Students pay the price for flawed priorities

The guys at the top of the pyramid are cooking up some new fees for all of us to endure.

Within the past week, University officials have been meeting with student leaders and legislators to create financial plans for the future, and to figure out where current students fit into those plans.

But when the University makes its annual request to the state legislature, how much of the money is directed at reducing the costs of tuition? Overall, many lawmakers assume that every University financial request will be bloated with unnecessary projects. Because of this assumption, it becomes hard for the governor and elected officials to justify voting for the entire University’s request to constituents. When people can’t pay their mortgages, it’s important to be clear and honest about why their tax dollars are necessary pieces of our schools plans.

On “Support the ‘U’ Day”, many students finally got to see how much work we still have to do in building trust with the state. Instead of thoroughly explaining his request, President Bob Bruininks was forced to defend the proposed 7.5 percent increase in tuition that is planned for next fall, especially after receiving a 13 percent increase in state money over the previous year.

Out of the $225 million requested, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he would be in favor of approximately $130 million in spending toward the University’s request. He knows, as many of us are starting to figure out, that buildings and alumni pork projects are getting in the way of basic educational principles that should not be compromised at a public, land-grant school.

The $35 million Bell Museum, the $1.2 million acquisition of a nearby shopping mall for “urban research,” and, of course, the new stadium, are not essential to a “practical, public education”. I don’t disagree that it is time for a new football venue, but I disagree with a tax on students to make it happen, and, more importantly, I disagree with struggling families around Minnesota paying taxes for such a stadium while at the same time the state government is telling them funds aren’t available to provide safer roads to drive on.

“Driven to Discover” is a fine strategy for research, but to draw the entire University into a risky and expensive campaign with the rest of the world doesn’t exactly equate to classroom results for current students. A better use of funds would be to evaluate staff and eliminate waste bureaucracy in the administration and the colleges. Boards, committees and “working groups” cost millions a year. What we should really be asking ourselves is why we find ourselves being mediocre when compared to the rest of the schools in the Big Ten. We can’t win the World Series if we can’t beat our neighbors in street ball. Faculty evaluations are a good start, yet our faculty have expressed that they do not wish to be evaluated, claiming that it may not be “fair”. I guess the other option is to continue to employ and tenured faculty that fail students with the flawed techniques year after year, and then blame the students for not working hard enough.

Next year, a new capital expense fee is in the works, apparently designed to create another pool of money for things like the Rec Center and Northrop Auditorium renovations. Similar to the University fee, there is no cap over time on how much this could cost; it will eventually be around $200 a year, and will probably grow from there. This sounds like a small number, but when you add up fees that are added on to tuition, they are somewhere around $2300 a year, depending on the college.

To the University’s benefit, the new fee will be another small one that will eventually grow larger and larger, meaning most students won’t notice it until the projects it pays for are uncontrollable in cost and progress. A student advisory board will be set up to monitor this fee, but just like the boards for other fees and expenses, the handful of students on the committee will likely become bobble heads to department chairs that end up requesting millions within a matter of minutes. A student advisory board is a good way for the administration to tell people it is “consulting” students in a very controlled and confusing atmosphere, where students that question expenses are quickly isolated.

For students, it’s time to demand an end to new fees and new spending priorities, starting at the top. The University must be able to keep its current buildings and facilities up to standard before it builds or buys new ones. At a time of economic downturn, we are becoming a school that our citizens cannot afford, even though they’ve paid for it. More scholarships for low income students do not justify increased costs, because the middle class is once again being left behind. Flawed FAFSA calculations and comparable out-of-state costs make many of these students choose to go to school in neighboring states or not at all, which defeats the entire purpose of a public school.

To the University: stop tuition costs from inflating before adding other elements to our “cultural experience”. We have caught on to the pork spending, and we want our academic education back.

Andy Post welcomes comments at [email protected]