New hire for UO physics department

Seems he’s pretty well qualified:

Around the O has more here:

Wineland in the news

UO Trustees avoid students & faculty by meeting before fall classes start

Gosh, I wonder whose idea this was.

Faculty with 9 month contracts start on Sept 15. Classes start Sept 25th. And the UO Board of Trustees meets Sept 7-8.

But at least the Board’s December meeting will be at a time when our Trustees can expect to have a chance to talk to some students and faculty, right? Nope, the Trustees will hold that meeting Dec 7-8, which would be Thursday and Friday of finals week. Campus will be dead.

In comparison, the OSU Board seems to have no problem finding OSU’s academic calendar, and scheduling meetings when classes are actually in session.

PERS Board obeys consultants, lowers assumed rate of return to 7.2%

The variance on the prediction that the rate of return on investments over the next 20 years will be 7.2% and not 7.5% is so large that those PERS consultants willing to say 7.2% with a straight face must be very well paid indeed.

As Professor Fearless explains in today’s post on his persinfo blog, this reduction in the assumed rate of return means that those of you that are so lucky to be in PERS Tier 1 (not me, I’m an idiot who chose the ORP) will need to work an extra 4 months to offset the resulting loss in benefits, unless you retire before Dec 1 when the change takes effect:

After the meeting, I checked with Matt Larrabee, the principal actuary for Milliman, who confirmed for me that the setback would be 4 months for a typical retiree.  This means that if you delay retirement past December 1, 2017, it will take you 4 additional months of working to recover the benefit you would have received if you retired on December 1.  While the most directly affected members are those who remain eligible to retire under Money Match (less than 13% of all non-retired members), it will have an impact on beneficiary options for Full Formula retirees as well.  The changes to mortality had virtually no impact on the rates, as changes in one element were offset by other changes.  Overall, the totality of the economic assumptions other than the assumed rate itself, had a near zero impact on liabilities for the system.  The impact to employers on the uncollared rates will be approximately 1.9% of payroll, less than it could have been.

Reducing the assumed rate of return on the PERS endowment means that the annuity formula will pay new retirees less each month – hence the need to work longer until you retire. The extra work adds a little to your account balance, but mostly those four months mean you’ll be spending less time alive and drawing benefits, so you get more each month. Enjoy.

The reduction in the assumed rate of return also means that the state is predicting that the PERS endowment, which was $74 billion at the end of June, will not be earning as much as it had previously hoped. This means the state will have to increase its contributions to the endowment, if it wants to continue to to attempt to reach the magic 100% fully funded level that the state’s bond buyers want – although Oregon’ PERS is already far, far better funded than most states. Remember, 70% of all PERS payments from state employers go to increase the endowment, the earnings from which (less fees for the investment companies, etc.) are then used to pay the benefits of retired workers. Only 30% is for current workers.

Regardless of this change, if you are nearing retirement, you really should get a benefits estimate from PERS – your retirement might not be as fat as you’d thought. The Bellotiesque days of retiring at full pay are over. Last year new retirees with 30 years of service got benefits that averaged less than 60% of their final salary. PERS by the numbers:

And I’m no economist, but you might ask why the state would want to put *more* money into the PERS endowment now that they believe the rate of return on it is going to fall. Shouldn’t this shift in the price ratio mean Oregon should invest *less* in corporations, and more in productivity increasing investments such as education and infrastructure?

Here’s how Oregon compares on public debt, followed by how it compares on higher ed funding:

Mathematicians ditch Springer, start free Journal of Algebraic Combinatorics

InsideHigherEd here. Also see Ted Bergstrom’s page here.  Why is the prestigious AAU apparently doing nothing to help its librarians combine to fight the predatory monopolistic science publishers?

The non-profit JSTOR once seemed like it had some promise, but now it seems to function as a part of the big publisher’s price-discrimination scheme, with a $500K CEO, and $90M in revenue – mostly from charging libraries like UO’s for access.

UO SAIL program brings 340 diverse HS students to campus to learn about college

KEZI has a good if brief video report on SAIL here. KLCC has a report here, and Around the O here.

SAIL is UO’s largest and most successful diversity initiative. The goal is to get more HS students that “should go to college, but are not now on the college track” into college. SAIL focuses on recruiting local students from low-SES families with parents who are not college graduates. As a result our students are considerably more diverse than the typical UO student on just about every metric.

SAIL gives students week-long summer day camps focused on an academic subject, interlaced with talks about how to get into college and get financial aid. Each camp is led by one or two UO faculty, with help from others in their department and from UO’s OA’s and staff. The camps are free to the students. Donors pay the staff and the undergraduate helpers (they are fabulous), and all the faculty volunteer their time.

SAIL started in 2005 with one camp (Economics) and 13 HS freshman students. The next summer those students went on to a camp organized by Psychology, then to Physics and Human Physiology, then Journalism. Meanwhile the Economics department started a new cohort each year. When they start, most of our students have never been on the UO campus, have no parent or grandparent who has graduated from college, and have never met a professor. The idea behind SAIL is that after 4 years of summers on the UO campus, enrolling in college would seem like the natural next step rather than something scary and unfamiliar. The data bears this out: the students who go through SAIL are representative of their HS peers on most measures, but after SAIL they are twice as likely to go to college.

This year SAIL had 340 students and 15 camps. For the full list of academic subjects, along with info on how to help out next year, see the SAIL website here.

And while SAIL does a lot to help students, most volunteers report that they have also learned a few things from the SAIL students. Don’t worry, UOM is not going to go all maudlin on you, but I will say that damn did I have it easy growing up, and if you want to learn something about why the arts matter, as I have, come to the Performing Arts Camp performance this Friday at 2PM, in the amphitheater on the north side of SOMD.

Duck’s prep new missile for first strike against UO’s academic side

UOM agents have acquired photographic evidence that the new Hayward Field “cell phone tower” – Diane Dietz story here – is actually a disguised Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, now in the final stages of fueling.

The Duck athletic department, whose leadership has long viewed UO’s faculty as an existential threat, now appears to have the most of the academic side of campus – excepting the new Knight Campus – well within their destructive range.

Administration insiders have reiterated past promises that they would consider a Duck missile launch against the faculty and students as “just cause for firing” under the AD’s new contract – or at least shave a little off his bonuses.

New CIO pauses IT reorg to collect data on current IT services

From the informative transformit.uoregon.edu website:

A message from Jessie Minton, Vice Provost for Information Services and Chief Information Officer:

I am excited to announce an important change in the way the university will proceed with Transform IT. We will first inventory IT services offered across the university, and then we will restructure IT services one by one, guided in part by the recently completed IT Charter.

Previously, we had planned to focus on reworking employees’ reporting lines as a first step in implementation, but as the Blustain report notes, we have IT staff who fill many roles and run multiple services. After careful consideration of the options, I believe that by focusing first on cataloging and analyzing all IT services offered on campus, we can better manage service transitions and merge duplicative services where possible.

This change in approach comes after consulting with Dean of Libraries Adriene Lim, the Office of the Provost, and many of the university’s deans, vice provosts, and vice presidents.

To successfully achieve a service-focused restructuring, we will document and inventory all IT services on campus. Information Services will be the first unit, with UO Libraries next on the list. From there, we will progress through the university until we have surveyed all IT-related services and units. (We will publish a schedule once planning has reached that point.)

For example, the Charter outlines responsibilities for computer lab management, and the service-oriented approach to Transform IT will not modify the arrangement. At the same time, however, in this revised approach, we will consider how computer labs in schools and colleges can be supported and managed more efficiently before we make any significant changes.

The IT services you receive and the people that provide them will not change yet. IT staff should continue working as usual. Although the Charter does note several services that will change ownership, the university will not make such changes until the service inventory has been completed.

Transform IT Project Management Structure
Transform IT Project Management Structure

Guy Eckelberger and Gary Sullivan will continue to work on Transform IT. Prior to May 1st, they were both serving this project in a project management role. As this initiative shifts to focus on services, Guy and Gary will continue their work as co-program managers, providing high-level oversight for the series of projects that will be used to complete the service transitions. To effectively and efficiently gather and analyze information, and plan and execute Transform IT, I have also obtained temporary funding for two project managers and two business analysts. The business analysts will gather and analyze information on IT services and the project managers will plan for and guide us through service transitions.

The IT service research and analysis will begin as soon as at least one business analyst has been hired. I expect the service inventory and analysis work to take six to nine months.

We will post updates on this website every two weeks to keep campus informed about current Transform IT work tasks and the status of the Transform IT program.

I am both eager and excited to launch into the next phase of Transform IT. Please send your thoughts and questions to cio@uoregon.edu.

Four Years a Student-Athlete

Patrick Hruby’s award winning long-form report has one hell of a lede:

While the NCAA’s rules governing college athletes are colorblind, the impact of amateurism is anything but—disproportionately costing black football and men’s basketball players and benefiting white stakeholders by as much as $2 billion a year. …

Today he follows up with more info on the NCAA cartel.

And here’s his earlier piece on the PAC that big-time college sports athletic directors have formed, to lobby for legislation that will protect their ability to extract money from their student-athletes, and make sure the universities don’t siphon off any football money to support academic causes:

Tom McMillen swears this is not what it looks like. Not yet, at least. A former basketball star and member of Congress, McMillen now heads LEAD1, a trade group for college athletic directors at the nation’s biggest sports schools.

Yes, McMillen acknowledges, his group recently announced the formation of a political action committee (PAC), the better to funnel money from its members to campaigns and candidates.

Yes, LEAD1 also will be holding a fall gala at the Trump Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., where lawmakers will have a chance to mingle with campus power brokers, and the president-elect himself—a longtime acquaintance of McMillen’s—may appear.

Editors of Nature reject UO’s proposed budget metrics and merit pay plan

Nature is of course one of the most prestigious, highest impact science journals. Their editors think UO’s new plan has it backwards. Instead of making decisions about budget and pay based on what faculty have already published, they think we should give money to promising faculty, to do promising new research. Their editorial is not directly about UO’s “new new budget model” but it might as well be: http://www.nature.com/news/don-t-pay-prizes-for-published-science-1.22275

… The custom of rewarding researchers monetarily for single publications is deeply entrenched at Chinese scientific institutions. For many, it is an official policy, written in the bylaws. Zhejiang Agricultural and Forestry University in Lin’An, for example, pays a flat rate of 500,000 yuan for a paper published in CellScience or Nature. And it uses a table with equations to help calculate prizes for publications elsewhere. For any paper in a journal with an impact factor (IF) higher than 10, for example, the prize is IF × 1.5 × 10,000 yuan. According to a People’s Daily news story last year, some 90% of universities have policies of rewarding publications. And the practice is far from unique to China. Scientists in countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia can find themselves similarly rewarded.

That might be good for researchers, and it can be a way for universities to advertise their achievements. Whether it is good for research, in the long term, is a more difficult question. The answer is probably no.

For one thing, it creates a culture in which scientists look at their research as a means to make quick cash. Instead of considering the best way to pursue and expand on experiments, scientists focus on getting the results published.

The emphasis on impact factors, as has been discussed repeatedly in these pages, is greatly overblown. Such metrics already exert undue influence on the evaluation of grants, on hiring and on promotions. Monetary prizes only further inflate the importance of impact factors, at the expense of assessing the significance of what has actually been achieved.

Perhaps more importantly, handing out prizes so soon after publication rewards science that is not yet proven. There is no reason to think that the Sichuan scientists’ discovery — a gene that confers resistance to the fungal disease rice blast — won’t stand up to the scrutiny of post-publication peer review. But what if it doesn’t? Many papers are not necessarily wrong, but their significance might have been overestimated.

Last week’s announcement that this is more a grant than a prize makes an important distinction, but it might point to a more fundamental problem in China, as well as in other countries — a tendency to base grants on past achievement rather than future potential. The rice-blast gene has tremendous practical potential, and the Sichuan scientists might be the right group to exploit it. Or they might have found, based on their research protocol, a number of other avenues for investigation that are unrelated to this gene. Whatever the case, the best way to argue that the group deserves more grant money is through a grant proposal that lays out where the research is heading, and that is fairly evaluated against rival proposals.

Don Tykeson, UO alumnus and fierce supporter, dies at 90

The RG has his obit here. I only met him once, at the Lariviere firing meeting in Portland. He was furious at Pernsteiner, Kitzhaber, and the OUS board. Here’s his op-ed from the Oregonian, published just before that meeting:

On Monday, the State Board of Higher Education will meet to discuss the fate of University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere and, by extension, the future of higher education in Oregon. It is a defining moment for Oregon — a Rose Bowl of policy with far, far higher stakes. Nothing less than Oregon’s children, Oregon’s economy and Oregon’s destiny are on the line.

… Let’s face it: The old way isn’t working anymore. We need a new way. Lariviere proposed one, and for his effort, courage and leadership, he was sacked.

No doubt he ruffled some feathers along the way. That’s what change agents and visionaries do. Surely such extreme punishment exceeds whatever perceived crime he is charged with committing. And make no mistake — the victim here is not Lariviere. He’ll do just fine. The victims are those of us he would leave behind should the board’s decision stand — we who are trying to create jobs, educate our children, grow businesses, make new discoveries and give hope to future generations.

Never in my long life have I seen outrage erupt so swiftly and passionately all across the state. UO students and faculty, who have no representatives on the state board, are mobilizing at an astonishing rate, especially considering that the announcement was made just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

At best the board’s decision is exceedingly controversial. Worse, in my view, it is tragically misguided. It is still not too late to rescind this action and halt the backlash accruing on campus and across this state. Certainly cool minds can come up with a plan that all can embrace and permit us to move forward without such a drastic outcome.

I urge the board to use the skills its very institutions teach — open inquiry, challenging assumptions and creative thinking — to support UO’s quest to save itself and, in so doing, save higher education.

Don Tykeson lives in Eugene.