Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's like highway 6

From President Loftin's speech at convocation:
As president, I commit to all of you that I will not only lead Texas A&M further down the path of academic and institutional excellence that you have worked so hard to define
The path of academic and institutional excellence runs both ways.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We make it up in volume

In the Eagle:
State funding per student within the Texas A&M System will decrease by more than 17 percent if a budget cut is as large as officials have been asked to prepare for.
The state provides $7,529 per student within the 11-university A&M System this biennium, the two-year period that began September 2009.
The projected funding per student for the biennium that begins September 2011 is $6,230.
That's based on a 10 percent state reduction -- as officials have been asked to plan for -- the loss of federal stimulus money and a 6 percent enrollment increase. Calvert said that's a conservative estimate and the system's enrollment is likely to increase by closer to 10 percent.
This is great news for Texas taxpayers: we've reduced the cost of higher education!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Loftin held hostage?

On Sunday we wondered where President Loftin was. On Monday, some at A&M received a communique purporting to be from him:
Texas A&M has had, for many years, mechanisms in place that allow the full range of your activities to be considered in annual performance evaluations as well as for promotion and tenure (which are guided by our faculty rules and guidelines). This report will not be used (even if inaccuracies are corrected) to assess the overall productivity of an individual faculty member, and it certainly does not speak to the quality of that productivity.
Vision 1920 is worried that President Loftin is being held hostage by faculty terrorists and sent this email under duress. Here's why:
  • The message was not delivered in public
  • Although President Loftin sends weekly emails from, this one comes from a different address.
  • There is nothing like it on his university webpage. Note how he fooled his captors by not sending faculty propaganda to the whole TAMU community.
  • Like POW Jeremiah Denton blinking out Morse Code, Loftin gets the real message through
    ...What I wish to emphasize to you is that the existence of this document does not imply change in our focus or behavior as a university. More explicitly, let me say that the mission of Texas A&M University has not changed nor have the processes we have in place for evaluating faculty.
What other explanation could there be?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Returning to our rightful mission

In the Academic Fishy Data Compilation, research funding was put into a separate column and did not count against each faculty member's red/black totals. The appropriate way to count research funding is not clear. For guidance, we can look to this Texas Public Policy Foundation report (pdf)
In short, we could afford to provide perhaps twice as many students in America with a college education if we just reduced the wasteful spending on scholarly academic re- search, and returned the university to its rightful mission of teaching.
Indeed. And, even better, if we just diverted all that extramural grant money to the football team, we could hire a really good special teams coach. Vision 1920 is sure the OMB would have no problem with that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Where's Loftin?

Comments on the Academic Fishy Data Compilation from top A&M leaders (from the Eagle and the Chronicle of Higher Education):

  • Dean of Faculties Antonio Cepeda-Benito
    "...a simplistic and misleading way to measure faculty"
  • Provost Karan Watson
    "...we may have told them we don't really see the value in what you're doing."
  • Dean of Architecture Jorge Vanegas
    "... numbers are taken out of their full context and they feed into misconceptions or explicit lack of recognition of what the full spectrum of academia should be"
  • Dean of Business Jerry Strawser
    "...just totally and completely misleading..."
President Loftin has been strangely silent as his underlings criticize the System. Vision 1920 calls on Loftin to remind his employees about the bidirectionality of Highway 6.

Close enough for government work, part 2

Governor Perry explains the importance of the Academic Fishy Data Compilation exercise:
"We are in the process of doing the groundwork to ensure that tax dollars are being spent as effectively as possible by our higher education institutions," he said.

Close enough for government work

The Eagle reports on an update to the tale of the Academic Fishy Fiscal Data Compilation:
But following public release last week, the document has been criticized as containing widespread inaccuracies, from inflated salaries to faculty members not being counted.

On Friday evening, visitors who clicked on the report link online instead saw a message that stated, "In light of the feedback received, corrections are being made to the FY 2009 'Academic Financial Data Compilation.' Processes are being modified and an updated report will be prepared and posted to the web."
This suggests that the report is no longer available, but on Saturday night that note is just one of two pages appended to the pdf before the body of the report. The other page is a flow chart for how the data was compiled.

The data on faculty payroll is shown as coming from the "BPP's pay history file for each instructor", except for the payroll from the Vet School, which comes from somewhere else. Wherever it comes from, the faculty are complaining:
Raymond Carroll wishes he got paid $443,000, like it says in a financial measurement released this week by the A&M System. But he says that's about $150,000 more than his actual salary.
Perhaps the extra $150K has just been strategically reallocated.

Vision 1920 suspects that BPP refers to the System Budget/Payroll/Personnel Operations Center. Alternatively it could refer to the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Profits from downsizing

One of the comments in the Eagle story suggests a strategy for A&M to be even more profitable:

"The measure shows that some of our best, most prestigious faculty come out in the red," said Antonio Cepeda-Benito, dean of faculties. "Those are the people that other universities would pay money to take away from us. They're in high demand."

The highest paid faculty member who has never had an ex-president buyout is Jim Sacchettini in Biochemistry and Biophysics. The profit and loss document shows him as $159,018 in the red, shortly after TAMU fought off an attempt by the Univ. of Houston to hire him away.

The document includes the fiscal evaluation of several faculty who did leave A&M before FY2009, but who have TAMU appointments because they had graduate students in the pipeline when they left. These faculty are in the black because they have $0 salary from A&M, but we still get tuition and fees for their students. In some cases, those departed faculty were worth more than $10,000 to A&M.

Sacchettini has lots of grad students, so we would have made an even bigger short-term profit by letting him go to the Cougars, thanks to separating research funds from the bottom line. And what's the big deal about research? Sacchettini only brought in $2,217,551 in awards in FY2009 (that doesn't count this, which is from 2010).

Measure for measure

The famous report on faculty profitability is now available online. The Eagle covers the reaction:
It takes what a faculty member generates by teaching -- tuition paid by students and formula funding by the state based on weighted semester credit hours -- and subtracts from that the faculty member's salary and estimated cost of benefits.

It doesn't take research dollars generated into account, as The Eagle reported earlier this month based on how officials described the document. However, they appear in an adjacent column.
Two colleges at TAMU are in the red: Engineering and the Bush school.
In fact, at the College Station campus, the document shows that faculty members brought in nearly $75 million more than the $315 million spent on their salaries and benefits. In addition, they generated an additional $226 million through research.

The nature of the calculation means that the most profitable faculty are the non-tenured instructors who just got laid off. Identifying these is not straightforward, as different departments include or exclude graduate student TAs from the listing, depending on how the courses they participate in use them.
Jerry Strawser, dean of the Mays Business School and convener of the Council of Deans, said faculty members generally teach what their department heads tell them to teach that semester, sometimes big classes, other times not.

"According to this measure, it's going to look like one's doing a lot, and the other's not, and that's just totally and completely misleading, because they're doing what they've been asked to do," Strawser said.

"It's like judging a manufacturing process by how many units they produce. Not anything else. Not whether the customers buy the units. Not whether the units have defects in them. It just says, 'Here's how many units we've produced.'"

Universities should be run like businesses. Our model for evaluation of unit and employee profitability is Enron.
"I think this is all in the spirit of what we proposed," said Bill Peacock, the vice president for research of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wall Street Journal rankings

A&M is #2 in the nation in a new Wall Street Journal ranking of the best colleges.
In the study—which surveyed 479 of the largest public and private companies, nonprofits and government agencies—Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ranked as top picks for graduates best prepared and most able to succeed.
The Aggies are only behind Penn State (Tceh is #18, ahead of tu). Vision 1920 likes this ranking much better than the US News and NRC rankings, which are way too biased toward the insider values of the academic cartel.

Looking deeper at the WSJ rankings should help us evaluate the directions TAMU should take to maintain our high position in this poll, and ultimately to become #1. A companion article explains
Under pressure to cut costs and streamline their hiring efforts, recruiting managers find it's more efficient to focus on fewer large schools and forge deeper relationships with them, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of top corporate recruiters whose companies last year hired 43,000 new graduates.
Corporate budget constraints also play a role. Recruiter salaries, travel expenses, advertising and relocation costs run upwards of $500,000 to recruit 100 college grads, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. "We're all accountable to the bottom line," said Diane Borhani, campus recruiting leader at Deloitte LLP, who said she recently narrowed her roster to about 400 schools from 500.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Enhancing the undergraduate experience

More from Loftin's email
- Unofficial preliminary fifth-day figures show another year of record enrollment - 49,426, or 724 more than last fall.
- We have two open forums scheduled for this week as we continue our discussions on the Strategic Budget Reallocation. The first, on enhancing the undergraduate experience, will be today from 4-5:30 p.m. in Rudder 601.
Our plan to enhance the undergrad experience is to reduce teaching staff while increasing enrollment. That way Aggies get to experience more of each other in every class they take.

Update: The email also says:
My memo about these forums, and how you can view them remotely if you are unable to attend, can be found at
But if you follow the link, all it says is
All open forums are taking place in Rudder 601 and will utilize electronic simulcast for maximum participation.
Note the email says today is the first, while the website shows one from last Friday on graduate programs.

Update 2: the streams are at


A highlight from President Loftin's email to the Aggie family:
Often when I meet with other university presidents, they express amazement at the level of support provided by our former students through the Association of Former Students. For the 2010-2011 academic year, our students, faculty and staff will receive $3.2 million from the Association to support 65 initiatives for which state appropriations are not available, such as scholarships (more than $1 million), student activities (including travel support for the Aggie Band), and enrichment programs for faculty and staff.
Vision 1920 imagines these meetings:

Other University President: "Hey Bowen, given how fanatical your former students are about A&M, it's amazing that your alumni giving ranking is not even in the top 50, which means you're behind Texas, Michigan, Berkeley, UNC, UCLA, and even UC-Davis."

Loftin: "Yes, it's an amazing level of support. Of course, we've been working very hard lately on impressing some of our big donors".

So, if it was an emergency it must have been important, right?

Hmm... no coverage of the yesterday's Emergency Faculty Senate Meeting in the online editions of the Eagle, KBTX, or the Batt.

But we do get coverage of how new Aggie license plates are available.

Anyone have a report? Vision1920 wasn't able to get away from more important things.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Emergency faculty senate meeting today

The Faculty Senate has called an emergency meeting today to formulate their response to the Strategeric Budget Reallocation Plan. The Faculty have this peculiar idea that the process should be open and transparent.

The faculty have tried to give their input on how the budget crisis should be handled before. In the wake of the layoffs of instructors and staff reported last week, Vision 1920 reminds our readers that in a survey over the summer, only 82.4% of the faculty agreed with the following statement:
I am willing to forego a merit raise for one academic year on the grounds that the money saved will be used to reduce the number of faculty and staff terminated.

And only 64.4% agreed to forego raises for two years.

This idea did not make it into the SBR Plan. But if the faculty could be less divided, then maybe the administration would have listened to them. And if you believe that, Vision 1920 thinks you would be an excellent Faculty Senator.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

All your base are belong to us

A story that first appeared in the Texas Tribune last month is starting to get noticed:
The Texas commission charged with aiding economies hit by military base closures will spend millions for a vaccine plant in Bryan-College Station — even though the region’s military base closed nearly five decades ago.
Critics think that the military base closing commission should prioritize places like San Antonio, where bases have closed more recently. To them we say: You have no chance to survive make your time. Ha Ha Ha Ha

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shared Services

From Tuesday's Eagle
The university-wide plans had called for the elimination of 93 faculty and 117 staff positions -- along with 100 vacant faculty and 175 vacant staff positions -- to help meet a "worst-case" state reduction of $39 million and an internal $21 million reallocation plan to bolster a centrally administered pool to fund strategic priorities.

Across the university, non-tenured faculty have been given notices.

On Monday afternoon, all nine lecturers and senior lecturers in the biology department were set to receive notices of non-renewal.
Vision 1920 is thinking Chancellor McKinney and System VP Giroir, who both have MDs, could pick up a couple of sections of Intro Biology. If their student evaluations are good enough, they could even get some teaching awards.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The bottom line

Today's Eagle reports on a new way A&M is leading the way in redefining higher education
A several-inches thick document in the possession of A&M System officials contains three key pieces of information for every single faculty member in the 11-university system: their salary, how much external research funding they received and how much money they generated from teaching.

The information will allow officials to add the funds generated by a faculty member for teaching and research and subtract that sum from the faculty member's salary. When the document -- essentially a profit-loss statement for faculty members -- is complete, officials hope it will become an effective, lasting tool to help with informed decision-making.
According to System VP Frank Ashley, most departments are in the black. The System isn't releasing the document yet, which makes sense to Vision 1920. There is obviously something wrong with the metric if it shows those lazy faculty with their tenured jobs as actually pulling their weight.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Every Ag can dream of being Governor someday

Quoted in yesterday's Eagle
In the interview printed last week, Perry was asked about layoffs and buyouts of experienced faculty. He was quoted as saying, "We're laying off professors because there was a huge hiring increase that went on in the mid-2000s and these people are not even in the classrooms teaching our kids. I totally support that concept. Reductions in personnel that are nonessential at universities is good fiscal management."
The push to hire new faculty through the "Faculty Reinvestment Plan" was based on the flawed idea that A&M needed to reduce class size and increase our research prominence.

We could save a lot more and reduce the cost of college for students if we just got rid of the classrooms too. As the Governor's own career shows, all an Aggie needs can come from yell practice and Bonfire.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Look out, Gophers!

President Loftin boasts about how we did in the 2011 US News rankings:
Texas A&M fared well in rankings released this week. U.S. News & World Report ( placed us second nationally among public universities (and the only public university in Texas) in the “Great Schools, Great Prices” category, behind only the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Overall, we remained tied at 22nd among national public universities. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni ( again gave Texas A&M the top grade of “A” for our focus on core course requirements, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranked Texas A&M 95th in its annual list of the world’s 100 best universities (
The President didn't point out how we did in the actual National Universities rankings:
Vision 2020 Abbreviation2011 Ranking
Minnesota 64
Texas A&M 63
Purdue 56
Ohio St. 56
Florida 53
Penn St. 47
Illinois 47
Wisconsin 45
Texas 45
UC Davis 39
UC San Diego 35
Georgia Tech 35
North Carolina30
Michigan 29
UC Berkeley 22

We may remain tied for 22nd among public schools, but we've crept up to 63 in 2011, while we were only at 61 in 2010. Among the Vision 2020 schools, we're achingly close to passing Minnesota. C'mon Ags! We can do it!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Deck chair arrangements being planned

The Eagle reports
Texas A&M officials have provided hints about what a planned $21 million internal reallocation could be spent on: increasing graduate student enrollment, improving the undergraduate experience, enhancing facilities and taking care of faculty.

Decisions about the reallocation -- which is stacked on a potential $39 million "worst-case" state funding reduction -- aren't final and the current discussion centers more on the process for deciding the priorities than figuring out what they are.
Some might be surprised that a process for figuring out priorities at an established AAU university doesn't already exist.

There's an old saying that one should measure twice and cut once. That's how we do things for Vision 1920... just not necessarily in that order.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dear Faculty: please leave

The Eagle covers the Voluntary Separation Plan (VSP), and the details are here (pdf). Eligible faculty get either one or two years of pay to leave. For most colleges it's open to any tenured faculty member who has been at their current rank since 1995.

The application window is also pretty short: August 15- Sept 23, 2010.

The University can reject VSP applications, and VSP applicants can't bail out of their Fall teaching; the earliest separation date will be December. Who is the target demographic for the VSP?
Doug Slack, a wildlife fisheries science professor, said he will apply for the program. He said he's had his dream job for 37 years teaching students at Texas AM and serving the state, but it's time to move on. Though nearing retirement anyway, he said, he wouldn't have decided to apply now if it weren't for the incentive.

"The program enables the university to spend a little money on the front end and save a lot on the back end," said Slack, 67. "It will help with the remaining faculty members, and help our department meet some of its needs."
Slack chaired a search committee whose recommendations were rejected by the Regents, and was critical of the process. Vision 1920 sees the VSP as a great way to encourage senior faculty who have been around long enough so they are no longer looking to the administration for handouts able to lead new initiatives to retire.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Testing toxins with TIGM

Last week, the TAMU News service announced
The Texas A&M Institute for Genomic Medicine (TIGM), a leading global source for genetic discoveries, has been selected by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to identify and develop new drug targets for certain toxins, viruses and bacterial pathogens. By discovering and ultimately developing strategies to eliminate the ways in which toxins and microbes hijack cells, this research has the potential to discover new vaccines and therapies to counteract the most dangerous bio-threats faced by both military personnel and civilians.

The DTRA award will be used to develop first-in-class high-throughput screening procedures for mouse stem cells involving state-of-the-art robotic equipment and pioneering screening procedures. TIGM investigators will screen more than 3,500 different genes to identify those that enable toxins and microbes to injure cells and tissues. Once candidate genes are identified, TIGM researchers will develop therapies to be tested both in tissues and pre-clinical models.
According to the press release, the award is for $12.25 M over 53 months.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

We're number (7)1!

Email from President Loftin touts this achievement described by the TAMU News Service:
Texas A&M University ranks first among public institutions in Texas in return on investment (ROI) – what a graduate earns compared to typical college costs incurred – according to listings posted online by PayScale, Inc.

The online firm that compiles employee salary data nationally shows Texas A&M to have a 12.7% ROI, based on its typical costs, using a 2009 basis, compared to its 30-year ROI adjusted to reflect 2010 dollars. Texas A&M’s ROI, as shown in the survey, is even better than that for the two top-rated schools: MIT and Cal Tech, both of which had ROIs of 12.5%. The major determination in PayScale’s numerical rankings is the total cumulative estimated net salary for 30 years, combined with several other factors
We're number one among...public institutions in Texas. Nationally, we're #13 when measured as %ROI. When ranked nationally by 30-year ROI in $, we're #71 (in state) and #83 (out of state). In Texas, we're behind Rice (#26).

At least we BTHO tu (#113 and #136).

Here's how we did compared to the Vision 2020 peer institutions:
Vision 2020 AbbreviationRanking(s) in $ROIRanking(s) in %ROI
UC Berkeley 16, 23 13.1% #6 (tie)
Georgia Tech 31, 36 14.2% #1
UCLA 47, 52 13.1% #6 (tie)
UC San Diego 46, 56 12.6% #16
Illinois 55, 68 12.4% #21 (tie)
Michigan 58, 75 13.1% #6 (tie)
Texas A&M 71, 83 12.7$ #13
UC Davis 72, 97 11.8% #43 (tie)
Purdue 105, 126 12.4% #21 (tie)
Florida 112, 14013.0% #10 (tie)
Texas 113, 13611.9% #38 (tie)
Wisconsin 127, 48512.3% #27
Penn St. 130, 14611.1% #88 (tie)
North Carolina149, 17313.0% #10 (tie)
Minnesota 209, 23810.9% #109 (tie)
Ohio St. 231, 26610.5% #156(tie)

The key lesson here: to maximize rankings, pick the right comparison group.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Not so fast, Kemos sabe

In March, we noted the addition of Dr. Alex Kemos to the TAMU leadership. Kemos was hired for a paltry salary equivalent to a mere 10 English lecturers. Today's Eagle reports that Kemos wasn't Dr. Kemos after all:
Texas A&M's No. 3 administrator presented himself as a warrior-scholar: A former Navy SEAL with a doctorate from Tufts University.

But records obtained by The Eagle indicate Alexander Kemos never was part of the elite fighting force, and Texas A&M officials confirmed Friday that he doesn't have a doctorate or even a master's degree, which was a posted requirement for the $300,000-a-year position that serves as the top adviser to Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin.

On Friday morning, the day after he was confronted with questions about his background by Loftin in Maine, where the pair were vacationing, he resigned.

"It's a human tragedy," said Jeffrey Seemann, Texas A&M's vice president for research and the chair of the search committee that selected Kemos, who lives in College Station and has a wife and three children.

In a message to the campus Friday afternoon, Loftin said Kemos will no longer serve as senior vice president for administration, effective immediately. He said Kemos cited "a desire to spend more time with his family."
Vision 1920 is shocked by this scandal in academia. Tufts clearly committed a FERPA violation in releasing information about Kemos' records to the Eagle.

Monday, June 14, 2010

no SEC please, we're Texans

Loftin explains via email
To The Aggie Family:

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of speculation as Texas A&M University and several other institutions in the Big 12 Conference evaluated our athletic affiliations. At the end of the day, 10 of the 12 schools in the Big 12 – including Texas A&M – have determined that the conference was definitely worth saving due to our collective strengths in academics, national competitiveness, geographic fit and overall financial value.

Throughout the conference evaluation process, I was encouraged by something that I already knew –Texas A&M is incredibly strong and the passion of our current and former students, as well as our faculty and staff, is unmatched anywhere. As evidence, I have been overwhelmed by thousands of emails, phone calls and Facebook posts from Aggies in support of any of the three options we were considering – remaining in the Big 12, or joining the Southeastern Conference or Pac-10 Conference.

Let me be clear: This decision was made in the best interests of Texas A&M and was not made in haste. As I mentioned to the Faculty Senate Monday afternoon, our top consideration was the demands placed on our student-athletes, in terms of academics, time away from the classroom, and the overall level of competition. There were also many other factors considered, including maintaining Texas A&M’s strong foothold in the State of Texas and preserving our natural athletic rivalries, many of which date back more than 100 years. And, ultimately, by remaining a member of the Big 12, we were able to more than double our financial return to the levels being offered by other conferences.

I understand that some Aggies are disappointed, but I am confident this decision will serve Texas A&M well in the years to come. As Athletic Director Bill Byrne and I stated numerous times throughout this process, our hope and desire was for the Big 12 to continue. And we both agree that this is an exciting, new day for our league.

I appreciate all of your feedback and thoughts on this important issue. As Aggies, I know that you will rally around our Texas A&M student-athletes as they train over the summer and begin Big 12 competition this fall.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Regents push reform

today's Eagle describes the latest push toward Vision 1920. The Regents are serious about reform. As in re-forming A&M as a tier 3 football school.
One of the most compelling reforms -- rewarding instructors with awards of up to $10,000 based on anonymous student evaluations, called "customer satisfaction" -- has already been rolled out at all A&M campuses, starting at the flagship College Station campus and two others in fall 2008. It has been met with faculty resistance, but McKinney assured regents he will boost participation, which has been sparse, in the voluntary program.
We have ways of making you volunteer.
One of the reforms tackles academic tenure.

It calls for most tenure appointments to be given to teachers who have taught "on average three classes per semester and thirty students per class for the seven or more years that a teacher is on the tenure track," and for student satisfaction ratings to determine teaching effectiveness. Average teacher ratings, the reform states, must be at least a 4.5 on a 5.0 scale.
This is a brilliant cost-cutting move. We won't need the Research Foundation and the faculty payroll will shrink to almost nothing after we drive out all the ones who can get other jobs malingerers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Rumors are flying that A&M will go our own way in the massive conference realignment that broke out last week. It's looking like tu, OU, OK State, and Tech will join Colorado in the Pac-N (where N is a number we can't count to without taking off our shoes). If the rumors are correct, A&M will join the SEC instead.

While football fans think this is about recruiting and TV revenue, Vision 1920 suspects that the BoR is thinking on a much bigger scale. Joining the Pac-N would mean a whole new group of schools in the same conference we'd have to use when doing comparisons of academics to peer institutions. While it must have been tempting to follow the example of mandatory furloughs in the University of California System, the SEC offers a much weaker better list in terms of the goals of Vision 1920.













S Carolina

Arizona State

OK State
Oregon State
Texas Tech
Tier 3
Miss State
Ole Miss
Tier 3

Been gone for a while

Vision 1920 has been off the internet for over a month, and posting will continue to be very sporadic. It was nice to log on and see someone missed us.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Don't get your hopes up

The Eagle headline:
A&M picks new leaders
is actually about this:
The chief of staff for Texas A&M University's president will be the new senior vice president for administration, and a Washington University philosophy professor will be dean of the College of Liberal Arts, under appointments approved Friday.

Chief of Staff Alex Kemos will fill the high-level post that a search committee began looking for earlier this month. The $300,000-a-year position will oversee non-academic operations such as facilities and be a senior adviser to the president.
The story also reports the selection of a new Dean for Liberal Arts.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Exemplary commitment

The Regents voted to approve the NCTM (again).
“The NCTM exemplifies the Texas A&M System’s commitment to public service through education and research,” said Dr. Michael Pishko, head of Texas A&M’s department of chemical engineering, who will lead the NCTM team.
Just think how great this will be if it comes anywhere close to the System's commitment to shared governance.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pankratz leaves

Today's Eagle:
A top financial officer of Texas A&M University has resigned to become vice chancellor for finance for the University of North Texas System.

Terry Pankratz, vice president and chief financial officer, has worked at the 49,000-student university and within the A&M System that governs it for nearly 22 years.

Administrative changes announced in January appeared to lessen Pankratz' role.

In a series of moves that more closely aligned the flagship College Station campus with the A&M System, he was made to report directly to B.J. Crain, who is now the chief business officer for both the university and the A&M System. She reports both to Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin and A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney.

A spokesman for Loftin, Jason Cook, said Crain will lead the university's Division of Finance.

"At this time," Cook wrote in an e-mail, "there are not any plans to fill Mr. Pankratz' position."
Resistance is will be assimilated...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pulling savings out of our RASS

Last year, the BoR and the TAMU System created nine shared services teams to look for ways to
To review current services or activities and determine if there are efficiencies and any associated cost saving by sharing these services without sacrificing quality.
In January, Chancellor McKinney summarized (pdf) the progress on shared services. Notably absent from the list of possible savings was anything from the Research Administration Shared Services (RASS) team. It seems the RASS team didn't find very much to cut.

Yesterday, VP for Research Seeman updated the CPI on what happened after the RASS failed to find much to save from sharing services. It seems the Regents didn't like that answer and sent the team to redo the analysis. The RASS still didn't find things where sharing would cost less. Not willing to accept that answer, the BoR is now looking to pay an outside consultant to look for savings.

Places where shared services can save significant amounts without sacrificing quality were also elusive in 2007, when the Integrated Research Administration Project committee went looking for them. But Vision 1920 is confident that if we just keep looking, there will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Vision 1920 is also proud of our BoR's patriotism. Research administration is part of the indirect costs applied to extramural funding, so we're sure that when those savings are found, the BoR will return an appropriate share of the found money to its rightful owners in funding agencies of the federal government.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Changing the game in vaccine research

In Wednesday's Wall Street Journal
Leaders of the Texas Plant-Expressed Vaccine Consortium today announced a biotherapeutic manufacturing initiative designed to show proof of concept for a landmark new technology that could dramatically increase the nation’s capability to produce vaccines for infectious diseases, including influenza.
We have a Texas Plant-Expressed Vaccine Consortium? Where have they been before now? Vision 1920 wonders if this is a new operation or if it has been around since A&M lost Charles Arntzen's project to express vaccines in bananas to Cornell. Or since A&Ms partnership with ProdiGene ran aground.
Project GreenVax, which utilizes tobacco plants rather than the current egg-based vaccine technology, holds the promise of shortening vaccine production to a fraction of the current time, allowing rapid response to newly emerging viruses not possible with current technology. The majority of funding for the project is provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
“Project GreenVax and the NCTM are game-changers. They have the potential to transform not just vaccine production, but the entire biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry,” said Dr. Brett Giroir, vice chancellor for research for the A&M System and executive director of the Institute for Innovative Therapeutics (IIT), the newly established institute representing the partnership between the system’s multiple state-of-the-art research facilities.
Bayer Cropsciences has already taken similar technology to phase 1 clinical trials. G-Con's team had some connection to the Bayer system, but it seems like there was a complex combination of collaboration and competition involved. G-Con's founder was with Large Scale Biology, which didn't lose...they just ran out of time.

Expect the potbangers to quibble about whether Project Greenvax is really game changing. But maybe that's not the game Dr. Giroir, who brings his DARPA connections to A&M, is talking about.

In other vaccine news:
In a move touted as by many experts as questionable at best, PharmAthene has seen millions of dollars added to a 2003 contract without competing for it.

PharmAthene, which held closes ties to the late Congressman John Murtha and current DHS Under Secretary Tara O'Toole, was originally awarded the contract by BARDA. This new influx of money is part of a 2008 HHS request for a proposal for a second-generation anthrax vaccine.

At A&M a regular VP is not good enough for facilities

In Thursday's Eagle:
Texas A&M's top facilities official will work for the A&M System, officials said this week.

Chuck Sippial, vice president for facilities, will transition to special assistant to Vergel Gay, chief facilities planning and construction officer for the 11-university system, said President R. Bowen Loftin. The $238,000-a-year vice president position will be abolished. Sippial's new pay was unclear late Wednesday.

Loftin also said he will create a new position called senior vice president for administration, which will oversee the facilities department.
Vision 1920 thought special assistant is a job title we usually use when we fire football coaches. Good to know that the hiring freeze and budget woes haven't spread to the System level. In Friday's Eagle:
Texas A&M's vice president for research, Jeffrey Seemann, will head a search committee that will look for the senior vice president for administration, officials said Thursday.
Vision 1920 is confident that half a dozen instructors from the English department could do just as good a job of watching our infrastructure crumble.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

About G-Con

Earlier, we wondered about the identity of G-Con, the industry partner that local officials and Texas A&M are planning to work with to "bring a large biomedical research and vaccination manufacturing center to Bryan". At the time, G-con's website looked brand new, and didn't have information about who they are. But Vision 1920 just checked the site again and we see that the about page has been updated:
Dr. Barry Holtz, President of G-Con, is a recognized international expert on design and construction of pharmaceutical facilities. David Haselwood, an experienced life science entrepreneur, investor and operator, heads up business operations for G-Con.
Barry Holtz appears to be the proprietor of Holtz BioPharma Consulting
Dr. Holtz has 30 years of experience in the development of bioproducts and biopharmaceuticals. Serving 15 years as Senior Vice President for Large Scale Biology Corporation, Dr. Holtz was responsible for the product development, clinical development and manufacturing compliance of the company's proprietary therapeutics portfolio. These projects included leading development and manufacturing teams that successfully brought a recombinant, plant-made, patient specific vaccine, for treatment of indolent Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,from the bench to human clinical trials. Dr. Holtz was also responsible for the design, construction and commissioning of the LSBC biopharmaceutical production facility in Owensboro, Kentucky. Dr. Holtz has also designed and built two other bioproducts facilities for other clients. Recent efforts have included design and construction of cancer vaccine facilities, implementing proteogenomics into vaccine manufacture and international development of biotechnology development in resource challenged countries.

Prior to Large Scale Biology, Dr. Holtz was the founder and President of Holtz Bio-Engineering. Over its' nine year history, the company was involved in the development of bioreactor based processes for the biotechnology sector and developed a proprietary line of bioreactors and distributed logic control systems for cell culture. Holtz Bio-Engineering was merged into Large Scale Biology in 1989.

Dr. Holtz has held research management positions at Foremost-Mckesson and was on the faculty of Ohio State University. He received his Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University and was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Holtz has been awarded 22 US patents and has published over 50 scientific papers. Dr. Holtz was awarded the Pennsylvania State University, Outstanding Alumni Award in 2003.
Pubmed finds some papers that could be from Holtz's graduate and postdoctoral work. More relevant to the NCTM is this paper from Large Scale Biology Corporation describing production of anticancer vaccines using Tobacco Mosaic Virus vectors in plants. This has been used by Bayer, in collaboration with Icon Genetics (a competitor of LSBC?), which is also listed under the projects page at G-Con.

Large Scale Biology Corporation appears to have published the paper a couple of years after going bankrupt.

David Haselwood is a 2004 Berkeley MPH/MBA who has also been with Gradalis since 2008. From 2004-2006, he worked at Burrill & Company, a venture capital firm focusing on biotech.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Faculty and Staff Appreciation Night

Tonight's women's basketball game was Faculty and Staff Appreciation night. Vision 1920 hopes these people are feeling appreciated.
Jimmie Killingsworth has had easier Mondays.

It's not every day the head of the English department at Texas A&M has to call an 8 a.m. meeting and tell about 30 people that it would be wise to look for other jobs.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don't ask, tell

A tidbit from the story about Don Cloud's unhappiness with changes at TAMU:
In a lengthier interview Friday with The Eagle, the day he was officially confirmed as president, Loftin was asked whether a regent had asked him to make the change.

"No," he said.

He immediately was asked whether a regent had told him to make the change.

Loftin stared at the table for about five seconds without saying a word and glanced at his spokesman, Jason Cook, who jumped in.

I wandered lonely as a Cloud

Yesterday's Eagle
Texas A&M donor Don Cloud said he'd been stewing since the January resignation of Lt. Gen. John Van Alstyne, commandant over the Corps of Cadets.

So the class of 1959 Aggie graduate typed up an e-mail last week, carried around a rough draft in his shirt pocket for a day, and then fired away to Lt. Gen. Joe Weber, Texas A&M's vice president for student affairs.

"My wife and I hereby notify you of our resignation from the Aggie Spirit Development Council and wish to have no further association with you whatsoever," wrote Cloud, student commander of the Corps of Cadets in the 1950s.
Don Cloud gained national attention in the 1958 game against SMU in the Cotton Bowl
Texas Record is established as a boy and girl meet at half time in the middle of the Cotton Bowl and, in front of 53,000 patient fans, kiss for one minute and 45.8 seconds. The stalwart lad is Texas A&M ROTC Commander Don Cloud; the stalwart lass is Aggie Sweetheart Millie Rowland. The big smooch is a traditional ceremony, and the ceremony has become more everlasting every year. This time the kiss was so protracted the 240-piece A&M military band marched off the field leaving the couple as lonesome as a pair of lonesome ends.
The Aggies lost that day, 33-0. Cloud has been a donor to the Corps endowed scholarships.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hutchison's vision vs. Vision 1920

The Eagle met with Senator Hutchison, who blasted our incumbent Governor over Texas A&M
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison chastised Gov. Rick Perry in an interview Wednesday for what she called his "egregious" micromanaging at Texas A&M University and pledged to strive to elevate the school to one of the elite public colleges in the United States, if elected.

"My vision for the university is that it be one of the top 10 public universities in the nation, and we have the resources to do it," she said. "And I have so much support among Aggies who are devastated by the heavy-handedness and micromanaging of Texas A&M that Gov. Perry has done."
Why waste resources catering to the rankings of academic elitists when we all know there's nothing wrong with Texas A&M that bringing back Bonfire wouldn't fix? We need a Governor who understands the goals of Vision 1920.

If not Perry, who?

Earlier, Vision1920 wondered whether Eastern Illinois president Bill Perry was the other candidate for the TAMU presidency. We now hear through our grapevine that sources are denying that it was him, which leads to the question: Were we seriously considering someone from Eastern Illinois who was not even the sitting president?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

G-Con game?

In today's Eagle
The Texas A&M University System and local government leaders are working to firm up plans to bring a large biomedical research and vaccination manufacturing center to Bryan, officials said Tuesday.

The proposal hasn't been finalized, but officials said they hope the biomanufacturing company G-Con, LLC will build a 100,000-square-foot facility near the system's new Health Science Center that's under construction.
Vision 1920 is excited! Not that we know much about G-Con LLC. They do have a website, though.

We can tell that there's serious science going on at G-Con by looking at those two people pipetting dry ice vapor out of that bottle. Clearly, the G-Con folks scoff at pansies who think they should be using safety glasses or do this in a hood. They'll fit right in here at A&M.
Officials, who said word on funding may come within three weeks, expect the project to bring almost 150 jobs to the area with an average salary of $75,000 a year.

The project is likely to spur more development in the biomedical industry around the Health Science Center and the Institute for Innovative Therapeutics, helping develop a "biotechnology corridor" on the periphery of A&M's campus near Texas 47.
G-Con's website doesn't describe them (whoever they are) as vaccine manufacturers who will use NCTM's next generation facilities to make their vaccines. They describe themselves this way:
G-Con’s mission is to revolutionize the biomanufacturing industry by providing its clients with a comprehensive GMP manufacturing solution that is cheaper to build, flexible, cheaper to maintain and easier to operate than any existing solution on the market.

G-Con provides its partners with comprehensive biomanufacturing services including (as appropriate) facility design, facility construction, module design and module maintenance.
...which sounds like they're planning on selling these services to the NCTM, not buying from the NCTM. Interestingly, the collective resume of G-Con team members includes:
National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing, Texas A & M University

Members of the design team
Unlike some of our prior industrial partners, G-Con is clearly going to be able to sell their products. We can guarantee it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Consensus builder

Austin American Statesman calls Loftin a consensus builder. Vision 1920 notes that the reporter does not go far enough. He should tell us what that consensus is in the areas mentioned in the article.
He pledged strong support for shared governance, the practice of consulting with faculty members, students and other stakeholders before making major decisions. It's a touchy subject at A&M: Faculty members voted to express no confidence in McKinney shortly after Murano's resignation, citing the chancellor's assertion that he takes his marching orders from the regents.
Where does Loftin stand with respect to confidence in the Chancellor
Loftin said he knows that he must stay in close touch with faculty members and students, "not just by listening but by telling what I know. I also have got to have a strong working relationship with the chancellor, which I've had for a long time," Loftin said. "Within a week of his becoming chancellor (in 2006), he was down in Galveston for a visit, and we got acquainted then. We've been able to work together pretty effectively ever since."
This might not seem like consensus to an outsider. But that would be wrong.
Faculty members seem satisfied with the regents' choice for president, said Robert Bednarz , speaker of the Faculty Senate and a member of the search committee that recommended Loftin and one other candidate, whose identity has not been disclosed.
Qui tacet consentire videtur.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Was Perry (not that one) the other finalist?

Shortly before Bowen Loftin was named the sole finalist for president of Texas A&M, it was reported that there were only two finalists in the search after a third candidate dropped out. The BoR did a pretty good job of maintaining secrecy regarding the identities of the candidates, but it looks like there's a leak. In the comments on his post about Gen. Van Alstyne's wife, Burka writes:
My agenda with regard to Texas A&M is that it should achieve its potential as a tier one university and should not be held hostage to political influence. A&M set out to choose a successor to Bob Gates in a national-level search. They ended up choosing between the former president of A&M-Galveston and someone from Eastern Illinois, I think it was. A&M deserves a national quality leader, and it will not get one as long as political influence determines who is in charge.
Eastern Illinois University is not exactly comparable to the institutions where the rumored finalists from the last search were at the time. But EIU's President, William Perry, knows A&M very well, having worked here for many years. Perry rose to Vice Provost and chair of the Council on the Built Environment under Bob Gates before leaving for EIU.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The General's wife

The Eagle and Paul Burka of Texas Monthly describe Anita Van Alstyne's reaction to her husband's resignation as Commandant of the Corps of Cadets. An email, said to be from Mrs. Van Alstyne to various friends showed up on Burka's blog:
From: [] Anita Van Alstyne, wife of Gen. John

Subject: Totally NOT approved by JVA, but spoken from my heart.

Thank you for your concern and friendship. I will not attend any function at which any of the governor’s cronies will be in attendance. He has chosen to put a drunken, coed groping (adjective removed) in power as the Vice President of Student Affairs of this wonderful university, and I will not be a party to that, nor do I want my husband disgraced by their behavior.

Bowen Loftin [the interim president who will soon take over as president] had his staff lie about what had occurred and why John retired. Loftin came to John’s office last Friday, 21 January 2010, and told John that it was his intention to put the Corps of Cadets under the control of the VPSA (which was denied in the Eagle this morning). After the present VPSA had been in office for one semester, John and I had a long talk, and agreed that he could not, nor would I tolerate, his having to work for another asshole; we are too old and tired for that.

There are lots of folks who love us, and lots of folks who hate us. We are proud and thankful for the years we served the Corps of Cadets. It is my great sorrow that we will not be able to save it from Rick Perry, Mike McKinney, Bowen Loftin and the Board of Regents.

We cannot thank you enough for your friendship and support of the Corps of Cadets. Our earnest prayer is that you will continue to support them as long as you live. I know we will.
Vision 1920 is shocked by Mrs. Van Alstyne's email. "(adjective removed)" is clearly inappropriate in a place where there should be a noun.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

5% solutions

In the email from President Loftin:
I sent a memo to Deans and Vice Presidents last Friday that gave instructions for addressing the 5 percent budget reduction (about $28 million) that the Legislative Budget Board has requested from all state agencies. Each college and division will receive a target budget reduction goal and will be asked to give me a plan by Feb. 8 for meeting this goal. If you have a suggestion, please send it to me at no later than Feb. 5. These are tough economic times and we have tough decisions ahead of us, but our university is extremely resilient. Also, we are fortunate that our state is in better economic shape than many others. Our foremost guiding principle as we address these budget reductions is to protect our core mission of teaching, research and service.
Vision 1920 wonders if all the colleges and divisions will have 5% targets or if some targets will be more than 5% and some will be less. The future tense "will receive a target" suggests that tough decisions may actually be made to make the targets different. But the expectation of a plan by Feb 8; the first workday after suggestions are due suggests otherwise.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Van Alstyne resigns

The Batt reports
After seven and a half years as commandant of the Corps of Cadets, Lt. Gen. John Van Alstyne resigned Friday.

"There are good young men and women in the Corps," Van Alstyne said. "It was an honor to serve as the commandant."

Van Alstyne said he understood that the new commandant would be reporting to the vice president of student affairs Lt. Gen. Joe Weber.

Weber said no one had spoken to him "formally and specifically" about the resignation.
This was noted on TexAgs several days before it showed up elsewhere. The discussion is, shall we say...outspoken...on Van Alstyne's term as Commandant.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How about Doha?

From an Editorial in the Eagle
The best thing would be for the system to move its offices to Austin or Houston or some place away from here where there is no system university. That way, system administrators can concentrate on their jobs and leave the running of Texas A&M to the people appointed to do just that.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Byrning down the house

The Eagle has more from the BoR meeting
The Texas A&M Board of Regents grilled Athletic Director Bill Byrne and the department’s chief financial officer Thursday about a scathing audit released last month.

The audit, which was formally presented to regents at the daylong meeting in College Station, cited inadequate reporting and financial controls, along with expenses not abiding by the university’s established reporting standards.

“Are we going to live within the budget? We’ve been asked to reduce things all over the university,” said Regent Gene Stallings, a former Texas A&M football coach. “How did it get so far off?”
Inadequate reporting and financial controls. Hmm... that sounds familiar. Hey Gene, as long as you're focused on the budget, we have a couple of questions you can pose to your colleagues on the BoR:
  • How much did it cost to replace the paper towel dispensers in every restroom on campus?
  • What's the going rate for two first class round trip airfares to Qatar?
  • How much did that search firm cost?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How we see ourselves at Texas A&M

Quod erat demonstrandum.

It's Loftin


Aren't you glad we hired a high-priced search firm?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Decision day gets closer

The Houston Chronicle:
Dr. Richard Box, a member of the A&M board of regents and chairman of the presidential search committee, said his group will present a list of finalists when the full board meets in College Station Thursday.
There currently are two names — a third candidate dropped out
Vision 1920 recalls that the last time a search committee presented two candidates, the Regents said that wasn't a real choice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to save 28 million over two years

The Eagle reports on the long-expected budget changes for Texas A&M:
Texas A&M may have to cut $28 million out of its budget over two years.

University officials had expected budget instructions from state officials for several weeks. They came Friday, as state leaders directed all agencies and higher-education institutions to plan for a 5 percent reduction in spending.

The reduction averages $14 million a year over the two years -- or biennium -- that began Sept. 1. The university has flexibility in deciding how much to reduce each year. Since more than four months have passed in fiscal year 2010, one option would be a smaller cut this year and having fiscal year 2011 shoulder the rest.
Back in June, we pointed to a letter from former TAMU CFO William Krumm about budgets. One of Krumm's points is that the total budget aggregates a lot of sources that are neither tuition nor state funds. We could reduce the total TAMU budget, for example, by faculty losing their extramural research grants. While some might favor this to force the faculty to focus on teaching, this doesn't actually save much money.

To save significant amounts, you have to look were the State money actually goes. Last August Vision 1920 linked to an analysis of where the growth in the cost of higher ed is coming from: universities are adding administrators and staff at rates much higher than the rate of inflation. In the comments, Karl Katzke explains one important reason why staff and administration keeps growing faster than faculty:
We do end up spending quite a bit of time reading SAPs, collecting and collating documentation to prepare for audits, and making sure that we're in compliance with some very detailed, mutually contradictory, and absolutely nonsensical state and federal laws.
As Karl points out, this is unlikely to change.

Vision 1920 will try to explore other ideas or saving money in future posts. Send us your ideas!

Shared services

Over the break, Chancellor McKinney announced the results of the shared services analysis. The TAMU community heard about this via email. For the rest of you, here's the Eagle
Though more than $16 million in savings were identified, no savings have yet been implemented. And Wednesday's announcement provided administrative reshuffling, but still no savings, aside from two positions being cut from the A&M System. It was unclear late Wednesday what those positions were.
The "savings" consist mostly of moving administrators from the University to the System. Vision 1920 is sure that the resultant changes in the power of the System are just a coincidence.

Oh, and we'll save more money by hiring a consulting firm to redo what the internal committees have been doing for the past six months.

Happy MLK Day

A new semester starts tomorrow, and after the holiday break, Vision 1920 has a backlog of things to write about.