Archive for Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Heard on the Hill: Weather doesn’t mean everyone stays home; former KU philosophy professor strikes it rich; KU unveils more vice chancellor candidates; watch out for texting scammers

February 2, 2011, 8:22 a.m. Updated February 2, 2011, 10:57 a.m.


Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• Tuesday marked the first full day of classes canceled because of weather at KU since Feb. 3, 2008, according to this historical list of closings of the Lawrence campus since 1972. Of course, KU also canceled class the day after the basketball team won the 2008 national title.

I heard some grumbling on Twitter from employees of the Kansas Unions, most of whom had to go to work for at least part of the day. I'm betting there wasn't a ton of business at the KU Bookstores or the various on-campus eateries Tuesday, but I suppose I might be surprised.

Most other "essential" KU personnel who had to show up included dining services employees for the residence halls, facilities operations personnel and student housing folks, said a KU spokesman — who also was at work.

All those graduate students and other researchers unfortunate enough to schedule overnight experiments also have to trudge up to campus.

Ben Combs, one such student, communicated with me via Twitter on Tuesday. He said he was hard at work "basically measuring in vitro polymerization of normal tau protein compared to mutants we made."

That's probably one of those things that probably didn't translate very well in 140 characters or less. He said it applied to Alzheimer's disease. I hope it turned out well, Ben.

• I received a pretty fun Heard on the Hill tip from a reader who passed along an article about former KU philosophy professor Don Brownstein.

Today, he’s making a lot more money as the CEO of an investment company, Structured Portfolio Management LLC. And he was one of the folks who managed to play the market exactly right during the housing crisis.

He’s apparently pretty good at managing hedge funds — one of Brownstein’s funds returned 50 percent in the first 10 months of 2010.

Brownstein, who is 66 years old, still returns to the area every now and again, my tipster told me, and maintains ties with several local folks, too.

From the photos included with the article, it’s hard to imagine him looking like Karl Marx, as he’s described to resemble while here at KU. He taught here for more than 20 years before leaving in 1989 to “try to make some money,” as Bloomberg Markets put it.

• We have the final two candidates for KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs: Steven L. Jacques and Richard Dittbenner.

Jacques works in the federal department of housing and urban development, and formerly worked at the Dole Institute of Politics here on campus. He has worked in the Carter and Clinton administrations. He was also an associate vice chancellor overseeing public affairs at UMKC.

Dittbenner is a community college official from San Diego. He works as the district director for public information and government relations for the San Diego Community College District, which serves 50,000 students at three colleges, and 50,000 students in six continuing education campuses throughout the city.

He has also worked as a professor of law at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif.

The duo joins Vanderbilt’s Tim Caboni and the University of Nebraska’s Dara Troutman as candidates for the new position.

The two new candidates were scheduled to make public appearances this week, but those have been postponed because of the weather.

• If you've picked up a text message recently that includes the phrase "KU Issue!" and telling you to call 626-023-9773, that's not coming from KU, the university says. It's a scam, and no one should provide banking information (or any information, really) to that number.

• That “Ghost Bird” documentary showing I referenced here in this space on Monday was postponed because of the ongoing Blizzard of Oz, Snowpocalypse or whatever you're calling it these days..

You can catch that documentary on the controversy surrounding a supposed extinct bird sighting at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 in Dyche Hall.

• Feel free to send me tips on how to get around in this Winter Wonderland we’re living in (maybe that would include buying a pair of gloves), or tips on anything else to


Shardwurm 7 years, 2 months ago

A professor who decides he's not making enough money goes out and finds other employment.

This guy is a winner.

I wish more would do the same thing instead of crying to the legislature and stealing more money from taxpayers and students (and their parents.)

You don't think you are being paid for your education and experience? Go do something else. That's what the rest of us do.

"At a New Jersey town meeting, Gov. Chris Christie, the newest YouTube star for the limited government set, was reproached by an unhappy teacher. The governor, facing a budget shortfall of $11 billion, has proposed, among other economies, a one-year salary freeze for New Jersey teachers. Her voice raised in anger (that’s a normal speaking voice in my home state), Rita Wilson protested that she should be paid $83,000, the only reasonable compensation in light of her “education and experience.” Christie’s reply got an ovation: “Well, you know what? Then you don’t have to do it.”

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 2 months ago

I'm glad that it's worked out for Brownstein. But when he gave up teaching, he gave up his teaching salary. That was a good move for him, financially, anyway, but there isn't any indication that the world is any better a place for his having done it. I didn't know him all that well back in the day, but I suspect he would agree with me on that point.

parrothead8 7 years, 2 months ago

You don't have a very clear concept on how much teachers get paid, do you? And what does a New Jersey governor's response have to do with how much teachers get paid in Kansas? The cost of living in NJ is very different than in KS.

Perhaps we should just let the lowest bidder take over the educations of our nation's children. I'm sure that would work out great.

ahyland 7 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the kind words — and, thanks to an alert reader who realized that I mistyped the date for the bird event rescheduling. I must have gone seven-crazy with the time starting at 7 p.m. The event is actually on Feb. 9.

Patriot2 7 years, 2 months ago

Structured Portfolio Management LLC? Wasn't there something about this in a pay day loan story?

Bob Forer 7 years, 2 months ago

Amazing story on Don Brownstein. I believe that one of his funds increased in value 150 or so per cent in a year. Hedge Funds customarily charge a management fee of 2% of the value of the fund, plus 20 percent of the profits. Assuming his billion dollar fund grew to 2.5 billion, the fund grossed over 300 million in fees and commissions. Of course, Don doesn't pocket it all. Along with the usual overhead, he has a team of brilliant and creative analysts who are paid quite well. Nonetheless, I wouldn't be surprised if he pocketed more than 100 million dollars. Not too bad for a years's work.

Ironically, not only did Don look like Karl Marx, but he had Marxist leanings, and was one of a handful of left-wing Lawrencian activists in the seventies. The working and lower-middle class folks whose rights he passionately tried to protect with his activism are the same people whose misery from the sub-prime mortgage disaster he exploited and profited from. Go figure. Hey, Mussolini was a card carrying Communist before he became a Fascist.

Since the founding of his investment firm in 1997, Don has earned more money than he can ever hope to spend. Hope that he still has retained a bit of social conscience and accomplishes a few good deeds with his hundreds of millions.

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