Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The University's Financial Health, Or

Our Finances are Fundamentally Sound...

Executive Summary: The financial situation at the university is fundamentally sound. This is because of careful strategic planning and financial management.

This message was approved by the President of the University of Minnesota and sent to all University faculty and staff on Monday, October 22, 2008.

The global financial turmoil in recent weeks has raised many questions about the University of Minnesota's financial health and the impact on faculty, staff, and students. I want to assure you that, through careful strategic planning and financial management, the University is positioned to weather this current storm. Make no mistake: local and global economic challenges will impact the U—but the University community is responding decisively to ensure our future financial strength, encourage investment in the U, protect our employees, and continue to reward performance.

We are doing this in three ways:

  • First, I have charged U leaders with examining the real and potential financial impacts of the economic crisis on all aspects of our operations, as well as implementing University-wide strategies to substantially reduce costs. For example, anticipating tight budgets to come, a year ago we announced an early retirement incentive program with the express goal of cutting costs while preserving jobs and protecting workers. We must look for opportunities to consolidate administrative offices and academic units, reform major cost centers, and reinvest the savings in mission-critical academic priorities. We have a responsibility to the state, its citizens, our students, and their families to preserve the quality and competitiveness of the University. This will require each of us to be principled and deliberate in our decision-making and to carefully manage our budgets in order to preserve the U's ability to deliver on its mission.
And we spent five million dollars on UMore Park and five million on Driven to Discover. And on athletics...

  • Second, since efficient, effective, and transparent financial management is critical to these efforts, the University's senior academic officers are providing strict oversight of the ongoing implementation of the Enterprise Financial System. As I meet with faculty and staff, I hear concerns about burdensome processes and system issues that arise almost daily. I want you to know that I am aware of these issues, that we are working as quickly as we can to address them, and that we are grateful for your hard work in the face of these problems.

Ten years ago OurPresident, as provost, signed a letter that was extremely critical of People Soft.

"First and foremost is performance. The performance of the systems, in terms of responsiveness, is simply unacceptable. We know that you are aware of this but we need a solution soon."

Whose bright idea was this to just turn on the new system? Why didn't we try this on a small scale - say one unlucky department - instead of using the whole University as a guinea pig? The claim that this fiasco is going to save us money rings false indeed.

“I don’t think anybody should put a dime into the University of Minnesota unless we use the money well, we invest it well and that we’re efficient in how we use resources.” Robert Bruininks (Daily - 9/26/08)

"The University is not being paid money owed to it, reports are not generated, and so on; unless there is a clear message that these problems will be resolved in the next two-three months, the situation will reflect badly on the entire central administration." Senate Committee on Finance and Planning (9/23/08)

  • Finally, acknowledging that the state may face significant budget challenges next session, I believe the University must present an honest and responsible biennial budget request that demonstrates our most pressing needs. Our request focuses on three essential areas of investment: an increase to the compensation pool to help faculty and staff deal with rising costs at home, middle-income scholarship support to help reduce the cost of a U education for students and their families, and enhancement of our research capacity to meet the demand for University resources, equipment, and support by researchers, business and industry, and other higher education institutions statewide.

And where exactly would "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world" fit into that, Bob? This goal is inappropriate for a land grand university under severe financial pressure. Are you ready to finally admit that our priorities need some serious community discussion or is a monologue sufficient?

It is crucial that we work to meet our own challenges, that we improve financial management and accountability at the U, and that we garner strong support to maintain our quality and competitiveness. In a tight economy, the U's unique mission, expertise, innovation, and human capital are among the state's greatest assets. The University was founded in a time of scarce resources to provide the spark the Minnesota Territory needed to become a great and prosperous state. I believe it can be that spark again.

But does this administration know how to operate in a time of scarce resources, Bob? Lead, follow, or...dissemble?


Robert H. Bruininks

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