What would you say to your kid if they brought this home?
I received a letter from UofL President James Ramsey this week along with a copy of the “almost an audit” of the University’s financial operations from Strothman and Company that I wrote about earlier. The package was not sent to me as a journalist, but was presumably sent to everyone connected with the University such as people like me who contribute to its fund-raising initiatives. This Strothman “Report” is identical to the one released to the UofL Board of Trustees and the press, and suggests to me that it was intentionally written for a technically less sophisticated audience thus reinforcing my belief that the comprehensive report is still being kept secret– perhaps even from the Trustees.
The mailing includes a cover letter and report card from of this month’s Board of Trustees evaluation said to reaffirm that UofL is continuing on its “amazing trajectory.” However, the bulk of Dr. Ramsey’s letter deals directly with the problem of “a few employees who are dishonest.” While he expresses the University’s “regret” over the violation of the public trust, he did not go so far as to apologize. Perhaps that would have been too much to ask.
Audit Committee of the Board.
The recommendations, but perhaps not the findings by Strothman, were presented to the Board of Trustees Audit Committee in early July with an indication from the President and his staff that they concurred with almost all the recommendations. I do not know just what the Audit Committee was shown, or what the full Board was allowed to see. (Why would the Board be denied access to such things?) I do not know what, if any, action the Board took on the report. There are however reports that Board members were allowed to see some different documents for short periods of time before they were confiscated. Such allegations should not go uncorrected. If the UofL Board of Trustees allowed themselves to be treated in such a way, I suggest they are not doing their jobs for us.
The package included a one page “report card” that has been used for quite a while as a measure of the University’s progress toward its goals. This report card is also used in the evaluation of the President. The present table lists 14 separate items selected from a longer list of which I no longer have a copy. We must therefore assume there was some selection process used to decide which items to show publicly. (Statistically, we would call that a bias.) The report card items were divided into five categories.
Based on preliminary data (as were six of the 14 items) the University will bestow 67 more baccalaureate degrees than it did in 2013. For this it claims the equivalent of an A. Graduation rate is expected to increase to 53.5% up from 52.1% for which another A is awarded. Perhaps someone can comment below what graduation rates we should expect for a large public University, but 54% success in graduating your students seems painfully low. [See comment below. 54% may be typical for a large public University, albeit disappointing!] In terms of doctorate degrees awarded, the University expects to graduate 162 which is 22 more than in 2013. That 16% increase is commendable. Lastly, by whatever criteria the University uses, it could not claim any enhancement in national recognition. I would have to agree with that, at least academically.
Our state universities have been charged to increase their enrollment and graduation rates. Since Kentucky started well behind the pack in this regard, I will not argue this demand to be improper. But every Yiing has its Yang. UofL is clearly admitting more students who are better prepared academically– at least as measured by test scores and the like. When it began to do so, UofL received criticism from some that it was abandoning its traditional urban students who were historically underprepared. Remedial education is not the primary responsibility of a college. I believe however, that UofL’s progress in elevating its academic standards and the rigor of its instruction must be judged alongside of its efforts to accommodate alternate entry-paths to its higher education programs. This would include how it coordinates credits and programs with our community and technical colleges. In the past, UofL was stingy in allowing credit for courses taken elsewhere and inflexible in its prerequisites. Perhaps things are better now. I encourage commentary from better informed readers in this regard.
UofL is enrolling more students but burdening them with greater debt than ever. People are reasonably asking if the college experience is still a good investment. A former UofL Law School Dean took hits for pointing out the his graduates were unlikely to achieve the American Dream of owning even a modest house. Medical School graduates are under irresistible pressure to practice in higher salary specialties in urban settings because of their staggering debt. Educational debt is being called the next major bubble, the bursting of which will cause us all grief. Back in the 1990s, both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky set goals to become “top 20” Universities. That has not yet happened for either. What did happen is that their tuitions immediately increased more rapidly than virtually any other public universities in the nation! That increase is still climbing more rapidly than the rate of inflation.
Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity.
In total grant and contract expenditures the University is claiming another A, although the year is only half over. Combining grant and contract expenditures clouds our ability to know how much of these expenditures are for research or for scholarship. The University frankly admits it is well below its target of receiving grants from the National Cancer institute and it gives itself the equivalent of No-Credit. However it does give itself an A for an unspecified increase in national faculty recognition or awards.
the University of Louisville has in my opinion sacrificed much in its quest to become a commercial research organization. I invite new readers of this policy blog to review articles from the past two years. I have little objective information in hand about how things are going in this regard, but from what I can gather, progress has been much slower than hoped for. Space the University built to house research labs and new companies is being filled with general business organizations. An occasional faculty member seems to strike it rich selling a patent or license that will be developed elsewhere. I would love to see a detailed exposition of how the Commonwealth’s award of millions in Bucks-for-Brains and other research support has benefitted our community. It seems equally likely that the University’s emphasis on its commercial research enterprise has bled off money from its educational and clinical programs to their detriment.
NIH Grants– the gold standard.
In terms of peer-reviewed research grants, things have most definitely not been improving. President Ramsey himself told faculty and employees that our research effort has stalled. The University often trots out its claim that the ranking of UofL’s School of Medicine in winning NIH grants rose more rapidly than for any other medical school. I know that statistic well since I am the one who developed it– back in 2001! Since I am still seeing that statistic used in UofL promotional materials, I recalculated it through the year 2013.
Below are three graphs reflecting NIH grants to the the medical schools of the Universities of Louisville and Kentucky from 1994 to 2013. In order, they show rank in amount of funding , the dollar amount of funding, and the number of individual grants. In 1994, the NIH list of medical schools that received at least one grant contained 104 institutions, including 2 in the Caribbean. In 2013 there were 140 medical schools on the list.
In the most recent year, the University of Louisville School of Medicine was ranked 71 out of 140 schools with a total of $38 million in NIH grants. This is the same rank we had in the year 2000. In fact, our rank, number of grants and amount of those grants has been in steady decline since a peak around 2000. In my opinion, it is time for an “audit” of just what we have gained from the “Bucks for Brains program and the massive shift in UofL’s priorities towards commercial research at an obvious a cost its educational and clinical programs.
To be fair, the University of Kentucky is seeing some of the same downward trends, although in terms of numbers it has consistently been doing better than UofL. The data underlying the graphs above is available here.
The report card gives UofL an A for increasing collaborative partnerships with the community, and a B for increasing economic development/entrepreneurial activities. I would like very much to see the specifics for these claims. In some ways there has been disengagement. The Health Science Center made plans to change its definition of “community service” to include only that for which there is something in it for the University! The University’s relationships with its clinical partners is collapsing as I write. I say, award yourself an A, but show me the paperwork.
Diversity, Opportunity, and Social Justice:
I am willing to give the University a good grade in this regard. Leafing through the graduation brochure of this year’s medical school graduating class, I was impressed with the number of minority faces. There were certainly more than when I was an active teacher. I would however, not be true to myself if I did not reiterate my profound disappointment that the University would so easily compromise so much of its academic, professional, research, financial, and even its educational independence by allowing the religious dogma of Catholic Church to intrude on its operations. I believe it is inexcusable that the University stood by and allowed employees of University of Louisville hospital to be deprived of employee benefits they had enjoyed for years. For example, the fact that (as I understand it) that there are two groups of employees at University Hospital with different benefits depending on whether or not they are in gay, lesbian, transgendered, or committed marriages is inexcusable. Please show me to be wrong, but show me the documents.
Creative and Responsible Stewardship:
The University is claiming an A for its annual philanthropy and a B the for percent of its alumni-giving to the annual fund. Good for them! We hear much bragging about the $1 Billion endowment raised. However, we hear absolutely nothing about where the money came from, what strings might be attached, or what the money will be used for. Will we see another shrine for a favored individual? (Earmarked federal money passed through UofL was used in the past for such construction.) Or will we see a new instructional building for the Medical School? I am told by one believable individual that a substantial proportion of the new endowment money was more in the line of contracts than outright gifts. As the University fights to keep information about its various foundations top-secret, I do not know who to believe. In my opinion, the harder the University of Louisville tries to keep its internal dealings secret, the less I am inclined to believe its claims. There was no specific mention of the University’s foundations in the Strothman report.
It’s my University too.
I am fond of the University of Louisville. I spent the better part of my career in its service. Members of my family and friends received good educations in its classrooms. I want it to succeed in a world where the face and role of higher education is changing just as rapidly as in the market for music, books, and movies– and largely for many of the same reasons. We cannot however, overlook the fact that there have been some major failures of university function. The fact that UofL’s President should have to spend the bulk of what should be a prideful report to its public on the breakdown in its financial oversight, or that the medical school has been placed on probation, or that the schools’s clinical departments are going broke, or that traditional clinical relationships with the community are disintegrating cries out for a full and honest report about the state of the University. I am still waiting for one. I call on the leadership of the University of Louisville to do better.
As always, if I have made an error of fact, please help me correct it. I invite your comments below in a public forum. If you have information you would like to share confidentially, please use the private email link in the sidebar.
Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
July 24, 2014
• Cover Letter from President James Ramsey with selected elements from Report Card.
• Summary (Partial?) Audit Report from Strothman released for Public consumption.
• NIH funding to University of Louisville and University of Kentucky- 1994-2014.