Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Crumbling Academic Infrastructure

Falling (Far) Behind Part II

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.  If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass (1871)

In the 2018 legislative session the U of M administration will submit a $200 million request for HEAPR funds to restore existing facilities--the largest such request ever made.  See p. 11 of the SEP 2017 FIN Docket. 

Almost one-third of the buildings on the Twin Cities campus (7.5 million square feet) are rated in poor or critical condition.  See p. 9 of the SEP 2017 FIN Docket (above).  In February 2016 a University assistant vice president reported that the administration should be spending twice as much as it currently spends simply to maintain University facilities in their current condition!  See p. 8 of the February 23, 2016 Senate Committee on Finance & Planning report.  It would cost a staggering $1 billion to restore all University facilities to at least fair condition.  See p. 23 of the OCT 2014 BOR FRI Docket. 

The administration acknowledges that the "growing deferred renewal backlog has widespread impacts on academic programs, research initiatives, student experience, and general competitiveness."  See p. 41 of the SEP 2017 FIN Docket (above)(emphasis added). 

This is the consequence of the decades long failure of the administration to allocate sufficient funds for the maintenance of academic facilities.  At a recent meeting the University vice president responsible for infrastructure described to Regents how insufficient stewardship has increased the backlog of necessary maintenance.  See p. 3 of the OCT 2017 BOR Docket. 

During those same decades the costs of administration skyrocketed.  In fiscal year 2016 those costs exceeded an astounding $993 million.  See the January 26, 2017 commentary in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on The (Almost) Billion Dollar Administration.  The current chair of the Board of Regents has declared that the current business model is unsustainable!  See the final paragraph on p. 14 of the SEP 2017 BOR FRI Docket.   

If it seems difficult to comprehend the magnitude of both the $1 billion backlog of deferred maintenance and the spending on administration, consider that a 50% reduction in the costs of administration would provide the funds to restore nearly all the University buildings in the first two years--even without any HEAPR funds from the legislature!  And in the third year we could have a significant reduction in tuition.  (Yes, we can.  It just takes the will and the leadership to do so.) 

Just as the maintenance of roads and bridges is an essential task for state and local governments, the maintenance of academic facilities should be a priority for an institution of higher education.  We need an administration and a Board of Regents that will allocate the substantial resources of the University to the right priorities.  See The (Almost) Billion Dollar Administration Part II.

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