"I've never been more shocked and disheartened by this University and the philosophy of its administration."
former student Senate chair Ryan Kennedy in the Daily.
I've posted recently on the paradigm resetters in Morrill Hall and the Daily has reacted just as negatively:
Last Thursday afternoon, the McNamara Alumni Center offered reprieve, or so I'd thought, for my body chilled by fall wind. Only after I entered the crystalline geomorphic dome and sat down in the sixth floor Regents' Board Room to the University of Minnesota Financing the Future Task Force, did it become clear to me wherefrom those chill winds blew.
The 22-member task force including only two students, was charged to set the future course of University finances, heralding an austere "new fiscal reality." While presenting the report, Vice President and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter implied the University had been fiscally blindsided by the state of Minnesota in a "dramatic and permanent reset of the University's sources of revenue." Posturing as if the Minnesota divestment trend amounted to breaking news, the task force established the foundation for a slate of drastic budgetary recommendations: 1) Grow a larger and more diversified portfolio of revenues; 2) Grow tuition revenue while ensuring financial access; 3) Substantially increase administrative and academic effectiveness, reduce costs and boost efficiency; 4) Narrow the scope of the University's mission to advance a distinctive constellation of excellence.
For those unaccustomed to the shifty indicators or connotative nature of higher education hyper-jargon, focus on strategies 1 and 2. Note their prominence within the hierarchy. Strategy 1, broad and vague, grows revenues. It relies in part on a new "covenant" with the State of Minnesota (the same state that has permanently reduced University funding) and in part on the speculation of increased private donations. It fails the litmus of institutional sincerity and fiscal dependability. So why include this "non"-strategy? It serves to prime the University to the revenue growth mantra, pitched more specifically as Strategy 2, a "tuition fix."
And Messianic recitals by Vice Presidents Steven Rosenstone and Richard Pfutzenreuter that tuition "is the revenue stream with the highest potential for long-term growth" offered little calm to students.
And framing the "new reality" as a loss of revenues rather than an explosion of costs seeks only to justify the corollary revenue-side tuition fix. Comparatively, the report lacked the will to cut costs.
Conspicuously, all three scenarios hiked tuition (the only strategy that closes the projected gap pegs long-term tuition growth at 9.8 percent annually for Twin Cities undergraduates). None of the graphs modeled programmatic, employee or facility expense reductions -- a not-so subtle admission of near-, mid- and long-term reliance on raising student tuition costs.
Last year, Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Va., said of administration, "They are going to lose a lot of friends at the Capitol if they jack up that tuition ... They're pricing themselves out of work if they keep going up 7.5 percent." Are we poised to burn the last remnants of structural integrity in the state partnership bridge?
"Morris, Crookston and Duluth are already priced beyond market and may not be able to absorb significant tuition increases," but the task force offered a bleak alternative: an "aggressive tuition option" targeting "undergraduate students on the Twin Cities campus, who account for 45 percent of the University's tuition revenue." These families and students already pay tenuously close to market, leaving them top-notch debt loads after graduation for Big Ten public universities.
Ever barred from the chopping block is the sacred cow "strategic positioning agenda" -- that broad canard of University priorities approved in 2005 "to become by  one of the top three public research universities in the world." . But to finance planning and implementation, institutional and academic support costs have steadily risen; as we approach the strategic initiative's halfway point, some indicators point to a net drop in University position.
After delivering such dark tuition prospects to a largely "optimistic" Board of Regents, University President Bob Bruininks audaciously requested tuition-payers fall lock-step in line, asking that "students, staff and faculty work in partnership with [the] Board." An especially outrageous assertion, considering only two members of the 22-strong task force were students. If administration sincerely seeks partnership, students deserve drastically better representation on future task forces.