Wednesday, March 30, 2011

State (and) University

Although the shortsightedness of the majority party in the Minnesota State Legislature is deplorable and our students and their parents will suffer immeasurable harm over these actions, the current administration has a lot to answer for in not putting up a much better fight in this matter.  And these miscalculations have not just happened this year.  I hope that the current Morrill Hall Gang are finally Driven to Discover that running into a brick wall every year is not a successful strategy.

My fellow U of M alum and parent of five U of M students - one of whom is currently a law student - commiserates:

March 30, 2010
The Senate Higher Education Committee held a hearing on March 23 on state appropriations.  The state senators listened to the witnesses describe the parade of horribles that would follow the cuts proposed by the Republican majority.  Then the committee members voted on party lines to approve the Republican proposal.
Timing is one of the defects in the U of M legislative strategy.  Effective advocacy must begin well before the start of the legislative session in January.  By that time the political parties and the governor have already developed their plans for higher education.  Public hearings are held in order to compy with legal requirements, but it is rare for a state legislator to change his or her position based on the testimony presented at the public hearings.  The U of M administrators have failed to respond to suggestions to adjust the timing (and the scope) of their legislative strategy.  See New Year's Resolutions for New President at  

Yesterday the state senate and the state house passed the Republican bills on higher education.  The senate bill cuts 19% and the house bill cuts 18% from base funding for the U of M according to the front page report in the Pioneer Press today.

The Other Shoe Drops
On top of a substantial reduction in state appropriations the University will sustain a substantial reduction in federal funds--no more stimulus funds and proposed "drastic cuts to student aid and scientific research funds."  (See the March 24th email from the U of M Legislative Network.)
Over the past two years the administration used $61.7 million in federal stimulus funds to mask tuition rate increases.  For example, for fiscal year 2011 (ending June 20, 2011) the Regents approved a 7.5% increase in both tuition and the University fee for resident undergraduate students.  However, the actual increase paid by students (and their parents) was limited to 4.4% by the use of stimulus funds (in accordance with an agreement that the administration made with the state legislature regarding the use of federal stimulus funds).  See pp. 11--12 and 19--20 of the June 22, 2010 report of the Board of Regents at  
For the next school year the students (and their parents) will be facing the full effect of the delayed tuition rate increase approved last year plus the additional tuition rate increase that the administration will propose to deal with the substantial reduction in state appropriations.
The administration is in the midst of constructing a Biomedical Discovery District at a capital cost of $292 million.  The state will pay 75% of the capital cost, but the University is responsible for the remaining 25% of the capital cost plus the costs of operation and maintenance of the facilities plus the compensation and benefits for the scientists and staff who will be engaged in the research.  See the description of the District at  
How will the administration pay for all these costs?  What cuts will the administration make to other programs in order to operate the District?
See also On The Hidden Cost of Research at
It is not likely, alas, that the appointment of new members to the Board of Regents will change the operation of the University.  Last year a state representative (and committee chair) expressed her frustration about the continuing failure of new Regents to honor their promises to change the way the University operates.
This inertia is the result of powerful forces.  There is the peer pressure of the members of the Board that is demonstrated by the unanimous votes of the Regents on virtually every major action proposed by the senior administrators.  Few persons have the courage to risk being marked as dissenters who are unwilling to join the other members of a team in striving (lusting?) for greatness.  Of greater significance, however, is the fact that the Regents are dependent on the senior administrators for information.  The Regents are part-time volunteers.  They rely on the senior administrators to sift through the enormous volumes of information  about the operations of the University, so they see only the information selected by the administrators.  Nor do the Regents have much time to listen to other members of the University community with different perspectives.  The Regents develop a bond with the senior administrators with whom they spend most of their time and thus have a tendency to dismiss other viewpoints. 
Our democracy is built on a system of checks and balances to prevent the concentration of unbridled power.  No public institution, not even the University, has complete autonomy.  However, the part-time volunteer Regents selected by the legislature do not provide a sufficient balance to the power of senior administrators, many of whom remain entrenched in their positions for years as Regents come and go.
The legislature needs a qualified person who can devote full-time attention to the operations of the University in order to provide incisive reports on those operations to the Higher Education Committees.  This person should not be a Regent, but he or she should have the right to attend all Board meetings, including executive (closed) sessions.  This legislative liaison should have the responsibility to review the information produced by senior administrators, to collect additional information through his or her own independent research, and to meet with all groups at the University so that perspectives of other well-informed and thoughtful members of the University community are presented to the legislature.

Michael W. McNabb
Attorney at Law 

I don't know whether to laugh or to cry...

The administration of the University of Minnesota has a lot to answer for here.

Supposedly we were going to become one of the top three public research institutions in the world.

I take no pleasure in pointing this out. But we have to make some serious changes in direction in the next few years. I look forward to a change for the better in leadership at the U.

The Bruininks/Sullivan regime has been a disaster.

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