Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"I rounded up..."

Star-Tribune Commentary

The incredibly flippant attitude of former University of Minnesota president Robert Bruininks was noted in my last post.  The Star-Tribune has just published a commentary which also picks up on the hubris of our former president.

Golden Gophers indeed: Administrator largesse at U
Devote resources instead to students or to those who keep the place running.

"I rounded up." According to the Star Tribune, when asked why he signed off on an additional one-time $75,000 deposit to departing provost E. Tom Sullivan's retirement account -- an amount about double what was specified in the provost's contract -- former University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks said, "I rounded up."
Flippant. And disturbing.
When the chancellor of the University of Minnesota Duluth retired, Bruininks applauded her work and called out her willingness to endure multiple pay freezes and a smaller salary than colleagues managing smaller campuses.
Chancellor Kathryn Martin left with an extra $535,000.
Multiple pay freezes. Paid less than comparable positions on other campuses. Sound familiar to anyone?
What is going on around here? On what values are these decisions based?
According to Star Tribune's Feb. 26 article ("U execs are paid well on way out"), these payments are common and even necessary in academia to attract the best and the brightest. So this reflexive largesse is in the name of a top-notch enterprise.
The success of the university demands a more progressive set of values. Let's start by helping the university's next set of leaders -- its students, who are struggling to get and pay for financial aid.
Let's start with my staff colleagues whose earnings are low and have remained low for several years under the same pay freezes that the chancellor endured.
Let's put administrators, who make enough money to be more comfortable than many of us will ever experience, at the bottom of our priority list.
Five hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars to leave the university and not return -- outrageous and audacious irresponsibility, and it does not reflect values that this land-grant institution should hold high.
I wonder a few things about this nice little caste system they've got going. To what extent does this regime get in the way of good-faith negotiations with the university's unions? What does the Legislature have to say about these types of giveaways? Is any talent worth such a concentration of resources? What else is the university willing to sacrifice for us, the 99 percent?
Some suggestions: Suppose Goldy let go the UMD chancellor or the human-resources exec -- free and clear, no golden parachute.
Then suppose Goldy invested in the development and talents of some bright new up-and-comers to lead those functions, people who would challenge the status quo, who would work on the edges of growth. No contractual parachutes.
(Hint: We are your alumni and staff, and we're right under your noses.)
And suppose the university invested a little more in scholarships for students who need it most. And a little more in staff salaries for my colleagues who are struggling more than others.
That kind of progressivity is a value I could stand behind.
Short of stopping the practice of paying administrators anything at all when their job responsibilities are done, how about this: When a university administrator leaves her position, the university pays that person the wage of the lowest-paid union worker on campus?
That would give the person a year to "retool" (or leave) at a wage that university administrators seem to think is acceptable for 2,080 hours of work. If it's enough for an employee with real responsibilities to Goldy, then surely it's enough for someone without formal responsibility who is spending their time retooling for whatever is next.
Occupy Morrill Hall, anyone?
Scott Marshall, of Minneapolis, works in disability services at the University of Minnesota.

 Simply disgusting.  Time for a change, President Kaler?

Monday, February 27, 2012

"I rounded up,'' Bruininks said.

U execs are paid handsomely on their way out

Since retiring 18 months ago as chancellor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn Martin has collected more money from the U than she did in her last two years on the job.

One of nearly a dozen university executives to step down in the past two years, Martin was granted a two-month sabbatical, a 15-month "administrative transitional leave,'' a final deposit to her retirement fund, and a severance check. Total: $535,700.

Hers was the biggest in a series of compensation packages signed by former university President Robert Bruininks worth more than $2.8 million. The deals routinely granted top administrators lengthy paid leaves, then allowed them to return to faculty positions or depart the U's payroll.

A Star Tribune review of university documents shows that seven of 10 high-ranking officials in the Bruininks administration, including the former president himself, received at least a year off with pay at their executive salaries, as well as retirement and health insurance contributions. The deals often were vague about what the administrators would do on leave. Bruininks also repeatedly waived a university policy that executives repay their stipends in the event they left the U while on leave.

Many of the agreements rival in size the recent employment extension given to retiring U Athletic Director Joel Maturi, which caused several legislators to ask if the university is spending money wisely at a time when many Minnesota students and families are struggling to pay college costs.

... critics such as Dean Zerbe say the packages are a reckless use of taxpayer subsidies at a time when working families are "grinding'' under heavy tuition burdens.

"These are nothing but sweetheart deals and golden handshakes,'' said Zerbe, a lawyer who provided federal oversight of charities, including colleges and universities, for the Senate Finance Committee under Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley. "The Legislature and the governor should be demanding that they look at this across the board.''

Linda Cohen, chairwoman of the university's Board of Regents, said the governing board oversees the initial employment agreements for top executives, but "from then on, it becomes a management issue."

But, she said, the board has been discussing the creation of a committee focused on compensation to provide greater oversight. She called the practice of granting transitional leaves common and appropriate. The question is whether during that leave, administrators are paid at the salary of the administration post they are leaving or the faculty one they are taking, she said.

The university's current policy says the salary while on leave is negotiable but "salary and benefits are typically paid at the level of the assumed, or resumed, faculty or professional position rather than at the administrative salary level.''

The same issue arose about two years ago in North Carolina, where the state university system paid about $8 million in executive salaries to 117 administrators who either returned to the faculty or left the university.

North Carolina chancellors ordered reforms that scaled back leaves from one year to six months and made them payable at faculty salaries, not executive rates.

"People stay at universities for a long time these days, and their careers are often phases of things,'' said Carrier, 62, who got a 13-month, $229,000 leave to catch up on a faculty career she left more than 20 years ago. After three months of that leave, she took a job as special assistant to senior vice president Robert Jones. Her deal allows her to take the rest of that leave at a later date.

Charles Muscoplat, 63, president until next June 17 of a university corporation that manages the Dakota County real estate known as UMore Park, said he will use his one-year leave to chair a committee that helps commercialize faculty pharmaceutical inventions and work on clinical trials of a drug to treat patients with cystic fibrosis, among other projects. He will earn a salary of $251,500 while on leave, then return to faculty as a teacher and researcher.

"I do not anticipate taking a 'leave' meaning a leave from duties," he said by e-mail. "I understand this to mean a leave allowing me to return to my skill base in pharmaceutical, clinical trial, tech transfer and teaching."

At the same time, many of the "transition'' agreements worked out by Bruininks are flavored with language that goes beyond the purpose of academic readiness.

"The salary earned during your leave will not need to be repaid should you not return to your faculty position in the Law School,'' Bruininks wrote to Provost E. Thomas Sullivan, whose one-year leave will be cut short when he resigns from the U to become president of the University of Vermont on July 15. A U spokesman said Friday that Sullivan will resign from the U "no later than July 14.''

Sullivan's transition package at the U, which allowed for a payment of $340,750 over 12 months, also contains a special $75,000 retirement payment, documents show. Bruininks said he granted the benefit at his own discretion to reward the provost for staying on the job for about six months longer than originally planned. Under Sullivan's provost contract, the retirement payment should have been about half that size, according to documents.

"I rounded up,'' Bruininks said.

In Carrier's case, Bruininks gave her 13 months of paid leave and a 3.5 percent pay increase. This lifted her annual salary to $212,000 in time for the leave. Should she decide not to return to the faculty after 13 months of transitional leave, the requirement to repay the university for the leave is waived. If she does return to the faculty, Bruininks authorized two months of full-time summer salary to support her research and funds for a half-time research assistant.

"You have been an extraordinary leader and colleague, and I am honored to have had you as a member of my administration,'' Bruininks wrote in her transition agreement.

The documents vary in their discussion of work expectations.

For example, Bruininks gave Martin an expense account of $15,000 to entertain donors, work with alumni and spend on other university functions. Martin did not respond to calls and e-mails asking for comment.

Frank Cerra, former dean of the medical school and senior vice president for Health Sciences, received his administrative salary of $481,500 for a year on leave that ended Dec. 31, 2011. He said he organized a large-scale grant application and worked on two other grants before returning to a faculty position. During a two-year phased retirement with reduced hours and pay, the 69-year-old Cerra will largely be working on a history of the U's Academic Health Center, the amalgam of health schools he led from 1996 to 2010.

Martin received an extended "transitional'' leave even though she wasn't planning to return, Bruininks said. A straight retirement could have limited her to a severance payment of up to one year of her salary. But Bruininks wanted to compensate Martin for years of taking a $233,250 annual salary that had been repeatedly frozen and was lower than the standard pay for leaders of even smaller campuses.

Martin had the option of keeping her tenure and returning to the faculty, but Bruininks said he feared that with her strong personality, "she would have wanted to run it [the school] from the bleachers.''
"I'll just be honest about it,'' Bruininks said. "It was better for her and better for the campus and more cost-effective for the U.''
 Disgusting, simply disgusting...

 Some comments from readers:

All I can say is 'Wow.' My gosh. and we wonder why tuition is so off the charts spendy....

Filed under: "why college costs so much."

This is going on while all the unions at the U are on a step/pay freeze. I understand that admin will always command a higher salary, but the hardships of the many do not seem to influence how their pay and buyouts are determined. Maturi's buyout alone could make up the lost salary/raises of hundreds at the U who do well at their job.

What an embarrassing institution the U of MN has become over the past decades. ---- Whenever a person says "I'll just be honest about it," how many truths were they hiding before that point? NEVER trust someone who all of a sudden starts a sentence by saying 'Let me be honest here."

Academic arrogance at its' finest! These people live in their own little world, making up silly reasons to give themselves just a little bit more of the public every chance. And tuition keeps rising. Disgusting!

And they complain that they just don't get enough money from the State.

This is outrageous and must stop.

They need these packages to "retain talent." Who are they kidding, these folks are LEAVING, some for other higher paying jobs anyway. Just let them go.

Irresponsible and egregious

These are the kinds of issues that should make the procurement of taxpayer funding very difficult indeed.

The U has grown to be a an obese creature that relies on public funds to stuff its face. The admin people there should be embarrassed.

All this "reasoning and explaining" by the guilty parties is just an attempt to rationalize their unsavory actions. Anyone who would read this article would not need to have a college degree to understand these despicable golden parachutes. These people have absolutely no shame in their greedy actions while students struggle to even remain in college with the high cost of tuition.

These people are so out of touch with reality that it is simply pathetic. To call these payouts anything but gifts or golden parachutes is insulting to every reader's intelligence.

Bruininks rounded it up? What? Nice legacy to leave Bob.

Now I know why faculty salaries have been frozen for several years. The pigs must have their slop. But I'm still confused by why it takes a year to "retool" and why they need to be paid at the executive level to do so. Surely anyone who is qualified to be in academia can teach entry-level courses with just a little preparation and then move up from there.

As a U staff member, I am also outraged by the huge payouts to the executive administration staff upon leaving the University. The salaries of all faculty and staff have been frozen for several years- rightly so given the economic downturn. Yet, the University continues to coddle the higher admin ranks whose main contribution seems to be creating more red tape for the people who are actually doing something.

They can try and justify it all they want but it is nothing but greed by people that know they can get away with it because they aren't held accountable.  Bruininks says "I rounded up", well round up with your own money, not mine. Look what they did for Carrier. On top of everything else she got a 3.5% pay increase just in time for her leave. I haven't received a pay increase for two years but I am just happy to have my job.

If that comes under what is needed to retain the best then it is another example of a broken system corrupted by greed.

Pouring $250,000+ gravy on top of very mediocre careers is absurd. Only educrats could say these freeloaders are the "best and brightest" in society.

Why is the U hiring "the best and brightest"? Clearly, based on performance, the U is not in the top tier of schools in the country. Maybe the focus should be on hiring people who (1) are here for the long haul, and (2) accept that the goal of the U is to provide high quality graduates for MN. Let's stop competing with the rest of the country to be recognized as an elite top tier university. Instead, let's aim for what is best for MN.

Gosh, I hope this isn't the same "talent" that Wall Street needed to plunge us into the recession four years ago. Everyone involved with this should be grossly ashamed of themselves.

This makes me ill. My wife and I were both teachers who spent well over a thousand dollars a year to maintain classroom supplies and I had to raise thousands of dollars a year to maintain athletic programs. An outrage that is beyond belief---the worker bees suffer and slave away while the leadership grows fatter and fatter. I have now become a member of the 99%. Sickening!!!!!

I really tire of this "best and the brightest" argument, as far as pay and benefits. The reality is that many of these administrators are the best at ... working the system.

It is sad to see greedy universities forcing our children and many parents with suffocating debt. When will the media hold them accountable. If the university leaders cannot hold tuition in line with inflation I'd say they failed our children and families by forcing us to mortgage our future. Yet the universities consider this failed-track record worthy of massive bonuses?

Maybe the U needs set aside a few more million to hire more consultants to form a committee to study the problem.

This is criminal, at a time when students and their families have an increasing difficult time sacrificing to come up with tuition, ineffective leaders at the University of Minnesota are only interested in lining their own pockets. Take Muscoplat for example, he was put out to pasture about 5 years ago, from his position as Dean of College of Agriculture and Food Science, as so-called “Vice President of Statewide Strategic Services”. The people of this State deserve to know what he accomplished during this period. Where is the accountability? He states he will use $251,000 more of the taxpayers money so that he can “return to my skill base in pharmaceutical, clinical trial, tech transfer and teaching”, and “ he will use his one-year leave to chair a committee that helps commercialize faculty pharmaceutical inventions and work on clinical trials of a drug to treat patients with cystic fibrosis, among other projects” . Someone should be asking how effective he has been in this role at the University. We should be asking how effective is the “Pharmaceutical Commercialization Initiative” which Muscoplat played a key role in developing, or ask about the numerous pharmaceutical commercial ideas that he was involved in. The work done at UMore Park, could have been absorbed by others at a salary of $80,000 or should have been turned over to private interests. A closer examination would show that Muscoplats “arrangement” like many others, are only payback for loyalty to Cerra and Bruiniks, allowing them to create their own pet projects to keep them occupied and on airplanes, at our expense.

It's the administrators who are fleecing the system, not the teachers. My mom is a retired teacher from a 2-year college in the MnSCU system. My 27 year old supervisor at work who only has a Bachelors Degree makes more money than my mom, who has 2 masters degrees, made as a 36 year teacher...and MnSCU and the STATE told my mom she was paid too much for what she did. Meanwhile, the president of of her college, after being there for only about 6 months, received a $9,000 bonus because enrollment was up. Administrators only care about themselves. Everyone shows all this hate towards the teachers, but it's ADMINISTRATORS who are destroying education.

 "Gee, I wonder how many of these folks were members of one of those dastardly unions." ---- NONE. Administrators cannot be a part of a union because they are managers...and are firmly AGAINST unions in general. And, as you can see, this is why they don't want unions.

Quote ~ 'It's inaccurate, they said, to characterize the leaves as a year away from work'......NO, its not inaccurate to characterize these leaves as paid vacations because there are no rules, oversight or requirements. This is a misuse of public funds, but when you have the fox watching the hen house, what would you expect? Why on earth would you give an HR person a leave of absence with full executive pay?

I worked at the U/Fairview hospital for 35 years as a senior clinical scientist. When I asked for early retirement due to health issues it was denied. I guess I wasn't high enough on on the food chain.

Ms Martin, wipe that disgusting smile off your face - you should be ashamed. I have a son who works almost a 40 hr/week part time job to help pay for his education while fat cat retirees like you sail off to Tuscany. Disgusting!

I think they should be paid what they are worth. Unfortunately, there is a minimum wage law that prevents that.

The obscene thing here is that many if not most of the people on the front lines actually teaching students and doing the basic business of the University are getting paid peanuts compared to the administrators at the top. The deans and the presidents get golden parachutes, while the adjunct professors teaching 400+ students a year get their wages frozen and their health insurance taken away. The U needs to restore some balance to the way that salaries and benefits are distributed. Priority needs to be placed on quality teaching and research, not on administrating.

This is outrageous!!! And, they keep asking for more money from the State of Minnesota every year!!! This must stop!!!!

The claim these sweetheart deals are necessary to retain talent is nonsense. It is inconceivable to me that an academic who has been out of their field for decades, is nearing the end of their career, and who needs one or more years to get up to speed, would be in demand anywhere. The administrators who okayed these deals need to be fired.

From Minnpost Feb 16, 2011 - "Departing U of M President Bob Bruininks is generally pleased with Dayton’s budget and its lighter hand on education. Jena Ross quotes Bruininks on the Strib’s “Campus Connect” blog: “The Governor’s proposed funding level for the University means we will be able to hold any tuition increase for Minnesota students for the upcoming academic year at a very modest amount necessary to cover inflation. This lower tuition level will protect students and their families first, while we continue the hard work to cut our expenses and balance the University’s budget.”

The big lie here is that administrative bureaucrats in education are branded as rare "talent." Consultants and headhunters yield larger fees with larger packages, and the people making these hiring decisions think of themselves as "talent." Grown-up oversight is badly needed here.

So the taxpayer is paying for 62 and 70 year olds to take paid time off to sharpen their skills, for what? These people are past or near retirement age. Not saying they can't contribute to society but if they truly believe in youth and education they wouldn't continue to feed at the public trough. Volunteer your time and experience. 250,000 to 500,000, payouts and salaries. Disgusting!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rotenberg Redux

University of Minnesota

Discrimination Suit Goes to Court

Former associate women's golf coach Katie Brenny says she was discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.

Former associate women’s golf coach Katie Brenny will bring her sexual discrimination lawsuit against the University of Minnesota to court Thursday.

The hearing in the Minnesota Court of Appeals could set a trial date in her suit against former golf director John Harris.

When Brenny took the job as Gophers associate women’s head golf coach in the summer of 2010, she thought she had her dream job. Instead, the aspiring professional golfer found herself at a desk, handling paperwork and only interacting with players in a mentorship role — not coaching.

She sued the Board of Regents and Harris in January 2011 alleging that Harris kept her from coaching duties after discovering she is a lesbian.

Brenny left her position just two months into the job in October 2010 after Harris limited her involvement in the golf program.

Brenny did not travel to any of the women’s away matches and claims she wasn’t allowed to discuss golf with players in her brief tenure.

The 14-page complaint alleges that Harris factored sexual orientation into his search for a new associate women’s head coach and offered the job to Brenny without knowing she is a lesbian. It also alleges discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment based on sexual orientation.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said in a statement last year that “the University of Minnesota strongly contests both the factual foundation and legal basis of the claims asserted in this lawsuit.”

Pathetic, simply pathetic. 


Saturday, February 18, 2012

 Star-Tribune Editorial:

Give Kaler a Break on Maturi Decision

This editorial reminds me of Saturday Night Live news when they say "Really!" Really? You can't be serious. Reader's comment

 For background, please see:

The reaction of the community to the original revelation that the retiring Athletic Director at the University would get a significant going away present was general outrage.  An attempt was made to pacify the great unwashed by claiming that "no donor funds" were used for the payout. More detail was later provided that the President had used money from a discretionary fund to settle with the Athletic Director, apparently in the belief that this somehow justified the pay out. Unfortunately this line of reasoning will not wash because ultimately donor funds were the source of the discretionary funds. The money did not simply appear out of thin air. It came from interest on endowment funds - which came from donors. It is this sort of twisted logic, or more charitably attempt at a smoke screen, that makes dealing with past, and in this case present, University of Minnesota administrations so frustrating.

In the editorial lampooned above the pitiful plea to give our new president a break is issued.  The only break, given the circumstances, that I am willing to give is this.  The president is a smart man and I hope he learns from this that the action was a bad move for the university.  The fall-out also included the revelation of a rather large amount of discretionary funds.  This is of benefit because the previous administration played fast, loose, and non-transparently with the money.  I hope that in the future the use of this money will be justified and made public. 

My friend Michael McNabb writes about this situation and demonstrates in a less emotional way the folly of the recent action and the lack of insight on the part of the Star-Tribune editorial board:

On closer examination the decision makes perfect sense for a budget-challenged athletic department.  It's also consistent with the president's stated belief that academic and athletic excellence go hand in hand . . . .
Kaler has stressed the importance of athletics as the public's "window" to the university, and he is clearly aware that success in big-time athletics primes the pump for more private contributions.  The Maturi plan is an investment in that mission.
February 14, 2012 Star Tribune editorial on Give Kaler a Break on Maturi Decision (emphasis added).

As for the belief that academic and athletic excellence go hand in hand, consider that in fiscal year 2012 the amount of state appropriations that the U of M administration allocated to the athletic department ($6.9 million) was substantially greater than the amount the administration allocated to the business school ($3.3 million) or to the law school ($3.6 million).  See section 1 in Going To Market Part II.
As for the priming the pump myth, if big-time college sports actually produced widespread alumni support for academic programs, then the universities with winning teams would dominate the rankings of schools by percentage of alumni donors.  Yet schools such as Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin are not even in the top 75.  In fact, smaller schools that provide a quality academic experience for undergraduate students dominate the rankings.  See the September 15, 2011 report of U.S. News & World Report on Alumni's Top 10 Most Loved Schools.  
This use of donors' funds puts at risk the continuing goodwill and financial support of donors and state legislators.  See A Question of Priorities Part II.
For more on the economics of the athletic department see Expensive Icing.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another Fine Mess 
(Academic Facilities)

In its 2012 Capital Request the administration is seeking $90 million in HEAPR bonds.  Governor Dayton has proposed $20 million.  (HEAPR bonds are used for the maintenance and renovation of existing academic facilities.)
In the 2006 "stadium session" the administration devoted its energy to securing $137 million in bonds for a new football stadium while the legislature slashed the HEAPR allocation from the $80 million requested by the administration to $30 million.  In 2008 the legislature chopped the HEAPR request (the "cornerstone" of the 2008 Capital Request of the University) from $100 million to $35 million.  In 2010 the legislature stripped down the HEAPR request from $100 million to $56 million. 
The failure of the administration to prevent these drastic cuts was a result of its own misplaced priorities and inept legislative strategy.  See Academic Facilities.  [Added later, please see below***] The former chair of the Capital Investment Committee (that has jurisdiction over all University bond requests) expressed her frustration at the "arrogance" of the administration.  See The Cheese Stands Alone.
The cumulative effect of this failure is clearly visible on campus.  The academic infrastructure is beginning to crumble around us.  On February 9 President Kaler told the Higher Education Committee that the HEAPR needs are "well more than $500 million if not closer to $1 billion."   It is the sad consequence of years of neglect of existing academic buildings.
The response of the state legislators to this stunning estimate was to request information on the economic impact of the University on the state.  See the February 9, 2012 report of the Minnesota Daily on Kaler Makes Pitch.  
The administration will likely pull off the shelf the 2011 economic report by Tripp Umbach.  President Bruininks commissioned this report and paid for it with $100,000 in "discretionary funds."  One major problem with report is that it is not an independent analysis.  Its conclusions were preordained.  Consider this statement by the U of M vice president for research (made before the study was conducted):

Tripp Umbach will also work collaboratively with the U of M to develop analysis and appropriate narrative to describe the unique community and statewide benefits that result from the U of M's operations. . . .
Special emphasis will be placed on highlighting, quantifying and discussing the University's impacts that have a positive impact on the economic, physical and social health of the local communities within the region as well as on the State.  Tripp Umbach recognizes that the research findings may be used by the University of Minnesota in garnering support from a broad range of government units--we will structure the research to provide information that will serve to support government relations, advancement, and development.
See p. 2 of the Overview.  (emphasis added) 

So the administration received the report that it wanted.  The decision on HEAPR bonds (or on any other matter) should not be based on such a report.  

The case should be made directly on its own merits by presenting specific information on the continuing deterioration of numerous buildings.  The person who can present this information in graphic detail is the associate vice president for facilities management.  See U of M Facilities Management

On this issue the President does have the facts to support the position of the University.  But he crippled his ability to be a credible advocate when he raided the University of Minnesota Foundation for hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a new one year position for the athletic director.  This use of University resources raised questions as to whether the University really needs the funds it seeks from the legislature.  See A Question of Priorities Part II
The $300 million that the Governor and some legislators are willing to spend on construction of (yet another) stadium should instead be used to begin to rebuild the academic infrastructure at the University.  Not only would this provide the construction jobs and the boost to the economy, but it would also provide a benefit of much greater significance for the future of our children and our state. 
Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member

***Bill Gleason Adds Later

“Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.”

George Orwell

A good example of this technique is provided in one of the links used in this essay. My friend Michael McNabb pointed this out in an email after this piece first went up:

"This current essay includes a link to the previous essay on Academic Facilities.  That previous essay includes a link to and an excerpt from a May 2011 notice of the legislative auditor.  The excerpt refers to previous reports by the auditor in 1988 and in 1991 in which he concluded that the administration did not have effective planning for preventive maintenance.   When you click on the link now it takes you to an October 2011 notice that does not refer to the findings of the 1988 and the 1991 reports.   The May 2011 notice has been deleted from the website of the auditor.
[Emphasis/highlighting, mine]

An inconvenient truth can simply be deleted?  Obviously, so.

Unfortunately, this is not the only example I know.  Many damning endorsements of homeopathy have been removed from the Academic Health Center's web site, with never an acknowledgment of the bad, unscientific approach to medicine that allowed them to appear on the University of Minnesota web site in the first place. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nemo iudex in causa sua

No one should be a judge in his own case... 

"It appears to constitute conflict of interest" Cohen tells board.

Regents Chair Linda Cohen announced Friday that Sviggum's job as communications chief for the Senate GOP "appears to me to constitute an employment-related conflict of interest with his duties as a regent." But she said she would not make a recommendation to the board until getting internal and external legal advice.
The university has retained attorney John Stout of Fredrikson & Byron to draft an opinion by Feb. 24. After considering that opinion, as well as another by the U's general counsel, Cohen will either make a recommendation to the board or appoint an ad hoc group to further review the issue.
During the last conflict-of-interest dustup involving Sviggum's job with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, then-Board Chair Clyde Allen formed and headed such a group.
Cohen said that review was objective and fair but she "wanted to make it even more so" this time. "This is a complex and serious matter that warrants our careful review and due diligence."
In past interviews, Sviggum has said that even if the board determines there is a conflict, he will not step down. He declined after Friday's meeting to repeat that, saying that he's "trying to be less confrontational." But he added that "at this point in time, right now, today, I would not plan on stepping down."
After Cohen's announcement, Sviggum made an emotional statement to the board, saying that he did not want to bring "any harm to this wonderful institution of the university." He again argued that his two roles can be managed.
"I do not, do not have an unmanageable... conflict of interest," he said.
[If I say it twice, it must be true?]

The board is the "final authority" on conflict questions, according to its code of ethics. But as Cohen noted Friday, there's "no way to force a regent to step down."
This is the second time since Sviggum joined the board that his day job has raised a conflict-of-interest question.
Last March, a three-regent panel decided that Sviggum's paid position with the U's Humphrey School presented a regular, unmanageable conflict with his unpaid spot on the board, and recommended he choose between the two posts. He did.
That group recommended that the board revise its code of ethics to prohibit university employees from also serving on the board. The board passed that revision Friday.

Sviggum should resign immediately.  To stubbornly refuse to do so is an unnecessary waste of the time and treasure of the University of Minnesota.

The man is a virtual conflict-of-interest seeking missile and apparently doesn't even realize it. 

Added later from comments on the Strib article:

You've got prior casework that serving two masters related to the U doesn't work... and it doesn't pass the smell test. Mr. Sviggum has got to choose which job he's holding down. Again.

"I do not, do not have an unmanageable... conflict of interest," he said.
Saying it twice does not make it so. Nemo iudex in sua causa - no one should be a judge in their own case. Think of the University of Minnesota time and treasure that is being wasted on this matter. Sviggum should resign now.

Sviggum needs to resign from the Board of Regents. He's a high-maintenance member and the board has more important things to do than deal with him.
Attention Steve Sviggum: I know this is almost impossible for you to comprehend; but, there are literally thousands of fully qualified and committed individuals who would be honored to devote their time and attention to leading a great university as a member of the board of regents. Unless you are prepared to say you will manage your job conflict by being an unrelenting advocate for the University at all times you have no right to be a Regent.

When Sviggum accepted his new legislative job on Jan. 16, he claimed he had spoken to the Board of Regents' counsel, chair, vice-chair and exec. dir. about the appropriateness of doing so, suggesting they all said "yes." Was Sviggum lying about this? How much will it cost the U to have the Fredrikson & Byron attorney draft his opinion on this matter?

Does Mr. Sviggum now hold the record for taxpayer dollars expanded in resolving his conflict of interest issues? Perhaps it's time for an intervention?

Sviggum for once in his life needs to do the honorable thing and simply ride into the sunset.

The potential for conflict of interest in holding both of Regent Sviggum's positions is obvious. And the failure to see that, in and of itself, should disqualify one from being a regent of an institution of higher education.
Our beloved U of M never slow in raising tuition but has funds to hire outside legal advice on the obvious conflict of interest. It is pretty pathetic that those that run the University from the President on down to the Board of Regents cannot see this.

This is a lot of rigmarole for a guy who for the life of him can't seem to do the right moral, ethical, or spiritual thing.

There is no politician more oblivious to ethical conflicts and more stubborn about his anti-government bias than Steve Sviggum. As a political spokesman he is going to support the Republican's massive budget cuts to education -- an extremely clear conflict of interest for a University Regent who should be maximizing opportunity for higher education.

The first time that the Senate GOP caucus disagrees with the University on a funding or capital request and communicates that to the public, Steve Sviggum has failed in his responsibilities as a U of M Regent. He is the face of denying the U's request before it is even decided upon. And Sviggum can't see that as a conflict? Or he believes that it is OK for him to just step aside and be neutral as his paymasters fight against the goals of the U of MN? Breathtaking hypocrisy from a lifetime politician.

Board Members have an obligation to check their personal hats at the door and work for the betterment of the University. When you have multiple hats, it becomes impossible to maintain the impartiality. A clear thinking person would heed good counsel and step back and realize that they must choose. It means leaving one position or the other. I respect someone that makes the right decision much more than someone who is forced to do the right thing because people are watching.

Good night and good luck and goodbye, Steve.

Sviggum has proved himself to be a classic narcissist and manipulator - he's willing to have the university, whom he purports to love so much, incur thousands of dollars of legal fees, along with the time of his colleagues - to examine his new questionable arrangement. For Sviggum it's all about ME, ME, ME. He's an embarrassment to the university and needs to leave. But he won't - he likes all the 'prestige' and power that comes with being a Regent and a 'go to guy' at the Capitol.


 Sviggum Wastes More University of Minnesota

Time and Money

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents is moving ahead with a review of Steve Sviggum’s dual roles to determine if a conflict of interest exists.

Sviggum, a former state legislator, announced he was taking a job as the executive assistant and communications chief for the Senate Republican Caucus Jan. 16. He remains a member of the Board, but was asked by chairwoman Linda Cohen to abstain from voting in committee and Board meetings Thursday and Friday.

During Friday’s Board meeting, Cohen released a statement stating that “based upon my understanding of his employment responsibilities, this position appears to me to constitute an employment-related conflict of interest with his duties as a Regent.”

Cohen has asked University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg and an independent attorney’s opinion on whether a conflict of interest exists. Both opinions are expected by Feb. 24.

Cohen expects a decision by the next Board meeting in March.

“It is important that we be objective, judicious, and fair and I believe this process lives up to those principles," Cohen said in a statement.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

For no man can serve two masters...

Please Resign Regent Sviggum

[Update: at Friday morning Board of Regents meeting Sviggum did NOT resign. Full post later.]

The chair of the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents will announce Friday how the board will examine whether Regent Steve Sviggum's new state Senate job creates a conflict of interest.
"It seems to many people and to some board members that there is a conflict," said Regent Linda Cohen. "But we have not determined anything as a board."

Sviggum, a former speaker of the House and commissioner of Labor and Industry, said that as the Senate GOP's communications chief, for which he is paid $102,000 a year, he is not a "decisionmaker" and thus cannot have a conflict of interest. "I would argue that if you're not making decisions, it's very hard to make a decision that benefits you or your institution or your organization," he said.
But several newspapers' editorial boards and university employees have argued that such disclosure does not solve a larger issue of whether Sviggum's paid position with the Senate will make him a less effective regent.

The Republican caucus' plans may have "legitimate policy positions that sacrifice higher education investments for investments elsewhere in the state," said Cramer, who is chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee but said he was not speaking on behalf of the committee.

When that happens, Cramer said by e-mail, Sviggum will not be able to advocate for the University of Minnesota as a regent ought to.

 Green = Tuition, Purple = Average U Scholarship

Myth of the High Tuition - High Aid Model

At the University of Minnesota 

Kudos to the Daily!

Since 2000, annual tuition at the University of Minnesota has risen more than $7000 for residents, a jump of about 165 percent.

The University gave out $35 million more in scholarships in 2010 than it did in 2000 and the percentage of students who receive funding from the school has risen from 15 to 36 percent.

In 2000-01 an average scholarship from the school covered 60 percent of resident tuition. Last year, it covered 33 percent.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Everything we do at the University of Minnesota
is out in the open." former Pres. Brunininks

Discretionary Funds at 

The University of Minnesota

The six-figure retirement package granted recently to Joel Maturi has thrown a spotlight on spending practices at the University of Minnesota, particularly a little-known discretionary fund that has placed millions of dollars at the disposal of the institution's presidents since 2000 to fund pet projects or spark change in the massive bureaucracy.
Documents reviewed by the Star Tribune show that former President Robert Bruininks spent almost $2 million during his last three years in office on projects such as a mentoring program, patronage of Gophers athletic boosters and a therapeutic horseback riding program for disabled children.
Such discretionary funds appear to be common at large universities. Bruininks occasionally turned to the fund, comprising University of Minnesota Foundation money, to avoid the controversy sometimes entailed by spending tuition funds or taxpayer dollars. Nevertheless, the Maturi episode illustrates the delicate perception problems that surround university finances at a time of shrinking state budgets and rising tuition.
President Eric Kaler's decision to spend more than half of his annual allotment from the Presidential Advised Fund on one personnel matter is a departure from the pattern set by Bruininks. He supported 12 to 20 initiatives a year at an average price of $40,000, records show.
"It's about trying to move the dial and create a culture of innovation and creativity," Bruininks said Wednesday in an interview. "They're the kinds of things that fall through the cracks of normal academic investments."
His own spending from the fund included:
$99,712 in 2010 for the University Northside Partnership, an effort to boost wellness and prosperity in north Minneapolis
$28,250 to entertain guests considered "boosters'' in a suite at six Gopher football games during TCF Bank Stadium's 2010 inaugural season
$5,000 in fiscal year 2010 for production of "Troubled Waters," a documentary film about Mississippi River pollution.
Filling gaps, solving problems
The annual $650,000 fund is provided by the University of Minnesota Foundation, the U's private fundraising arm. The president's only obligation is to spend the money in the best interests of the university and report back to the foundation, a spokesman said.
The Advised Fund is separate from an even larger and older President's Discretionary Operations and Management Fund, which totaled $1 million in fiscal year 2011. Line-item spending records from that fund were not immediately available from university officials.
Bruininks said the Advised Fund let him get things done quickly and is modest in the context of a $3.7 billion institution. "Quite frankly, this fund is way too small to do the things that need to be done," he said.
In 2011, he tapped the fund for $100,000 to pay for a study used by the U's Capitol lobbyists to show the school's impact on the Minnesota economy. He also used the fund to support "new ideas" and early-stage projects in the hope that they would attract matching funds from elsewhere.
Bruininks called Kaler's decision to tap the fund for Maturi's final year "perfectly appropriate.'' One of the fund's uses is to "fill gaps" and "solve problems,'' he said.
When Maturi retires this summer as athletic director, he will start a one-year appointment as a special assistant to Kaler, for which he will earn the same salary he does now: $351,900, plus benefits and a retirement package that will push his compensation to more than $468,000. University spokesman Chuck Tombarge said Kaler wanted to retain Maturi for his fundraising abilities and connections while the new athletic director takes over the job. He didn't want the expense to fall on other budgets.
Such funds are common
Charles Schwartz, professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, said the existence of such a discretionary fund is typical for a large university. Schwartz has studied the use of such funds at Berkeley and pushed for greater disclosure.
"Accountability and transparency are buzzwords often used by executives who want to appear respectable; holding them to it is another matter,'' he said.
Howard Bunsis, a finance expert hired earlier this year by the U's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said that such funds are "certainly not anything unusual."
Bunsis' review of the U's finances was highly critical of spending on administration, but it was based on data not deep enough to look into particular funds. He said that the Maturi episode illustrates that the U's "priorities are not appropriate."
"If they have a choice between spending [the fund] on an old athletic director or enhancing an academic program, in my view, the money should always go to enhancing the academic program," he said.
Documents from the last three years of Bruininks' tenure show outlays for projects including scholarships, a lecture series and $65,000 annually split among the coordinate campuses' chancellors to use for new initiatives. Bruininks' biggest one-time expense since 2009, the earliest year for which records were available, was $250,000 toward the U's "Driven to Discover" marketing campaign.

How Kaler uses the fund could illustrate his leadership style and personal passions. Under Bruininks, who rides horses, the fund paid for two equine initiatives, including "We Can Ride,'' a therapeutic riding program for disabled children in partnership with the U's College of Veterinary Medicine. Bruininks, who entered college as a music major, also funded jazz scholarships and a special anniversary of the jazz ensemble on the Morris campus.

I have a lot more to say about this. What is particularly disturbing is the way that Bruininks used some of these funds to "tilt the table" in favor of pursuing his grandiose schemes that were not in the best interests of the university.  This under the table spending has got to stop.

These revelations give the lie to former President Bruininks' claim that "everything was out in the open."

A Question of Priorities 

Part II

In response to a question from a reporter about criticism from state legislators about the compensation for the special assistant position created for Joel Maturi for one year President Kaler declared:

"His principal job next year is going to be fundraising.  He will raise for the institution far more money than we're paying him in this salary.  The salary is a big number.  I get that."
See the February 8, 2012 report in the
Pioneer Press
on Kaler on Maturi's Term 

Either the President does not "get it" or he is intentionally turning a blind eye to the real issues.

The University of Minnesota Foundation is the source the President is tapping for funds to pay for the new position he has created.  Those funds were solicited for the general purposes of education, research, and public service.  See the University of Minnesota Foundation.  The administration may be able to lawfully raid the Foundation to use non-restricted funds for this purpose.  But donors may see this action as an abuse of trust for using funds for a purpose for which none of them intended their contributions to be used.  See the sample comments in A Question of Priorities.

This action has also outraged a number of state legislators.  They see the administration making up a new job in which the former athletic director will collect $468,000 in total compensation.  So they question whether they can trust the administration to use the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual state appropriations for the right priorities and whether the University really needs the amount of state appropriations it seeks.  See the February 4, 2012 report in the Star Tribune on Maturi's pay does not play well at Capitol

So with one action the President has put at risk the continuing goodwill and financial assistance of both donors and state legislators.  This may cost the University far more than the former athletic director might raise in his one year as special assistant.

Why should the University incur this risk?  Most of the soon to be former athletic director's relationships are with sports boosters, so it is likely that most of the funds he would raise would be for the athletic department.  This is the responsibility of the new athletic director (with a likely base salary at or approaching $400,000) and his director of development with a staff of 10 persons dedicated to raising funds for athletics.  For general fund raising the University has the president of the University of Minnesota Foundation (with a base salary of $521,415) together with scores of staff members.   See the Development Directory

If the President does not act to remove this risk and to restore the trust of donors and state legislators, then the Board of Regents should do so.

Michael W. McNabb

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

Friday, February 3, 2012

University of Minnesota

Maturi Deal Not Selling...

Joel Maturi's compensation package after retiring as University of Minnesota athletic director could hurt the university's future state funding, two legislators who serve on higher education committees said Friday.
On July 1, a day after he retires as AD, Maturi will begin a one-year appointment as a special assistant to university President Eric Kaler. Maturi will receive the same base salary he earns as athletic director -- $351,900 -- plus a standard university benefits package (health insurance and retirement totaling slightly more than 33 percent of his salary) that will push his compensation to more than $468,000.

Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, the lead DFLer on the House Education Finance Committee, described the package as "a golden parachute'' that "will hurt the U when President Kaler comes crying poor to the Legislature for money for our students.''
Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, a member of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said he did not want to micro-manage every decision made by Kaler and the university's regents, saying legislators would ultimately have a say in the makeup of the regents if they disagreed with policy. But he also predicted that legislators would not forget Maturi's deal at budget time.
"It will influence us when they come to the Legislature and we've read these kinds of stories, yes,'' Brown said. "How badly do they need money if that's how they're handling it? I don't think the Higher Ed Committee is going to jump in [at this point], but again, it is going to influence what we think is necessary for budgeting.''

"The university takes very seriously the feedback we've received from legislators, positive and negative, and President Kaler and his team consider this feedback very carefully,'' university spokesman Chuck Tombarge said after a meeting with Kaler's staff. "To be clear, no state or donor funds will be used to pay for Mr. Maturi's salary, but certainly if legislators have concerns, the administration stands ready to meet with them and discuss those concerns.''

Kaler declined a request for an interview.

"I think it is definitely a direct legislative issue, because these kinds of salaries make legislators think, 'Does the U really need money and why don't they ever put it toward students when we give it to them?'" Greiling said. "Once again, it looks like the university is putting students last in terms of their budgets when we see things like this.''

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who serves on the Capital Investment Committee and whose district includes numerous university employees, said she has become almost immune to university decisions that she believes show the wrong priorities.

"I don't think any of us buy the argument [that foundation money makes it acceptable], but they give the argument with a straight face,'' she said.

"Whether true or not, in the grand schemes, perception is reality at the Legislature," Greiling said. "The university has the image of living in its own ivory towers, and this is just one more example.''
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7.