Friday, November 11, 2011


My friend, Mr. Michel McNabb, writes: 

At the November 1, 2011 meeting of the Senate Committee on Finance & Planning the deans of the law school and the business school again asserted that state appropriations provide less than 10% of the annual operating budgets of their schools.  This assertion fails to identify the senior administrators and the Regents as the persons who actually determine the allocation of state appropriations to those schools.
In fiscal year 2012 the University will receive $484 million in state appropriations for its general fund.  Senior administrators (with the approval of the Regents) made the decision to allocate less than 1% of the state appropriations to the law school ($3.6 million) and to the business school ($3.3 million).  The state legislature does not direct the allocation of those funds.  See question (8) in Questions of Value.

What is the response of the deans to this decision of central administration to allocate a minuscule percentage of state appropriations to their schools?  They tell the committee that "they have the capacity to raise tuition."  Once again we have the reliance on tuition, which senior administrators describe as "the revenue stream with the highest potential for significant, long-term growth."  See section (1) in $tate of the University--A Parent's Perspective.

This skyrocketing tuition is creating a generation of indentured students who are also confronted with a dismal job market. See the October 14, 2011 report on Generation Debt in the Star-Tribune. 
There are alternatives to endless increases in tuition. The senior administrators could allocate a larger percentage of the state appropriations to pay the operating costs of the schools and colleges. They could use part of the accumulated surplus of more than half a billion dollars in revenue that they continue to carry forward from year to year. See Question (7) in Questions of Value. They could make substantial reductions in the costs of administration that have exploded since 2005. See section 3 in University Inc. Part II.

Have the emergence of the corporate university and the pursuit of personal wealth replaced the ideal of public service?  Have the leaders of a non-profit institution of higher education lost their moral compass when they believe themselves entitled to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual compensation and benefits?  Should their decisions require students (and their parents) to incur tens of thousands of dollars in debt that will take years to repay?  See  the the Conclusion and the Postscript to  $tate of the University--A Parent's Perspective.

We are now off course in higher education.  See the recent essay entitled Our Universities--Why Are They Failing? by Princeton University history professor Anthony Grafton.  We can begin to find our way back by restoring the ideal of public service, by recognizing that an education in the liberal arts is more than vocational training, and by requiring our professors to be as devoted to the students in their classrooms as they are to their research.

Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member

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