Monday, January 19, 2009

A Faculty Member At The University Of Minnesota Speaks Up
About The Actual Priorities of Our Administration

[Note added 1/20]
UD in her inimitable way has picked up on this. From her post;

Dropkick Me Jesus

In the Minnesota Daily, a very pissed professor says what needs to be said.

It would be nice if the newspaper received five or ten of these a day. But only a few professors have the guts to write them.


The author is Eva von Dassow.

No ancient religion, of course, can hope to compete on her campus with the Glory of the Gridiron.


Or the Strategic Propaganda initiative, or MoreU Park, or a new highly paid administrator...

[The med school recently hired a new Associate Dean - for what used to be a half-time job - at a salary, according to the Daily, of $266 K. Given the way the med school does arithmetic, that is obviously a lower limit... ]

From the Daily:

Last fall, upon concluding the Community Fund Drive, the University of Minnesota administration imposed a “hiring pause” in anticipation of reduced state support. Faculty and staff positions that become vacant will not be refilled. Most searches for new faculty, including replacements, have been cancelled. Funding for teaching assistants is to be reduced.

There will thus be fewer instructors to teach courses; therefore, fewer courses will be taught. Students will not be provided the full curricula they were offered when they decided to come to the University. Many students will be unable to complete their degree programs in their intended form — at least not in a timely fashion. Programs that were already understaffed are being crippled and students are left with inadequate course offerings to meet their needs. Meanwhile, the administration proposes to raise tuition even higher.

I invite the University community to consider how the administration’s cancellation of faculty searches comports with the University’s core mission and stated goals, the larger financial picture and the annual tuition hikes. Note that we are not talking about increasing the numbers of faculty through incremental hires, but simply about preserving what we had up through last spring.

Having chaired one of the cancelled searches, I can attest that hiring new faculty is a labor-intensive process.


We had almost carried the search to a successful conclusion; after the long process of reading applications and conducting preliminary interviews, we had identified three excellent candidates to invite to campus.

Then, on Dec. 9, the bulk of our work having been completed, CLA notified CNES that our search was cancelled.


The time and effort put forth by faculty, students and staff to conduct the search had been wasted.

For what? To save the cost of hiring a starting assistant professor, whose salary would be in the range of $55,000 per year, plus benefits. Compare that to the salaries of top administrators and athletics coaches. It’s nice that the University’s top brass froze executive compensation upon imposing the hiring pause. But it doesn’t hurt to have your salary frozen at several hundred thousand dollars per year.

President Bob Bruininks said in a Dec. 4 e-mail message to employees that the administration’s objectives during the current economic crisis are to “maintain the core strength and quality of the University” and to “increase productivity … while improving service and efficiency.” How does cutting faculty positions serve to maintain quality? How does it improve service and efficiency to withdraw curriculum from students trying to complete degrees? How does it increase productivity to waste employees’ time by canceling searches that are underway? I could have taught an entire course in the time I spent chairing the search in ancient religion or used that time for research. Besides reducing productivity, when the University administration throws our time away, it throws away its putative commitment to excellence.

The administration’s communications addressing the University’s financial problems always refer to the state, the state’s budget deficit and the state’s appropriation to the University — as if the hiring pause, with all its consequences, simply results from Minnesota’s strained economic situation. I submit that the University’s financial position would be much better now if the administration had not chosen to spend large sums on things it wanted, regardless of whether those things have anything to do with the University’s core academic mission. This past year has seen the purchase of a new financial system — essentially a software package — for the price of $28 million. The old financial system worked fine; the new one does not.

Everyone can point to favorite examples of profligate spending, and most would point first at athletics (the costly new stadium and the high salaries of coaches) or at administration (the ever-increasing number of vice presidents), with its many “initiatives” of dubious purpose and effectiveness (notably the Strategic Propaganda Initiative, as it would rightly be called).

Few would point to academics and claim we have too many faculty teaching too many courses, doing too much research and working with too many students. But it is we who are the University: the faculty and students — and, yes, the coaches, too — together with the staff who facilitate our work. The administration is not the University but, properly, its servant.

This administration serves the University ill by reducing faculty positions and thereby decimating academic programs. It does a disservice to students and, thus, to Minnesota by cutting instruction and curriculum while raising tuition. Students: You came here expecting better. Don’t settle for less while you’re asked to pay more.

Eva von Dassow is an associate professor.

Thank you Professor von Dassow for speaking up. I hope that others will also. It is time for a re-ordering of priorities at the University of Minnesota. The Strategic Propaganda Initiative as well as the laughable "ambitious aspiration to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic] " are exacerbating this disaster.

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