Friday, February 1, 2013

Crumbling Academic Infrastructure

at the University of Minnesota 

In October 2012 new U of M vice president Pamela Wheelock expressed her surprise about the physical condition of the Twin Cities campus:

When she was at the state she saw the University receive a lot of money for capital projects and assumed that the University buildings would all be in great shape--she was surprised at the magnitude of the capital issues the institution faces.  She noted the maps of the Twin Cities campus she had provided indicating by color code the overall condition of each building, and quite a number--more than half--are rated fair, poor (pink) or critical (red).

See p. 2 of the October 23, 2012 report of the Senate Committee on Finance & Planning (emphasis added).

The color codes used in the maps are based on the Facilities Condition Needs Index.  This Index shows the comprehensive condition of the building, taking all building system needs into account, but it does not necessarily reflect the functional nature of the building.  See Facility Condition Assessment.

Among the buildings marked critical are Morrill Hall, Johnston Hall, Eddy Hall and Scott Hall on the Minneapolis campus and the Crop Services Building and the Poulty Teaching & Research Building on the St. Paul campus.

Numerous buildings on the Minneapolis campus are in poor condition, including:

At the March 2012 Civic Caucas meeting President Kaler proclaimed that "we are the Silicon Valley of the food industry." See section 3 of The Rest of the Story. Yet most of the academic facilities on the St. Paul campus are in poor condition, including:


For more than a decade the U of M administration has devoted much of its energy and effort to securing hundreds of millions of dollars in state bonds for the construction of new buildings, including biomedical buildings, an alumni center, a football stadium, and a recreation center.  Major repairs and renovations of many existing academic facilities were relegated to the back burner.

The actions of the administration also created obstacles to obtaining the HEAPR bonds that are used for major repairs of existing buildings.  In 2008 the administration was castigated for its "arrogance" by the chair of the House Capital Investment Committee (that must approve all bonding bills).  See the May 28, 2008 Pioneer Press report.

In early 2012 the news broke that President Bruininks handed out millions of dollars in "transitional"compensation and golden parachutes to departing senior administrators.  This ignited a public firestorm about fiscal (mis)management by the administration.  The legislature responded by slashing the bonding bill for the University.  See The Incredible Shrinking Capital Request Part II

In June 2012 the legislative auditor concluded that the administration has "a fairly good preventive maintenance program for most University owned buildings on the Twin Cities campus."  That conclusion does not apply, however, to the major repairs and renovation for which HEAPR bonds are necessary:

This definition [of preventive maintenance] excludes repairs and renovation that are most often undertaken with capital as opposed to general operating funds. . . .
At some point, UMTC will need to replace large assets-due either to insufficient maintenance, breakdowns, or life cycles coming to an end--and UMTC may not have the necessary funds. . . .

We are at that point.  President Kaler provided the state legislature with the stunning estimate that the University needs "well more than $500 million if not closer to $1 billion" in HEAPR bonds.  See the February 9, 2012 Minnesota Daily report on Kaler Makes Pitch  (emphasis added).  The academic infrastructure is beginning to crumble around us.

Michael W. McNabb

University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974

University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I work in the agronomy greenhouses. On the map it is listed as "fair". I beg to differ. There's a hole to the outside in the attic I could almost stick my fist through.

I can't speak about the structural condition of the Crop Research Building (rated "critical" on the map but will say that the new ventilation system installed there four or five years ago has radically improved the quality of the work experience there.