitrary and capricious criteria like what they contribute to teaching and research.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Political fallout

According to the Houston Chronicle, several past donors to Gov. Perry show up on Kay Bailey Hutchison's donor list for her unannounced campaign to challenge the former yell leader in the Republican primary. Vision 1920 noted a few of interest to higher education
Hutchison, meanwhile, is drawing some major money from former Perry backers.

Probably the most notable is former University of Texas Regent Robert Rowling, who quit in anger in February over how Perry and Dewhurst treated University of Texas Management Co. President Bruce Zimmerman because of his $1 million bonus. Rowling, who was appointed to the UT board by Perry, gave Hutchison $100,000.

Nau, McLane switch

Other major Perry donors who have switched to Hutchison are Houstonians Ned Holmes, investor Charles Tate and beer distributor John Nau. Also on the list are Texas A&M Regent Erle Nye and Drayton McLane, owner of the Houston Astros.
Nye, a winner of the Distinguished Alumnus Award* actually rotated off the Board of Regents last February. Vision 1920 is shocked that he is donating to the tu cheerleader. Worse, the list of Hutchison donors (pdf) includes other notable A&M faculty:
  • Former President Ray M. Bowen and his wife Sally. Bowen has been critical of recent directions at A&M.
  • A. Benton Cocanaugher, Dean of the Bush School and Dean emeritus and Professor emeritus at the Mays Business School. Cocanaugher was interim Chancellor before McKinney was appointed to the position
  • John Junkins, George J. Eppright Prof. Department of Aerospace Engineering. Junkins is a member of the just-named presidential search committee and chaired the 2001 committee that hired Robert Gates.
What is wrong with these people? Don't they know that the Governor is sending money to the A&M System as fast as he can?

*Shouldn't that be the Distinguished Former Student Award?

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Umbrella, from the latin Umbra for shadow

The Eagle reports the expected announcement to go forward with tIIT.
Amid strong dissent from some faculty members, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents took a step Friday toward creating a controversial new therapeutics research center at its flagship university.

Regents also voted to rearrange the structure of other therapeutics-related organizations within the system -- placing the organizations located throughout the system under an umbrella agency in System Chancellor Mike McKinney's office.
Vision 1920 can't imagine why faculty are concerned about some research being taken over by the System. Besides this part, we mean.
Regents asked Bennett and Pishko if they knew why faculty members were opposed to the plans. Both said they were baffled.

Pishko said that he had heard of opposition from the Council of Principal Investigators, a group representing hundreds of university researchers, but that most engineering professors supported the idea. No one from the council was involved in the center, he said.

He said he had no idea why the group opposed the plans and said he hadn't spoken to any members.
This refers to the NCTM; most faculty probably hadn't heard of the tIIT until now. According to Vision 1920's sources, the CPI asked Pishko to speak to them after the NCTM was mentioned in their resolution of no-confidence in the chancellor, but he declined. Bennett and Pishko are the engineering guys, so our confidence in them is not shaken by their failure to grasp the objections of their colleagues
"I think the concern is how this is going to be funded and that there are risks involved that have not been discussed in the open," said Deborah Bell-Pederson, a biology professor and chair of the council. She declined to comment further.
Fully equipped and operational, the center will cost $65 million, Giroir said, but officials initially will spend only the $50 million from the governor's office. They hope to obtain the other $15 million with revenue from research grants and partnerships brought in once the center has successfully begun attracting income and researchers, he said.
Vision 1920 is confident that potential partners and grant agencies will be happy to pony up the shortfall, plus a share of the operating costs needed after the $65M setup (TIGM was reported to cost $2M/year to run. The GMP components of NCTM are likely to cost at least that much).

Vision 1920 is sure that with another executive director at the System level, an Operations Board, and the biotech talent we already have in the System offices, tIIT will find creative ways to hide its real costs raise the money needed. For example:
  • By giving tIIT staff academic appointments, personnel costs can be buried in the University budget
  • "research grants and partnerships brought in once the center has successfully begun attracting income and researchers" doesn't necessarily limit the System to grants to the center, just to awards made after some future date. Staff at the Office of Technology Commercialization can identify researchers whose research is relevant, whether they think so or not.
  • Costs can be foisted off on the taxpayers by having our friends in Austin make sure that ETF funds go to companies that agree to contract with tIIT.
  • Now that Murano is gone, we can go back to quietly making loans like the one that went to the Athletic Dept.