A clear budget problem

The University needs to be far clearer and more transparent with its budget.

WeâÄôve all been there before: An instructor has asked you to write a term paper of a certain length and you come up a little short. What to do? You might add a few filler paragraphs here and there, change the font from Times New Roman to Courier New, and voilà, youâÄôve reached the prescribed number of pages.

Unfortunately, the University of MinnesotaâÄôs public budget documents employ this same tactic. The administration hosts a number of documents online, with the purported goal of transparency and accountability, but key details and spreadsheets are withheld from public view.
Take, for instance, the presidentâÄôs operating budget. The document scores high on the âÄúthud factor,âÄù weighing in at a grand 80 pages. However, these are merely delusions of grandeur. Two-thirds of the document is comprised of useless, filler attachments that convey no meaningful information to the public while the real details about expenditures are hidden from public view.

The University is maddeningly unspecific about the budget information it does publish, too. It has a tendency to lump expenditures into large, unclear categories so that the public has a hard time tracing where money actually goes. Even when making its case in front of the Legislature, the University is vague and does not give the Legislature enough details to justify its requests.

At the heart of this matter is the ongoing debate about tuition increases that current and future students will bear. How can anyone expect the student body or Legislature to have faith in our UniversityâÄôs leadership when the proverbial lost gospels of the University budget remain locked in the vaults?