Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chickens Coming Home To Roost

Legacy of President Bruininks at

University of Minnesota...

Editorial: Closer fiscal watch needed at U of M 

Executive compensation reports are denting public trust.

Minnesota higher education doesn't need the headlines about executive compensation that have come from the University of Minnesota in recent weeks.

Eyebrows were raised first
when President Eric Kaler announced that athletic director Joel Maturi would leave that post but remain on the university's payroll at the same salary, $351,900, as a fundraiser and special assistant to Kaler. That's a generous amount, but one that's justified if Maturi keeps up the fundraising pace he set as AD.
Then came word that a number of former executives were granted generous transition leaves on their way either back to the faculty or on to new careers. The tab for 10 such arrangements: $2.8 million.

The latest: A report that former President Robert Bruininks directed at least $355,000 in presidential discretionary funds to the Center for Integrative Leadership at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, where Bruininks plans to assume a faculty position at a $341,000 salary after his post-presidential sabbatical ends later this year.

These aren't the sort of stories we expected in the wake of a 15 percent cut in state appropriations
for the University of Minnesota last summer. They run contrary to the tone of no-nonsense efficiency that Kaler has aimed to set since taking office in July, and are undermining the university's lobbying position at the Legislature.

Of particular concern is that in the case of the last two reports, we evidently weren't the only surprised readers. The arrangements were also news to at least some members of the Board of Regents.

Paid transition leaves are contemplated in initial employment agreements with the institution's executives, "but from then on, it becomes a management issue," Regents chair Linda Cohen told Star Tribune reporters.

Her predecessor as board chair, Clyde Allen, said he had "a rough idea" of Bruininks' largesse toward the leadership center from discretionary funds. Other regents said they were uninformed.

"In my view, it's time that we systematically look into these things,"
Cohen told the Star Tribune on Monday.

We concur. Greater oversight by the regents is in order, of both executive transitional compensation and the president's discretionary funds.

Current university policies say that when an executive transition leave is granted, "salary and benefits are typically paid at the level of the assumed, or resumed, faculty or professional position rather than at the administrative salary level.'' That is not what happened in most recent cases.

Yet strike the word "typically," and that becomes a clear and defensible policy that balances the university's need to both hire top talent and demonstrate fiscal responsibility. It should be the rule going forward.

Presidential discretionary funds are a more complicated matter. It's reasonable and desirable for university presidents to have some academic funds under personal control. At comparable institutions, such funds are often more generous than those available at the University of Minnesota.

Such funds are generally directed to innovative special projects or to opportunities that prime the fundraising pump. The Center for Integrative Leadership fits both of those bills. It's a creative, promising new university-wide interdisciplinary venture jointly overseen by the HHH School and the Carlson School of Management. Bruininks' interest in spurring its growth is understandable.

But when Bruininks decided that he would join the center's faculty, his interest became personal. At that point, he should no longer have been the sole decision-maker over grants for that purpose.
He should have sought and received Board of Regents approval,
lest it "look like I'm feathering a nest," as Bruininks himself said to reporters last week.

It's a shame to see such feathers flying around the praiseworthy record Bruininks built through a 35-year career at the University of Minnesota, including nine distinguished years as president. But the focus of today's university leaders must be on the institution's reputation, not the former president's.

Public trust in the university's fiscal responsibility has taken a hit in recent weeks, and the regents need to restore it.

Some comments from Star-Tribune readers:

 Yes, yes, yes.

Gee ya think? I'm all for spending money on education, but that money should be put to good use, not spent on administrative nonsense. Lower tuition would be a good start.

Well, we taxpayers are getting "an education" all right. Corruption and Cronyism - 101

BOB BRUININKS takes good care of Bob Bruininks, and apparently his office staff too, judging by facts and figures reported in previous Strib news stories.

The financial packages that Bruininks approved for some university system administrators and other employees before leaving the presidency are outrageous.  

Good editorial. The University of Minnesota administrator's conduct mentioned here only gives those who call for trimming the fat from the sacred cow of education more ammunition. Those same administrators have made it a hard sell to justify their lack of fiscal restraint to the U. of M.'s detractors. All the good the U does gets damaged by these revelations.

This editorial is long overdue. The Star-Tribune has sat on the sidelines and been far too patient with its criticism of the U of M. New President Kaler recently stated he believed the U had too many little Centers and Institutes. The first one he should close down is the ridiculous Center for Integrative Leadership.

I've been writing my elected officials for years about getting the legislature to do a line by line audit and review of the U of MN, MNSCU and the state gov't.  

You tell me is Bruinink's very smart or very stupid? I think arrogant fits the bill, he must believe that this sort of tax dollar allocation is so commonplace no one would bat an eye. It seems so blatant to me it's borderline criminal. Thank you Strib for tracking this, I only hope our elected rep's are watching closely.

The only thing distinguished about Bruininks' presidency at the U is the high tuition increases he slapped on the backs of students in his futile attempt to ditch a perfectly good university in favor of a top tiered research institution. His elaborate vision fizzled so no one benefitted and the U students' still carry the debt of his fantasy. For once I wish this editorial page would really come down on something that is so blatantly wrong and caused harm to so many people. Like Bruininks' penchant for having U students and lower paid staff pay for his arrogance and his folly. 

Yesterday I was walking my dog in the dog park and talking with a friend. I can't specifically remember the subject in education that we were discussing, but I do remember his casual comment. He said that he wanted his kids to go to the U of M; however, they insisted and both subsequently graduated from the U of W in Madison. Then he casually said: I DO THINK THAT THE ACADEMICS AND the ATHLETICS ARE DEFINITELY SUPERIOR IN MADISON!

Denting public trust? Understatement of the year.

BRUININKS legacy has been thrown on the trash heap. Deservedly so.

These people think they are worth $300k, $400k a year? What was their total compensation for the last ten years? They didn't rip off the taxpayers enough? They are "going back to being professors"? What does a first year professor make? $450k? I get the feeling that you could hire at least 4 new professors per scam, here, for the same amount. Why pay these guys to "transition" at all? They've gamed the system, and now express surprise that they've been called on it? Absolutely sickening.

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