Regents pass the buck

The board will relinquish a seldom-used but crucial spending oversight.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents increased its oversight threshold on University purchases from $250,000 to $1 million last week. No longer will purchases totaling less than $1 million require regent approval. According to a Feb. 17 article in The Minnesota Daily, âÄúRegents say increasing the threshold âĦ will improve efficiency when dealing with money already budgeted for spending.âÄù With a meager state bonding bill and budgetary threats from the governorâÄôs office, the Board of Regents should not relieve itself from the responsibility to scrutinize University spending in the name of efficiency. Michael Volna, University controller, said he has not seen the regents reject any of these spending requests during his seven-year tenure. Merely âÄútwo or three times a yearâÄù do regents ask specific questions about spending items. The regents would have you believe fiscal rubber-stamping is the hallmark of efficiency. In reality, the regents have failed to take advantage of a crucial check on spending at a University now facing tuition hikes, layoffs and furloughs. According to Board Chairman Clyde Allen, it is a waste of time for the regents to focus on the minute details of a $250,000 purchase at a $3 billion University. Regents feel their time would be better spent on determining the broader budget. But, as University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter quipped earlier this month, âÄúevery 20 nickels makes a buck.âÄù Now more than ever, the Board of Regents should be taking advantage of their financial oversight capabilities to inform their broader budget policy. ItâÄôs disingenuous for the regents to lighten their own workload while asking others to sacrifice in light of a “new” fiscal “reality.”