Leg. rehashes U’s admin spending

by Jessica Lee

Gov. Mark Dayton is purposing to increase the state's higher education funding by $260 million, which includes more money for the University of Minnesota, despite the instiution's alleged administrative bloat. 

University graduate Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins[J1]  said the controversy surrounding the institution’s spending makes legislators, who support the increased funding, “look like idiots.”

The Wall Street Journal article and subsequent media attention pointing to the University’s alleged administrative bloat has put the institution on center stage at the Capitol this legislative session.

Simon said that University officials got “quite a talking to” in higher education committee meetings chaired by Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona[J2] , over the last months, but he's concerned if improvement is on its way.

At a House Ways and Means committee meeting Thursday — the last checkpoint before the legislation to increase the University’s funding will be taken up on the House floor – Simon asked, “Chairman, are you persuaded the University has gotten the message?”

No, Pelowski said frankly.

“When you have to spend a half a million dollars of new money to figure out how many administrators you have, you should already know that,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to spend a dime.”

University President Eric Kaler hired Sibson Consulting in January after legislators requested a spans and layers analysis of the University’s administrative spending.[J3]

The House’s higher education bill would require the University to make similar reports to the Legislature about their cost of administrators biannually.

Because of the University’s constitutional autonomy from the state, the school doesn’t have to follow the regulations outlined by the Legislature; however, its need for state funding will likely pressure it to do so.

Pelowski said this bill is the “best” he can recommend for oversight of the University for now and he hopes to expand the guidelines further next session.

“The Regents have to be held accountable when they raise tuition and if they don’t want accountability then we’ll tell them what the tuition amounts will be and that will be it,” he said, “And they will have to deal with it.”

Also, Pelowski said he plans on looking into student fees, the election of Regents and other University issues as interim projects in the future.

“It is long overdue that the Legislature reestablishes oversight on how the tuition dollars have been spent,” he said.

The bill passed Thursday would increase University funding providing a tuition freeze for undergraduate Minnesota students, invest in research and allocate extra money for the Minnesota Grant Program.

Despite the increase in funding, criticisms from legislators continue.

 “The money that we’re putting in now better not be spent on administration," Pelowski said. "It better be spent on students."