Friday, January 21, 2011


So What Really Happened

at University of Minnesota Pep Rally?

In an attempt to gin up support for the U at the state lege, President Bruininks presided over an annual Grass Roots (supposedly) at the Mac ealier this week. I usually attend the fun and festivities, but this year was unable to do so. Fortunately, my friend Michael McNabb attended and sent me this description:
{emphasis mine}

This evening I attended the 2011 legislative briefing  presented by the U of M at the McNamara Alumni Center.

The first item on the agenda this year was having your photograph taken while you were holding a "Because" advertising slogan.  (You had to do this in order to receive your ticket for your dinner!) 
[Added later: Michael was a good sport. His mug shot is below. Note the slogan.]

The U of M Legislative Network will send this modified mug shot to your state representative.
During the dinner a "Because" film was projected on the large screen monitor in the main hall.  There was no mention of how much the U is spending on this new public relations venture in addition to the more than $4,400,000 (yes, $4.4 million) that was devoted to the "Driven to Discover" advertising campaign.  See item (2) in Financial Stringency at One might digress here to discuss priorities in a time of "financial stringency," but we will continue with our description of the briefing.

The MC then introduced the five regents who made it to the briefing and the one and only state legislator who was in attendance.

Then Peggy Flanagan delivered an effective keynote address.  She is a member of the Ojibwe tribe, and she is the director of the North American Leadership Program for Wellstone Action.  As a young Indian woman she struggled in high school, but she blossomed at the University when her professors took an interest in her and encouraged her.  She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2002 with a major in Indian studies.  In 2004 she became the first Native American to be elected to the Minneapolis school board.  She asked the alumni to contact their state representatives.  She asserted that a face, a story, and a personal connection would be more effective with the legislators than facts and statistics.

Then she introduced President Bruininks.  He graciously acknowledged that Peggy had described an effective way to communicate with legislators through personal stories of the difference that the University has made in our lives.  He could have stopped at that point. 

Instead, we heard the following refrains:

*  Organizations rise to the level of their expectations and aspirations.  An organization that aims for less will settle for less.  He then quoted the inscription that is carved above the entrance to Northrop Auditorium.

*  In 2003 the regents decided to undertake an ambitious journey that would "transform" the University into one of the top public universities in the world.  Some may have skepticism about this goal, but is important to aspire to such a stature and not simply a ranking.  (He did not explain how you achieve one without the other.)  This transformation would be about "deep" values and would result in a sense of pride but not arrogance.

Applications have more than doubled for the freshman class.  There is a better academic profile for the freshman class.  The percentage of students who graduate in four years has doubled.  The University is awarding 7,000 degrees each year in science, math, and technology. 

In the past nine years the average price for an undergraduate education at the University has increased just 3% per year because financial aid has doubled.  (He did not describe how much of the financial aid is in the form of loans.)

*The University now ranks in the top 10 research universities in the nation.  (Apparently ranking is important.)  In 2010 the University received $823 million for research from outside sources.  (He did not discuss the costs of research.  See On The Hidden Cost of Research at )  This research creates more than 25,000 jobs each year.  (He did not cite the source for that claim.)

*The new federal legislature is discussing deep cuts in Pell grants and in research funds from the National Institute of Health.  This would change the partnership between the federal government and universities that has existed since the end of World War II.

*The future of the State of Minnesota depends on a culture of innovation.  The administration has delivered on the mission to be a top public university.

*Governor Elmer L. Anderson recognized the importance of setting high aspirations.  Anderson would use a quote from Robert Browning that a man's reach should exceed his grasp.  We must have Great Expectations and reach for the stars.  (The president did not inform the alumni that in November he told the Faculty Consultative Committee that we must first reach to be in the top three land grant universities in the nation.  See )

Michael W. McNabb
Attorney at Law

Unfortunately, the President had to face the music at the state legislature the next day.  They just said no, in committee, to his song and dance.  The same song and dance that he has been performing for years.  He even had to diss the Daily in answering questions about why he had not delivered on his promises to significantly prune administrative costs and blew the question off as being a minor contributor to our problems.

Time for a change, Mr. President?  For some concrete suggestions, please see my post on the Star-Tribune Voices blog:  Research and Educational Expenses at the University of Minnesota: Time to Put All the Cards on the Table?

Fortunately we will see no more of this president's failed attempts to make proper justification to the legislature for state investment in the U.  Hopefully, the next president will be a great improvement in this area as he has already pledged to meet with every member of the state legislature. He seems to be the kind of leader who walks the talk, judging from his record at Stony Brook and Delaware.  I look forward to his leadership in moving the University to be one of the best institutions of its kind and not pursuing the false god of "third greatest public research university in the world."

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