Wednesday, July 16, 2008

People Are Our Greatest Asset

Or, Blowing Smoke in the Here and Now

From the Daily - published twice
July 9 and July 16

People are our greatest asset

The University must continue to find creative ways to ensure strong state support, to reduce costs and increase productivity, and to increase private and sponsored funding.

By Robert H. Bruininks

The great Yogi Berra once observed, "It's tough making predictions, especially about the future." The problem with all long-term planning is that the future is uncertain. As I've said before, all of the great minds who call the University of Minnesota home can't hope to predict state revenues, legislative priorities, or public opinion from year to year.
Here's another Yogiism to cogitate on, Bob: "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."

Somehow we still make it work. In fact, it worked quite well earlier this spring, with historic investments in the future of our institution and the state.

The biosciences are an area of enormous potential for serving humankind and strengthening our economy. This year, we took a visionary step in this promising field with the creation of the Minnesota Biomedical Research Program. It enables the University to bond for $292 million to finance four new biomedical research facilities in the east gateway district, near the new stadium. This expansion is more than bricks and steel; it will enable us to attract even more talented researchers and students. Our goal – and the goal embraced by the legislature and governor – is to make Minnesota the epicenter of discovery in biomedical science, advancing the human condition and strengthening our economy with new industries and opportunities.

"The epicenter of discovery in biomedical science" Lord love a duck.

Have you any idea what this phrase means, Bob?

You are aware of biomedical science discoveries being made in Cambridge, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego? I could go on.

In addition, the legislature and governor approved$140 million in bonding for capital projects statewide, including $48.3 million for a new Science Teaching and Student Services building on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.
In addition, the legislature and governor approved$140 million in bonding for capital projects statewide, including $48.3 million for a new Science Teaching and Student Services building on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.

And we still can't get straight the function(s) and design of the building? If people are so important, why can't we listen to the opinion of the faculty, who actually do the teaching in the building?

That's a $432 million total bonding package for the University of Minnesota. And despite a state budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, we were able to negotiate more manageable reductions to the University's state appropriations, enabling us to balance our budget while meeting our commitments to our employees and students. The 2008-09 budget approved by the Board of Regents in June includes:

• A 7.25 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students (down slightly from 7.5 percent projected a year ago),
And of course this .25 percent reduction is due to Tom Rukavina. It certainly wasn't in the administration's original plans, even before the budget cuts! If Tom hadn't raised a big fuss, who knows where the tuition increase might have ended up. Thank you, Tom.

• A general salary expense increase of 3.25 percent, plus associated fringe benefits, and
• Increases in student financial assistance.

These investments in compensation and financial aid, as well as our efforts to balance the budget and reduce the projected tuition increase for undergraduates, are important because the University's strength is its people. Some 14,000 staff members deliver critical services and support that keep the University system up and running statewide. Nearly 4,000 faculty make groundbreaking discoveries and share new knowledge with our students and the world. And more than 65,000 students system-wide amaze and inspire us with their passion, their creativity, and their hard work. These students become leaders, scholars and entrepreneurs – and also join the ranks of our greatest supporters, our alumni.

And so maybe a priority should be tuition relief?

Taken in this context, investing in people today means a stronger tomorrow. We've made great progress toward many of our strategic objectives, improving teaching, learning and student services; enhancing the ways in which we generate and share new knowledge; promoting interdisciplinary collaboration; and working to improve quality and productivity in everything we do. We are a University committed to excellence – but we only succeed when you succeed. Buildings garner lots of attention, but without students, faculty and staff, they're just shells.

And would our two, new, double-dipping, hires be an investment in tomorrow, Bob?

If you really mean what you say about buildings being shells, why are we building four new biomedical science buildings without the resources to pay people and equipment necessary for the use of the building. Or is space at the U simply an example of the ideal gas law?

We still face an uncertain future. The budget approved by the Regents included measures to address future budget reductions now, in anticipation of a sluggish economy for the foreseeable future. Experts agree that the possibility of future state budget shortfalls looms large.

The University must continue to find creative ways to dramatically reduce costs, increase productivity, and grow private and sponsored funding. Although tuition is rising less than projected next fall, tuition rates remain a serious national concern, and the University must also continue its work to ensure that higher education is affordable

Hello, Bob. You occasionally say things like this. But I don't see activity on your part that makes affordable tuition a high priority.

We've made tremendous progress in recent years:

• Roughly 12 percent of students will attend the University's campuses with free tuition through our Founders Free Tuition Program this year.
• More than two-thirds of undergraduates will see a tuition increase of less than 5 percent, thanks to scholarship and grant support.
• The University will administer more than $200 million in grant and scholarship aid to students.
• We've raised $233 million through the Promise of Tomorrow Scholarship Drive in recent years, doubling the number of scholarships we're awarding and the average amount per award.

This sounds wonderful.

But there is a big problem with this argument - costs have risen faster than aid.

According to Kiplinger our undergraduates have the highest debt load (~25K$) of any public university in the BigTen, even Michigan, and significantly higher than our competitors - Iowa and Wisconsin (~20K$), Illinois (~15K$).

Are these numbers correct? Are we going to do anything about it?

We're meeting the needs of all our low-income Pell-eligible Minnesota students – now we need to draw a bigger circle in terms of need and begin doing more for that next tier of students and their families. The University must also continue to find creative ways to ensure strong state support, to reduce costs and increase productivity, and to increase private and sponsored funding. We must also continue to preserve and develop the state's human capital – because in these uncertain times, Minnesota's greatest asset is you.

Bob, the path you have chosen is wrong. This is a land grant institution. You have managed to annoy a lot of people over the light rail issue, the tuition blackmail, the double-dipping fiasco... I could go on.

It is time to face up to the fact that your "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world" is absurd. Why don't you ask the legislature to help us stabilize tuition, and to be one of the best schools in the BigTen?

Continuing on with this top three business, in the face of reality, makes you look foolish and the rest of us naive - at best.


Added 3 pm:

I have received an anonymous comment on this post. I am uncomfortable posting as received. Therefore a redacted version follows:

"Also, just an FYI…Due to a financial restructuring, the UEL is eliminating xxx positions. The “mission-based” component of the UEL is being shelved until its financial resources are in better condition. For now, the focus for UEL will be on the real estate side of the equation only. Management of the building will be turned over to a company called The LaSalle Group. FYI…The LaSalle Group is owned by xxx"

The UEL (University Enterprises Laboratory) website may be found at:

1 comment:

Mr. B. said...

Anonymous Poster:

Please see remarks above.

I am reluctant to post your comments unedited because at least one of those mentioned doesn't seem to think it appropriate.

If you could make your point about what is going on here a little clearer, without involving possibly innocent bystanders, this would be useful.