Thursday, May 26, 2016

Crumbling Infrastructure at University of Minnesota

Falling (Far) Behind

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass (1871)

Facing a crumbling academic infrastructure, the U of M administration submitted a $300 million capital request to the state legislature this year.  The failure of the legislature to pass a bonding bill means that the administration will no longer be able to avoid the consequences of its own decades long failure to allocate sufficient funds for the maintenance of academic facilities. 

One-third of the buildings on the Twin Cities campus are rated in poor or critical condition.  See section 2 in The Management of the University Part II .  In February a University vice president acknowledged that the University should be spending twice as much as it currently spends simply to maintain the facilities in their current condition!  See p. 8 of the February 23, 2016 report of the Senate Committee on Finance & Planning.  It would cost a staggering $1 billion to bring all facilities to at least fair condition.  See section 3 in The Management of the University. 

Yet the administration continues to erect new buildings (which generate additional maintenance costs).  In February the University opened a $165 million clinics and surgery center.  The clinics had been located in the huge Phillips Wagensteen Building which is now half empty.  No one knows at this time how that space will be used or where the funds will come after the next fiscal year for the maintenance of all that vacant space (in a building that is already rated in critical condition). 

Just as the maintenance of roads and bridges is an essential responsibility of state and local governments, the maintenance of academic facilities should be a priority for a university administration.  In 2015, as the deterioration of the academic infrastructure continued, the University administration spent $80.3 million on "leadership" and $143.6 million on consulting and professional services.  See line 4(f) and line 18(b) and (d) of the 2015 Administrative Cost Benchmarking Report at p. 46 of the October 2015 FIN Docket.  University administrators and consulting firms across the country have created a variation of the military-industrial complex in higher education. 

Students and their parents do not expect that their payments of ever increasing tuition will be used to support highly paid senior administrators and outside consultants.  Nor do legislators expect that state appropriations will be used for that purpose.  We need a University administration and a Board of Regents that will allocate the substantial resources of the University for the right priorities.  

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

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