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?

Recent comments added to the sidebar

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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.

Friday, July 17, 2009

No doubt

Although the news from the Board today focused on the naming of the search committee, Chairman Foster also addressed (pdf) Shared Governance:
I would now like to shift gears and talk briefly about shared governance. Over the past several weeks, members of this Board have been actively meeting with key stakeholder groups on and off campus. At some point several weeks back, the concept of shared governance was thrust into the spotlight. At no time have we, the Board, ever cast doubt on the importance of shared governance at Texas A&M or any of our other universities. I can also assure you that our Chancellor fully appreciates and supports shared governance, and has practiced it. He would not have my support, or that of the Board, if we were convinced that he did not believe in shared governance.
"There's nine people who can tell me what to do," McKinney said, referring to the regents. "I'll make my arguments to them. They argue, they listen and then they make a decision and I carry it out. You want shared governance? That's shared governance."

3 Committees

ChairJunkins (Faculty)Slack (Faculty)Box (Regent)
Faculty (non-administrators)1043
Faculty (administrators)322
StudentsStudent body presidentStudent body president
Grad student body president
Student body president
Vet student assoc president
Texas A&M University Association of Professional Support Staffpresidentpresidentnone
12th Man FoundationBoard member--
Assoc former studentspresidentpresidentchair
System1 ex-officio1 ex-officio1
Other notablePerry Adkisson, distinguished professor emeritus and chancellor emerituspresident/CEO of the Bryan/College Station Chamber of CommerceMember, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

Vision 1920 suspects a trend.

The Searchers

The Regents announced the search committee for the next President of Texas A&M University.

Committee Chair:

  • Chair: Regent Richard Box, A&M System Board of Regents

Committee Members:

  • Regent Ida Clement Steen, A&M System Board of Regents
  • Regent Lupe Fraga, A&M System Board of Regents
  • Dr. John Junkins, Distinguished Professor; Regents Professor; Director, Center for Mechanics and Control, Department of Aerospace Engineering
  • Dr. Tim Hall, Distinguished Professor; Director, Institute of Developmental and Molecular Biology, Department of Biology
  • Dr. Robert Bednarz, Speaker, Faculty Senate; Professor, Department of Geography
  • Dr. Mark Hussey, Vice Chancellor and Dean of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Former Head of Soil & Crop Sciences Department
  • Dr. Antonio Cepeda-Benito, Dean of Faculties and Associate Provost
  • Mr. Eric Beckham, Student Body President
  • Ms. Meredith Maloney, President, Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medicine Assn.
  • Ms. Shelley Potter, Chair of the Board, The Association of Former Students
  • Mr. Thomas Saylak, Chairman of Board of Trustees, Texas A&M Foundation
  • Mr. Neal Adams, Attorney; Former Vice Chair and Member, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
  • Dr. David Parrott, Executive Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Life
  • Dr. Frank Ashley, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, A&M System
The Houston Chronicle points out that Regent Box is also Gov Perry's treasurer for his reelection campaign. But this is balanced by at least one member being a contributor to Hutchinson. Vision 1920 does not know if there are any Friedman supporters on the committee, however.

Regent Fraga was also on the 2007 search committee, which failed to offer the Regents a real choice. Vision 1920 speculates that the full Board is giving Fraga a second chance to show he won't fall for the faculty's Jedi mind tricks again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grand Unification Theory

The Eagle previews what's coming up in the Regents' meeting. One highlight:
* Establishing the Institute for Innovative Therapeutics, which will serve as a "one-stop" biopharmaceutical program to research, develop and commercialize biomedical discoveries. The new institute -- which will consist of units already within the A&M system -- will "result in a single, unified biomedical enterprise," according to board documents.
As our faithful readers already know, Vice Chancellor Dr. Brett P. "eHarmony" Giroir plans to unite TIGM, TIPS, and the NCTM in a menage a trois based on their dimensions of compatibility.

In March the Institute for Innovative Therapeutics was presented as just "An integrated biomedical institute". Vision 1920 admires whoever comes up with the names of these things. Unlike other drug discovery programs, we are only interested in innovative therapeutics. We don't just have a Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing; we have a National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing. And each component is the foremost resource its kind. At least between North Zulch and Old Dime Box.

They probably hate puppies too

From a letter in the Eagle:
While it is true some regents did not attend Texas A&M as students, their love for Texas A&M and its traditions and spirit are unquestionable and honorable. I trust them all. Most of them have accomplished more in life than many of us could even dream of accomplishing.

That is more than can be said of those whiners who, for decades, have benefited from Aggie greatness while they teach, from their protected sanctuaries called classrooms, the opposite of what A&M is all about. They may be able to convince some unsuspecting 18 year olds with their worldly proclamations of hatred toward God, America and Aggieland, but most of us know the truth, which never changes.

* I am a great sinner but I know the Christ who is the whole truth, the abundant & eternal life and the only way. Just accept Him and stop whining. You will not regret it if you do, I promise.
And this could save a lot of money too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Advance to the rear

KBTX reports on budget presentations made Wednesday to the Regents. Interim President Loftin described how $6.8M has been trimmed already. Most of the savings come from reducing the merit pay pool, but Loftin is also cutting the fat from his own office.
Reductions in the president's office included the elimination of the Office of the Executive Vice President for Operations, a position created by former President Elsa Murano.

By August 31, the Office of Advancement will also be eliminated.
Advancement? Aggieland is already the best place on earth.

Gold plate budget

KBTX reports:
You may have already seen the new Texas A&M personalized license plates around the community. You can get your own for $30, but if you want it to spell out a message, it'll cost you $40 more.

For every Aggie plate sold, $22 go towards student scholarships.

To date, A&M has generated more than $2.6 million, by far the most of any Texas university and more than the second- and third-place universities combined.
Vision 1920 suggests that in the spirit of shared services, we should make a single personalized plate design for the TAMU System.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Milner's tale

After AMC President Thomas Harrington was forced out in the wake of a Corps strike, Robert Teague Milner took over. Milner had been a member of the legislature and the first Commisioner of Agriculture in Texas. In the legislature, Milner wrote the law that requires students to learn Texas history. As President, Milner divided Engineering and Agriculture into separate schools within the College. Milner was an example for today's A&M, keeping costs down while expanding enrollment by housing the students in a tents.

In 1913, the faculty expelled 27 members of the Corps for hazing. In response, the Corps showed their reverence for the chain of command by deciding to stop going to class. 466 were dismissed for insubordination. The legislature, parents, and governor got involved. After a Board meeting in August, Milner resigned effective Oct. 1, 1913. Adams writes:
Milner's enthusiasm for growth did not take into account the need for additional staff support, recruitment of new faculty, extracurricular events, and what the cadets termed "amusements," such as a gymnasium
Vision 1920 cautions our leaders to learn from Milner. Never scrimp on the amusements!


That Eagle story from Sunday included the graphic above. Vision 1920's analysts say the red part is a combination of in-state and out-of-state students. In state tuition and fees for some peer institutions:
tuition and fees
Penn State$13,706
U Illinois$12,240
U Michigan$11,037
U Minnesota $10,634
Ohio State U $8,679
UC-Davis $8,635
UC-San Diego$8,062
TAMU $7,844
Purdue U$7,750
U Wisconsin $7,658
UCLA $7,551
Georgia Tech$6,040
U North Carolina$5,397
U Florida$3,790
UNC shows higher per capita support from tuition and fees because about 20% of Tar Heel freshmen are from out of state, while only ~5% of Aggie undergrads aren't Texas residents. However:
Stallings said that other universities' financial situations were irrelevant.

"I am not concerned about what other universities are doing as much as what we can do for A&M," he said. "We have no agenda other than trying to have the best university we possibly can and make it as affordable as we possibly can."
because we know that none of those other states cares about keeping costs down and making their schools affordable.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Transformers pt 4

Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.

In 2007, Vice Chancellor Diedrich told Tech Transfer Tactics
Before Texas A&M amended its tenure criteria, there were virtually no tenure-track professors who beat a path to the technology transfer office to file patents, says Diedrich. In the last year since the new policy was instituted, there has been a noticeable stream, mainly among engineering, science and medical researchers, he says.
Let's look at the Tech transfer stats (pdf)

The policy change took effect in 2006.

More meetings

The Faculty Senate had another meeting today and talked more about what they should demand of the Regents in the next presidential search. The Board, of course, hasn't deigned to respond to the faculty's last set of demands.

Coming up:
  • Board of Regents meeting later this week
  • Special open joint Faculty Senate/CPI meeting:
    The Texas A&M University System Vice Chancellor for Research, Dr. Brett Giroir, has been invited to speak at a joint-sponsored Faculty Senate and Council of Principal Investigators open meeting on July 27, 2009, in Rudder 601, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. All faculty are invited.

    Dr. Giroir will discuss the research mission of the System, specifically with regards to NCTM, TIPS and TIGM, with a question and answer session to follow.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reverence for the Chain of Command

Last week Bud Rudder reminded us:
One of the unique qualities of Texas A&M is a reverence for chain of command.
This goes back through more than a 100 years of A&M history. Keepers of the Spirit gives an example from 1908:
Repeated efforts by the cadets to have their concerns heard at a higher level by either the president or the board were rejected. During a hastily called meeting, the A&M Board of Directors exonerated Harrington of all charges on February 11...

...the junior class of '09 met late into the evening of February 18 and voted to leave the campus en masse. By morning a majority of the seniors, sophomores, and freshmen agreed also to strike.
Dethlof writes that the reasons for the strike are unclear. According to Adams, one grievance was that Pres. Harrington refused to let the Livestock Judging Team to attend a circus in Bryan to view species not available on campus.

As the students went on strike, the parents and former students called for them to get a fair hearing of their grievances. Pres. Harrington was burned in effigy by the Corps.
Unwilling to budge and having lost the confidence of the cadets and the faculty, Harrington resigned at the August, 1908 board meeting to be effective September 1

Blog changes

Vision 1920 finally figured out how to change the color of the post titles from tu orange to something closer to Aggie maroon. We also have been adding labels to older posts and now have a label index in the sidebar.

Never let a crisis go to waste

Today's Eagle has an article casting doubt on the fiscal crisis at A&M.
The university undoubtedly faces a tougher economic outlook than it did a few years ago, but the severity of the situation is a matter of debate. The potential impact of the proposed cuts on the quality and reputation of the university is also unclear. Regents say that it will have no effect, but many in the community are skeptical.

The regents are set to meet and review next year's budgets for all system schools and agencies late this week. They are also expected to review initial reports on the cost-cutting measures.
The skeptics point to the costs of ex-Pres. Murano's severance, the Chancellor's Teaching Excellence Award, the commitment of University resources to TIGM, TIPS, and NCTM, the creation of new Vice-Chancellors since 2005, and junkets to Qatar as evidence that cost-cutting is a smoke screen.
The 2009 budget for the system offices -- excluding money spent on debt services -- was 82.5 percent higher than it was in 2006, when McKinney took the helm. A&M's budget for 2009 was 22.4 percent higher than the budget for 2006.
They also complain that they should have been asked to plan for belt-tightening earlier
"I think the critical issue is we are not aware of the finance issues that are emerging as the result of our president resigning," said Dennie Smith, head of the Teaching, Learning and Culture Department in A&M's College of Education and president of the university's Department Head Council.

Smith, like many other members of the faculty, has acknowledged that the cost to attend A&M has increased and that the economic times have become tougher, but he said that he thought statements about skyrocketing costs and financial crisis might be overblown. Skeptics also said they had heard little concern about the situation until the regents and McKinney came under fire in recent months.
Why should the Department Heads hear about things beforehand? That's not how we do Shared Governance here.

There should be no doubt that A&M faces a fiscal crisis when we have to have layoffs in the athletic department, and former university officials suggest
...examine the costs of running the system offices and the Board of Regents. All costs must be captured and addressed, including services and hosting activities provided by the university to the system offices. Some of these costs may have to be imputed, as there is no current market price for such items as the chancellor's private box at Kyle Field and similarly provided services and activities

Transformers pt 3

Part 1.
Part 2.

In December of 2005, the Regents promoted Guy Diedrich to the position of Vice Chancellor for Technology Commercialization, a position that had not existed before. Hitting the ground running, Diedrich prepared a revision of the System policy on intellectual property, to be considered at the January 2006 meeting of the Board of Regents. This does not appear on the minutes of that meeting (pdf)... what happened can be reconstructed from materials posted by the CPI, especially for their March 2006 meeting.

Consistent with the long-standing TAMUS practices on Shared Governance*, Diedrich prepared the new policy without input from the faculty. It would have sailed through, if not for another troublesome TAMU President working "FOR the faculty not WITH the faculty". Dean of Science Joe Newton wrote in March 2006:
..While the REC [Research Environment Council - ed.] recognizes and appreciates the timely intervention of President Gates to remove this item from the January Board of Regents meeting, there must now be significant input from the faculty during the reworking of the document...
Diedrich's changes were based on the ideas he explained to the Higher Education Subcommittee of the Texas Senate, as described in the previous post in this series. He just wanted the faculty to let the Office of Technology licensing sign off before they squandered commercialization opportunities by publishing their work. The faculty reaction is captured in a memo from Tom Vogel (Chair of Academic Affairs Committee of the Faculty Senate):
Summary of discussion on the proposed system policy on intellectual property management and commercialization: The consensus of the AAC was that we cannot support the proposal. Here are some points which we found troubling:
  1. The proposal would introduce a potential for prior restraint of publication of research which describes a patentable innovation. This seems unworkable: there is an enormous amount of research being done at our university, much of which could be construed as possibly describing a patentable innovation. It seems unlikely that the OTC could evaluate all of this research in a timely manner.
  2. The possibility of prior restraint of publication is abhorrent to the academic culture. The fact that this power would be concentrated in the hands of a single person is extremely troubling.
  3. It provides for roles of TAMUS in equity ownership, management, and operation of for-profit enterprises which we believe to be dangerous to the University's interests.
  4. The decision-making authority concerning commercialization of research would be distanced from the individual researcher. This should remain at the university level, rather than adding another layer.
  5. It places unrealistic expectations upon the terms and conditions
    for license agreements concerning early-phase technology development.
  6. The significant bureaucratic hurdles imposed on commercializing research will hurt efforts to recruit top-flight researchers.
By that summer, much of the reporting requirement was stricken from the document that was eventually approved (pdf). During the kerfuffle over the intellectual property rules, the guidelines on tenure and promotion were changed to increase the emphasis on patents and commercialization. By the following year, Diedrich was bragging about how TAMU was able to grant tenure to a junior faculty member who hadn't published for a year.
The new policy is already paying dividends, according to Diedrich. While the university has not yet attempted to quantify the impact the effects of the new policy, Diedrich said that it has seen “quite a number of additional disclosures” that were a direct result of younger, tenure-track faculty disclosing their research for the first time.

In addition, the university is set to award tenure to a professor for the very first time based partially on using technology commercialization as a criterion for the decision.
Thus, Diedrich was able to overcome faculty resistance by distracting them on one front while moving forward on another. He enhanced researcher communication by getting the faculty to unite against his proposed changes to the intellectual property rules. Tech transfer offices elsewhere could learn from our master strategist.

*The Chancellor at the time was Bob McTeer. McKinney became Chancellor in Nov. 2006.

The back door goes both ways

In yesterday's Houston Chronicle, Loren Steffy writes:
The latest handout will go in part for construction of the new center, the A&M system said in a statement at the time. Public universities typically sell bonds or seek donations to finance new construction. Instead, Perry and his buddies running the A&M system used what are supposed to be economic development funds as a backdoor appropriation.

The enterprise and tech funds have been plagued by shifting definitions of their use and a lack of accountability.

No matter how you define them, though, neither fund was supposed to finance universities already supported by our tax dollars.
Chancellor McKinney has already explained how critics are just being jerks.

Vision 1920 also notes that Steffy has it wrong. TIGM has already shown that this is not about money flowing from the ETF and TEF into the university's education budget.

Prof. Brasi teaches with the fishes

Our colleagues at TAMU-CC are helping to develop a Naval base that's closing.
Q: Is the authority redeveloping all the property?

A: No. It’s redeveloping 155 acres, of which more than 100 are underwater.
Q: What does the port plan to do with the property?

A: The port has reached an agreement for the Texas A&M University System to oversee the property’s redevelopment. University officials will emphasize job creation, light industry and research and development. They are not considering a college campus or residential- or resort-type developments. They do, however, expect to emphasize ventures that could involve the various A&M campuses’ resources, faculties and students.
Vision 1920 thinks this is a missed opportunity.

Spring Excellence Awards

The winners of the second round of Chancellor Mike's Excellence Adventure were announced earlier this month
The Texas A&M University System awarded $507,000 to outstanding faculty throughout the system in the second presentation of the Teaching Excellence Awards, a voluntary, student-selected honors program launched last fall.

The 144 faculty winners will receive checks ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. Texas A&M University had the most recipients, with 54, followed by Texas A&M University-Commerce, 17; Prairie View A&M University, 15; Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, 13; West Texas A&M University, 12; Texas A&M International University, 10; Texas A&M University at Galveston, 7; Texas A&M University-Kingsville, 9; Tarleton State University, 4; Texas A&M University-Texarkana, 3.
Last time, 500 faculty participated in the pilot program, which involved three schools. 46 winners at A&M represented the top 18%, so the total in College Station was ~256 out of ~2800 faculty, or 9%. This time 56 faculty were in the top 20%, so the participation rose to about 10%.

The Chancellor has said
"Money is not an incentive for [faculty]," he said. "They show up every day and do the best they can. They can't logically do better than their best. I call it a reward."
Vision 1920 agrees. No Aggie instructor would respond to an award that's about 20-25% of some of the winners' budgeted salaries by trying to game the system.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Transformers pt 2

Part 1.

Vice Chancellor Diedrich explained his philosophy on intellectual property to the Higher Education Subcommittee of the Texas Senate in July 2008 (pdf)
Herein lies the critical cultural distinction between research “purists” and those that believe commercialization is part of the research process. The research purist believes in research for the sake of research – that is, all research has some value and the only necessary output is a paper that contributes to the literature. In other words, the researcher’s obligation ends with an attempt to publish. The commercialization-oriented researcher believes that there is an obligation, where appropriate, to provide a return-on-investment to the taxpayer in the form of protected intellectual property. that could one day become the building block for a new product or service that benefits society. In theory, the difference in perception between these two cultures can be vast. In simple practice, it is the difference between disclosing the invention to the commercialization office prior to publishing, thus optimizing its chance for commercial value, and not disclosing prior to publishing, thereby hindering its chance for commercialization. It is this fundamental research culture shift that must be catalyzed in order for the citizens of the State of Texas to realize the full value of research conducted among its academic centers.
Back in 2006, Diedrich tried to catalyze the culture shift.

To be continued...

Disposable income

The Chancellor's extended notes (pdf) suggest that ex-President Murano was not on board with the plans the NCTM. An example of her "Active opposition to System" includes:
Pankratz (or CFO) - [Eco info on Xoma - W???? Paper]
- * Real numbers on NCTM, [Elsa ??ed for CEO meeting & really no explanation or understanding & NO Request for info PRIOR ("I gotcha...
There is also another reference to the 3rd "W????" Paper over bullets for Xoma and GLP/GMP.

As explained in our Vice Chancellor for eHarmony's presentation to BioHouston, the NCTM will be an academically-owned, privately-operated GMP manufacturing facility for biological therapeutics. It will be the international leader and regulatory benchmark for flexible, disposable manufacturing technologies.

Vision 1920 does not understand why Murano was standing in the way of TAMUS becoming an international leader. Perhaps she was concerned about initial costs
The decision to be GMP compliant can add considerable expense to a project and should be carefully considered. Process engineering is one aspect that frequently has unexpected higher costs, especially in an institutional setting. Increased requirements for specialized consulting, validation, detailed documentation, and process engineering can increase capital expenses as much as 25 to 30 percent.
Maybe she was worried about operating costs
Once the facility is built, the hard part begins. In addition to maintaining the ongoing validation of all processes, the facility must maintain a full-time quality control and quality assurance staff to support that operation. There will also be a heightened need to market the facility and maximize its use in order to recover the significant added costs.
GMP facilities generally have operating budgets on the order of just a couple million per year. Maybe she was worried about whether income would offset the costs:
“I can’t stress enough the importance of getting out there and promoting these facilities because they don’t run on their own. It’s great to have one or two researchers with projects going but you have to find a lot more support within your university and healthcare network to feed this type of lab,” says Orton.
But that's not a problem, since, as Dr. Giroir points out, the NCTM can
Service new start biotechs particularly those spawned by ETF and CPRIT.
All we have to do is have the State make sure ETF money only goes to companies that promise to use TAMUS facilities. No problem!

Reach out

Vision 1920 has been humming the classic hit by the Four Tops:
Now if you feel that you can't go on (can't go on),
Because all of your hope is gone (all your hope is gone),
And your life is filled with much confusion (much confusion),
Until happiness is just an illusion (happiness is just an illusion),
And your world around is crumbling down, darlin',
(Reach out) Come on girl reach on out for me,
(Reach out) Reach out for me,...
This trip down memory lane was prompted by a story in the Eagle
Regents reach out to groups
The embattled chancellor and regents have held several meetings with those concerned about recent actions and the state of shared governance, the idea of gathering the views of those who would be affected by decisions.

"Whether it's true or not, people perceived a real hostility towards faculty and an unwillingness to listen to faculty," said Robert Bednarz, speaker of the Faculty Senate. "It seems to me what people have detected is a change in attitude.
Others haven't come as far
"The effort is laudable ... but I also think at this point there is a lack of trust," Bell-Pedersen said. "There has to be some action behind this effort as well."
This makes us think of another hit by the Four Tops
As I walk this land of broken dreams
I have visions of many things
But happiness is just an illusion
filled with sadness and confusion


One of the members of our System team, Guy Diedrich, Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations and Commercialization, is a recognized leader in improving commercialization of research. His lectures on how to transform faculty in to allies are for sale at Technology Transfer Tactics.
as any experienced tech transfer professional knows, gaining the trust and cooperation of faculty — and educating researchers on key commercialization challenges — is critical to TTO success. It all adds up to one tough but essential truth: Regardless of the barriers, difficulties, and misconceptions, you must develop effective, creative ways of reaching out to and educating your faculty — and turn them into allies and team members in creating start-ups; disclosing, protecting, and marketing their technologies; and finding corporate partners and licensees to bring their research to the marketplace.

It’s a tough job, on top of everything else you have on your plate — BUT IT CAN AND MUST BE DONE. That’s why Technology Transfer Tactics’ Distance Learning Division has recruited Guy Diedrich, Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations and Commercialization with The Texas A&M University System, to help you overcome faculty resistance, enhance researcher communication and education, and build critically important, positive relationships with your most important resource — your inventors.
Vision 1920 is sure that Diedrich has arranged for TAMUS to get a significant cut of the $197 price of downloading his talk. In future posts, Vision 1920 will review how Diedrich transformed the faculty at Texas A&M.

To be continued...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Founding fathers

Sul Ross is so important to Aggie history that it's easy to forget that he was not our first President. The Class of 1951 tells what happened to Gen. Ross' predecessors
President Gathright was also taking a light view - of military aspects of the College. He rowed with his commandant. Most members of the faculty had been "top hands" in other institutions and, consequently, there were as many bosses as teachers. Gathright rowed with one of the bosses in particular, and students took sides. Meanwhile, farmers throughout the State were complaining that the school was ignoring its fundamental purpose of teaching agriculture. The Board of Directors met in Bryan and sent word to the faculty to meet with them there. L.L. McInnis, professor of Mathematics, didn't get the word on time. Hedrove by the house of Bernard Sbisa, supervisor of subsistence."Report to the Exchange Hotel in Bryan, Mac," Sbisa called out, "The 'Board' is going to fire you all." "I can't be bothered," McInnis called back. "I'm going fishing." Go fishing, he did , and the Board forgot to fire him though they dismissed Gathright and all other instructors.
Historian John A. Adams' Keepers of the Spirit says that the Governor personally intervened and called for the mass dismissal on Nov. 22, 1879. Gathright died within a year of being fired at AMC. These days, Gathright is the namesake of the Gathright award for outstanding students. Getting back to the Class of '51 version:
After the wholesale expulsion of the first A&M faculty, James [actually John - ed.] Garland James was elected second president of the College and served from 1879 to 1882. His administration was marked by a complete reorganization of curricula. The State Grange, at the time a powerful farmers' organization, led the fight against the previous curricula. The fact that still no professor of Agriculture had been added to the teaching staff, no doubt, helped provoke this censure. As a former superintendent of the Texas Military Institute at Austin, James is credited with establishing military tradition at Texas A&M. But throughout his administration, despite the actions to reorganize the existing curricula, James did not escape the ire of the farmers. In 1883, he gave up what seemed like a hopeless struggle. The Board dismissed him with most of his faculty, and despairing of finding anew president, named Professor H. H. Dinwiddie chairman of the faculty to act in lieu of their selection.
These actions of the early Boards were inspiring examples of Shared Governance, especially since Highway 6 didn't even exist yet.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Redefining the R&D enterprise

In March, Vice Chancellor for Research Giroir gave a presentation to the BioHouston Breakfast forum. A pdf of his powerpoint slides is available online.

Dr. Giroir describes a vision for the future of biomedical research at the Texas A&M University System. The figure shown here, slide 11 from his talk, is perplexing, since we were not there and have no additional transcript or notes. Slide 11 appears between the sections on TIPS and the NCTM. Vision 1920 wonders if this means that our highly-ranked Poultry Science Department will be left behind, when the rest of the research enterprise is taken over by the System.

Philosophical differences

The materials from the CPI meeting the other day included some correspondence between the Department Heads Council and the Board (pdf, see p 11 onward).
Our most pressing concern is the appearance that the Board of Regents has embraced a "top down" management style that reflects little regard for stakeholder input, a process and management style that is counter to the philosophy by which department heads and other administrators manage academic programs and departmental business.
If your philosophy is so hot, why couldn't you keep the @$%! faculty in line?

GMP - a perfect fit for Aggieland

The National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing has been the target of some potbanger criticisms. Some of this is based on a tempest in a teapot stirred up by our Governor's critics.
Although the fund's normal procedures were largely followed, a small legislative firestorm has broken out because of several factors: Texas A&M is Perry's alma mater. The grant was five times as large as any other given from the fund. The money was transferred from another economic development fund with a different purpose. And an advisory board that usually votes on such projects did not in this case.
But as we know, the ends justify the means, and the ends here were described by two of our fearless System leaders
“We’re creating a prototype that is absolutely critical for improving the nation’s ability to develop new vaccines and therapeutics in an accelerated and cost-effective manner. It will be especially important in the larger goal of protecting our citizens from the threat of bioterror weapons such as anthrax and Ebola virus,” Giroir said.

“This Center sets a national standard for aligning the strengths of academic research and commercial application for a broad-ranged public benefit,” said Diedrich. “The system has been at the forefront of creating marketplace models of innovative collaborations that show the tremendous power of technology to dramatically reshape the economy and our lives. Those efforts come together in this world-class facility.”
The key to this is the ability to make biological therapeutics and vaccines under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) methods. Nature Bioentrepreneur examined GMP facilities at universities in 2003:
But regulatory officials should hold university facilities to the same standards as industry manufacturers, particularly when a product nears human testing, says Nadine Ritter, an independent Biotechnology Product consultant based in Washington, DC. "University labs want to do things cheaper and faster and that's fine—until the product goes into a patient," Ritter adds, cautioning that universities are not scrutinized as rigidly as industry.
Here at Texas A&M we expect to be scrutinized as rigidly as any industry, building on our experience with the CDC.
Jim Cahill, a regulatory analyst who assesses industrial laboratories for Cato Research Institute (Philadelphia, PA, USA), agrees that universities face barriers to securing GMP status because "GMPs are designed to ensure that researchers do things over and over in exactly the same way," says Cahill, "but universities are designed to make people think."
This is what makes Texas A&M ideal for GMP. We do things over and over in exactly the same way and call it Tradition.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Excellence in Teaching

Vision 1920 has been focusing too much on research lately. We must remember that the primary mission of the university is teaching. Some of the faculty whiners argue that the time they spend mentoring the students working in their labs should count as teaching, but we all know that's just an excuse to get out of real teaching... the kind where the instructor has to stand in front of a classroom. Like in High School.

To improve the real teaching, our Chancellor last year created an innovative new program called the Teaching Excellence Award. This innovation drew attention to A&M from all over the world! Here's some of what people said:

Inside Higher Education
Ashley strongly disputed the idea -- widely held by researchers -- that student evaluations are not reliable and encourage grade inflation. He characterized the debate as unsettled. "You'll find studies that say it's true and studies that say it's not true," he said. Asked for a study that shows that student evaluations are reliable and don't encourage grade inflation, he said that the article he used in working on the policy was "Student Rating Myths vs. Research Facts," and was published in 1999 in the Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education.

The author, Lawrence M. Aleamoni, is now retired as a professor of education at the University of Arizona. Reached Monday, he said that he did in fact show in his article that some student evaluations can be reliable. But he said that several parts of the Texas A&M policy run counter to his findings and recommendations.

For example, Aleamoni said that the only times he has found student evaluations to be reliable is when they are nationally devised and normed, and not when they are "home grown," as A&M's questionnaire is. Further, Aleamoni said that his research found that students may answer very specific questions about their professors reliably. But broad questions -- such as "Does this professor deserve a teaching award?" -- are the sort that students tend to answer based on student grades.
The Times(UK) Education supplement points to the fact that these kinds of programs have been tried elsewhere
A few of these programmes have got the same sour reception as the bonuses paid to executives of corporations, including failed banks.

News that academics at the University of Florida College of Medicine received $7.6 million in bonuses last year has caused uproar on campus, where budget cuts portend layoffs and slashed academic programmes.
Readers at the Chronicle of Higher Education commented
What a profoundly troubling idea.
What a disgusting (though sadly predictable) degradation of educational relationships.
Having spent well over thirty years as a member of the professoriate, ten of those as an administrator (department chair, associate dean), I thought I had taken the measure of how low the corporate/customer-service model could go: apparently not.
The program proved to be so popular that 300/2000 faculty signed up for it... Some might worry that this program might not be sustainable at a time when A&M is looking at budget cuts. Fear not:
The chancellor said he is committed to the initiative. The initial funding came from existing sources, but he has put in a legislative appropriations request for $12 million to continue funding the program.

"If I had to prioritize my entire budget, this would be first," he said. "If I have to take money out of administration, that's what I'll do."
Vision 1920 is confident that he wasn't talking about System administration. Let's not go too far.

Sending feedback to Vision 1920

In the spirit of Shared Governance, the Vision 1920 blog accepts comments (which we ignore if we feel like it). To leave a comment, you have to have a "profile", which can be an account with any number of ID services, as shown in the figure. As spammers know, setting up an anonymous account on one of these is quite easy, in case you don't want to use your own name for fear of retribution from those faculty whiners.

Comments here at Vision 1920 are moderated, which means that whether or not they show up is up to us; there will usually be a delay before comments appear.

Note that if you're really paranoid, you can also send us confidential messages via the comments and tell us to not publish them attached to your fake ID.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Earlier we referred to Xoma as a Berkeley-based company. However
BERKELEY, Calif.--(BW HealthWire)--Nov. 24, 1998--XOMA Corporation (Nasdaq:XOMA) today announced that its Board of Directors has unanimously approved a proposal to change the Company's legal domicile from Delaware to Bermuda.
Vision 1920 regrets the error

Remember Jones Stadium

The Tceh paper has a laugh at our expense
...the vote against McKinney is the latest drama out of the university that seems to be struggling to find leadership.

But Texas Tech fans should be no strangers to McKinney. It was just eight years ago that Tech beat A&M in football and Tech fans casually threw a torn down goalpost into the stands. Rick Perry's then-chief of staff, McKinney, whose son Seth McKinney was an Aggie center, stormed into the A&M locker room with a bloody face yelling "Welcome to Tech," apparently hit during a post-game melee between students.

However, an investigation into the incident revealed McKinney was actually pushing an A&M student into the metal guardrails surrounding the field when the student hit him in an attempt to escape McKinney's swinging binoculars. Despite the investigation, McKinney called out the Tech administration, claiming the report was a "cover up" and that "the administration had failed."

It seems ironic that today we can discus McKinney's description of administrative failure, for it is he who sits in the administrative seat, without any apparent support from his own staff. While McKinney has shown an amazing ability to start feuds with his fellow Aggies, he doesn't seem to be doing himself any favors.
"Casually threw"? Here's what happened
The fans then carried the goal posts to the north end zone, toward section 15, where McKinney and other A&M fans were sitting. The Tech fans shoved the goal posts into the stands. McKinney, who was against the wall closest to the field, attempted to keep the fans from coming up into the stands.

"I was trying to keep them from coming up in the stands," McKinney said. "I pushed two of them down, and grabbed my binoculars and said, `The next one that comes up gets it.' Then, somebody who was already in the stands, I guess, came up and knocked the fool out of me. I saw him hit me -- a kid in a red shirt.

"It was like the Alamo," McKinney said. "They were coming up over the wall."
OK, so the student he fought with was an Aggie.
The report, which Sowder provided Wednesday, states that Wallace saw A&M and Tech fans fighting and attempted to stop the fights.

"He was trying to help people back into the stands when [McKinney] shoved him. [Wallace] stated that he tried to explain to [McKinney] that he was an A&M student, but [McKinney] struck him with a pair of binoculars. [Wallace] got angry and punched [McKinney] in the eye," the report stated.
There were casualties from friendly fire at the Alamo too. OK, that was mostly among the Mexicans, but it happened. Like the man says in The man who shot Liberty Valance
This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend

CPI open meeting

July 8, 2009
Memorial Student Center, room 201
11:30 a.m. - 1:15 p.m.

Defensive medicine

Last night we pointed out that Dr. Brett P. "eHarmony" Giroir had previous dealings with Xoma, the Berkeley-based biotech company. Nature Biotechnology wrote about what they were doing in 1998.
The pivotal phase III clinical trial of one of the last "surviving" sepsis drugs—for the treatment of meningococcal sepsis—is nearing completion. XOMA Corporation's (Berkeley, CA) Neuprex is recombinant human bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein (BPI), an endogenous neutralizer of endotoxin and, with lesser potency, an antibiotic. Some experts are cautiously optimistic about the outcome and hope that positive results will reinvigorate the sepsis field. "This field needs some excitement," says Brett Giroir, of Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX, who is the principal investigator of the Neuprex trial. "If positive, this study is going to answer a lot of questions."
Neuprex was being repositioned for meningococcal sepsis after it turned out to be less effective than hoped in treating more general trauma. Xoma continued to test Neuprex against sepsis and other conditions, but Vision 1920 can't find any evidence of a final FDA approval. Xoma's current hopes are mostly pinned on an antibody drug called XOMA 052 that binds Interleukin-1 beta (whatever that is... our tame faculty consultant has been less tame of late).

Dr. Giroir was at UT-Southwestern when the Neuprex work started, but came to the Texas A&M System via the Defense Science Office at DARPA. Xoma founder Patrick Scannon also has been on DARPA advisory boards and other biodefense projects. Xoma has done biodefense work for NAIAD on vaccines against botulism toxin.

Xoma has another indirect A&M connection, noted in this 2005 news story:
Lexicon Genetics and Xoma have announced the formation of a collaboration to jointly develop and commercialise antibody drugs that could be effective in treating diet-induced obesity and enhanced insulin sensitivity.
Xoma and Introgen also have had at least one common Board member.

The suggestion that this might create a conflict of interest for Dr. Giroir is absurd:
Giroir said that Introgen is providing advice but has no contract to receive any money from the center and that Xoma's contract for helping design the center will top out at $20,000.

Murano's accusations are patently false

More from the Chancellor's extended notes (pdf)
Last time committee on IP met - she pulled out papers on XOMA & berated Guy for making deal w/co. hurting the "A&M Brand" that she was dedicated to protecting - She misread info - & did not really know how to read the data - I don't know who gave her the info [concern is valid but approach & behavior totally inappropriate]
What deal? This one from Sept. 2008:
“We are very pleased to be working with XOMA, a biotechnology company with more than 25 years of experience as a successful innovator in antibody development and manufacturing,” said Brett Giroir, M.D., vice chancellor for research for the Texas A&M System. “We expect that the project will generate new opportunities for rapid translation of biomedical discoveries into life-saving products. The collaboration also holds the promise to develop manufacturing technologies that position the state of Texas as the partner of choice for biotechnology companies in the future.”
Dr. Brett P. "eHarmony" Giroir, in case you didn't know, is the System's Vice Chancellor for Research, and a leading biodefense researcher (Try a PubMed search on 'giroir bp AND biodefense'). Dr. Giroir knows Xoma well - they hold the rights on five of his patents.

Xoma was the subject of a 2007 profile in the New York Times:
Xoma, which Dr. Scannon started in 1981, has never earned an operating profit or marketed a drug of its own. And in the quarter-century since its birth, Xoma has managed to burn through more than $700 million raised from investors and other pharmaceutical companies.
XOMA, which went public 20 years ago, is a case study of unfulfilled promise in the biotech business. It may also be a story that ends happily, if very belatedly, with success. The company’s management and some investors, including OrbiMed, say they are convinced that what they describe as Xoma’s dogged determination is finally making headway, or at least that its stock has room to grow.

The company’s stock has nearly doubled over the last year, hitting a 52-week high on Friday of $3.30, before closing at $3.04. Still, that is well below the stock’s record high of $32 a share, reached in both 1987 and 1991.
There's even more room to grow now; Xoma closed at $0.78/share today (down from $2.27 on the day the deal was announced).

We don't govern based on polls

Earlier this summer, the Council of Principal Investigators voted no confidence in the Chancellor. These faculty are so messed up, the CPI then polled their membership after going on record. 87% of the CPI voted no confidence, but the results of their own poll came out different.

484/523 (91.5%) of the PIs voted no confidence.

Pishko defends the NCTM

On the little-read CPI discussion board, Prof. Pishko objects to the inclusion of the NCTM in the CPI resolution of no confidence
I reviewed the membership of the CPI and there is not one individual on the CPI who has been involved in any of the NCTM discussions. How is anyone on the CPI to know where funding for NCTM may come from when they have not been involved in the discussions? The answer is they cannot. Did the CPI bother to talk to anyone who has been working on the project? The answer is no.
Indeed. How could they know where the funding came from?

Monday, July 6, 2009

McKinney's notes

When the Chancellor schooled the faculty senate two weeks ago, he said
I do face-to-face verbal evaluations annually. I make notes before the face-to-face meeting so I remember to mention some positive things and some things requiring attention. What has been termed in the media as an “unprofessional evaluation” was simply my notes.
Vision 1920 assumed he was referring to this (pdf). But there was also this (pdf) more extended set of notes from later in February.
2/18 Even Ed Price said "President's office has warned everyone not to let the system commit University resources"
The Chancellor outranks the President, so those all resources are his resources. Except when the BoR wants them.
2/17 WITHOUT PRIOR WARNING Elsa unleashed on Guy & Brett with 40 pages of something "[?]. Berated them in front of "her team" - over COI concerning GMP & GLP facilities in a single organization. - she complained about not being involved - this was a meeting we called to explain [before I [unreadable]]
How dare she come to a meeting more prepared than expected? She should have warned them that she already knew about the stuff they were going to spring on her at the meeting.

Bud Rudder fights back!

In the Eagle:
It is true that my father was the driving force behind the transformation of Texas A&M from a small, essentially all-male military college into a modern institution of learning that welcomes students of both genders and all backgrounds.

But that vision for change should not be cynically manipulated into a justification of the effort of some associated with Texas A&M to blur the differences between our university and others instead of trumpeting its unique qualities.

One of the unique qualities of Texas A&M is a reverence for chain of command. No one understood this better than James Earl Rudder. He expected unquestioning loyalty among his Rangers at Normandy, among his employees at the General Land Office, and during his tenure at Texas A&M College.
Vision 1920 is all about trumpeting our unique qualities.

As James Earl "Bud" Rudder Jr. '62 undoubtedly remembers, General Rudder's changes to "Old Army" were made without a peep of questioning from the Old Ags.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

How Vision 1920 will btho Vision 2020 pt 12

Vision 2020Vision 1920
Imperative 12: Meet Our Commitment to TexasOur commitment to Texas isn't missing. It's hiking the Appalachian trail

Meat cutting

If that woman hadn't blabbed about the $16M loan, the University wouldn't have had to do this
Two of the longest-tenured members of the Texas A&M University athletics department lost their jobs Thursday in a budget-cutting move that eliminated 17 positions from the department.

Billy Pickard and Jim Kotch have a combined 73 years of service in the department. They were casualties of what athletics director Bill Byrne called a reduction in force that was required to complete a $4.5 million budget cut.

Byrne said in a statement that the athletics department had to eliminate the positions because A&M officials could make only $3.5 million in cuts without reducing personnel.
Now that the $16M loan has to be paid back, Vision 1920 is looking at creating a Systems level Athletic Director, which would allow us to eliminate the redundant athletic department services at the various schools. Each school would keep its own teams and coaches, but the System would handle the luxury boxes and tickets.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ad blockers pt 4

Previously:Despite evidence presented that Advexin was safe, gene therapy in general was described as cursed in this 2005 Nature Biotechnology piece
"Because gene therapy has such a nasty reputation, people tried to rename it or call it 'new and improved' to free themselves of the stigma," says Michael Zasloff, an analyst with Ferris, Baker Watts of Washington, DC. "That may fool the public, but the market sees through it," he says.
Nevertheless, Nature Biotech wrote:
The first gene therapy approved in the US will most likely be Austin, Texas−based Introgen's Advexin, which delivers normally functioning p53 to cells.
Advexin was safe, and was in phase 3 trials. As noted in part 3, Introgen was planning to submit Advexin to the FDA for approval in 2004. Those plans changed...Introgen finally submitted their BLA in 2008, a few weeks after announcing a joint venture with the Texas A&M System.

This followed presentation of long-awaited phase 3 trial data at a cancer conference, which MD Anderson headlined as
Gene Therapy Increases Survival for End-Stage Head and Neck Cancer
There was some fine print
The trial showed that p53 expression in the patient's tumor before treatment is a reliable biomarker for how to treat head and neck cancer. Patients with a favorable p53 profile who received Advexin® had a median survival of 7.2 months, compared with 2.7 months for those whose tumor expressed high levels of mutant p53 before treatment. Patients with this unfavorable profile were better off taking the chemotherapy drug methotrexate, resulting in median survival of 5.9 months.

Potbangers in the biotech stock analysis community were not impressed, and predicted that Advexin would not be approved. The market agreed, and Introgen's stock plummeted.

The potbangers were right this time. The FDA told Introgen its application was "incomplete". By the end of 2008, Introgen filed for bankruptcy and David Nance had stepped down as CEO. Since then, Nance resigned from the Introgen Board and has resurfaced at a nonprofit to promote high-tech business in Texas.
David Nance says Texas could do a far better job of creating high-tech jobs and companies if the state's fiercely competitive regions and universities had a better way to work together.
Vision 1920 points out that the agreement between Introgen Technical Services and the TAMU System doesn't involve paying ITS (now renamed Vivante) anything - it's just a memorandum of understanding to apply for grants together from the Emerging Technology Fund, the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Federal Government.

So, what's the problem?