Thursday, December 9, 2010

University of Minnesota President Bruininks to

"slip 'land-grant' into the goal"

Desperate times take desperate measures, I guess...

Faculty Consultative Committee
Thursday, November 4, 2010

President Bruininks ... began by acknowledging that it is not clear what will happen in the next few months, given the outcome of the elections in Minnesota.  He reported that the presentation to the Board is being updated and should provide a good foundation for the new administration to think about the future of the University.  The level of uncertainty in the directions of the state and country is very high, and the President expressed concern that public higher education may not be treated well as events unfold.  The University is 47% of the State's higher education budget.  If there are no new taxes, the State faces a budget deficit of about $6 billion, lower if the State does not pay the K-12 shift, so payments will be run into the next fiscal year, which in turn reduces the projected deficit in the next two years.  So the state budget needs to be cut about 12%, but if K-12 education and health are protected, the situation could be tough for higher education.
And so we are going over to the legislature to ask for more money? This is insane.  How do you think this will be perceived?
In the midst of the large political changes that will occur there will also be changes in the membership of the Board of Regents ..The candidates for the Board are not likely to run on platforms calling for an increase in the University's budget, the President surmised, and some may want to try to obtain more efficiencies.  
Professor VandenBosch asked if "top three" is still an objective for the new administration or what the University should be striving for. 
President Bruininks said the objective should remain as an aspirational goal.  What he has said is that the University should be like those top-three public institutions and that it should benchmark itself against them.  It is making progress in doing so.  It would be a mistake to drop the goal; while one need not emphasize the three, it is appropriate to emphasize excellence. 

Mr. President, the top three goal has been a joke.  You have egg all over you on this one. And you are unwilling to admit it.  To imply that those who do not buy into your top three goal oppose excellence is a slimy tactic. 
The President said that he would now slip the words "land grant" into the goal.  There are about 70 land-grant universities, and the University is in the top 3-4 of that group, based upon traditional academic measures.  The President said he has a deep commitment to the land-grant mission, which includes providing access, and he worries that the University will be tagged as elitist.
The smoking gun.  For shame Mr. President.  In desperate times we will start to re-emphasize land grant, our original mission? This statement says it all. 

The President said he thinks of the glass as half full and that he did not know of any group better able to invent its own future than the members of the University community.  That having been said, this is the worst set of conditions he has seen in higher education his entire adult life.  It may be necessary to cut more because of concern about tuition increases and the difficult conditions students face in attending the University.
The President agreed, and said that even in the worst budget years he has insisted on an investment pool.

Professor Curley said he did not disagree with the need to continue to make investments, but that need just makes the cutting all the more difficult.
Professor Curley reiterated his point that investments are an easy discussion, but they increase the size of the cuts that need to be made.  It is the philosophy about cuts that is at issue.  Professor Gonzales reported that when she speaks to colleagues, there is tumult and unease about the leadership transition as well as the political transitions and the election outcomes.

If there is a predictable decline in state funding for higher education, and the decline accelerates, and the University must thus reset its expectations for state funding, some units will have to be more self-supporting, the President said.  Some colleges will continue to need a significant investment of state dollars because the disciplines are more expensive to support (e.g., engineering), but other colleges can be more self-supporting.

One leg of the stool is raising more money, Professor Luepker said, and few would argue that the University should not continue to make investments.  How will the decisions be made about what to invest in?

The President commented that it cannot be a scientific formula.

Professor Luepker observed that this group could be meeting again in April facing a sizeable reduction in state funding, and cuts will have been made, new ideas considered, and the budget still not balanced.  Then what happens?

The University must balance its budget, President Bruininks said.
  He would put revenues on the table first.  They need descriptions from faculty on how to make the case on what happens when the budget is cut.  The arguments need more salience, and presumably revolved around the quality of instruction, the opportunity costs to replace faculty, the difficulty in retaining the most productive people.  But the budget will balance. 


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