Science start-up debacle

1/28/2012: From an anonymous commenter:

Having squandered millions in excessive administrative budget increases, remodeling their offices, golden parachutes, and other brilliant ideas, Johnson Hall’s solution for science startups is to spend against reserves in the humanities and social sciences. Despite having the least funding per student on campus, these programs and the college in which they reside have exercised the financial discipline and responsibility so lacking centrally, and so they have slowly accumulated substantial reserves over the last decade. These are funds they or their college on their behalf, could spend to support the humanities and social sciences.

Instead, Johnson Hall is expropriating the reserves by forcing CAS to use them for science startups without any provision for even partial repayment from the Research office. Repayment could be done slowly by promising a small share of future overhead, but ‘no, we’re in charge,’ said our czars. The longstanding ‘covenant’ with the research office has been that they receive and allocate all grant overhead. In return they assume primary responsibility for startup packages for hires anticipated to receive substantial grants. Having broken that covenant, they now demand that the humanities and social sciences, the least well-funded programs per student on campus to fix their failures.

Were did the money go? Athletics, in part. Jim Bean made the call to spend $1.8 million a year of general funds on the Jock Box tutoring operation. And he’s so proud of that he wrote an Op-Ed for the Oregonian about it. Clueless.

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25 Responses to Science start-up debacle

  1. pro-union says:

    Unionization provides a means to redress such inequities. Not a magic bullet — anyone who promises that is fibbing — but a means. Now is the time to start conveying your wishes for a collective bargaining agreement.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    How does a union redress anything of this? The union is not going to generate any new money — probably just the opposite. (Ask the big private donors how enthusiastic they will be about supporting a unionized UO.)

    So the union will either go along with the financing plan — whatever it is, I am not going to believe anything just on the basis of one anonymous post — or it will deny startup funding to the sciences (much more likely, because there is very little support for the union among TT science faculty — the class that relies on/benefits from startup funding.

    Oh, the union will prevent things like the Johnson Hall remodeling? I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

    More likely, the union will want its own hall — just like the alumni — with their own decorating budget.

    I remember with fondness my occasional meetings at the union hall when I was doing blue collar work. Let’s just say that I got a somewhat jaundiced view of my “benefactors.”

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    • Anonymous says:

      And so you now make the “logical” leap that your experience with a union extends to the union effort here, or anywhere else for that matter? Wow, and I ate ice cream and got a sick stomach, therefore all ice will give me a sick stomach. Try researching the benefits of unionization on workplace satisfaction, wages, benefits, gender equity, etc. Might find a different view that your single example.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    The Research Office keeps saying they have no money, and because of that they have become a mechanism that takes in enormous amounts of indirect grant money and does nothing in return. Where is the money going? Huron consulting, new associate VP hires… these are the only things that can be actually identified as being done. They also scrutinize the spending by the research groups very closely, even controlling budget authority for some groups, so money won’t be wasted. But while they ask the research groups to cut spending (and at the same time telling them to fund basic infrastructure maintenance that the VP office should be covering), and take money from the humanities, they proudly proclaim that the VPR office cannot cut their own way to a balanced budget, that all these new positions are absolutely critical. VPR office: publish your budget and be transparent!

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  4. pro-union says:

    Like I say, United Academics is not a magic bullet. Of course United Academics will not be able to prevent admin from remodeling Johnson Hall…the question is silly. What a collective bargaining agreement can provide is an internal and legally binding counterweight to administrative bloat by setting salary floors, capping the admin tax on external grants in the natural and social sciences, and so on. The process of collective bargaining will also generate far more transparency than exists now — not a difficult goal to achieve, I realize, given the current state of affairs. Unionization will also get us a louder voice in Salem — also not a difficult goal to achieve, given our current dearth of influence in the places where we need it. And a collective bargaining agreement will make the new constitution legally binding — of that you may be certain.

    Let me reiterate: whether you support unionization or not, now is the time to start conveying your wishes for the collective bargaining agreement to United Academics. UA is determined to represent the interests the entire bargaining unit, the departments that are strongly in support of unionization as well as those in which support is weaker. UA has no interest in leaving anyone out; on the contrary, we want all faculty to be heard.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    “Unionization provides a means to redress such inequities.”

    Can you be more specific? What would a union allow us to do to address this specific issue that we can’t already do? Furthermore, how would the union deal with the fact that there could be very different opinions on whether this is an inequity at all (faculty in the hard sciences may not see it the same way)?

    Give us some specifics. You say a union isn’t a magic bullet – but how is it a bullet at all?

    Finally, how can you claim that the union, “will make the new constitution legally binding”? Wouldn’t that be an issue to be determined as part of the initial bargaining agreement?

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Oh, right, unionization is really going to help us in Salem!

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    • Anonymous says:

      And what is the basis for your leap of distrust? Labor unions across the state and in other states are the only effective instrument against the much more powerful interests aiming for favor (tax cuts, import subsidies, etc.) in the budgets of this state and national treasury. You think the petro industry enjoys their billions in taxpayer subsidies just by sitting back and trusting that sympathetic legislators will see the value of boosting oil’s profits? Come-on, where else are faculty going to get a voice in Salem? I prefer a strategy that empowers us collectively, pools some resources, and works with other educators in the state and nationally to protect investments in higher ed (vs. your/the cynical attitude that all-unions-are-bad-and-all-unions-are-corrupt-and-professional-workers-are-deluded into thinking about collective action so just gripe about everyone while the rug is pulled out from under higher ed pros once again). Enough of the knee-jerk unions can’t do anything… and observe the actual analyses that show improvements with collective bargaining. PERIOD.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Dog says

    I think there is some confusion/hyperbole etc involved in all of this.

    This is what this Dog knows pretty sure:

    1. Linton made a large number of commitments to pet and legacy projects. At this time it remains unclear how much of those commitment might be recoverable over the next 2-3 years.

    2. The new VPR is not stupid nor clueless – at the moment tho, she remains somewhat dumfounded and confused over the way UO does research business. (personally, this dog has always been dumbfounded)

    3. CAS “buffer” tuition money is being used as a stop gap so that current searches might be able to make an offer. As part of that there are limitation on the per year
    startup package expenses. Example, now scientist is hired with 500K startup package – however, that startup package will be spent out over 5 years not 1 year. This gives time for things to smooth out.

    4. With respect to 3 – this does mean that we can not easily simply come up with
    500K for initial lab construction – so that will dictate some of the hiring strategy.

    5. There is no 5

    5a) I really don’t see how a union would interface at all with the Research Activities of a University.

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  8. UO Matters says:

    Thanks for the clarification Dog. How do you divide the blame between Linton, Bean, and Dyke?

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  9. Anonymous says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  10. UO Matters says:

    Note: This comment has been slightly edited to meet our policy on civil discourse, which limits each comment to only one use of “fuck” or variations.

    Dog says

    Wow, UOmatters

    nice fuckin’ question

    its a little like the question I got in class last week – what would the
    world be like today if World War II had not happened.

    Nonetheless, let me try to answer.

    1. Dyke was always pretty disconnected from the Research Expenditures and certainly from the ICC. But she is 15% responsible because her office needs to
    be more connected.

    2. Linton I would say is 35% responsible for making the commitments that he did and some of those commitments were made under the assumptions of a) an extant safety net and b) ICC return based on higher research activities done under those commitments.

    3. That leaves 50% – that’s on Bean – the Provost is supposed to manage overall University resources to avoid exactly the kind of situation we are in.

    And, of course, this is a nested clusterFRACK as Dyke never knows where the money is,
    Bean doesn’t care about research (or much of anything else), and Linton was naive.
    Soldiers in that army do not survive undamaged.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    I am perplexed by all the tossed off remarks that state that a Union can have no impact on the way the administration deals with research issues. First of all, a Union negotiates a collective bargaining agreement that may include issues pertaining to the way funding is processed and the like. Also, while it is more complicated for those of you in the sciences, we in the Humanities can certainly address research issues which for us have more to do with time and teaching loads (including class size) than any great amount of money. Perhaps this explains why support for the Union is so much stronger in the humanities departments. However, as Pro Union says, people in the sciences should perhaps help us understand what you need and want. In the event the Union does get certified, we want to negotiate what is best for everyone.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Dog clarifies

    1) yes union might have influence on the way that teaching release is granted

    2) I was referring primarily to the flow of ICC dollars associated with our research
    mission.

    and dog to UOmatters

    thanks for the civil discourse policy – will comply – but in the future you
    can always refer to the clusterFRACK as Charlie Foxtrot or just CF

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  13. Anonymous says:

    Oh, sure, the union is going to benefit everyone ….

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Does the current system benefit everyone? Is that a reasonable standard? How about we start with benefitting faculty on the whole more than administrators and coaches. How about we set up a system whereby the promises of administration are legally binding, rather than just taking their word for it. We see where that has gotten us.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Oh, so now it’s the coaches we’re after — I’m sure a union is going to get Phil Knight to fork over his billions to pay the faculty more, instead of the coaches.

    I guess those secret raises last May (which went predominantly to tenure-track faculty) didn’t benefit those faculty. A union would have gotten us a lot better deal, right? They would have doen a lot better at negotiating in secret. Just like PSU, right?

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  16. Anonymous says:

    I didn’t get a raise last tIme – did you? That is the point. Right now we have no rational, transparent system for determining pay and benefits – we are at the mercy of an administration that has proven to be either untrustworthy or incompetent or both. One example of one administrator giving raises is not a credible endorsement of the current system. And no one said anything about going after coaches, they were just included as one more example of a system where priorities are out of whack. I’m under no illusion that anything can be done about athletics but faculty need a bigger, legally binding voice. If you are against the union, propose a realistic alternative to protecting the rights and retaining the talent that is key to the mission. You simply can’t make the argument that what we have been doing is working.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    does ‘smooth things out’ mean the money is paid back? On the union issue, a little collective bargaining 101 would enlighten all opinions. on budget issues, unless relates directly and immediately to terms and conditions of employment, not a mandatory issue for bargaining. on the literature of effects,pretty predictable for wages and benefits, esp for lower paid workers. See for example peer reviewed piece in a labor relations journal:http://www.jstor.org/pss/2524030 on a more practical level, we can each ask ourself whwther a picket line of UO union members will elicit any public sympathy or political clout.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    “accumulating substantial reserves”

    Was this part of the long-term strategy in these units? Were they anticipating a decrease in funding that this reserve was to ultimately be applied? Otherwise accumulating a reserve could imply that the units were receiving too much funding (new budget model anyone?) and other units could be using it more effectively.

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    • Anonymous says:

      It was part of the long-term strategy, in part intended to support resources (including new hires) for the growth of those majors in CAS (which are among the fastest growing in the UO). Some of it was also reserved for rainy-day funds and the possibility that the pay freeze of the last few years might end and be redressed. But they knew about it, and planned for it, and were awarded it under the old budget model–but instead of grow unsustainably they opted to exercise fiscal discipline. Just because you have funds in the budget doesn’t mean it’s wise to use them, especially at a time of great financial insecurity nationwide.

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  19. Anonymous says:

    We can make the argument that with a union we have two sets of overseers to keep in line. There was no formal poll of AAUP members before our activist AAUP chapter board committed to a union drive. They didn’t ask because they and aft want to slice and dice us all until they get just the right flock to vote–no, forgot, there will be no vote welcome to union politics.

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  20. Anonymous says:

    I regret that the initial contribution to this thread, a very insightful comment on the current status, had become rather a dialog on the merits of a union. It may be that certifying a union might prevent or minimize the current re-appropriation of funds, but I doubt it. Politics, hubris and wishful thinking make decision making anything but rational and objective.

    so to return to the original issue and how we got here, my sense is that FD failed to understand the fiscal data and to offer a rational and objective assessment of where we were; but it is also true that Linton, Bean, Espy, Moffitt and Lariviere wanted to believe that they could ‘find a way’ even if it meant robbing the Humanities and Social Sciences to cover the costs of start up in sciences.

    In sum, the issue may not be who is to blame for this sorry state, but is there any reason to be optimistic that the startup costs can be provided WITHOUT UNDERMINING THE HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES [EMPHASIS INTENDED].

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  21. Anonymous says:

    dog on smoothness

    at any quality research university startup is in equilibrium with ICC return
    averaged over sometime period (usually 3-6 years) in the UO its a lot longer
    so we are losing money over time.

    A numerical example should suffice.

    Suppose I get hired at the UO for 300 K startup

    How long will it take me to pay back that 300K Via ICC return.

    at an F&A rate of 45% if I bring in 1 million dollars of grant money direct costs
    then I earned the UO 450,000.

    The only question is how long would it take me to get that kind of grant money.

    If I can do it 5 years (a not unreasonable amount for sciences) then I have
    earned the UO 50% more than my startup in 5 years. This means I have enabled
    450K for a startup package.

    If it takes me 20 years to earn this kind of grant money, then I was a bad investment.

    Obviously it is more complicated than this, depending on how ICC money is re-distributed. But the essential statistical equilibrium point is that ICC money
    should be the same as startup money averaged over a suitable window of time. This means that if there is a shortage of startup money, then the ICC money was mishandled – which I strongly believe (and mostly know) is exactly what is going
    on.

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  22. Anonymous says:

    last comment makes exactly the right point on ICC–that is, unless someone with power agrees with the penultimate comment and concludes ICC reserves are ‘overfunded’ and that they could be better used ‘elsewhere’ ( such as remodelling offices or on other pet projects. Spend or lose is bad policy on too many levels to count. As for startups this time, borrowing someone’s reserves temporarily is fine, as long as there is a mutual agreement to repay over a reasonable time. Otherwise your reserves just become everone elses spending account.

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