Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Morrill Hall – The University of Minnesota

University Inc.

Guest Post by Michael McNabb  
(pdf of document)

Michael McNabb received both his undergraduate degree (1971) and his law degree (1974) from the University of Minnesota.  He is a life member of the Alumni Association.  Four of his children have received their undergraduate or graduate degrees (or both) from the University.

Governor Pawlenty comes from a modest family in South St. Paul.  Yet he was able to obtain both an undergraduate degree and a law degree from the University of Minnesota.  At that time the majority of citizens and their representatives viewed higher education as a common good.  Having ascended the ladder of higher education to its pinnacle, Pawlenty has spent the past eight years pulling the ladder up behind him so that higher education is no longer as accessible to those of modest means.

Pawlenty and others now seem to view higher education as equivalent to preparation for a career.  From that perspective it makes sense to shift as much of the cost as possible to the students (and their parents) who will receive the benefit of this training.  This approach turns higher education from a common good into a private enterprise.

Having failed to persuade a majority of state legislators of the value to society of a well-educated citizenry, the U of M administration has embraced the concept of education as a private enterprise.  (If you can't beat them, join them.)  Now the administration does not flinch at increasing tuition at a dizzying rate.  Like used car salesmen, the administrators attempt to convince the students and their parents of the value by "puffing" their product (on the way to becoming "the third greatest public research university" on the planet).

The huge increases in tuition "revenues" are not spent on improving the quality of instruction on either the undergraduate or the graduate level.  Instead, as in any other business, the executives (administrators) seek out even greater money-making ventures.  So we have a University that is planning to operate a gravel pit in UMore Park (see below).  

Regent Dean Johnson states in an email on October 28 that the Regents "will be seeking a President who will lead us in this positive direction [education], but with a close eye on many other opportunities and functions within the U of M community."  (emphasis added)  You can bet your bottom dollar (actually the bottom dollar of students and their parents) that the "many other opportunites and functions" will be business ventures on which the Regents decide to gamble (or "invest" as they would have it).  So  University Inc. is created, together with extravagant compensation for its numerous executives/administrators.  

The administrators may say that the University is a large organization, and it should be run as a business.  It is one thing to run the University as a business.  It is quite a different matter to use tuition and other resources of the University to go moonlighting by running other businesses on the side. 

The recent experience of Kansas State University with its business development program provides a cautionary lesson about adopting a Wall Street model for higher education.  The prospect of a significant monetary payoff enticed the president of the university, one of its senior vice presidents, and the president of the program to become enmeshed in a financial conflict of interest with the university.  See the June 25, 2009 news report in the Topeka Capital-Journal.  How much is enough for the senior administrators at large universities who now receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation each year?  Do we wish to risk having the same mentality that brought the national economy to the brink infect our institutions of higher education?

For more information on UMore Park LLC (the new business model for the corporate university that features the unique combination of a commercial gravel pit and a utopian residential community) see:

Star Tribune Questions UMore Park Priorities at 

Concept Master Plan Summary for UMore Park at

Sunshine on UMore Park Plans at


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