A U of M student engaging in a Feb. 9 sit-in of the president’s office talks to reporters. Alex Friedrich | MPR News

Now that the University of Minnesota is changing its policy toward the use of suspect descriptions in campus crime alerts, I thought I’d check in with the student group — called Whose Diversity? — that had been pushing for the elimination of racial descriptions in those alerts.

You may remember that 13 students were arrested at a Feb. 9 sit-in of the university president’s office. They had an arraignment on their misdemeanor trespassing charges on Tuesday.

A Minneapolis city spokesman said all 13 have accepted an offer that will, in effect, suspend their cases for a year. If they keep a clean record — which means not picking up any additional trespassing-related charges — those cases will be dismissed.

A university spokesman said the U has also prohibited the 13 from entering Morrill Hall — the administrative building that houses the president’s office — for a year unless they are invited or have official business to conduct there.

Below is a document from the U that contains the administration’s responses to eight main demands of the group:

Group member and feminist-studies graduate student Joanna Nunez says she’s happy with the progress Whose Diversity? has made so far.

“We believe that Pres. [Eric] Kaler is interested in creating some change at this university around diversity issues,” she said, “but there’s a lot more that needs to be done. What we’d like is for him to commit to meeting the rest of our demands.”

Nunez said the organization will be working with others on campus to push for more change. Future “direct action” — events such as protests and sit-ins — is still possible, she said, but would not comment further.

UMN President Eric Kaler (right) and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter. (Alex Friedrich / MPR)

Just how far will the University of Minnesota go to pull off another tuition freeze?

President Eric Kaler told today’s House higher-education committee hearing: It depends.

The U has asked lawmakers for $65 million to keep tuition flat for both resident undergraduate and graduate students over the next biennium – as well as tens of millions of dollars for the U’s med school and other initiatives. That would be the second such freeze in a row on undergraduate tuition that’s about $12,000 a year at the Twin Cities campus.

Gov. Mark Dayton said in his budget recommendation that he’ll fund half of what Kaler asked for, saying that he “urges the University to use this additional funding from the state and internal reallocations and cost savings to provide the proposed tuition freeze.”

Today, Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona), long a cost hawk when it comes to the state’s public higher-education systems, asked Kaler where the U’s contribution to the freeze was.

“We did not make that [allocation],” Kaler replied, “because the number we are requesting is what we need to enable there to be no tuition increase. … We know this is the amount of money we need to freeze tuition completely.”

Pelowski asked Kaler why he wasn’t using some the savings from $36 million in administrative cuts for tuition relief.

“If you really were saving something,” the representative asked, “couldn’t you apply it to tuition costs?”

Kaler said the savings have been “reinvested in elements that we think are of better and higher value. If we were to take that [amount] and put it towards a tuition element, then we would be forced to ask you for a larger appropriation to fund the other things that we think drive real value to the state of Minnesota.”

Pelowski said, “I thought freezing tuition was your No. 1 priority. You mean you have priorities above that?”

Kaler said the U had many valuable missions, “so we’re not all about making tuition as low as possible at the sacrifice of other valuable things that we do.”

Pelowski asked Kaler and his staffers to lay out in a later presentation just what the U has cut – and where the savings have gone – to see exactly what would be “a higher priority to your No. 1 priority in your budget that is tuition and debt.”

Fielding another tuition-freeze question from Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano), Kaler said, “We will freeze tuition to the greatest degree we can with the allocation that you give us.”

McDonald told Kaler he wasn’t keen on that with-the-allocation-that-you-give-us qualifier, and the president replied:

“This is a budget that enables great things to be done at the University of Minnesota. And I would like to do those without asking students and their families for a tuition increase. And if that meant altering the amount of money that is in other buckets to be able to freeze tuition, that would be my priority.”

We need more oversight. (Alex Friedrich / MPR News)

Last May, I posted about a letter that former Gov. Arne Carlson sent to University of Minnesota regents expressing his concern over the university’s handling of the case of Dan Markingson, a drug-trial patient.

Markingson committed suicide about a decade ago while in the study, and critics believe he was exploited by university researchers.

Today, University of Minnesota bioethicist Carl Elliott — one of the harshest critics of the university’s handling of the case — forwarded to me a letter he says was written by Carlson, and which he and fellow U of M bioethicist Leigh Turner signed. It was to be distributed today to legislators, Elliott said.

A staff member for Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL – Brooklyn Center) said he was familiar with the letter, and that Carlson spoke with Eaton about it.

The letter criticizes the role played by the administration and the Board of Regents, saying they have not been the watchdog they should be in problematic drug-trial cases that may involve suicides, injuries and conflicts of interest, among other things:

“Most disturbing is the deliberate refusal of the Board of Regents to publicly review or hold hearings on what they knew was clearly a troubled area.”

The letter asks the Legislature to review annually the board’s performance in meeting goals and challenges, and asks for a “special citizens commission” to review research of psychiatric drugs, as well as the oversight process and the performance of the board and other management.

The letter says the commission could help legislators in “setting up a more professional process for the selection of Regents. Defined and proven leadership talents must replace the current system which is little more than a political beauty contest.”

I have a call or email in requesting comment from both Carlson and Board of Regents Chairman Richard Beeson.

Below is the letter. Following that is a reply forwarded by a university spokesman.

The university and its critics have clashed repeatedly over whether the U has adequately investigated the Markingson case.

The university’s response:

The University of Minnesota has a responsibility and an obligation to look for answers to some of the most difficult health questions, including issues related to mental health. As the Dan Markingson case so tragically illustrates, mental illness can be devastating, and we need to find better treatments to try to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

However, while the case of Dan Markingson was definitely a tragedy, it was not a scandal. Over the last ten years, this case has been thoroughly investigated by multiple independent entities including:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • The Hennepin County Fourth District Court
  • The Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Mental Retardation
  • The State of Minnesota Board of Social Work
  • The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice

Contrary to what the letter states, all of these reports are available to the public. None of these investigations found evidence of misconduct by the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota is committed to upholding the highest standards when conducting research involving human subjects. We are constantly evaluating our processes and procedures to be sure we are a leader in this area. In fact, at the recommendation of our Faculty Senate, we are currently undergoing an independent review of all of our human subject research practices to be sure we are meeting the highest standards. That review is expected to be issued in early March.

The University is uniquely positioned to do the groundbreaking research that is needed to find these new treatments. Clinical research involving human subjects plays a critical role in our mission to improve the lives of millions in Minnesota and beyond.

You may remember Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system Chancellor Steven Rosenstone calling for an audit two years ago of Metropolitan State University’s payroll operations, whose SNAFUs had been overpaying some faculty while underpaying others. All in all, the university made more than $300,000 in overpayments, and almost $136,000 in underpayments, according to a Read more