Open Campaign Minnesota coffers

Campaign Minnesota, the University’s massive fund-raising effort, raised more than $1.1 billion as of May 1. Fewer than two years after its inception, the campaign is within $200,000 of its goal with almost a year and a half remaining on its original timetable. Investing in administrative personnel obviously paid off for the institution as a whole, yet students face a 13.8 percent tuition hike. A $537 million construction-related debt, along with the PeopleSoft system’s nearly 50 percent cost overrun, both play a major role in the University’s current fiscal woes. Money is available and must be used to reduce the burden students and the University face.

Granted, the University’s decision several years ago to overhaul the campus was, even in hindsight, not an entirely bad move, though a $537 million debt proves the endeavor was overzealous. But with the nation in the midst of an economic upswing and a host of deteriorating University buildings, the course must have seemed clear at the time. Circumstances changed, though. The Legislature refused to fund the University’s request and the “New Economy” faltered. All the while, $1.1 billion sits in University coffers. Administrators should look to that vast pool of money instead of shifting so much of the financial shortcomings onto students.

The University cannot simply pull the money out and use it for debt relief. When private donors or foundations give to the University, most stipulate where they want the money to go. It would be illegal, then, for the University to simply take their money and throw it into tuition relief. But why, with twice as many administrative personnel now than there were nine years ago, has the University not tasked a group to call the donors and ask if they would consider reallocating their donation? The University already missed one opportunity to give students tuition relief. Two years ago, it received about $5 million more than expected from tuition money. When this happens at the state level, as it did this year, taxpayers get a rebate. But when it happened at the University, the departments that took in the extra money absorbed it.

Perhaps administrators didn’t see this crunch coming. Perhaps they kept the money assuming there would be plenty coming from the Legislature to keep tuition down. Whatever the reason, the decision is indicative of a mode of thought direly affecting students. Most who have met President Mark Yudof know he doesn’t want to pawn problems off on students thoughtlessly. He can be counted on to have the student body’s welfare in mind.

“Every institution has its defining moments – points in time when talented individuals, working cooperatively, can influence the course of events for generations to come. I believe this is one such moment for the University of Minnesota,” said Yudof, according to Campaign Minnesota’s Web site.

President Yudof, people have defining moments, too. Look elsewhere for the money.