Monday, November 9, 2015

For the Record: The Rochester campus of the University of Minnesota is a failed experiment.

A letter to the editor has appeared in the Star-Tribune today:

(Emphasis added)

When the Rochester campus of the University of Minnesota was established in 1998, it was a worthwhile endeavor. Today, that campus — at least as it has evolved — is a failed experiment that deserves to be terminated.

The university’s presence in Rochester began as a cooperative relationship with the local community college and Winona State University. In 1998, it was designated as a branch of the university’s Twin Cities campus. And in 2006, it became a coordinate campus in the University of Minnesota system. In that year, there were 21 employees at the Rochester campus. By 2014, the number of employees had ballooned to 104. This number includes a chancellor, a vice chancellor, an associate vice chancellor and an assistant vice chancellor. The combined “chancellorian” salaries equal $624,000. I have no doubt that these are talented and hardworking individuals. I can even accept that there are plausible reasons why their lofty salaries are merited. But they represent an unaffordable administrative burden.

The recently released enrollment figures for Rochester reveal that the entire student body this fall is 416 students. The ratio of non-faculty staff members to students at Rochester (1 to 5) is nearly twice as high as the national average for public colleges. The university did not plan on creating this bureaucratic monster. The vision for this campus was one with a student population about double its present size. This goal has shown itself to be unobtainable. The highest that enrollment has ever reached was 495 in 2013, and it has been trending downward.

Nationwide, the huge increases in the cost of higher education are among the most dire challenges facing universities. An inordinate expansion of administrative and support staff has been identified as the major driver of these increases. And a Wall Street Journal article in 2012 identified the University of Minnesota as the leader in the growth of this bureaucratic burden. We now see that within the university system, the Rochester campus is the “heart of darkness.”

At this point, the Rochester experiment can be characterized as the height of bureaucratic self-interest, or the nadir of rational management. In either case, it stands as a test case for the competence of the administration of the university as a whole. Successful enterprises encourage risk-taking. Viable organizations acknowledge failures.

Robert Katz, Minneapolis