Wednesday, March 10, 2010

University of Minnesota


Budget Clarity

From the Daily:

The University of Minnesota’s budget is in trouble. Unfortunately, this simple fact has become a political football rather than the starting point of a frank discussion. Though it is no secret, the details have become murky as competing interests jostle at the line of scrimmage.

The University’s budget has shrunk, and difficult choices will have to be made. Excluding sponsored research, the University’s budget is down by almost $60 million since 2008, with tuition increases being far outpaced by cuts from the state. For next year, the budget hole grows to $132 million due to a combination of more state cuts, a calendar-mandated extra pay period and rising costs; scheduled tuition increases will net 35 percent of that while the remainder will have to come from internal cuts.

Effectively and equitably filling that $80 million hole will require the cooperation and buy-in from all of this University’s disparate stakeholders — students, faculty, staff and administrators. Actually doing this has been deeply hampered by the complexity inherent in a $3 billion budget and by the University leadership’s unwillingness to clarify, quantify or explain it. The massive financial system requires 380 pages of account descriptions, and even a consolidated annual report weighs in at 86 pages. Rather than provide more succinct, accessible spending breakdowns, administration has chosen technocratic obfuscation.

It is time for a University budget summit to bring the community together to publicly explain, hear, defend and to solicit input. Individual meetings between college deans, union representatives, faculty or student groups prevent a wider analysis that can more holistically build a better budget.

Let's make the questioning be a little more concrete:

1. How much does it cost to educate one student for one year at the University of Minnesota? I have been unable to get an answer to that question. The administration claims that the cost of out of state tuition - in state + 2K/semester - fully covers the cost.

2. Does the tuition being charged plus the state contribution cover the cost of #1?

If 2 > 1, then tuition revenue is being used for something other than educational expenses, i.e. it is being used for other ambitious aspirations.

3. How EXACTLY was the decision made to spend at least ten million dollars on MoreU Park? What type of input came from students, faculty, and staff about this expenditure?

4. Exactly what amount of money is available to the university in the form of reserves?

5. How much subsidy is being provided by the University to the athletics department?

6. How can the university justify matching funds for construction projects - new buildings - under the present financial circumstances.?

7. The present financial situation was obvious for many years to anyone who can count past 26 and to anyone who has tried to use the joke that is the new financial system. How did the administration allow this to happen? And why should we trust a group that has demonstrated extremely bad judgment in the recent past in handling the finances of the university?

Technocratic obfuscation appears to be a deliberate strategy of the Morrill Hall Gang.

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