Sunday, August 21, 2011

University of Inefficiency?

Internal critics are calling out administrative bloat at various levels of the University of Minnesota.

The Minnesota Daily has an excellent piece from which this post title is taken. 

There may also be found some enlightening comments from  two faculty members.

Bill Gleason 
This topic has been of long term interest on my blog, The Periodic Table.   A subject that the Bruininks' administration consistently tried to blow off or ignore.  But a serious problem that it will be necessary to face in the new Kaler administration.

For some background:

On Skyrocketing Administrative Costs at the University of Minnesota

On the cost of Administration at the University, Part II

University Inc.
University Inc. Part II

 Steen Erickson
Tell me of an organization of any size that doesn't have at least some waste or inefficiency and I'll tell you you're making it up.  You simply can't build any organization staffed with human beings that won't have some problems - and Sviggum's list of "possibilities" for redundancy is utterly ignorant.  When people like Sviggum focus on perceived or implied problems as evidence of some sort of a culture of waste or other sinister intent, I would ask them to hold up a mirror and let their own organizations, past and present, be examined for any sign of "impropriety."  You'll find it if you aren't wearing your tea-party-lens glasses.

This is an excellent institution and I would argue that the majority of faculty and staff want it to succeed.  The U contributes/creates intellectual capital to our society, providing opportunities for innovation and invention, and hopefully opportunities to improve our future.  Can the same be said for many of the large corporations that many of Sviggum's allies would have us outsource to at the federal, state, or local level?  (no, it can't - at least not if you're actually paying attention)

Support the University.  Demand accountability, sure, but understand what we're here for and invest in our future.  It's the future of our society.  Maybe hire some folks who are perhaps a bit more effective at rebutting the critics?  (a Frank Luntz for our side?)

Bill Gleason
You seem defensive, Steen, and blind to what has gone on here for the last ten years. As for hiring more folks who can rebut critics I point to people like Dan Wolter, Justin Paquette,  and their army of spear carriers in the PR department.

Plenty of critics are both supporters of the U and not members of the Tea Party.

"I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Tea Party."

Bill Gleason
U of M faculty member and alum (Chemistry, 1973)

Steen Erickson
Not entirely defensive and blind, Bill, but perhaps more tolerant (OK, that's probably a pretty big stretch!).  Not tolerant of waste, but recognizing that organizations are imperfect. Most things exist in living color, not black and white.

I do think the University needs better oversight, and I know from experience that effective oversight comes from effective managers.  But the "administrative bloat" meme that has become popular among some folks is, I believe, nothing more than a catchy phrase that is easy for some to wrap their heads around even though it lacks substantive backing.  A list of high paid "administrators" isn't proof of bloat.  Functions and effectiveness need to be evaluated before "bloat" can be asserted.

I'm far too idealistic, I know, but I'd like to see a reasoned, fair evaluation of the areas of "bloat" to determine whether or not they actually add value, and particularly whether they add value that exceeds their cost.

Being that this is an institution of creative, intelligent people, do you think "we" have the capacity to do this evaluation?  I won't hold my breath, but I am marginally hopeful...

Oh, and the tea party reference really alludes to the uninformed, catch-phrase driven folks who don't know enough to ask the meaningful questions.

Not entirely germaine to your post, but hopefully marginally clarifying.

Bill Gleason
Thanks, Steen.

I'm happy to talk specifics about administrative bloat. See for example my piece on the Periodic Table: “Cost Effectiveness is a Sometime Thing.” link:

I'll note that Dr. Roberta Sonnino, a close personal friend of a former med school dean, has now flown the coop at the U of M. This was announced, no doubt deliberately, on the Friday before July 4th weekend. She replaced an Associate Dean who was half-time. Dr. Sonnino's position was full time at a cost of ca $260,000. She went about busily trying to pump this position up to a full time job. See: The Latest Craziness in the Medical School - Or, Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant link

The current dean of the med school has announced that Dr. Sonnino's position will be filled at the half-time level. “Cost Effectiveness” also lists some other administrative fat. Mentioned there is one Dr. Henson, who has also hit the trail after much unhappiness by the faculty over her re-engineering the med school teaching function. The administration and the operation pushing homeopathy in the Academic Health Center/Medical School could also be easily disposed of. It is a waste of money. See my piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education: Why Would an Academic Health Center Support Homeopathy? link: See also the shamefully weak response by Dean Friedman and former Dean Cerra that doesn't even mention the word homeopathy. link:


The organizational structure of the Medical School with Dr. Aaron Friedman serving as both dean and VP of the AHC actually leads to further administrative bloat. Dr. Friedman obviously can't do both jobs himself so further levels of administration, particularly in the medical school, are necessary. Even though the medical school faculty voted overwhelmingly for a dedicated dean, this farcical and expensive administrative fiasco persists. See: Faculty Governance at the University of Minnesota is an Oxymoron, link:


A lot of this kind of stuff has gone on over the last ten years, Steen. Any administrator, short of the president, who needs a “chief of staff” has too many people working for them. And I won't even mention refugees being hired from the Pawlenty administration in hopes that they could pour oil on troubled waters.


One might also well ask why we needed a “cultural czar,” vp Rosenstone's position after he was booted upstairs from being CLA dean. Of course a czar needs a palace and a staff. It will be interesting to see if a new “cultural czar” is appointed, now that Rosenstone is busily turning MNSCU into a world class operation.


President Kaler has a lot of work to do. I trust he's up to the task.

We can be one of the best schools in the Big Ten, Steen. We have the students and faculty. If we just had a competent administration over the last ten or so years...

The legislature will buy into the U when we show that we have our act together.

My best,


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