Yudof’s accountability focus draws praise from state lawmakers

Liz Kohman

University President Mark Yudof is spreading a message of institutional accountability, and government officials seem to be listening.

“I’m very supportive,” said Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, chairwoman of the Higher Education Budget Division.

In the last month Yudof has extolled the University’s momentum and accountability in his Board of Regents and State of the University addresses.

Yudof’s message of efficiency comes after last session’s funding battle among University officials, legislators and the governor, where the institution received $100 million less than requested.

Many lawmakers said the University needs to be more accountable to Minnesotans before receiving increased funding.

“We want to see measurable results,” Wiener said. “I think they got the message from us that we want to see accountability.”

One way the University proves it’s accountability is through graduation rates, Wiener said, because the rates demonstrate how many people the University is putting into the workforce.

“We need to let the public know that they’re getting their money’s worth,” she said.

In 2000 the University’s four-year graduation rate was less than 30 percent but has steadily increased over the past decade.

Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, and chairwoman of the House Higher Education Finance Committee, said the data Yudof has presented lately is positive, but she’s not sure his message is getting to the public at large.

Leppik also said she was unsure the University’s accountability message would translate into more funding from the Legislature.

“There are so many issues that go into funding higher education in general,” Leppik said.

Rep. Steven Dehler, R-St. Joseph, said the public and the University’s donors are just as interested as the Legislature in the University’s accountability because they don’t want to see the University fail.

Funding from the government shouldn’t be tied to measures of accountability, Dehler said, because the University should be living up to those measures as a part of being a responsible institution.

Sandra Gardebring, vice president for University Relations, told the Board of Regents last month that the University has made an effort to communicate its accountability following last year’s legislative session.

During an interview Oct. 16, Gardebring said she thinks the Legislature occasionally uses lack of accountability as an excuse to deny funds.

Gov. Jesse Ventura has also pushed for the University to be more accountable.

“When we give the ‘U’ $3 billion out of our budget, I think we’re entitled to know what it’s spent on,” Ventura said during an Oct. 23 interview.

Ventura has noticed the change in the University’s message.

“Earlier this year, it was ‘Jesse the rotten,’ give us money because Jesse cheated us, and now it’s more accountability,” Ventura said.

He said he expects the University to prioritize the building projects in its $186.5 million capital request next session.

“Tell me which ones are most desperately needed right now, and take it down in order,” Ventura said. “I will do everything I can.”

 

-K.C. Howard contributed to this story.

 

Liz Kohman welcomes comments at [email protected]