Thursday, July 30, 2015

A UA success story is only $843,000 away

One of the big winners from the University of Akron shakedown was an outfit that you've probably never  heard of from the Cleveland area.   It was mentioned in the Beacon Journal as Trust Navigator LLC.  Was I right?

The paper said the company to which the Trustees awarded an $843,000 contract would   supply students with "success coaches".

Our curiosity took us further because I have no idea what this is all about.     According to its web site, it will give the university one coach for every 150 students, meeting with each one once a month to "redirect" them.

A source who checked this out reported that Trust Navigator is actually three people in Gates Mills.   Each is called an ambassador.  There's Thomas Roulston, managing partner of Roulston Investment in Cleveland.  He also has a compnay dealing  with market/investment research. .Ron Reho, the chief operations ambassador is a UA graduate with a real job as interim general manager for Flohr Machine.  The third principal is Grace Roulston, an Ohio University graduate  with a degree in communication and film studies.  (Reho told the BJ that he wouldn't be available to talk until next week.)

Said my source:  "I don't know who is doing the actual work. Go figure."

I called Wayne Hill, the UA vice president of marketing,  to learn more about whether there was competitive bidding on the job.    He would only say there were two bids. And the winner was chosen by a "campus committee".    Don't know the second bidder, if in fact there ever was one.  Anyone?

There are blind spots all over the campus today. Even Ted Mallo, the counsel to the Board of Trustees, isn't responding to  e-mails.

 By the way, the LLC that follows the name of Trust Navigator refers to limited liability company.  I'm told by a lawyer friend that it means that if the company is  sued the operators - eh..ambassadors - would  not be liable. Only the company,not individuals,  could be fined or something.

So $843,000 for a monthly visit, huh? Do they make house calls?   I think I might need some redirection.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Incoming reports from the front

Interesting note from a reader:

UAkron laid off 30 people from its Information Technology Dept. at a time when they are desperately trying to compete in the online education arena.

Not to mention their ability to handle the day to day tech problems is greatly diminished. You have 30,000 people at the university downloading who knows what from around the world. It's a constant battle to keep the network safe  under the best of circumstances. I can't imagine this will turn out well.
About 3 people I worked with got laid off.

On mosquitos, Trump and the UA train wreck

Are you enjoying the summer of mosquitos, Donald Trump and chaos on the University of Akron campus?

Thought so.  There  are,  however,  two rays of  hope.  The mosquitos will move out with the season.  And  the public will tire of Trump's hysterical comedy routine.

Unfortunately,  the UA chaos is another matter that could become the face of its new polytechnic brand around the land..

The workout on the school's budget deficit could hardly have been handled  in a more ham-handed manner and raises serious questions about the competence of the school's president (Toledo was the last stop in his checkered career).  And what about the passive engagement  of the Board of Trustees in dealing with budgets and other University matters.

Nothing demonstrates this dismal lack of awareness than the original plan to tack on $50 per credit hour for higher-end courses.  The idea raised a helluva stink on the campus as a disguised tuition increase and was withdrawn with the word from the administration that it had discovered a $4 millon increase in its money from the state.  Did it take weeks to "discover" it? Or had the  administration merely found a convenient way to calm the outrage?   If so, more competent budgetary watchdogs are desperately needed.

As for the $60 million debt. The red ink didn't start flowing yesterday.  Former Akron Mayor Roy Ray recalls that as UA's vice president of finance (2002-2007) he  made a thorough examination of the debt and raised red flags to the administration.

 He advised then-President Luis Proenza that the situation was worrisome  and should be given priority  before building a new football stadium.   (He was later eased out of his job) .

"They didn't want to hear it ," Ray says today.  He says today's reported debt could be on the conservative side and may be as high as $80 million. 

But as the dust settles,  isn't it fair to ask about the Board's involvement in heading off - disaster?  Trustees are political appointees, often  with no more than incidental academic acumen, who are periodically on the campus in joyful  tail-wagging silence. They prefer the title  without the attention to their academic obligation.  Faculty and students are  abstract business metrics.

Much of the power resides in the president that the trustees hire, who then go back to their day jobs. Of the many boards that I've witnessed over the years, the current one is one of the weakest, avoiding the slightest discontent with the CEO. If it were not, the school wouldn't be in such a mess.

 As former Judge  and UA board member Jane Bond told me, Proenza fed the board with feel-good stuff -  a form of "soma", the Brave New World's happy pill - and simply went along with it.  But look how that has taken  down the institution and integral part of the community after it ratified the destruction of the soul of E.J. Thomas Hall for the Performing Arts.  Will the name be changed to E.J. Thomas Hall for the Performing Techies?  Another field house for the football team?  I tried to get some trustee feedback, but my calls weren't returned.  

Pop Quiz: When did university presidents, for better or worse, become Gods?  

Second question:    When will  the Beacon Journal's editorial writers finally acknowledge that a gravely mishandled situation is unfolding on a stretch of land within walking distance of the paper's offices?

But does Antonin do windows, too?

I keep this book as a paperweight on my  cluttered desk as a  reminder that we have yet to "form a more perfect union and establish justice".

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From the campus, more victims from the front

The body count at the University of Akron continues to grow. The UA  Press and the Multicultural Center have been shut down. That means  five more  employes will be looking for jobs.  Because of his contract, UA Press director  Thomas Bacher  will stay on until January. It isn't clear what he will do to fill his day in the meantime.

The Plain Dealer's Karen Farkas quoted  Board Chairman Jonathan Pavloff after Monday's Trustees meeting as purring: "The board appreciates the dedication of the employees who are affected by these actions.  We know that they have been and remain committed to the success and well-being of our students and that they have served them and the university well."

But apparently not well enough, although I don't doubt that the latest casualties heard the same  purring from the leadership on Tuesday.

As these units are shut down, I will ask again:  When does a university stop being a university?

From the many people that I've talked to the past couple of days, there is agreement that the damage to the school's reputation has been deep and will hardly benefit  President Scott Scarborough's promise to rebrand the university.

As President  Clinton once said, when you are in a hole put your  shovel down and stop digging.

Bouquets still in fashion at UA

Today's follow-up questions in the wake of the Monday morning University of Akron Board of Trustees  somber epitaph for the staff:

Why do people at the top  hurry to  purr once they have barked?   I'm thinking of President Scott Scarborough's words to the Beacon Journal, which had long been silent about the crises since Scarborough 's announcement weeks ago that the axe would fall.

He said  he planned to have conversations with everyone who was laid off because "it's the only right and fair thing to do to show them the respect and courtesy they  deserve".
Oh?  How does that square with the weeks of painful waiting by the staff to learn of their fate?

But life goes on.   UA trucks were seen at the president's house this week  with crews planting flowers. The gardeners, at least,  are safe.

What's a GOP campaign without a DeWine switch?

With Atty. Gen. Mike DeWine, life is just one damn presidential candidate or another.  That much became clear in a  Plunderbund report that DeWine has again switched an endorsement for a GOP presidential contsender.

If you'll recall,  DeWine pulled the same stunt in 2112 and startled the planet when he switched from Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum in the heat of the GOP primary season.   It was a down moment for Mitt and served DeWine's ally, Summit County Republican chairman Alex Arshinkoff's need to join the parade by splashing Santorum into a big Republican county dinner, where Alex could boast that his poll determined Santorum to be the overwhelming favorite among the  guests.

It is now 2015, and DeWine isn't one to take chances.  So he's  now endorsed John Kasich and dumped  Santorum.  It it doesn't really matter except that we  spectators can always use another laugh to shield us from the madness of the Unsweet 16 season.

There was a time when DeWine was said to be energized with the thought of being the U.S. AG  under a Republican president.  Now, there's speculation that he's positioning himself to run as Kasich's successor in 2018. How cruel. That's a long time for the state's voters to wait for his contributons to their  welfare.

(Reposted from Plunderbund)

Monday, July 27, 2015

The fall of the house of Knight and Thomas

As University of Akron President Scott Scarborough  issued his very businesslike death warrants  Monday for working folks on the campus, the staff at E.J.Thomas Hall for the Performing Arts gloomily awaited their fates when a UA human resources person and police officer arrived with horrific news:  the entire staff including Dan Dahl, the executive director for a  quarter-century, were severed.

Think of it, people,  and don't tell me something had to give because the building itself was a  hole in the budget.   There were plenty of places including the failed but expensive football program that could have taken a few hits, too, as were the newly arriving  highly paid executives at the top of the heap.

By late afternoon there were still unanswered questions  that season ticketholders might be asking if the school hadn't closed the ticket office, too. Even with those who might be sympathetic with the UA leadership, who could defend the amateurish way they handled it? They lost me when they advised the staff that they would have to take a 2-week administrative leave,   return for six months, and then part company again. As I've written, it all had the makings of a hunt-and-peck game plan.

Or how about the front office's notion that it would allow families of the fired workers to attend UA at cut rate tuition?  Nice.  How do you think that will play? Like the $50 per credit hour added and then rescinded?  Or the denial that the school's name would be changed but later change it?

This wasn't your ordinary housecleaning.  the entire faculty and staff were frozen in the weeks leading up to Monday's brief  trustees meeting in which Scarborough read a statement that was obviously honed in executive session so that he and the board could circle the wagon without taking questions from the dissenters on  hand.

Sadly, the sdministration's hit on the hall upended its long relationship with the Akron area.  When the glamorous place opened in 1973, out- of- town writers from the New York Times,  Newsweek and other publications  raved about its glorious birth.  Times  architecture writer Ada Louise Huxtable declared it be a building "in which any world capital could be proud" and Newsweek described it as one of the "most innovative"  U.S.   cultural centers.

Two  of Akron civic leaders saw it as an important cultural initiative for a progressive city.  To that end,"Eddie" Thomas , the Goodyear board chairman, put up $1.25 million toward the $14 million construction cost, and his close friend John S.Knight , contributed $500,000. The fountain outside the building bears his mother's name, Clara.  The Knight Foundation later added a $1 million grant for programming.  That should settle any question about the city's stake in UA.

Howard Tolley, who was Goodyear manager of community relations during the Thomas years, remembers the rationale for the campus-city partnership and was stunned by   Monday's action.

"That's a backhand to the memory of Eddie Thomas.  This is incomprehensible," Tolley said.

 Dahl agreed.   "The community needs to understand that the Board of Trustees is not a private concern and that we are there for people outside the campus, too. It's bad for the community." You bet.  Check with restaurant owners downtown who enjoy business arriving from the campus. Did anybody even consider the economic consequences of trying to undo the sins of the past decade of thoughtless building under
Team Proenza?    Yes, the football stadium, too.

We heard some jittery talk when Scarborough  was hired in the spring 2014.  Some of it were negatives that accompanied him.  Or as a Toledo Blade source  told me:  "People hated him.  He doesn't look at a university as academic".  Business, yes. But as Mitt Romney might have said, students and faculty are people, too.

I would add that he hasn' 't as yet considered an urban campus as a critical  part of the larger community. Over at Akron City Hall, interim  Mayor  Jeff Fusco was working to piece together the bits that came his way from the campus.

And the largely anonymous political trustees, who prefer it that way, were happy to have the new guy.  Anonymous,? You can find their roster on UA's home page.  Interesting.  
In bringing him to Akron, they have settled on the academic version of a hired gun for $450,000.  Nice work, if you can get it.  Some staff members at E.J. may not be that lucky.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

For UA Trustees: Just another day at the office?

Monday will be a critical day for the University of Akron  as well as the city and surrounding area itself.

Unanswered questions about the school may be answered.  And then, considering the reticence of everybody concerned, may not.  Will the University remain a university in name only, instead of a place where ideas have room to ferment in a traditional  academic culture? Or will the Board of Trustees, who will be meeting Monday morning,    address itself to the school's  severely damaged image and promise to do better?

Oh, I know. UA has a $60 million (or more) debt and is attempting to scrub  $40 million of it by cutting 215 MORE jobs on top of what it's already lanced the past few years while adding princely paid managers as the pick of its litter.   Will E.J. Thomas Hall, one of the brighter lights on campus with a strong public reach, become a shell of a once proud edifice?

And what about that silly billboard that says you can save $5,000 by  taking six classes?    What a demeaning concession to cheap commercialism  for a school of  assumed higher goals.  Will there next be BOGO promotions?  

The decline at the downtown  campus has been occurring for  more than decade, much of which happened  when former President Luis Proenza went on a spending spree without the money to back it up.  Where was the Board of Trustees at that time?  Meanwhile, our once influential local newspaper has played a mostly passive role.  (Passive?   Not a story in the weeks following the original announcement of the looming shrinkage by President Scott Scarborough!)  

The are plenty of F grades to go around.

Local political leaders are deeply concerned that the lost  taxes will hurt, particularly after the rubes in the legislature cut $2.2 million from Akron's local government funds.

How bleak have  been the weeks been since the Scarborough announcement?  Much of the gloom has settled on E.J. Thomas Hall, which may have been in the cross hairs of a total shutdown.  I'm told that inquiries were made by UA to the Civic Theater's management about whether it could handle the Akron Symphony Orchestra and Tuesday Musical seasons that were scheduled for E.J.  They were simply told NO.

How brutal that long-time faculty and staff were hearing these things without a word from the UA brass. As one veteran staffer put it:  "The campus has been freaking out." So much for the morale at a school  fumbling to rebrand itself.

The only hero arising from these flickering embers is Larry Snider, the  distinguished Professor of Music who blistered the administration and trustees for making a bad situation even worse with a hit-and-run announcement of mysterious cuts.

In a public notice,  Snider  urged everyone with a stake in UA's future to turn out at 7:30 make their presence felt at the Board of Trustees meeting Monday in the Student Union.

I don't know it will work. Bush-league institutional inertia has been in place on this deal locking lips across the campus as a business model. Why not an academic model instead in which  students learn things, graduate and get on with their lives?

If there's  anything these political appointees don't want to hear, it's  that they made some  horrendous mistakes, errors of omission as well as commission.

It 's  an epic take-down of UA-style  higher ed.  And even considering the damage to the school's reputation, it's likely to stay that way for a long time.

Maybe it's just the seven percent itch

The national media are doing cartwheels because Gov. Kasich has moved up to a 7  pct. approval rating in New Hampshire.  Never mind that 93 pct.  prefer  somebody else despite his round the clock blitz of the Granite State.  The last time anybody got a high from 7 percent was when Sherlock Holmes reached for his cocaine needle for a seven percent solution. But the iconic Holmes was a fictional character. So maybe it's time for the talking heads and print pundits to get real.

Friday, July 24, 2015

While the supply lasts?

Arriving today is the photo below on W. Market Street billboard in Fairlawn which has left me wondering:

Is  this for real for whatever it means, or is somebody playing a cruel  joke that says you will save $5,000 if you don't sign up for the six courses.  Anybody know?

Do UA leadership, trustees hear the drumbeat?

To the concert audiences at E. J. Thomas Hall over the years, Larry Snider was a familiar figure - the upstage percussionist in the Akron Symphony Orchestra whose work added a drumming or tingling beat to the ensemble.

Snider is the Distinguished  Professor Director of Percussion Studies at the University of Akron who has been painfully keeping time with the current dismantling  (disinvesment, they call it) of the school lately known with a " Polytechnic"  officially attached to its name. However, for Snider,  it has now reached a point of eruption as resonating as the tympanic boom of his instrument.

His letter to  trustee Olivia Demas, a Richfield lawyer,  surfaced on my screen (as well as others) with  his view that "our academic programs and enrollments are being gutted by irresponsible, un-informed and ineffective leadershp."

And that's just for starters, all the more effectively on a campus that has been buttoned down to the smallest talk these days.

Snider lamented that three "well-paid  professors" retired in the spring, months before the  music school received permission from the administration to begin a search for replacements.   Even so, the replacements would be one-year appointees paid $32,000.

 It gets worse, Snider said."We are only allowed to hire someone with a completed doctorate   or ABO (all but dissertation) - thus further  reducing the pool of candidates willing to accept a temporary job at such a meager salary with only a few weeks to start the semester."

One of the retirees, I've since learned, is Steve Aron, widely known professor of classical guitar studies with an international reputation.  Aron has brought to  UA's stage foreign classical guitarists like Pasquale Rucco and is now said to be in Caserta Italy  as a summer guest at its music school.  Upon returning, I'm told, he will join the Oberlin University music faulty.

Snider has good reason to fear the consequences  of the amateurish front office.  The UA music school was once highly regarded,  staging operas and other musical  programs that drew grand public audiences to Thomas Hall (Annual attendance for all events that included a speaker series and other events has been more than 300,000 a year.)

 Several opera students  moved up to the Metropolitan Opera and Cleveland venues.  A former UA vocal teacher, Mary Schiller, is now the lively, dedicated  head of the voice department at the Cleveland Institute of Music.  Never until lately has there ever been any question about the UA music school's quality.

Snider didn't focus solely on the music school. Among other things, he complained sinking campus morale and a plan to expand  two semesters annually  into  three.  He called  the new format "catastrophic"  and "out of sync with other Ohio university schedules."

He concluded that other universities in our region are "incredulous that the trustees are sanctioning President Scarborough's "misguided idea" while defining the president's   leadership as "academically and fiscally unsound, damaging to this university and our  community in countless ways, and widely ridiculed by UA's stakeholders on campus and beyond".

Do you get the up-tempo of his frustration?

The trustees will meet on Monday, at which time they are expected  to make some sort of announcement about the specifics of the plan.  I'm sure what they will do has already been vetted in the president's office.

Will the school  veer away from its nosedive?  Drumroll, please.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Happy-go-lucky Guv promises a sunrise

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story titled "The Euphio Question" in which a fictional Dr. Fred Bockman, a physicist, had picked up  a strange hiss  from a void in the Universe with a radio telescope.   As he amplified it for friends with a contraption  he called a euphoriaphone, everyone within hearing range became uncontrollably  happy. When a friend tried to explain it later, he described the mysterious sound as  "the voice of nothingness".

I thought of Bockman's device as I watched  Gov. Kasich's announcement of his presidential candidacy, which had become a cliche  for months as he travelled the land as Johnny Appleseed on his political mission. As he promised, God-and-Hemingway-like, that the sun would  rise when he became president, a carefully selected group of young people in the OSU Student Union deliriously waved Kasich signs on cue. If anything, the governor has proven that he has a gift for theatrics - from blue collar kid to, um...the most experienced candidate in the field.

The national media ate it up. Many pundits  have seen him as the alternative to the wretched group in what is now the Unsweet 16 of GOP candidates.

Still, there were so many things in his coming-out speech that could be easily questioned or altogether refuted.   And we'll leave it up to you to decide the honesty of his words when he said he would not be running a political campaign.   But I cringed when he praised the very policemen whose unions he wanted to restrict with SB5 and eventually was voted down by more than a million votes when it reached the ballot.

From the early days of his arrival in the governor's office he has managed to offend cops.  by calling one of them an idiot;  he lost the support of the Koch brothers by slamming a wealthy Republican woman at a Koch event; he spoke wildly of wanting everybody to have a job and expressed remorse over those who are out of work - the same fellow who opposed the auto bailout, Obamacare and the stimulus and has presided over a state that has trailed  many others in providing jobs;   he boasted about balancing the budget while  forcing cities to make do on less; he threatened universities with wielding his own axe if they didn't trim already hacked expenses.  As far as his attitude toward women's rights, don't ask.  One ranking political official told me that he spent an hour with the governor and Lt. Gov Mary Taylor as his accessory in the room.  "She didn't say a word," he recalled.

And , as the Plain Dealer reported, he slumped in his chair and refused to acknowledge his tattered and torn Democratic opponent when they appeared in a sit-down with the editors.  Rough-edged, he's never a breath away from hubris.

Much of this is certain to be explored now that he  has officially climbed into the race with 2 pct. approval.  And who knows, maybe fast talking cable guys like Chris Matthews, who keeps saying good things about Kasich, may decide to start asking harder questions and reveal the darker side even as the sun also rises.  

(Re-posted from Plunderbund)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

When will UA get its act together?

The rollout of the University of Akron's game plan to erase a $40 million budget shortfall  missed a soft landing by the length of its  football field.  UA's foolish decision to tack on $50 per credit hour fees for upper level courses as new income against  a tuition freeze was  costly for a campus  claiming to be in need to change its brand.  It revealed a desperate hunt-and-peck  system to resolve a serious budget deficit.

President Scott Scarborough announced this week that the brass had reconsidered the imposition of those fees after discovering that the state had added $4 million to UA's ledger in the budget passed by the legislature  in late June.   A month passed before Scarborough disclosed the rejection of such fees to be presented - with guaranteed approval - to the Board of Trustees. (Is it unfair to wonder what these compliant boards are good for?)

Where has the board been since trustees approved the new fees in the first place? Where is their accountability after they leave the campus for their fulltime jobs?  Surely it must have had  some sense that the students would raise a lot of  hell - which they did, with reports that some were considering withdrawing from the school   And UA, so intent on repairing its blurred image, found the pricing policy quite counterproductive.

The Plain Dealer, for example, angrily  responded editorially, describing the fees as a "sneaky' way to replace "prohibitive tuition increases [that] should not stand."

Now, is that the sort of thing you want to see in a recruiting letter to a student?

Meantime, questions remain unanswered.  At E.J.  Thomas Hall, the bright stage for Broadway productions and a quality national  speaker series, no contracts have been signed with any of the  arrivals that were on tap for the new season. Such delays are not only unusual but unconscionable by an administration that claims it is preparing for a new brand of university life.The only talking points so far is that all non-academic programs will be cancelled.  Are they waiting for Godot?

Other departments are also cliff-hanging for specifics that should have been clearly cited   by now.

Not to worry, Lawrence Burns, the new vice president of advancement (!) told the Plain Dealer, which earlier reported: "Burns argues the special fee might not be that much of a burden because many juniors and seniors are eligible for scholarships that will defray the costs."

Oh?  And those without scholarships for new  fees that could amount to as much as an additional  $1,200 for an already fee-burdened student body?

Isn't it  time for the front office to stop circling the wagons before empty classrooms start turning up here and there?


Monday, July 20, 2015

In charter school management, easy come, easy go

When David Hansen resigned as the School Choice director of the Ohio Education Department for cooking charter school grades, you only got part of the story from the northern Ohio media.  What you weren't told - probably by superficial homogenized  reporting rather than an intentional cover-up for one of Gov. Kasich's cronies -  is that Hansen is actually a two-time offender.

For that untidy glimpse of his charter career, you must now turn to a report in Plunderbund that went beyond the surface to track Hansen's past. As such, he has become the latest symbol in a scandalous billion-dollar taxpayer-fed  industry in Ohio with no place to go but up.

Second things first in the chronology:   Hansen, the husband of Kasich's chief of staff, Beth, was exposed for enhancing the image of for-profit charter schools by altering student grades mostly owned by big Republican political donors.  He simply omitted awful grades that would  reflect poorly on the schools.  It didn't take the brain of a genius.

But wait :  Plunderbund's Joseph took the reader back to 2009 when Hansen was President of the Buckeye Institute, which released a report on Ohio's dropout recovery schools.   "Similar to  the current incident, " he wrote, Hansen's  group altered data to improve the apparent performance of the charter schools,  dramatically overstating the graduation rates of the charters.

But Plunderbund also followed the trail to many of the schools that were owned and operated by White Hat Management while owner Dave Brennan, who was "quietly contributing tens of thousands of dollars to the Buckeye Institute through his Brennan Family Foundation.

Kasich, whose campaign received $100,000 from  Brennan,  created the position in 2013 that gave Hansen his day job.   The dots do connect,  people.

By the way,  Hansen's wife Beth is on leave as chief of staff to work in Kasich's presidential campaign, reportedly to become his campaign manager.

Is that smart?

Google Plunderbund to see how this crony scene went down.

Trump: Joe McCarthy with a pile of hair

Donald Trump's virulent assault on Sen. McCain is further evidence that he is Joe McCarthy with layered hair.

 Who can forget that it was the monstrous Republican Wisconsin senator who  smeared President Eisenhower,  members of Congress and others as "comsymps"  at the height of the Red Scare of the 1950s?  But it did finally contribute a memorable response from Joseph Welch, the grandfatherly lawyer at the Army-McCarthy hearings whose law firm was a member of the alleged red National Lawyers guild.

"Until this moment," Welsh hurtfully replied to McCarthy at the televised  hearing, "I think I never really gauged your cruelty or recklessness....Have you no sense of decency, sir,  at long last?"

How appropriate for Trump's rampage.  I have a hunch that he's driven by a late-life crises  to extend a mid-life version from which he never fully recovered.  The GOP, in thrall in Trump's monkey house,  should put out a call for a  Joseph Welch so it can  get on with its business.  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wisconsin: A primer on how to buy a high court

Is there anything under the sun that money can't buy?

You wonder.

Item:  You think of the recent 4-2  decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to pitch out a case in the 2012 recall campaign in which Gov. Scott Walker was accused of  playing pattycake with major conservative contributors to spare him of walking the plank.

Actually it's been an ongoing insurance policy for Walker over the years by such major   outfits as the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the  Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, both operating on the far right and looking after their interests with the state supremes.

Here' are   some estimates of the non-partisan Wisconsin  Democracy Campaign , a nonprtisan watchdog group. Check  their numbers for Walker's foursome on the court:

The powerful Club for Growth gave $400,000 to Justice Annette Ziegler in 2007; $507,000 to Justice Michael Gableman in 2008; $520,000 to Justice David Prosser in 2011; and $350,000 to Justice Patience Roggensack in 2013.

Meantime,  Wisconsin Manufacturers and  Commerce chipped in with an estimated
$2.2 million for Ziegler; $1.8 million for Gableman; $1.1 million for Prosser and $500,000 to Roggensack.    And Citizens for a Strong America, a pass-through for the Wisconsin Club for Growth  gave $985,000 to Prosser.   (Wisconsin justices are elected to 10-year terms so the right-wingers can relax for awhile.)

There's more. The Wall Street Journal reported an odd ruling from the court:

It ordered prosecutors investigating  Walker and his advisers to "cease all activities related to the investigation, return all property seized in the investigation from any individual or organization and permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation."

You can't wipe out fingerprints (or mice turds) much better than that.  Do you think Walker broke up in relief upon hearing that tidy partisan excision of what could have belabored his presidential pursuit down the yellow brick road?

Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, described the court's ruling as "regrettable" and "dangerous".

"The decision,"', he said, "is regrettable because it lets Walker off the legal hook, even though there  was strong evidence that he was engaging in potentially illegal activity when he was working closely with so-called outside groups to raise money during the recall campaign."

He added: "The decision is a field day for corruption and an early Christmas present for the CEOs, multimillionaires  and billionnaires, who already exercise an undue infuence over our elections.""

To answer the question at the top of this column:   No, there is nothing under the sun that money can't buy.  That's particularly true hen a guy like Walker,  the evangelical son of a preacher, can commune in high places.  And we're not talking about his traditional God.

Wanna bet it won't be forgotten that easily?

(Reposted from Plunderbund) 

Friday, July 17, 2015

For UA: The show that must go on (line)

A new report in the Chronicle of  Higher Education fills in a few more blanks in the University of Akron's plans to wipe out a  $40 million budget deficit.  It is a shift in educational culture that would grant much more emphasis to digital-age  technology, as in the decision to expand the school's academic  brand to "polytechnical".

More importantly, however, is UA President  Scott Scarborough's commitment to channel  more of the academic package  to on-line courses at the expense of the campus classroom.  Indeed, his own background is wedded to it with a close relationship with a wealthy for-profit Texas online  operator whose company provides the workings of such an arrangement.

It's Scarborough's  second attempt to reconfigure the in-the-flesh learning route offered by the school for eyes glued to the computer screen.  He proposed the same idea in his previous role at the University of Toledo but was rebuffed by a hostile faculty.

 It should be remembered that abolished jobs, yet to be specified, are merely another layer of dismissals that have been painfully underway for a couple of years.

His preamble to the changes were the new name followed by his announcement that 215 more jobs and the school's baseball team would be unloaded to erase two-thirds of a $60
million debt.  (Even that figure has been disputed by a respected former vice president who looked deeply into the books and estimated that the debt could be at least $70 million).

Scarborough,  a native Texan, is no stranger to the influential Texas businessman, Randy Best.  His company, Academic Partnerships,  has been exploding with profits through his  various private and political contacts.   The Chronicle reported:

"Mr. Best  has a track record  of building businesses that aim to disrupt traditional educational models.  A fund raiser for President George W.Bush, he collected some $380 million by  selling a company that produced reading-education programs designed to fit the requirements of Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind program.   For a subsequent venture - the American College of Education, which aimed to provide master's degrees to teachers - Mr. Best purchased the 'academic assets'  of Barat College, acquiring its accreditation in the process.  The seller was DePaul University, where Mr.  Scarborough   was then serving as chief financial officer.)"

Clearly the Scarborough team is counting not only on cost-saving with each online course, but also growth in enrollment, in which the noses are counted in Columbus for state revenue. It's impossible to overstate the dependency on the  legislature and  more engaging support from Gov. Kasich  for collegiate sustenance.  Besides,  Kasich will be preoccupied with his presidential run to be more than superficially concerned with higher education .

Still, the UA team was optimistic.  The Chronicle noted that Vice Provost  Todd Rickel  flatly predicted that the student population would grow from the current 25,000 to 30,000 in five years.

For now the changes would be a dream come true for Kasich, who declared in 2011 his support of "charter universities" - public universities in private hands (read: for profit) that would exempt them from Big Brother regulations.

Of course, there are critics, too. The Chronicle cited  UA sociology professor John Zipp, president of the AAUP  UA chapter, as  being among the dissenters.  He maintained that the budget crisis is a "problem of the University's own making" with an overbuilt campus as a result of "tremendous optimistic projections" of future growth.

Experience tells me that even when big institutions are worried or pessimistic, they somehow find a way to be optimistic.  That's exectly what's happening at the downtown campus.  And by keeping everyone guessing about the specifics, the school's leaders and trustees have only managed to lower the morale among students and faculty who are still there.

 Hardly a positive way to rebrand.  Have a nice day. .


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Will Kasich qualify for dual citizenship in New Hampshire?

I see that Gov.Kasich has scheduled five more visits to New Hampshire next week , one short of qualifying him for dual citizenship in that state. That will come.  Among other things, it will permit him to establish residence there to run for governor when his second term expires in Ohio.  It also serves as his Pearly Gates for his presidential campaign until something better comes along.

Speaking of Pearly Gates, it is part of his outburst to the wife of Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, a wealthy Republican,  at a conference sponsored by the Koch Brothers in California in which she questioned his extension of medicaid.  Harshly referring to her as "lady", he said the pearly gatekeepers will know what he did for the poor.

And so do the Kochs, who haven't invited him to another event.  That includes  their star-spangled Defend the American Dream Summit  in Columbus on Aug.  21-22.  The Kochs reportedly were miffed by Kasich's well known distemper and decided he didn't belong in their mix for Columbus that features presidential candidates Rick Perry, Jeb! Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (as well as Ohio Sen. Rob. Portman).

(Reposted from Plunderbund)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

University of Akron: A failed business model

Like a wounded giant, The University of Akron is in a state of suspended animation..   People wondering whose names will be drawn for dismissal in the campus-wide lottery. Scuttlebutt.  Rumors. Telephone calls often unanswered. As one senior manager told me:  "I'm not permitted to talk.  Even if I could, I don't know anything."

Such was the fallout from UA President Scott Scarborough's announcement that 215 jobs will be eliminated from the university,  as well as  the death warrant for the school's baseball team and some direct hits on  the  campus food service.  Public programs at E.J. Thomas Hall no more.

It's a bleak picture, no matter the public relations push to resolve a $40 million budget deficit.   Did Scarborough really understand the mess he inherited when he arrived at the University last year?

Folks, it didn't just happen.

Years ago, when a financial expert looked at the books,  he  warned former president Luis Proenza that there was a lot of red ink.  He was later forced out of his position.

So,  begin with Proenza's 15 years as the school's  chief executive who,  with perfect timing,  exited last  year with a $500,000 salary cushion and promises that he would return after a year's sabbatical.    Don't bet on it.

And consider the board of trustees with a voice-over by Summit County Republican chairman Alex Arshinkoff.   Forever in a non-contentious collegial mood,  trustees seemed happy enough with the President's upbeat reports  to them as he laid out a $620 million  building program to lure students with a modern setting.

Trustees and president worked as a close unit in which a discouraging word was seldom heard.   According to former trustee, Jane Bond, then-board president Richard Pogue, a well-connected  Cleveland lawyer,  insisted that "we all agree on everything;  there could be no dissent.  "  It served as a corporate formula.

 And don't forget the bumpkinish legislature in the trifecta that never quite understands why universities should be here to stay.

 Gov. Kasich, with a chip on his shoulder as big as Gibraltar, summarily warned university presidents to make spending cuts  or risk his own hand in slashing their budgets.  End of discussion. He's not one with much patience with debates.

Meantime,  UA's front office was heard to  be exclaiming great joy over the opening in 2009 of  a  $61.6 million football stadium.  The Beacon Journal recorded Proenza's response as  "WOW!"  -  a word he affixed to many of his proclamations about the school's purported greatness.  The rationale:  A new stadium would create an army of football fans. Or so I was told.

As we all know, the projected attendance never came and the fail-safe stadium is, well, a stadium  in need of fans (and a winning football team with celebrity coaches).  .

The board had other oddly inattentive moments to the budget as UA continued to  stock its roster with six-figure vice presidents  and managers.    There was even the bizarre promotion of an assistant secretary to the board, Russ Sibert.   It promoted Sibert  to vice president, thus having one vice president reporting to another, Ted Mallo.

In a letter to the Beacon Journal,  Walter L. Hixson, UA Distinguished Professor of History, defined the mess this way:
"When I came to the university in 1989, it had real academic leaders and strove to be an institution of higher education, not a badly-run corporation.  The Republican-dominated state government, board of trustees, Proenza and Scarborough orchestrated the disaster that is UA today.    They should be held accountable, not encouraged." 
There isn't much wiggle room on the campus today as it copes with a business model that failed.  We'll see how honestly the present regime tries to explain this one. And then we'll take a another shot at Rubik's Cube.



Monday, July 13, 2015

A roll-up-your-sleeves moment for Jeb!

Can't let the weekend trash pickup pass without awarding the coveted Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) Award to Jeb!  You may wonder why I chose Jeb! over Donald Trump.  But with every loony word sparking from The Donald's lips, where would you start?

Anyway here is a slice of Jeb!'s  gilded insights  in the New Hampshire Union that I've cited in the GALL award's annals:

"My aspiration for the country - and I believe we can achieve it - is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see.  Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows.  It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families.  That's the only way we're going to get out of this rut that we're in." 

You'd think that after his several verbal stumbles  Jeb! would work a little longer on his comments.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Crony capitalists are real; unicorns aren't

With so much concern these days about the huge icebergs of political money melting into the pockets of presidential candidates,  it inspires me to again  think about my fantasies of being a crony capitalist.

I've always thought it would be neat to be a crony capitalist. You know. A life of VIP insider  influence.   A big politician would  interrupt an interlude of sex (only if the heart is healthy enough!) or Chivas Regal  to take your call. A week end in the Hamptons.  Dinner  in lavish restaurants to show off your importance by leaving big tips.  Or a golfing trip to Scotland.   First-name camaraderie for mutual back scratching.      For a crony capitalist, the skies are never cloudy all day. Anybody for a cigar while we complete the deal?. My cousin needs a job.

I'm not exaggerating.

It's a smoothe mostly secretive role. Most people  would never understand what you do if you were called a crony capitalist.      But it has its moments.  Sounds a lot more upright,  say, than a crony socialist.

 Lots of people,  it seems, would like to be somebody else. Like a LeBron James.  Or  maybe one of the Kardashians.

As a kid, I had a friend who wanted to be a unicorn. To hear him, that would be cool,  too.   He was a skinny kid who was bullied more than once.  But as a unicorn he could strut through the toughest streets and nobody would dare bother him.  It was the horn that did the talking.

Some of us would try to tell him that a unicorn was a made-up creature and  he never could be one.  But he swore that he once saw one crossing a field in the moonlight and that was good enough for him.

You'd think that after all of these years folks like me with modest bank accounts would give up on the foolish notion of being a crony capitalist.    I do have coffee  regularly with a few cronies but that's as far this thing   goes.   Never was a capitalist and there's no point in trying now.  So my cousin can go find his own damn job.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Kasich ship of state faces choppy waters

With Gov. Kasich's official coming-out party as a presidential candidate  arriving on July  21, you can expect more national media to apply stricter radar enforcement of the gallivanting  man who has so far been given a pass.  POLITICO has checked in this week, followed by a must-read report in Plunderbund by John Michael Spinelli.  Either definitive look at the Kasich era can serve as your guide to the 2016 presidential stampede.

The headline for Spinelli's dissection is a clear guidepost of every
thing that follows:
"Visionless, Kasich Retreats to Outdated, Deceptive DC Resume of Kasich's Political History"
(A salient note in Spinelli's account is that the lastest North Carolina PPP poll  casts him with former New York Gov. George Pataki at one per cent.  The GOP's nemesis,  Donald Trump, leads the pack there at 16 per cent!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Outrage missing from the charter school schemes

Where's the outrage?  

After all of the teasing talk by Gov.Kasich and state lawmakers that reforms for charter schools are on the way for the $1 billion tax-funded industry, the Ohio legislative class merely kicked the idea down the road until September at the earliest and left town for  summer fun.  Meantime Kasich scheduled more out-of-state visits  for his presidential candidacy that he will officially announce on July 21, thus giving convenient  reason to return to his home state.

As Innovation Ohio  reported:  "After months of bipartisan momentum to improve Ohio's nationally ridiculed charter school laws, the Ohio House left for the summer without acting  on House Bill 2.  This means that charter schools will receive nearly $1 billion in state funding in at least  another entire school year."

Where's the outrage?

Where are the first signs of protests at the Statehouse door that $1 billion in taxpayer money will again be granted to the faltering charter system that has been embarrassing to Buckeyeland around the country?

Taxpayers have been conveniently excluded from the business-as-usual moments by budget arrangers who skillfully created a state budget for public schools with a formula that  few  without  doctorates can understand. And the state's media have done a modest  job in trying to explain the taxpayer  stakes in the opaquely distributed revenue for charters that is bleeding the budgets of public schools.

For evidence, the Beacon Journal today editorialized at length  complaining that "the new state budget doesn't include the better funding formula."  So far, so good.  But nowhere does the mysterious word "charter" appear.

Yes, school funding is complicated.  It's costly.  It's never had top priority in the legislative halls from the hacks and 10 o'clock scholars.  Instead, the governor boasts with vacuous self-approval of his Ohio Miracle and now, a New Day for Ohio. New about what?

It's hard to be outraged when a billion dollar industry is  swathed in unintelligible language for its politically disguised accounting system  infused with  dizzying numbers.

Mark Urycki, a reporter for StateimpactOhio, a consortium of WKSU, WOSU and WCPN, courageously  explored the density of the problem of such funding.  He reports that charters are more than an inheritor of  the revenues that are stripped from public school districts.

''But because charter schools on average are assigned more state aid than traditional public schools,  districts have to dip into their local levy money to give charters what the state demands". Right! For  the 370 charter schools with about 125, 000 students.

As a I've written in an earlier column, you must contend with  the powerful charter  guy who founded White Hat Management as a for-profit  investment in school kids, and then writing to lawmakers to remind them of where some of their political cash is coming from.  Legislative hacks don't need much more convincing to  discourage them from leaning on the  state's horrific giveaway of your money.

Where's the outrage?  You know, the kind you might hear from a neighbor who is reacting to a cost overrun on a street repair.

Kasich has talked of more transparency of the money spent.  But if you asked him in  the middle of  a campaign stop, he'd have a hard time  explaining what he meant.  He leaves the gritty work to others.  For example, in 2013 he appointed a pro-charter fellow named David Hansen, the ex-president of the right-wing Buckeye Institute,  and husband of Kasich's chief of staff, to oversee   charter school and voucher programs in the Ohio Department of Education. Sort of like the fox guarding the chicken coop, don't you think?

First things first for the governor and Republican legislature. That takes care of any  threat from the public outrage thing. Unfortunately, it has been fail-safe.

(Reposted from Plunderbund)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Today's consumer report

Would you buy a used slot machine from this guy?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Kasich ode to Pearly Gates of Scarlet and Grey

On July 21 Gov. Kasich’s Starship will touch down in the Student Union at Ohio State University. There, with word from the Lord, he will announce his intention to seek the presidency to rescue America from President Obama as well as the immortals who are already on the Republican list of first responders to the lure of the Oval Office..

Not a moment too soon. For months he’s been flying around the country with the itinerary of a Johnny Appleseed, planting his bountiful seeds for voters in such dog-eared candidate visits as New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina. Not since 2000, when he failed to convince the electorate that he was worthy of the White House, has he stretched out so many tourist miles.

But times do change. With that in mind and his reliance on direct lines to God, the governor is at it again. So far, it has been a message that has yet to elevate him in the polls.. When economists shooed him away from his earlier stump talk of a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget, he could always depend on the media to soften the blows. One occasionally heard a huzzah from network reporters who speculated that his erratic behavior was sort of refreshing, adding that he might be, could be, would be, could arguably be the guy thing to eject him from the clown car running on fumes.

A personal note: Having worked alongside national reporters in presidential campaigns, I can vouch that they are hit-and-run chroniclers of candidates – appraisals arising from a quarter hour interview with the candidate with no awareness of the back story.

The Ohio media, primarily the Columbus Dispatch, have sustained their hopes for the first Ohio president since newspaper publisher and cornet player, Warren G. Harding, who presided over a scandal-ridden administration, prescribing “equipoise”.

Kasich doesn’t resort to big words, although he has referrred to Californians (65 electoral votes, guv!) as “wackadoodles”. More recently, his crude responses to his critics is said to have cost him support from the Koch Brothers. It was their event in California in which Kasich barked from the dais at the wife of a rich Republican donor who questioned his extension of Medicaid. “I don’t know about you, Lady,” he snapped, sounding a lot like a harried Manhattan taxi driver. “but when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor…”

This from the fellow who cut food stamps, opposed the stimulus and auto bailout, and cut corners in other ways, etc. etc.

You should also be aware that according to my ASPCA calendar, July 21 has also been designated as national “No pet store puppies day”.

That will put some of us in a much better mood when the Starship arrives at the Pearly Gates in the land of the scarlet and grey.

(Reposted from Plunderbund)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Mexican artist trumps Trump

We all laughed when Donald Trump boasted that he was the world's greatest jobs creator.   But that was before Mexican artist Dalton Avalos Ramirez decided the time had come to cash in on Trump's vicious attacks on Mexicans as rapists.

So Ramirez created a Donald Trump pinata and it could become a growth industry  across the border.  The likeness is amazing and is said to be causing a buzz among folks who want to teach The Donald a thing or two about his stupid remarks.  For pinata lovers, Trump is now in  the swing of things. Here it is.: