Tuition for education, not administration

As students return to classes for the spring semester, we return to the University of Minnesota amidst a shroud of humiliating national revelations of our university’s shameful misconduct over the past decade. Months of research by the Wall Street Journal revealed in its Dec. 28, 2012, article, “Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy  And Tuition,” years of corrupt mismanagement by University administration.

Students upon reviewing this article will find themselves faced with the fact that their tuition at the University has not only sharply risen over the past decade, but that our University is amongst the most expensive public institutions in the country. Students may then ask: What has this money gone to pay for? Not the massive building projects across campus, nor hiring exceptional staff and faculty and certainly not to providing students with exceptional campus resources.

Students must not only take the time to research these revelations, which make it clear that our tuition is paying very little for our education. Rather, we pay for an administration that numbers 3.5 staff to every student. Students must then make a conscious choice to accept this burden of debt or to demand accountability of its administration. Tuition has doubled over the past decade, vastly exceeding national averages in increases and total cost.

Meanwhile, administration has grown by 37 percent while the staff, faculty and entire programs have annually been reduced and cut. While the administration point to reductions in state funding, they rarely will point out a simultaneous increase in private donors’ money to the University. What President Eric Kaler and his peers have failed to provide students is a comprehensive public budget for review.

During the fall semester, a Dec. 5, 2012 article, “Money Woes Impact Academics,” ran in the Minnesota Daily noting how many students were struggling to buy books for class, pay rent or even eat regularly. However, the financial burdens rarely cease after graduation. According to a Rutgers University study, graduates can expect 7-12 percent unemployment, 49 percent without full-time employment and 43 percent with jobs that do not require their level of education.

The average annual income of a 2011 graduate was $27,000 while the average graduate in Minnesota had $29,800 in debt, the third highest in the nation, an increase of 28 percent since 2005. These troubling points bring us back to the question of what are we paying for?

Kaler claimed in his March 18, 2012, letter in the Star Tribune that he would “make every discussion with a single focus in mind: what is best for students,” but has done little to demonstrate this. Rather than proposing his “freeze on tuition” under the conditions that the state increase funding to the University, Kaler should offering a 37 percent cut in administration and a return of the 40 percent increase in tuition that was thrust upon students. Serving students means investing in education, not administration.

Students at the University must begin to organize in response to these revelations in order to begin challenging Kaler and his administration. Students should not be the bargaining chips used by administration at the Capitol to increase funding, nor should student’s tuition be a bargaining chip for administration for state funding.

Students for a Democratic Society at the University has long been advocating for education rights. This spring we are introducing a petition to students for a referendum on the All-Campus Elections in April.

This referendum is intended to serve students now and in the future at the University in three ways. First, it will demand the releasing of an annual comprehensive budget of the University for students to review. Second, it demands a cut in the size and scope of administration in order to reinvest in education. Finally, it requires any future increase in tuition to be voted on by the student body. This voting would act as a mechanism for future administrative accountability for student’s tuition money against waste and mismanagement. Students, just as the state has done, must demand accountability for every dollar paid to ensure it serves their education, not the administration. Students are encouraged not just to sign the petition and vote in April but participate in the defense of their tuition dollars.

Christopher Getowicz

Students for a Democratic Society