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,


Friday, August 12, 2011

Twin City Federal Stadium - University of Minnesota


Judith Martin, a longtime geography professor and faculty leader at the U explains the plan [of President Bruininks] in this way: “The biggest way you can improve your rankings is to graduate students in four years and buy yourself a couple of Nobel-winning profs, right? Takes care of everything else. If your football team can win, that’s icing on the cake.”

See p. 3 in the July 2011 Minnesota Monthly report on The Man Who Slew The U (emphasis added).

The strategy of buying “star professors” did not work at the Medical School. See Financial Perils at Medical School.

And a big time athletics program is expensive icing.

In fiscal year 2009 the U of M ranked No. 20 in the nation in expenditures on athletics at $70.3 million. (The University of Southern California ranked No. 10 at $80.2 million.) See Table 1.1 on p. 18 of Big Time Sports in American Universities (Cambridge University Press 2011) by Duke University economics professor Charles Coltfelter.

The color of the financing is red:

Yet again, nearly every Division I athletics program spent more than it made last year. . . . The [NCAA] report, released Tuesday, presents a bleak financial picture of intercollegiate sports and reinforces critics’ charges that the current pattern of sports spending is unsustainable.

Only 14 programs [out of 120] from the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) generated more revenues than expenses. This is down from 2006-07 and 2007-08 when 25 programs turned a profit. . . .

In a similar vein, the median institutional subsidy for athletics in the FBS rose from around $8 million in 2007-08 to more than $10 million in 2008-09. This reliance on institutional funds has increased as the growth in median revenue generated directly by athletics programs in the FBS—via sources such as ticket sales and media contracts—slowed to nearly 6 percent from 2008 to 2009. This is down significantly from the 17 percent growth in revenue from 2007 to 2008. By comparison, total athletics expenses sped in the other direction—ballooning by nearly 11 percent. This is double the growth in expenses from 2007 to 2008.

Up,Up and Away, the August 18, 2010 report in Inside Higher Ed (emphasis added). See also the 2010 report of the Knight Commission on Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports.

The athletic department at the U of M continues to receive annual multi-million dollar subsidies from the general fund of the University (the Operations & Maintenance Fund). In fiscal year 2010 the subsidy was $8 million; in fiscal year 2011 the subsidy was $7.8 million. See pp. 77, 81 of the U of M budget. Meanwhile, the administration continues to cut courses and faculty positions and to replace professors with part-time instructors without tenure. See Section 1 of $tate of the University—A Parent’s Perspective.

Then there are the continuing direct and indirect costs for the construction of a $288.5 million football stadium that will be used for six games each year. See Section 5 of University Inc. Part II.

There is a solution that would enable the University to disentangle itself from the big business of the major revenue sports while allowing those programs to continue. The football and basketball teams should be organized as separate corporations. The University would grant a license to those corporations to use the University name for the teams. The license fee would be a percentage of the revenues generated from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, advertising, etc. The license fee income would be used to support the non-revenue sports that the University decides to retain, such as track and swimming. This is a solution that would enable the fans to continue to enjoy the games and would enable the University to focus on education, research, and public service—the reasons for its existence.

Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Westbrook Hall - Demolished Summer 2012

On the Mismanagement of Academic Facilities at

The University of Minnesota

My friend and fellow U of M alumnus, Mr. Michael McNabb writes:

Higher Education Preservation and Replacement funds are used to repair existing academic buildings. The administration asserts that since 2002 it has emphasized HEAPR bonds in its biennial Capital Request to the legislature in order to demonstrate its commitment to maintain existing academic facilities.  The report includes a table to illustrate that the administration "tripled its average biennial HEAPR request and quadrupled its average award" between fiscal year 2002 and fiscal year 2009.  See p. 22 of the June 2011report of the President on  Financing The Future.
That is the most positive way to describe the situation.  The table shows that since 2002 the administration has requested a cumulative total of $385 million in HEAPR bonds.  The legislature has awarded $178 million, less than half the amount requested by the administration.  Assume that the administration requested amounts that were in fact necessary to maintain the existing academic facilities.  This would tend to indicate that at least part of the academic infrastructure is at risk of beginning to crumble.  (The construction of a new football stadium and new academic facilities, such as the Biomedical Discovery District, may shift the spotlight away from the condition of existing buildings.)

The alternative explanation is the administration intentionally inflated the request for HEAPR bonds in an attempt to obtain a lesser amount that was actually necessary.  Such a legislative strategy would have the potential, of course, to destroy the credibility of the University at the Capitol.  See Resolution No. 1 in New Year's Resolutions for New President.

So which explanation is accurate?  In May 2011 the Legislative Auditor announced that he will evaluate facilities management at the University.  In his announcement the Auditor notes:
In 2010 the University requested $100 million in HEAPR funds and received $56 million.  University officials state that there are far more maintenance and repair needs than there are funds available for maintenance work. . . .

The University's Facilities Management Division uses a Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA) to evaluate the conditions of all facilities and prioritize projects by needs.  An analysis of University maintenance in 2010 found that the University had a much higher (and increasing) backlog of maintenance needs than peer institutions. . . .
OLA evaluations in 1988 and 1991 on routine maintenance on the Twin Cities campuses found that there was not effective planning for preventive maintenance.
 See the May 2011 Notice from the Auditor  (emphasis added).

Michael W. McNabb
Attorney at Law

Professor Butt and the Self-Opening Napkin

Did Rube Goldberg Design 

the University of Minnesota


My friend and fellow U of M alum, Michael McNabb writes: 


Rube Goldberg's cartoons became well known for depicting complex devices that performed simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. An example on the right is Goldberg's "Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin", which was later reprinted in the postcard book, Rube Goldberg's Inventions!, compiled by Maynard Frank Wolfe from the Rube Goldberg Archives.
The "Self-Operating Napkin" is activated when the soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K) which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin.
In 1931, the Merriam–Webster dictionary adopted the word "Rube Goldberg" as an adjective defined as accomplishing something simple through complex means.                         Wikipedia

From the July 14, 2011 report of the Faculty Consultative Committee on the U of M administration:
It was clear that all of them [vice presidential units] are very complicated organizations.
page 1, paragraph 2 of the FCC report.
In addition, many of the vice presidential units have centers or programs or institutes that may or may not be especially closely related to the mission of the unit. . . . It appears to the SCFP that at least some of these organizational units continue without any review or any sunset provisions.
page 1, paragraph 3 of the FCC report.
There was discussion in SCFP about where administrators are, and it may be that there are more in the colleges than in central administration.  But it would be a massive job to evaluate the administrative activities in each of the colleges.
page 2, paragraph 5 of the FCC report (emphasis added).
So the administration has grown willy-nilly over the years to the point where no one now understands the organization or even knows where all the administrators are!  (Perhaps too big to understand is a corollary to too big to fail.)
Then consider the words of vice president and chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter at the April 5, 2011 meeting of the Senate Committee on Finance & Planning: 
Mr. Pfutzenreuter responded that his office is working on identifying what pays for research, education, public service, financial aid, and so on, based on the attribution of both direct and indirect costs, in order to determine the "fully loaded" costs of instruction and other mission activities.
page 2, final sentence of the April 5, 2011 report of the SCFP at http://conservancy(emphasis added).
So while building an incomprehensible organizational framework, no one has been keeping track of the flow of non-restricted funds.

Michael W. McNabb
Attorney at Law
They came from Rochester...
Mayo Muscles in at the Mall of America

The body (patient) snatchers are slowly moving North. They've built an oncology center in Northfield, and are now at the Mall of America with options to build in the future. 

And of course they might in the future simply buy one of the Twin Cities hospital chains.  There are two ways to look at this. On the one had you could feel sorry for the local hospitals being squeezed by Mayo. 

Or on the other hand you could say that ultimately it is for the good of the patients since Mayo is a superior operation. 

A Mayo invasion is also partially the fault of greed and stupidity of the local hospitals, including Fairview/University of Minnesota.   One need only look to the children's hospital situation for an example of greed, waste, and inefficiency. 

Mayo Opening High-Tech Outpost at Mall of America

The internationally known medical center based in Rochester gave reporters a peek at its "Create Your Mayo Clinic Health Experience" the day before its opening. The facility sports three-dimensional computer monitors, kiosks for the casual shopper and "navigator" specialists to help people assess their health and map out a wellness program.
"We consider this a lab as we try to decide what we want to offer in a permanent facility, if we do that," said Dr. David Hayes, medical director for the mall project.
The idea is to gather customer and patient opinion to guide development of a facility Mayo would like to build in the Phase II expansion of Mall of America, officials said.
Mayo has been creeping closer to the Twin Cities market in recent weeks. Last month, Mayo Clinic Health System, which has 70 medical facilities in the Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, acquired the former Queen of Peace Hospital in New Prague. That Scott County hospital has three branch clinics in Belle Plaine, Le Sueur and Montgomery.
Also in July, Mayo opened a $10 million oncology treatment center in Northfield, near the campus of Northfield Hospital.
"We are not competing," said John La Forgia, Mayo's chief marketing officer and a project strategist. "We have something unique. This is about health and wellness, not the kind of service provided by a hospital. ... We are not developing a major new hospital."
But anyone stopping at the mall can easily connect with Mayo doctors and resources in Rochester, Hayes said. Mayo has a two-year lease on its first-floor space and on a more traditional office nearby.
Standing by a computer monitor in one of the three traditional exam rooms, Hayes explained the Rochester connection. By using video technology, doctors in Rochester can get the pulse or blood pressure of a patient in the mall medical office. The doctors can see video of a skin lesion or other symptoms and diagnose conditions with some assistance from a medical worker at the mall office, he said.
La Forgia declined to put a price tag on the mall project cost or what kinds of revenue its expects to generate there. Patients would typically pay for mall services out of pocket, he said.
Mayo has a letter of intent with the Mall of America giving the clinic first choice of a space in the upcoming mall expansion, he added.
"We would like to do it, but there is no commitment that we will definitely do it," he said.
Mayo has retained the Campbell Mithun advertising agency to publicize its new venture, La Forgia said. Mayo is also the only provider allowed to offer health fairs or any other health-related activity at the mall for two years, Hayes said.
"This is a global destination," La Forgia said of the mall. "We think of ourselves globally."

"We talk to people at the mall and at other malls and ask, 'What would you want?'" Hayes said. "This is a lab to find out what will work in this space [and] to keep Mayo relevant and give people more information about their health and wellness using high quality materials."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's an old song...

Administrative Bloat at the University of Minnesota

This topic has been of long term interest  here at 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 background:


University of Inefficiency?

There are too many administrators and they’re overpaid, he says. Messing, a University employee for 30 years, has an extreme view on an issue that’s heating up as the school finds itself in a budget crisis.
A Minnesota Daily analysis of the Twin Cities campus salaries shows 51 top administrators, from assistant vice presidents to the president, were paid more than $10 million in the 2010 fiscal year — an average of about $200,000 per administrator
In the past, the state Legislature has brought up questions of administrative efficiency. But it was the presidential transition, from Bob Bruininks to Eric Kaler, that triggered a review of the central administration now, said University Senate Committee on Finance and Planning  member Terry Roe.
The committee’s basic conclusion: “There appears to be considerable duplication of functions within the University,” according to a report draft obtained by the Daily.
In the draft of the SCFP report, committee chairman Russell Luepker wrote that many units within the University have their own public relations staff, as does the central administration.
The report also points out the volume of “centers, institutes and programs” within units, and that “some may continue to play vital roles but others do not.”
Luepker prefaced the report by saying it doesn’t focus on individual units because each has its own mission and activities. “Nonetheless, there are generalizations that can be made and should be considered,” he writes.
Professor Eva von Dassow visited the SCFP in 2010 to express frustration with the University’s spending.
In requesting an audit of the administration, von Dassow said it would “establish a new norm in faculty-administration relations” in the time leading to the presidential transition, according to meeting minutes.

Regent Steve Sviggum, who had served as the Republican Speaker of the House in the state Legislature before joining the Board of Regents, said government is top-heavy, but higher education is worse.
Throughout private and public industry, productivity has increased along with efficiency, Sviggum said. And while the University has been producing more with more students, its efficiency has lagged.
Sviggum requested University employment numbers after becoming a regent in February. Those figures showed a 50 percent increase in professional and administrative staff over the past decade, he said.
“Does every school need its own communications staff?” he asked. “Does every school need its own fundraising staff? Does every school need its own … human resources staff?”
Sviggum said fellow regents Laura Brod and Dean Johnson have brought up similar concerns.

“When you start looking at aggregate, the number and the salaries, and then the assistants and the legislative assistants, you have to start shaking your head a little bit,” Sviggum said.
Messing said the result of the SCFP’s review should include both trimming salaries of overpaid administrators and axing unnecessary positions. He said the “bloated” administration can impact students in far-reaching ways, like tuition hikes.
“You lower the tuition and you get more scholarship money and there are many ways of doing this, at least starting to do this,” he said. “Cut the administration by 50 or 60 percent. Give the money you save to students.”
“From my perspective, the administrator making $250,000 a year is worth far less than the man who cleans the toilets. One does an honest job..."
Kaler said he’s sure there are ways to make the University more efficient but recognizes the importance of some administration.
“We have a $3.7 billion budget, so managing that effectively means that you’re going to have some administration.”
Luepker said in an email that he expects the SCFP report to be finished in the next month.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Does the Medical School at the University of Minnesota

Have no Shame?

Although I apologize to gentle readers for putting this trash up, there is no other way that I can properly express my disgust for the University of Minnesota and its Medical School's acceptance of money from a porn purveyor. 

Please see my post on the Chronicle of Higher Education Brainstorm Blog:

When asked about hardcore porn – something that’s believed to distort a person’s view of sexuality, Eli Coleman, director of the university program on human sexuality replied:

“If this was a company that was into child pornography or something like that, that was illegal, I don’t think we could morally accept something from people who are involved in illegal activities. But this is a company that’s responsible and is law-abiding…”

It is a sad day at a university when the ethical standard is: “If it is not illegal, we can do it.”