Giddy with success

The U cannot afford any more admin. expansion.

by Robert Katz

Given the impending fiscal crisis here at the University of Minnesota, it should be obvious that major changes will have to be made in the schoolâÄôs cost structure. The governor has proposed a $50 million cut in state funding for the University in the coming biennium. The usual response of the University to any perceived revenue shortfalls is simply to raise tuition. This solution may be reaching its limit. A Jan. 28 article in The Minnesota Daily found the number of administrative employees has increased 75 percent over the last 10 years and suggests this would be a fruitful area to look to for cost savings. There were 2,100 administrators employed in 2009, up from 1,200 in 1999. Their compensation totals 14 percent of the UniversityâÄôs annual labor costs, which translates to $259 million total or an average of $123,000 per administrator. As a percentage of the UniversityâÄôs total operating costs, administrators take up about 9 percent. Nearly one in every 10 dollars the University collects goes to administrators. So the typical undergraduate contributes around $1,000 a year to administratorsâÄô pockets. A student getting paid $8 an hour would need to work 125 hours to make his or her contribution to the administration. The potential savings from a rollback in the number of administrators would be significant. If 900 administrators were eliminated (returning to the 1999 level), the savings would be enough to offset a 19 percent reduction in tuition revenue. If the reduction in administrators were just half of this âÄî still leaving us with a healthy rate of administrative growth âÄî the annual savings to the University would be $55 million: enough to address the funding cuts. The judgment of whether a decrease in the number of administrators is desirable will be influenced by oneâÄôs interests and point of view. From studentsâÄô point of view, administrators are murky figures who work behind the scenes. What they have seen are tuition increases of 148 percent from 1999 to 2009. University graduates have the seventh-highest average student loan debt among public colleges: $25,000. A recent National Center for Education Statistics study suggests that at this level of debt, one in five students will default on their loans within 10 years. On top of this, there is a 40 percent chance they will not graduate even after six years. Now these students face the likelihood of double-digit tuition increases in the coming year. Almost anything that will hold tuition in check is in studentsâÄô interest. In contrast to this dismal outlook, administrators seem to be giddy with success. They have experienced 10 years of advances in pay and job opportunities. Consider this excerpt from a University-wide e-mail by a senior vice president: âÄúâĦ We can all celebrate and be grateful for the many strengths and gifts we have and share. This is the time and opportunity for us to continue the UniversityâÄôs positive momentum toward academic and institutional excellence, achieved through strategic planning. Although the times are difficult for many people and institutions, at the University we can be confident of our bright future.âÄù Of course they do recognize the University faces problems, and they are only too eager to commission reports, form task forces and chair committees devoted to addressing these problems. During the 1930s in the Soviet Union, as a result of the PartyâÄôs Five Year Plans to become one of the top three industrialized countries in the world, the rural areas were experiencing widespread famine. The leadership, aware of some dissatisfaction, began plastering the countryside with posters of smiling peasants captioned, âÄúLife is getting better and better.âÄù Someone added âÄúfor StalinâÄù to the bottom of one of these posters. For our own sakes and for the sake of the UniversityâÄôs future, it is important we add our viewpoints to the administrationâÄôs propaganda âÄî even if it is only a word or two. Robert Katz, University staff