Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Fine Mess 
(Academic Facilities)

In its 2012 Capital Request the administration is seeking $90 million in HEAPR bonds.  Governor Dayton has proposed $20 million.  (HEAPR bonds are used for the maintenance and renovation of existing academic facilities.)
In the 2006 "stadium session" the administration devoted its energy to securing $137 million in bonds for a new football stadium while the legislature slashed the HEAPR allocation from the $80 million requested by the administration to $30 million.  In 2008 the legislature chopped the HEAPR request (the "cornerstone" of the 2008 Capital Request of the University) from $100 million to $35 million.  In 2010 the legislature stripped down the HEAPR request from $100 million to $56 million. 
The failure of the administration to prevent these drastic cuts was a result of its own misplaced priorities and inept legislative strategy.  See Academic Facilities.  [Added later, please see below***] The former chair of the Capital Investment Committee (that has jurisdiction over all University bond requests) expressed her frustration at the "arrogance" of the administration.  See The Cheese Stands Alone.
The cumulative effect of this failure is clearly visible on campus.  The academic infrastructure is beginning to crumble around us.  On February 9 President Kaler told the Higher Education Committee that the HEAPR needs are "well more than $500 million if not closer to $1 billion."   It is the sad consequence of years of neglect of existing academic buildings.
The response of the state legislators to this stunning estimate was to request information on the economic impact of the University on the state.  See the February 9, 2012 report of the Minnesota Daily on Kaler Makes Pitch.  
The administration will likely pull off the shelf the 2011 economic report by Tripp Umbach.  President Bruininks commissioned this report and paid for it with $100,000 in "discretionary funds."  One major problem with report is that it is not an independent analysis.  Its conclusions were preordained.  Consider this statement by the U of M vice president for research (made before the study was conducted):

Tripp Umbach will also work collaboratively with the U of M to develop analysis and appropriate narrative to describe the unique community and statewide benefits that result from the U of M's operations. . . .
Special emphasis will be placed on highlighting, quantifying and discussing the University's impacts that have a positive impact on the economic, physical and social health of the local communities within the region as well as on the State.  Tripp Umbach recognizes that the research findings may be used by the University of Minnesota in garnering support from a broad range of government units--we will structure the research to provide information that will serve to support government relations, advancement, and development.
See p. 2 of the Overview.  (emphasis added) 

So the administration received the report that it wanted.  The decision on HEAPR bonds (or on any other matter) should not be based on such a report.  

The case should be made directly on its own merits by presenting specific information on the continuing deterioration of numerous buildings.  The person who can present this information in graphic detail is the associate vice president for facilities management.  See U of M Facilities Management

On this issue the President does have the facts to support the position of the University.  But he crippled his ability to be a credible advocate when he raided the University of Minnesota Foundation for hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a new one year position for the athletic director.  This use of University resources raised questions as to whether the University really needs the funds it seeks from the legislature.  See A Question of Priorities Part II
The $300 million that the Governor and some legislators are willing to spend on construction of (yet another) stadium should instead be used to begin to rebuild the academic infrastructure at the University.  Not only would this provide the construction jobs and the boost to the economy, but it would also provide a benefit of much greater significance for the future of our children and our state. 
Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member

***Bill Gleason Adds Later

“Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.”

George Orwell

A good example of this technique is provided in one of the links used in this essay. My friend Michael McNabb pointed this out in an email after this piece first went up:

"This current essay includes a link to the previous essay on Academic Facilities.  That previous essay includes a link to and an excerpt from a May 2011 notice of the legislative auditor.  The excerpt refers to previous reports by the auditor in 1988 and in 1991 in which he concluded that the administration did not have effective planning for preventive maintenance.   When you click on the link now it takes you to an October 2011 notice that does not refer to the findings of the 1988 and the 1991 reports.   The May 2011 notice has been deleted from the website of the auditor.
[Emphasis/highlighting, mine]

An inconvenient truth can simply be deleted?  Obviously, so.

Unfortunately, this is not the only example I know.  Many damning endorsements of homeopathy have been removed from the Academic Health Center's web site, with never an acknowledgment of the bad, unscientific approach to medicine that allowed them to appear on the University of Minnesota web site in the first place. 

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Tuition has increased dramatically in the last 15 plus years. From 1996 to 2004 alone, tuition went from $3400 a year to $7400 a year. I know because that is what I was paying. Where is that money going? How about stop giving those tenured professors and administrators huge raises and use all that extra tuition money for the infrastructure instead of asking the tax payer for it. It seems like the U of MN is run like it has an endless supply of money. What did that wall by the new Alumni building and Washington Ave cost, $10 million? I read that it was funded by donations. That may be true, but I bet those were donations to the general fund. Nobody would just give money to build a useless wall. Just one example of the U throwing away other peoples' money. In tough economic times, the private sector makes cuts to stay in business. The U needs to do the same thing. I would like the U to also publish the salaries of every single employee. It doesn't have to list the employee by name, just list each department, number of employees, and how much each anonymous employee makes.