Keep admins honest … but keep the state honest too

University leaders must make better financial decisions, but public higher education is at risk unless it receives more state funding.

Daily Editorial Board

Keep admins honest …

Last Thursday, a group of students, faculty and others held a rally in support of the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education to protest some of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs recent unpopular decisions, including tuition hikes and mandatory furloughs for faculty and staff.
That same day, the Finance and Operations Committee of the Board of Regents received a report that identified the three largest contributors to University operating costs: employee pay, student financial aid and utilities.
Last yearâÄôs decision to mandate furloughs or wage cuts for all employees was regressive: Only the highest-paid administrators took even a slightly bigger hit than the lowest-paid employees. Bruininks also stiff-armed two alternative proposals from the Faculty Senate at the time.
In the case of student financial aid, raising tuition year after year means rising student aid costs as aid awards have to match higher costs of attendance. Students are increasingly unable to attend the University without significant financial assistance.
Finally, the UniversityâÄôs record does not match its rhetoric on utility costs. While saying it wants to âÄúimprove utilities and energy management,âÄù in practice it leaves the football stadiumâÄôs scoreboard on when the team isnâÄôt there, installs new flat-screen TVs in Coffman Union that do essentially nothing and plans a Recreation Center expansion that âÄî aside from its $60 million construction price tag âÄî will add 140,000 square feet of space that needs to be heated and lit. There should be criticism of the administrationâÄôs budget mismanagement, and until they change how they do business, there will be.

… But keep the state honest too

Last week, the Board of Regents also heard from University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks, who told them that the University needs a $100 million increase in state funding over the next two years.
This is an incontrovertible fact; if anything, the University needs even more than that.
While BruininksâÄô request is a good place to start, he and the administration must also have a serious attitude about it. There have already been some unhelpful pessimistic statements about the request from Bruininks and University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter.
The funding of a public university is too important a concern to leave in the hands of administrators. Those students, faculty and staff who protested Thursday on campus against tuition hikes and wage cuts âÄî and who want to âÄúreclaim public educationâÄù âÄî must also lobby state legislators for higher levels of public funding.
Since 2002, real state appropriations have dropped more than 20 percent. It is not a coincidence that the UniversityâÄôs real tuition revenue has tripled in that time and surpassed state funding as its largest source of revenue. All the students, staff and faculty who are rightly protesting administrative policies need to let state legislators know their discontent with this. Making up more state funding cuts with tuition increases could mean another hike of up to 12 percent.
The state of Minnesota has as much say as the University administration, if not more, in how âÄúpublicâÄù an education at the University will be. While the administration has made irresponsible decisions about the University, the state has made its fair share as well. Those decisions deserve just as much attention and outcry.