Hamburg

Berlin -- A recent weekend trip to Hamburg casts light on an important time in my family's history. In October of 1880, my great-grandparents, John and Johanna Oberg, with their two young sons, Otto and Ben (my grandfather), left Europe for America. They traveled from Sweden to Hamburg where they embarked on the S.S. Wieland for Le Havre and New York.

Hamburg has established a new emigration museum on Veddel Island, the site from which my family likely departed. The museum deals mostly with emigration after that time, so the buildings and mock-ups are probably not those my family would have known. According to other family histories recounting emigration around 1880, it's likely the emigrants got into small boats at Veddel Island to be transported down the Elbe River to meet the larger ocean-going ships at the mouth of the river.

The museum nevertheless has mock-ups of between-deck accommodations on ships like the S.S. Wieland, a ship of the Hamburg America Packet Line (HAPAG). The small wooden bunks with low ceilings would have made for a difficult voyage. Families had to supply their own mattresses and bedding. Oberg family lore tells of an unpleasant voyage to New York. In New York, the family likely entered through Castle Garden, on the Battery, as Ellis Island was not yet in operation. The Statue of Liberty was still a few years away as well. My family went first to Chicago to relatives who were already there and then, in 1885, to Nebraska.

As far as I know, I am the first of my family's descendants to re-visit the departure point in Hamburg. Hamburg today would be recognizable to 1880 travelers, because it prohibits high rise construction that would obscure church spires and lighthouses that go back centuries. I can imagine my ancestors' feelings and impressions as they embarked on their voyage.

The ship's manifest seems to have the age of the boys wrong, as it lists Otto as being eleven months old and Ben being one month old. In fact, Otto was born in 1877 and Ben in 1888, so they were three and two, respectively. John was thirty when the left for America, and Johanna was twenty-eight.



Refugees in Berlin

Berlin -- In my Kreuzberg neighborhood, the welcome signs are still out for refugees. Across the park, a volunteer center enlists those who want to help handle the newcomers, and there are many such volunteers.

That's the upbeat side of the story. The reality of the situation is not so good. Local, state, and federal governments are overwhelmed by the refugees. Unscrupulous hostel and hotel owners have been packing refugees into uninhabitable conditions to make quick profits off government payments. Government payments are so slow; many service providers have given up on attending to refugee needs. This includes those offering German language instruction.

Last weekend I went over to the Templehof neighborhood to see conditions there. The huge building at the former airport -- still the third largest building in the world -- shows few outward signs of housing thousands of refugees, as it did over the winter. Many have been moved out, once their asylum applications were approved. Some refugees have returned to their native countries, not liking the prospects here. Surely being sequestered in an old airplane hangar during the long, cold Berlin winter nights was not what refugees hoped for.

Those refugees still in the hangars apparently are not allowed out into the adjoining park, Templehofer Feld, which is fenced off. Looking through the fence, one can see a few children riding bikes on the apron next to the hangars and a few pieces of laundry hung out to dry. It looks desolate.

Kreuzberg is multi-ethnic, so refugees among us do not stand out. Surely there are many. On the U-Bahn, a family of four looks as if they might be refugees. They may have been clothed by donations, as their clothes are fresh but ill-fitting. One of the little boys is delighted with an oversized pair of goggle-glasses. The mother looks pleased that her family is safe and together. The father looks worried about the family's future.




Pox All Around

Washington -- The New York Times recently offered readers what appeared simply to be good financial advice in an article "The Best Way to Help A Grandchild with College." But in a quick rejoinder a college president said he was stunned that the article appeared, claiming it was shameful to try to hide potential tuition-paying resources from colleges. He said his college was doing its best to help students pay for college with institutional aid based on merit and need, and that grandparents and parents should not try to game the system.

A college admissions officer was even more blunt: "I will not help you hide your money when you apply for financial aid."

College officials would have more credibility if only they were transparent about their own financial aid gaming. Colleges routinely siphon off federal aid aimed at needy students. The trend of financial aid is unmistakably toward those who don't need it, at the expense of those who do. So much for the argument that grandparents who read financial advice columns are responsible for the lack of aid to needy students. Colleges even mislead charities willfully, falsely telling them that the funds they raise will help needy students pay for college. These are not isolated examples. Colleges are engaged in widespread, systematic gaming of students, families, charities, and taxpayers.

A pox on all of the gamers, including those in Congress who perpetuate such a diabolically difficult student financial aid system. Let's add a pox on the U.S. Department of Education, too, for not cracking down on those who undermine the purpose and mission of federal programs.

There is an opportunity coming up to change things: the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is being drafted in Congress. But don't get your hopes up. There is little evidence that we are in for anything but six more years of financial aid gaming by whichever parties are clever enough to do it or, to put it another way, naive enough not to.

Worried About Nebraska

Lincoln -- Nebraska is no longer the same place I grew up in. Although I was born here and Nebraska is still my domicile, much has changed, and not necessarily for the better.

When I was growing up in the 40s and 50s, Nebraskans had remarkable longevity compared to the rest of the country. Hardy pioneer stock, we explained. Good food from our fields and gardens, we thought. Now we Nebraskans lag behind places like New York City and San Francisco in longevity. It may be the result of our less healthy, car-centric, HFCS-swilling lifestyle, combined with a more toxic environment. One disturbing new indicator: Nebraska has the highest incidence of Parkinson's disease in the nation, according to research that correlates the disease geographically with pesticide usage.

The change is about more than health indicators.

Our literature of the past several decades comes nowhere close to the works of earlier Nebraskans like Cather and Sandoz. Our politics, which once produced the founder of the modern Democratic Party, William Jennings Bryan, and produced a remarkable Republican, Nobel laureate Charles Dawes as well as the maverick Republican George Norris, hasn't seen their likes since. Nebraska is not a competitive two-party state, nor is there much room for other than an imported, grump-talk conservatism for the prevalent ideology. Bryan, Dawes, and Norris likely would not stand a chance if running for office in today's Nebraska. Indeed, my congressman is actually from Louisiana and the man who won the primary in my state legislative race is from Texas. These are not people of the Nebraska pioneer strain.

State government, which once summoned the resources and will to build the architectural wonder that is the Nebraska State Capitol, has sunk to new lows in prison scandals. No one from the governor on down seems able to keep track of prisoners' sentences, despite tough talk on fighting crime. This year, in a vote I thought I'd never see, the Nebraska legislature sacrificed the state's independent pork producers to a company owned by China, which will now dictate terms as to how hogs will be raised in Nebraska. (Yes, Red China, the authoritarian country of unfathomable food safety problems and choking environmental pollution.)

Nebraska's cities are no longer the tree-covered oases of my childhood. No more shade-dappled streets and homes with front porches; the houses now favored have great expanses of concrete slab fronting forbidding garage doors, behind which are hidden afterthought houses. Flip through Lincoln's "Parade of Homes." The vast majority of these houses are for people whose lives are not centered around neighborliness. The buyers want nature subdued, not celebrated. The more that can be paved-over, the better.

The State University, where the first graduate college was established west of the Mississippi, and which once was known as the Harvard of the Plains with only mild exaggeration, has fallen in national esteem. It has been voted out of the prestigious Association of American Universities, of which it had been a proud member (led by its natural sciences faculty) since 1909. No other university in the country has suffered the same indignity. And few in Nebraska seem to have much cared.

Grain prices are low. At the nearest local co-op, corn is $3.56 per bushel, wheat is $3.59, sorghum is $3.24. Farmers are continuing to leave the land, as they have been for decades. Farmers with diversified operations to hedge farming risks across wheat, feed grains, hay, and livestock, using crop rotation to preserve the soil, are mostly gone. Chemical agriculture has replaced them, luring farmers into dreams of high commodity prices driven by markets that too often proved illusory. Chemical agriculture is also responsible for the dangerous decline of pollinators essential, ironically, to many kinds of food production. It has also led indirectly to the deadly chemical of choice for many disaffected rural youth: meth. The decline in longevity in Nebraska is due in part to a vicious cycle of hopelessness linked to changes in agriculture.

There is a glimmer of hope, so small it seems almost foolish to raise it. The new UNL chancellor has been working to bring the faculty of the agriculture campus and the faculty of the city campus closer together. The gulf between them is wide. The ag faculty has, inadvertantly or not, championed the changes that have depopulated much of the state, while the sociology, botany, history, political science, and economics faculties have recorded the declines in many social and natural science indicators. I wish the project well. It's about time they got together. I'm worried about Nebraska. We can do better.







Caught in Loan Hell

Washington -- How is it that consumers, especially borrowers, can get caught up in run-arounds from which there is apparently no exit? How can this happen even when consumers have done nothing wrong, but have explicitly followed the directions they were given to resolve issues?

It's not as if such situations are mere nuisances. They can result in bad consequences, such as having one's credit score lowered for a loan mix-up, or in the case of student loans, being defenseless while education is interrupted, credit scores lowered, income tax refunds taken, wages garnisheed, and even bankruptcy options eliminated. Student loans are the worst type of loans, not only because consumers have so few rights, but loan snafus affect borrowers at a most vulnerable time in life, when they are first trying to make successful futures for themselves.

It does not help that many student loans are still handled through an inefficient, antiquated, uncaring system filled with players concerned more about their own profits and paychecks than solving borrower problems. This includes some people and offices in the U.S. Department of Education itself.

Consider the case of Charles Stewart, who has given me permission to write about his situation. He has been trying for over twenty years to get his life back from student loan hell, to no avail. He first took out loans (a Stafford and an SLS) at Fisk University where he was a student in the mid-1990s for three semesters before transferring to Edward Waters College for a fourth. The financial aid office at Edward Waters, however, did not file in-school deferment papers on the loans correctly, and the loans went into repayment status and then into default.

These being loans guaranteed by the federal government, Chemical Bank, holder of the loans, filed to recoup their losses with USA Funds, a non-profit guaranty agency. USA Funds paid.

Soon thereafter, however, Chemical Bank realized that Charles Stewart was eligible for hardship deferral/forbearance and issued a reprieve retroactively on both loans.

The U.S. Department of Education determined that it was not within Chemical Bank's authority to issue the retroactive actions after it had already been reimbursed by the guaranty agency, and pursued repayment of the loans itself from Charles Stewart. But he was not able to continue his education and not able to repay the loans.

This dragged on for years while Mr. Stewart tried to clear up the paperwork with the Department of Education so he could go back to school. At first he found a sympathetic loan analyst at the Department who tried to undo the mistakes and restore Charles Stewart's eligibility for federal student aid.

It didn't happen. USA Funds did not cooperate with the analyst's suggestion that they take back the loans. This was a reasonable approach by the analyst inasmuch as guaranty agencies like USA Funds are allowed to charge borrowers fees and get federal subsidies in order to see that the loan programs are correctly administered.

The analyst told Charles Stewart to be patient. In the meantime, he provided him with a letter of eligibility for student financial aid, an appropriate action under the circumstances. But as the Department analyst ran out of solutions, he told Mr. Stewart that perhaps only a lawsuit from him would resolve the issue. Things went from bad to worse when the analyst discovered that collection letters, which were supposed to have been suspended until a solution was found, were going out from the Department. He told Charles Stewart to ignore them.

Many consumers are all too familar with this nightmare: being told one thing on the phone or email but being told something else by letter. Not to mention being advised to file a lawsuit as the best solution.

The sympathetic Department loan analyst was never able to solve the problem. He was transferred; on his way elsewhere he wished Charles Stewart good luck.

Mr. Stewart retained counsel and for a time, it appeared as if progress was being made toward resolution. Then the lawyer failed to follow through on what he had set in motion and had to give up Mr. Stewart as a client because the lawyer took employment with a firm that represented student loan lenders, a conflict of interest. He referred Mr. Stewart to Legal Aid.

This is the kind of situation that calls out for someone to take responsibility. The Secretary has powers under the statute governing student loan programs to compromise loans when it is in the best interest of the government to do so. Secretary Margaret Spellings in January, 2007, used her powers to write off over $700 million of federal taxpayer dollars due from lenders. One would think there might be a process somewhere through which a borrower such as Charles Stewart might be given a break. If the Department cannot get USA Funds to do the right thing, it should cancel the loans itself and use the case as a cautionary tale. It would be worth more than the cost of cancellation to impress on all how important it is to have colleges capable of administering federal programs; how guaranty agencies need to keep borrowers' interests in mind, not just banks' interests; and how the credibility of the Department can be hurt when these kinds of situations occur.

When I worked in the Department of Education's Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs in the 1990s, these kinds of cases sometimes landed on my desk. Often they came through congressional offices as a result of irate constituents demanding action. Some dedicated caseworkers on the Hill knew how to get problems solved by escalating them, even to the point of demanding the Secretary appear before a Senator or Congressman in person to apologize for the Department's incompetence or complicity. At this point I would customarily call the bank, the guaranty agency, the college, or whoever had been a part of the foul-up and ask them to be present. Give us twenty-four hours, they would often ask. More times than not, a day later they would call and say "problem solved, no need for a meeting."

That remedy may also exist for Charles Stewart, but increasingly, it seems to me there are fewer caseworkers on the Hill or anywhere who can solve consumer and constituent problems. Good caseworkers on the Hill are hard to find. Staff want to play politics, not help constituents with knotty problems. The creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has been a breath of fresh air, and that agency may also be a remedy for Charles Stewart. But nothing would be more appropriate than for the Department of Education to set things right itself, with no further prompting. Enough with the finger-pointing. There's so much blame to go around that this case should be turned into a training exercise. Talk about a teachable moment.





Tragedy and Farce at the Statehouse

Lincoln -- The sad stories of two Nebraska state agencies suggest that, as the old saying goes, history repeats itself... first as tragedy, then as farce.

The continuing troubles at the Department of Corrections are the tragedy. Nebraska's correctional institutions are not safe for either guards or inmates. The farce is newly uncovered mismanagement at the Nebraska Tourism Commission, in the form of nepotism, cost overruns, exorbitant speaker fees, and wildly excessive employee moving expenses, all being done under the noses of oblivious tourism commissioners.

Two governors, immediate past and present, were quick to call for the firing of the director of the Tourism Commission, as if she were the cause of all the trouble, not the gubernatorially appointed commissioners. Could be. Others around the statehouse suggested the independent Tourism Commission should execute a contract with the state's Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to help it with financial management. Others said the Tourism Commission should be placed back under the Department of Economic Development, where it was until made an independent state agency by the Nebraska legislature in 2012.

A deep breath and a little history are in order.

None of this should have happened at the Tourism Commission in the first place had state government been functioning properly. Long ago, to his credit, Governor Tiemann led an effort to modernize Nebraska state government by creating clear lines of budget and accounting authority from the governor on down. The idea was to give the governor executive budget authority to make spending recommendations to the legislature for all agencies and to centralize in one department, under the governor, responsibility for executing the legislature's ultimate budget and accounting for the state's expenditures under that budget. In this way, all state agencies, whether directly under the control of the governor, independent as created by the legislature, or separately created by the state constitution, would be under the same general rules for budget preparation, execution, and accounting.

Under the Tiemann-led effort, the Department of Administrative Services was created to provide these functions, its director to be appointed by and responsible to the governor. Within DAS, a budget division was created with a small staff of budget analysts to work with all agencies to help train their personnel in fiscal administration, keep track of their spending to make sure it was authorized by law, and generally to monitor the agencies to keep them focused on their missions and out of trouble. When troubles came up, as they always do, it was the responsibility of the DAS budget analysts to recommend solutions to the governor and to the legislature. Sometimes that entailed agency cutbacks; sometimes the analysts would recommend, through the governor, supplemental appropriations as the best solution. Likewise, a DAS accounting division was created to handle the actual mechanics of central bill-paying and financial reporting. These DAS divisions were created to serve all of state government.

Under Tiemann's successor, Governor Exon, this system was put to test by the State Department of Education, an agency with a constitutionally established, independently elected board. Although the legislature in 1973 created a new program to assist in the education of handicapped children, the Education Department wanted to distribute the millions in new funds the same way it always had without regard to the new legislation. The DAS budget division, monitoring the situation, consulted with the attorney general's office, which agreed that the Education Department's distribution plan would violate the law. The Education Department persisted, citing its independent, constitutional status. Governor Exon personally went before a special session of the State Board of Education and persuaded it to direct its staff to follow the law. The system worked; the misappropriation of funds was caught in time; the program director at the Education Department who caused the dust-up soon moved on to other employment.

(Sidebar: Governor Exon's appearance before the State Board of Education was facilitated by its chairman, Gerald Whelan of Hastings. Exon and Whelan met at the Cornhusker Hotel for coffee before the meeting to go over the issues. For the next election, Exon chose Whelan as his lieutenant governor running mate.)

All of which raises the question of how the current Tourism Commission got so far off track. Yes, perhaps its director was not up to the management challenges; yes, perhaps the tourism commissioners were not paying attention. But these kinds of problems should be anticipated and even expected. Nebraska governors have long since been given the tools to train agency personnel and to monitor agency fiscal performance, even in cases where the governor does not have policy control.

Governor Ricketts came into office touting his business acumen. But in his rush to re-organize the top levels of state government, creating offices and titles to match up with his private business experience (only to quickly disestablish or by-pass them), Govenor Ricketts seems not to have familiarized himself with the existing structure and tools at his disposal to stop state government from making a farce of itself. Which is not to say that his ideas for reorganization might not have had merit or that the old ways of doing things were perfect. But his finger-pointing is a little too much, unless he also is willing to point occasionally in the mirror.

It strikes me as a bad, bad idea to have an agency "contract" with DAS. All agencies should be working with DAS already. DAS should be reaching out to train personnel and to understand the issues, large and small, that all agencies confront, to help them with solutions and to bring major problems to the attention of elected officials early enough to prevent both tragedies and farces.






Nice to Have Company, But...

Washington -- It's nice to see a like-minded author write on higher education finance in a prominent Capitol Hill publication. Ingrid Schroeder, director of fiscal federalism initiatives at the Pew Charitable Trusts, makes a strong case for a better understanding of how higher education funding streams interact in her article "Footing the Bill for Higher Education." An excerpt:

Both states and the federal government contribute significant funding to higher education — similar to transportation, K-12 education and other policy areas. However, higher education is unlike these other areas, where there are generally federal-state funding matches or states are required to maintain a certain funding level to receive federal dollars. In higher education, states can, for the most part, cut spending without a loss of federal support.

But it's disappointing, so far, that those in Congress with committee jurisdiction over higher education have yet to put forth changes to the Higher Education Act that reflect an understanding of these increasingly painful realities of fiscal federalism. Although the federal government continues to pour billions into higher education, states and institutions have been reducing their support in the very area -- college affordability -- where the federal government has been increasing its spending. One result is student loan debt that now exceeds $1.3 trillion nationwide and is a drag on the economy, not to mention how student loan debt gone wrong is taking a devastating toll on millions of individuals and families.

Instead of using the tools of fiscal federalism to keep federal, state, and institutional funding streams in balance, Congress over the years has been killing off or strangling the programs in the Higher Education Act that contain matching and maintenance of effort provisions. It's not as if the federal fiscal effort needs huge increases; what it desperately needs is re-balancing among the various spending and tax expenditure programs to draw the states and the institutions back into "cooperative federalism."

To the credit of several past and present presidential candidates of both parties, their proposals for higher education affordability acknowledge the role that states and institutions must play. Where is the Congress?

Auditing the UNL Athletic Department

Lincoln -- Back in the 1970s, when Woody Varner became president of the University of Nebraska (actually chancellor under the old organization), he asked for an audit of the institution so he would know what he was getting into. It had never been properly audited, he said.

Now President Hank Bounds is asking for an audit (program review) of the UNL athletic department. The occasion is the upcoming turnover of the UNL chancellor. The new chancellor should know what he is getting into, the thinking goes.

Actually, this is not a bad idea and should be extended to other parts of UNL, if not the entire institution. While it is true that the athletic department has seen its share of turmoil under the outgoing chancellor and the people he chose to staff it, there is more to UNL than athletics. Big questions remain as to why UNL was voted out of the Association of American Universities, the organization of the country's premier research institutions, and whether membership can be restored. The Nebraska Innovation Campus has had more than its share of troubles; surely it is of equal or greater importance to the future success of the state than is the athletic department. The continuing drama at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center needs a thorough review; its federal funding is on the Congressional chopping block for certain.

The question always arises as to whether such audits and program reviews should be made public. The fact that they might be is often a reason for not doing them. Hence, problems are allowed to fester and get worse.

The Kansas Board of Regents asked for an audit of K-State in 2009, on the occasion of a chancellor turnover. It was performed by the Grant Thornton company, which found many problems both in the athletic department and among the university's separate legal entities. The Kansas Press Association knew of the audit and demanded that it be made public. It was. Although many people were embarrassed by what the audit found, the institution emerged from it stronger in the end.

The conclusions of the K-State auditors bear repeating on the occasion of chancellor turnover at UNL:

The Foundation, the Alumni Association,.. and the Athletics Department view themselves, and are viewed by others, as part of or associated with the institution of KSU. However, they are all separate legal entities apart from the University. They all have as a common goal the advancement of KSU and have at times entered into transactions with one another in support of that goal. However, as separate legal entities, any transactions among them should be appropriately disclosed, approved and documented allowing for transparency of intent and substance. The failure to do so raises the question of the legitimacy of the transaction. Our report details numerous instances where transactions between the various entities did not meet this standard.

The issues that exist at UNL are too often covered over by a Go Big Red enthusiasm that is also a strategy to divert attention from real problems. But it must be remembered what Woody Varner did after getting his audit and making it public. He waved it as a "clean bill of health" across the state and in the halls of the State Capitol. He went on to build both state and private support for the University as never before.




ACE and "Siphoning Off" Federal Student Aid

Washington -- The American Council on Education (ACE) is getting so defensive about college pricing that it has published a misleading monograph to try distract attention away from recent research on the subject. ACE is clearly uncomfortable with many new studies that show federal aid to students is not always helpful in reducing net college prices, because of the way colleges respond to student aid by manipulating both their list and net tuition charges.

The thrust of the ACE paper is to try to downplay the situation. Early on, the paper highlights this sentence as a featured pull-quote:

The higher education system as a whole siphons off a rather small fraction of the federal aid.

But the first question should be, why is any of the aid being siphoned off? The paper explains the siphoning as a tax on student aid to benefit colleges. Where is this tax authorized in federal statute? Nowhere, of course. Some of us believe the Secretary of Education should stop the siphoning by removing schools from Title IV federal student aid participation if they tax aid that is meant for students.

Another question must be, what is meant by "a rather small fraction"? Federal student aid, in all its grant, loan, and tax expenditure manifestations, is a huge annual dollar figure in the scores of billions. A small fraction, therefore, is at least a few billion, maybe several billion, maybe even many billion. This is in fact the dimension of the siphoning estimated by, among others, Turner (2012,2014) and the New York Fed (2015), the latter of which puts the college taxation of Pell grants at 55 cents on the dollar. Based on my own work (1997), I think that's somewhat high, but the point is that we are not talking here about de minimus amounts. We are talking in terms of billions of federal taxpayer dollars annually.

What is infuriating about the ACE paper is that it does not consider the human costs associated with the siphoning. In many if not most cases, when a college taxes student aid in any form, students wind up with higher student loan debt. While economists debate whether or not there is a full-blown national student loan crisis, actual flesh-and-blood people are suffering from being forced to drop out of college and from getting behind on their loan payments. The national default rate, by any of several measures, is unconscionably high.

The next pull-quote:

The Pell program is irrelevant for the list price, and it has no effect on the net price many middle- and upper-income families actually face.

The ACE paper does not back this up, other than stating it twice. I looked at this question (2002) and found that in many cases, the amounts of Pell siphoned off by colleges (away from the low-income) were then spent on recruiting students from middle and upper income families, affecting their net price. Three papers by Burd ("Undermining Pell, Volumes I, II, and III") substantiate a movement of institutional aid out of help for the low-income in favor of the higher-income. Burd's theoretical framework is the same as ACE's but he comes to a much different conclusion.

The next pull-quote:

There is no general support in this enrollment management process for the idea that federal aid automatically pushes up list price tuition.

Not to nit-pick this paper to death, but these kinds of sentences should be flagged before they discredit the whole publication. What does "no general support" mean: that there is some other kind of support? Well, there is. Many colleges have increased list price tuition in order to have more institutional aid to use as a tool to tax federal aid. Please, who's kidding whom? And what does "automatically" mean? Of course the process is not automatic, it is intentional. Colleges pay good money to hire enrollment management consultants to siphon off federal aid.

Then there is a section on What Does the Evidence Tell Us?, wherein appears this passage: "This review tells us a number of things. First, there is no clear answer that has emerged. If you look around, you can find any result you want."

Yes, how true, and how this paper proves the point. My objection to this section is that it dredges up old studies that (a) were not all that good in their own time and (b) were written before the advent of the enrollment management movement, all in order to claim some kind of equivalence with newer, much better research. Actually, there is a clear answer that has emerged, and ACE just doesn't like it.

There is something redeeming about this paper, however. It provides a good discussion of how modern enrollment management works, how colleges actually accomplish the siphoning. This is a step forward for ACE, whose position for years has been that these things just never happened.

It is once again time to reflect on what might have been had the billions of siphoned aid been spent more wisely by Congress on programs that were less susceptible to abuse. Had Congress put these funds into SEOG and SSIG, student grant programs that require institutional and state matching and maintenance of effort, we would have better institutional and state support for the cause of college affordability and much less student debt. It is not too late to reverse course. Perhaps this ACE paper will raise enough disgust to make that happen.



Research Integrity and Chancellor Choice

Lincoln -- It was only a matter of time before an academic researcher blew the whistle loudly on attempts to suppress his research. The case of South Dakota-based entomologist Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, whose work on pesticide dangers to pollinators was not welcome at the USDA, is quickly getting the national attention it deserves. USDA has essentially ruined his career. He has been forced to leave the Agricultural Research Service.

This hit home for me in three ways:

First, we raise bees on our prairie property northwest of Lincoln and would like the benefit of Lundgren's taxpayer-supported research. Federal agencies violate their own missions when they do not permit the public to see the research that we have paid for.

Second, I have a soft spot for whistleblowers, being acquainted with many personally: Michael Winston (Countrywide); Sherron Watkins (Enron); Jesslyn Radack (DOJ); Tom Drake (NSA); Frank Casey (Madoff); and Lincoln's own Kathy Bolkovac (UN). Typically, whistleblower stories don't end well. The sacrifices of these individuals are much too unappreciated.

Third, not long ago I wrote a post about the need for the next UNL chancellor to have research skills and to stand strong for research integrity. The four candidates recently interviewing for the job appear to qualify on the former but how they view the latter is an appropriate and unanswered question. Research universities like UNL must not act like federal agencies, which are customarily captured over time by the interest groups they are supposed to regulate. Do the four chancellor candidates have a record of standing up for research integrity, even when the research is not popular with powerful lobbies?

The inspector general at USDA will review the Lundgren case, but inspectors general in the federal government have a spotty record when it comes to cracking down on their own agencies. For one thing, an agency secretary is not required to act on inspector general findings and recommendations; many go ignored. The integrity of the research process at universities, conversely, has traditionally been safeguarded by peer-review across institutions. But in recent years this too has been threatened by universities so eager to get research dollars from interest groups that they might as well hang out a Research For Sale sign. Does anyone doubt that the interest groups offended by the Lundgren research are plying universities with money to counter his findings? Does anyone doubt that university researchers, under great pressure to bring in research dollars, are usually able to come up with findings that comport to interest group wishes? If there are doubts, take it from a former federal researcher and research administrator: these things happen across the research spectrum.

Much has been made of a recent bill in the Nebraska legislature, introduced on behalf of the university board of regents, that would allow the regents and the president to conduct chancellor searches behind closed doors, so the public does not know who might be applying and who might be in contention. There are plausible arguments in favor of this approach but the passage of the bill would further limit the public's ability (let alone the faculty's) to ask questions about the views and records of candidates on challenges to research integrity. Those in the legislature skeptical of further excluding the public from the selection process might at least propose, in return, a beefing up of the state's enforcement of other disclosure, accountability, and auditing standards with regard to higher education, which currently is woefully inept.