WTF? Ignorant anti-government Texans vote to support research universities?

11/4/2009: From the Chronicle:

Voters in Texas on Tuesday approved a ballot measure designed to strengthen the state’s research universities, with about 56 percent voting in favor of the proposal. … The Texas measure, known as Proposition 4, will establish a National Research University Fund to provide financial incentives for universities in the state to attain “top tier” status.

Apparently the bill specified explicit benchmarks the universities needed to achieve to get the funds. Would Lariviere be willing to go for a similar deal? Cut spending on administrative excess and those vanity projects that help VP’s pad their vitae for the next move ? Would the UO faculty support him if he did agree to explicit targets on research excellence: citations, PhD’s who get academic jobs, grant funding?

Big and Expensive Green Ideas

11/1/2009: Harry Esteve has an article in the Oregonian today about how Governor Kulongoski bullied state analysts into low-balling their cost estimates for his green tax break schemes. It’s complete with careful documentation – obtained by public records requests – of spreadsheets with hand written “corrections”, emails about the need to lower the estimates to make the bill politically feasible, analysts quitting in disgust, other analysts getting promotde, etc. This story is a great example of why government doesn’t work without newspapers to blow the whistle and I hope Esteve gets a Pulitzer for it:

The official estimates turned out to be absurdly low. In 2007-09, the business tax credit cost the state $68 million, of which about $40 million can be attributed to the bigger subsidies. The latest estimate for 2009-11 puts the tab for subsidies at $167 million in lost revenue, which is projected to grow to $243 million for 2011-13 — about what Oregon spends now from its general fund on the entire state police budget.

The UO connection? (Aside from the fact these tax credits will be 3x what the state gives UO.) Provost Bean has been pushing his “Big Ideas” program, which is focused on environmental issues, because of the same pressure from Governor Kulongoski’s office which led to the scandal above. Just as these tax credits take away money that could have used for higher ed, UO’s Big Idea focus takes effort, money, and attention from other programs.

Part of the original motivation for the green ideas was that they would attract new money from the governor. That looks considerably less likely given this scandal, and we should reevaluate what Provost Bean’s Big Ideas will cost the rest of UO’s academic efforts.

ICC

10/13/2009: Melinda Grier and Rich Linton are still refusing to give us documents explaining why the ICC rate was cut. Rich did point us to statements on how the funds are spent. These numbers show that the hit to UO research is closer to $2 million than the $4 million we first reported. This has already led to cuts in startup packages and ICC returns to departments. We can think of plenty of better places to cut – Frances. We will post more when we get more documentation, and we will.

UO tries to charge

10/9/2009 update: Rich Linton gave a very helpful response to a request for F&A/ICC expenditure, below. We will put together a post over the weekend summarizing what we now know about this issue.

We have been reporting similar data to UW’s since I arrived at the UO, primarily via the annual reports available at the ORSA Website; For FY08 see http://orsa.uoregon.edu/web/reports/pdf/FY2008_FA_Expenditures.pdf
Figures F-3 and F-4 are most relevant and illustrate the extent to which F&A is used in direct support of faculty and their research endeavors.

Although our breakout of F&A expenditures by category is not identical to UW’s, it appears that we invest proportionately more in central support of faculty (e.g. start-up packages, matching funds on grants), and proportionately less in central support of facilities (e.g. operations and maintenance) or administrative costs (i.e. general, departmental and sponsored project administration combined). Note that 48% of UW’s F&A is directed to administrative costs, while ours is 24% plus the extent to which the units use discretionary F&A funds to support administrative functions The units generating the F&A receive comparable percentages of return for discretionary use at both UW and UO.

Hope this helps.

Rich

10/9/2009: If you google University of Washington F&A rate you get this nice explanation, complete with a pie graph showing how they spent the money.


Try to get that kind of info for the UO from Melinda Grier and Rich Linton, and you get an email like this:

Dear Professor X:

The University of Oregon received your public records request for a copy of the University of Oregon proposal submitted to the Program Support Center (PSC), the response from PSC sent to the University of Oregon, and the University of Oregon’s contract with Maximus. The University is now providing an estimate.

The University estimates the actual cost of providing the documents responsive to your request to be $173.11. Upon receipt of a check made payable to the University of Oregon in the amount of $173.11, the University will proceed to locate, copy, and provide the records you have requested that are not exempt from disclosure. Your check may be sent to the attention of the General Counsel’s office at 1226 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1226. Your request for a fee waiver is respectfully denied.

Please note that if the cost of preparing the documents for you is less than the estimate, we will refund the difference. If the cost of preparing the report for you exceeds the estimate, however, you may be charged for the difference.

We’ve got a ways to go. Oh yeah, their rate is 55.5%, versus 42% at UO.

UO’s ICC rate cut – by $4 million per year.

10/6/2009 update: We hear from many disparate sources that this $4 million screw-up came from Frances Dyke’s office, not from Rich Linton’s.

  • Version A is that Frances did not take the DHHS documentation request seriously, and did not submit sufficient documentation.
  • Version B is that Frances took the DHHS documentation request seriously, but so much of the money had been spent on non-research items there was nothing that could be done.
  • Version C (everyone agrees this is part of the story) is that Frances’ accounting system is so messed up she can’t document anything convincingly.
  • Version D is that Version C is on purpose: there have been so many diversions of funds that it is important for the people at the top to be able to argue they don’t know the details.
  • Version E is that the person who had collected the data for the previous review left and Frances forgot to tell the replacement this was part of the job.

Version D would be consistent with her efforts to hide accounting information: removing BANNER codes from the web, exaggerating the cost and delaying efforts to post accounting records online – something OSU did several years ago. We will get to the bottom of this, because that’s what we do here. Thanks to our readers for the plethora of tips on this.

9/29/2009: Back in May we reported on the cut in UO’s F&A ICC overhead rate from 48% to 42%. (It had been 50% until 2000). This rate is negotiated between VP for Research Rich Linton and DHHS every few years and then applies to all federal grants. The idea is that a university has many legitimate expenses related to research, but not covered explicitly in the grants awarded to researchers. The ICC money goes for lab space, startup, GTFs, etc. It’s the bread and butter of research at UO, and amounts to about $30 million per year.

By our math – and keep in mind this is preliminary – this is a hit of about $4 million per year to UO’s research efforts. So the loss will approximately offset all annual research expenditures from the Lokey gifts. Huge. Here is Linton’s memo explaining how he will cut budgets.

We have been trying to figure out how the hell this happened. Here is the memo from the DHHS office that negotiates these rates with Linton’s office, stating the new rates but not explaining the cut. There is some speculation going around campus – like maybe the NIH didn’t think Moseley’s travel expenses and remodeling Frances Dyke’s office counted as legitimate research support? But here at UO Matters we deal in facts and public records – not rumor, innuendo and vitriol. And we will have those public records soon. (Meanwhile, please keep sending rumors and innuendi to uomatters@gmail.com, or post anonymously in the comments.)

Update, from an email from the federal employee in charge of the negotiations with UO:

The University of Oregon submitted a facilities and administrative rate proposal based on the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006. The proposed rate of 46.3% based on actual cost was lower than their current rate of 48%. The University proposed higher rates for the future years based on projections. As a result of our review of the proposal, we made adjustments to the proposed rates for the following reasons:(i) the useful life for the building depreciation was too short, (ii) the organized research base was understated, and (iii) adjusted rooms identified as 100% research to something lower. The University rates were negotiated with University Officials Richard Linton, Laura Hubbard, Paula Roberts. A summary of the proposed rates and our adjustments to the rates were provided to the University’s consultant (Maximus) and the University.

The Maximus website says:

In order to receive the highest rate possible, and to ensure compliance with OMB circular A-21, colleges and universities should consider outsourcing the F&A rate development process to MAXIMUS.

How to interpret what happened? The UO administration has been spending a chunk of the ICC research money that has been coming in for non-research things like Bend, Portland, and their other pet projects. About $4M per year. The feds caught them at it, didn’t believe their promises to stop, and cut them off. We will get more documentation – you can count on it – but can you read this any other way?
5/6/2009:

VP for Research Rich Linton has just announced he’s cutting the ICC grant money he sends back to departments to support research – money that comes from the hard work of UO faculty, and which is legally supposed to support UO research efforts. Any questions about where it’s really going? More on this soon.