Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Could be clearer

There are external news reports of a new investment vehicle to be offered to employees and retirees at UC:

The University of California will offer in October a pair of collective investment trusts for its 403(b) plan, marking a rare instance of a 403(b) plan, other than a church-sponsored one, offering such an investment option. Collective investment trusts are allowed for most DC plans — 401(k), 457(b), 401(a) and church-sponsored 403(b). But the biggest providers of 403(b) plans — colleges and universities, public school systems and hospitals — cannot ​ offer these options, which many sponsors use to reduce costs to participants. "We saw an opportunity to lower fees," said Arthur Guimaraes, chief operating officer for the University of California, Oakland...

Full story at:

If you poke around on the web, the difference between a mutual fund and a collective investment trust seems to be a lower regulatory burden and - perhaps in consequence - a lower administrative fee.* Thing is that UC has offered its own internally-run menu of investments for decades. No one has to choose an outside option, although they are available. So it's not clear what the new option really is. It would be nice to have some clarification, rather that rely on external news reports.

Seriously, let's do a test and see what happens - Part 2

Testing, Testing
Ten days ago, this blog noted a newspaper critique of chancellor salary packages - that one in the San Francisco Chronicle.* Since then, there have been other similar complaints in newspapers.

There have also been complaints from the governor and lieutenant governor (both of whom are ex officio regents). We proposed that when the next chancellorial vacancy opens up, at whatever UC campus, a search committee be formed which would include reps from the editorial board of critical newspapers, and some regents, which could include the governor, lieutenant governor, and maybe some others. Let them decide in advance what they consider to be a fair compensation package. And then let them recruit and see what they turn up. If they get great candidates for less than the current search process produces, it would be all to the good. If they don't...

Here are the latest complaints:

And just a note to emphasize that this is a serious proposal. Maybe there are great candidates who would do the job for the prestige, or out of a feeling for public service, or whatever. There could be variations in the composition of the committee. They key point is to determine in advance what a fair and reasonable compensation package would be.

More State Audit Problems

The University of California broke the rules that govern when it is allowed to replace full time employees with contract workers, according to a state audit released on Tuesday.

The second audit of the university’s Office of the President this year also found some of its campuses cut corners in awarding some contracts.

Auditors said two contracts they reviewed that resulted in the replacement of full time employees with contract workers did not fully adhere to the employee replacement guidelines in either contract.

In one case, UC San Francisco entered into a contract to outsource some information technology services, which it estimated would save $30 million over five years by displacing 40 full-time employees and 12 contract workers.

The campus made the Office of the President aware of its plans, but did not provide the required paperwork with analysis justifying its decision.

UC Davis also failed to get a review from the Office of the President for a housekeeping services contract that replaced 12 full-time employees with contract workers...

Full story at

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bias in Econ

Anonymous Comments, Unmasked Bias (in Academic Economics)

New paper illustrates the brutal and sexist comments faced by women in economics, and likely other fields as well.

Inside Higher Ed,  Colleen Flaherty, August 21, 2017

Several recent studies suggest women have a harder time than men making career inroads in economics: female economists take longer to have their papers accepted by journals, for example, and they get relatively fewer tenure-track jobs. A new working paper is notable, then, in that it appears to shed light on some of the attitudes and stereotyping working against them.

The paper, by Alice H. Wu, a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, who is currently a research specialist at Princeton University and in 2018 will begin doctoral studies at Harvard University, investigates gendered language used on the popular Economics Job Market Rumors forum.

Using methods from text mining, machine learning and econometrics, Wu analyzed more than a million posts on the website over two years. Over all, she found that conversations between anonymous parties on the forum become significantly less academic and professionally oriented -- namely, more personal and skewed toward physical appearance -- when women are mentioned.

Using her own classification system, Wu counted the number of academic or professional words and personal or physical words in each post. On average, posts specifically about women contained 43 percent fewer academic or professional terms and 192 percent more terms about personal information or physical attributes...

On gender-related posts, words most strongly associated with women are mostly inappropriate, Wu says. “The occurrence of these words in a forum that was meant to be academic and professional exposes the issues of explicit biases in social media.” Top examples of such words are "hotter," "hot," “attractive,” “pregnant,” “gorgeous,” “beautiful,” “tits,” “lesbian,” “bang” and “horny.” By contrast, the list of top words associated with men includes references to sexual orientation but also "philosopher," "keen," "motivated," "slides," "Nordic" and "textbook."...


The working paper is at

Raiding faculty

Blog readers will remember - perhaps dimly - that there is a lawsuit against USC by UC over a raid of certain UC-San Diego medical research faculty and contracts. The LA Times now adds to the tale:

Of the many consequences of the Puliafito scandal for USC, few are as high-stakes as the possible effect on the court case that prompted his testimony last year.

Puliafito was expected to play a role in defending USC in the legal battle with the University of California over the defection of a star UC Alzheimer's disease researcher.

Puliafito helped woo the scientist and dozens of other prominent academics as part of a strategy by USC President C.L. Max Nikias to vault the university into the ranks of elite research institutions.

UC is seeking $185 million in damages along with a punitive award that could be several times that amount.

“With all that’s out there about him, he’s going to have a serious problem coming off as credible and being believed,” said Los Angeles attorney Brian Panish, a civil litigator who has represented clients in suits against both schools.

A Times investigation published last month revealed that Puliafito partied and used drugs with a circle of criminals and addicts while serving as dean. Puliafito engaged in this behavior during the period in 2015 in which he was recruiting the researcher, according to interviews with his associates and text messages they exchanged with him.

A UC spokeswoman said the school would not discuss its legal strategy “other than to say we are vigorously pursuing this case against USC.”

An attorney for USC said no decision had been made on whether to call Puliafito as a witness, but insisted the former dean’s testimony was not important to the university’s defense.

“He’s a bit player in this,” said attorney John Quinn.

In court filings earlier this year, lawyers for USC highlighted a portion of the dean’s testimony in arguing that the case should be dismissed.

Puliafito testified that the university wanted UC San Diego researcher Paul Aisen to join the faculty whether or not he brought along hundreds of millions of dollars in grant funding, a rejection of UC’s claim that USC was motivated by money in recruiting the scientist.

Legal experts said that even if USC decides not to use Puliafito’s testimony, UC’s legal team could ask for copies of his personnel record and attempt to make an issue in court of his conduct. That would set up a fight between USC and UC over whether jurors should be told about the skeletons in Puliafito’s closet if the case went to trial.

“The trial judge would have to decide whether the prejudicial, inflammatory value is outweighed by the probative value,” said Manhattan Beach civil lawyer John Taylor, who has represented clients with legal claims against USC.

The judge, Taylor added, “might say, ‘Suppose he was out partying like a rock star? How does that make it more or less believable to a jury?’”

USC is anticipating that UC will try to make Puliafito’s drug use a line of attack.

“I believe that they would do anything they could to try to poison the well, including introducing the dean’s personal problems,” USC lawyer Quinn said, adding that he expected a judge to reject such attempts as irrelevant.

The case is on hold while USC appeals a U.S. district judge’s ruling that moved the suit from federal court to San Diego County Superior Court, where it was originally filed. No trial date has been set.

By the time Puliafito was scheduled to be questioned under oath, the case was in its second year and UC had brushed off entreaties by USC to settle the matter out of court. USC deputy general counsel Stacy Bratcher and other university lawyers met with the former dean three times to prepare him for the deposition, he later testified.

On the day of his testimony, Bratcher and another lawyer sat with him at a downtown law firm as he was questioned for about six hours, according to a transcript of the testimony. Portions of the transcript were redacted at the request of USC.

Puliafito said he had been deposed 20 times in his life, including in court cases where he was a medical expert. On a video recording of part of the deposition, he appears self-assured, offering short, precise responses and brushing aside many questions as hypothetical and difficult to answer.

A few minutes into his testimony, he was asked for “the circumstances of your ceasing to be dean of the medical school.” An attorney for USC’s outside law firm, Viola Trebicka, initially protested that the question was “overbroad” and “vague” — objections a judge would rule on a later date — and then directed him to “go ahead” and answer.

“I had a unique opportunity in the ophthalmic biotechnology industry, and I was able to continue my employment at USC on sabbatical and work for this biotech company,” he said.

The full story was more complicated. USC acknowledged after The Times’ report that the dean quit his post during a confrontation with the university provost about his behavior and job performance. That showdown capped years of complaints from faculty and staff about Puliafito’s drinking, temper and public humiliation of colleagues, according to interviews with former co-workers and written complaints to the administration.

He was not offered the biotech job at Ophthotech, a firm run by two longtime friends, until more than a month after he resigned, according to a company spokesman.

Quinn said he did not know whether lawyers for USC and Puliafito discussed how he would answer questions about his resignation before the deposition. He said that attorneys for his firm “would never sponsor false testimony. We would never knowingly permit a witness to lie.” In a statement, a USC spokesman said the university general counsel’s office, where Bratcher works, “would never encourage a witness to perjure himself.”

Experts said UC could ask a judge to reopen the deposition in light of the new information about Puliafito’s past conduct.

“I would get the personnel file and also question him about what happened. Maybe there is more that is not out there yet,” Panish said.

The court fight is being closely watched in academic circles. UC took the highly unusual step of suing its academic rival in 2015 after years of frustration over USC’s recruitment of faculty members who were the recipients of big research grants. These grants are an important income source for the state system.

These “transformative faculty,” as they are known at USC, have been key to President Nikias’ strategy for raising the university’s national reputation. Puliafito spearheaded the effort during his eight-year tenure as dean, recruiting more than 70 academics from the UC schools, Stanford, Harvard and other prestigious rivals.

After Puliafito helped woo away two well-funded UCLA neurology researchers in 2013, UC administrators were outraged, and complained to government regulators, according to court filings. It was not unusual for professors to move to other institutions, often with the first university cooperating in the transfer of grant funding to the new school. But in UC’s view, USC had acted beyond accepted norms by targeting academics based on grant funding and strategizing secretly with those researchers while they were still employed by UC about moving grants to USC. The schools reached a confidential settlement requiring USC to pay UCLA more than $2 million, according to a copy of the agreement obtained through a public records request.

Late the next year, the dean set his sights on another UC prize: Alzheimer’s expert Paul Aisen. The UC San Diego neurology professor was a global leader in the search for a cure for the disease, and federal agencies and drug companies were expected to send more than $340 million in research grants to the lab he ran over the next five years

“I am going to get more involved in this personally and quarterback the process,” he wrote in an email to Provost Michael Quick in April 2015. “We need this to happen.”

USC offered Aisen annual compensation of $500,000 — a salary bump of $110,000 — along with a home loan and other perks. He moved to USC in June 2015.

The loss reverberated at the highest levels of the UC system. President Janet Napolitano unsuccessfully lobbied the head of drug company Eli Lilly, a major funder of Aisen’s work, to keep its grant money at UC.

In July 2015, UC sued USC, Aisen and his lab colleagues for breach of fiduciary duty, interference with contracts, computer crimes and other claims. The university said USC had conspired with the researcher while he was still working for UCSD to interfere with the public university’s contractual relationships with grant funders and to seize control of critical clinical trial data.

Subsequent filings suggested the depths of the hard feelings. In one, UC complained that the departing scientists had even made off with paper clips paid for by UCSD. In another, their lawyers described USC as a “predatory private university” with a “law-of-the-jungle mind-set.”

USC and Aisen countersued for defamation and other charges. Their lawyers wrote in the complaint that they were ready to settle the litigation and suggested the blame rested with UC for failing to fund Aisen’s work adequately. When he found a school that would, they wrote, UC engaged in “petty academic politics,” including trying to make him sign a loyalty oath and cutting off his email and phone service, tactics that they claimed endangered patient safety.

Aisen, Puliafito and other USC administrators insisted in depositions that the university had done nothing wrong. In his sworn testimony, the former dean testified that he was prepared to offer Aisen a faculty position even if his lucrative research grants stayed behind at UCSD.

“You were indifferent to whether or not the grant funding transferred with Dr. Aisen,” the UC lawyer asked.

“Yes,” Puliafito said, adding: “That’s the risk we were willing to take.”

San Francisco lawyer Stephen Hirschfeld, who has defended UC and other universities in civil suits, said the involvement of other officials in Aisen’s recruitment could blunt the impact of Puliafito’s credibility issues.

The university provost, a faculty chair, medical school administrators, and human resources officers played key roles in luring Aisen, according to court filings and deposition testimony.

“You could have a situation where the dean says one thing and several other administrators confirm that it is true,” Hirschfeld said. Focusing too much on Puliafito, he said, might make UC look cruel or desperate to the jury.*

“You’ve got to think really hard if it’s worth it to attack this guy in this way,” he said.

Taylor, the Manhattan Beach lawyer, said that jurors could see Puliafito as a reflection “of the values of the university and the decision makers there.”

“If terrible evidence comes in about him, it is terrible evidence for the school,” he said.

The deposition offers tantalizing clues about the relationship between Puliafito and USC. At one point, the former dean was asked when he had last looked at the USC ethics code.

“Six months ago,” he replied. The deposition was on Sept. 23, 2016 — just a day short of the six-month anniversary of the meeting at which the provost confronted him with complaints from colleagues about his behavior.

*Interesting advice, but it's been said before:

Monday, August 21, 2017

In transit

Yours truly - having seen the eclipse from Columbia, MO - will be in transit. So blogging will be light for awhile and eventually will catch up with events. Sorry.

UCLA History: Postcard

Postcard view of Westwood, back in the day