« Cutting Back on Blogging... | Main | Draft of Conflict of Interest for Download »

Weekly News From Lake Wobegon U.

As mentioned last week, I'm cutting back to Sundays.

It is really hard to decide on what to write about given the events of the week.

I'd encourage readers to check out the article about conflict of interest in the Daily this week. Please pay special attention to the comments.

Questionable ethics: a textbook case

And then there is an article in the Pioneer Press about continued arrogance by the Morrill Hall crowd. I've abstracted, with emphasis, some of the salient points on the Periodic Table:

The Arrogance Continues at University of Minnesota...

But the most amazing document to come at me from the ether was this:

Senate Committee on Finance and Planning
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'll just quote some things that caught my eye. Students, faculty, and staff should be aware of what's coming down the pike:

Tuition now exceeds state support as the University's largest revenue stream and tuition will likely be the University's largest source of revenue in the future.

In short, the University must increase revenue, reduce costs, and develop new academic planning strategies. These are matters of great urgency. The hard work of implementing the report must begin immediately, Dr. Rosenstone concluded.

One can see where the state money goes: It is concentrated in CLA, Duluth, IT, CFANS, and the Medical School. When the University faces a cut in state funds, it is difficult not to go to those units to find the money.

State Economist (Professor) Thomas Stinson and State Demographer Thomas Gillespie will meet with the Board of Regents in December to report on economic and demographic trends in the state. Professor Stinson is predicting that economic growth in the state over the next 25 years will be only one-half of what it is today. The task force concluded that the state will not grow sufficiently to provide enough funding for higher education.

The covenant between the University and the State of Minnesota defining the rationale and responsibilities for state support of higher education needs to be strengthened.

[Covenants are by mutual agreement. The legislature and the citizens are not interested in a high tution model. Deal with it?]

"Operating costs, the cost of academic excellence, and the University's appetite for new academic investments are now rising faster than revenues."


In order to give one an idea of the appetite for investments, Mr. Pfutzenreuter pointed out that "the initiatives that have emerged from the strategic positioning process require an incremental $400 million to $600 million in new and/or reallocated recurring resources."

[And it is unfair to students to finance this on their backs and the backs of their parents.]

And the idea that the state funds can be replaced with private funds is not realistic, Dean Finnegan added. Professor Martin reported that to do so for only a fraction of appropriation would require that the University raise about $800 million per year.

"The shift in revenues, rising costs, and increased competition are enormous challenges that require a paradigm reset in our academic and financial strategies for the future. The challenges demand a new portfolio of academic, fiscal, administrative, and planning strategies as well as sharper incentives to advance the excellence of the University of Minnesota." He repeated the point that there is no magic bullet, and that UMore Park gravel, selling land, and other strategies alone will not be sufficient.

Another problem, Dean Finnegan observed, is that the state is significantly overbuilt in higher education.

[Dean Finnegan, please amplify. Does the word Rochester do anything for you? Is the U overbuilt? Or are you referring to all those other state institutions who are getting your piece of the pie?]

There is a difference between the University and a typical business, Professor Konstan said in response to Dean Davis-Blake's comments. Any business will have units that are profitable for the long term. Every unit in the University receives a subsidy; just because it brings in revenue does not mean it is paying for itself. One can say research is important, but the more that is done, the more money the University loses. That is probably true in everything the University does.

Professor Konstan said it also felt like a lot of responsibility for the solution is being pushed down into the business units, which avoids solutions that are across and between units. No dean can decide to invest in two colleges, or realign six colleges into four. The Committee also has no sense of what is NOT on the table. The "Promise of Tomorrow" scholarships? The University could say it will support 4,000 students with the scholarships--but no more. The University calls a lot of things "must" because of its values, and it may need to decide which of the "musts" it will not compromise on and those that it will.

[Crucial. Professor Konstan is a smart guy, thank God he is on this committee.]

What about the timeline, Professor Konstan asked? Dr. Rosenstone said that is a question for the President.

[And here's the big point. Dr. Bruininks is a lame duck. Do you - members of the U community - really think that the skids can be greased for a major reorganization and that anybody (good) is going to come in here under the developing circumstances? Or perhaps we'll just promote the Provost to president and continue along merrily?]]

Professor Morrison
said that in his view the University faces two problems, not one. The first problem is July 1, 2011; the second problem is the next two or three decades. Someone must think about what the University is going to do on Friday, July 1, 2011. How much money does the University have in stimulus funds, he asked? (About $89 million over two years, all but $11 million of which has been allocated, most of it for tuition mitigation and middle-income scholarship program, Mr. Pfutzenreuter said.) So the University will lose about $45 million per year, Professor Morrison concluded, and must either continue to mitigate tuition or bump up tuition by a large amount. The middle-income scholarship program is recurring, so has a tail, Mr. Pfutzenreuter said, and when the money to stop buying down Minnesota resident undergraduate tuition is gone, returning students will see a $740 tuition increase.

If that cut were $150 million, which would not be unexpected with a state deficit of $7 billion, Professor Morrison said, and the disappearance of the stimulus funds, the University could face a shortfall of $200 million. On a base of state funds of about $600 million, that is a 33% cut. He said he was not sure some realize this is coming, and the University must think about strategies for July 1, 2011 and for the long haul. The task force report addresses the long haul and the University appears to be whistling in the wind about 7/1/11.

[Professor Morrison is another old timer who also really understands what is going on. When he speaks, we should all listen. This includes the Morrill Hall crowd..]

The University will also be in transition, Mr. Pfutzenreuter said, with a new president presumably coming in to office. Professor Morrison agreed, observing that the current president will leave office the day the University goes over the cliff. It is the responsibility of those at the University now to not let that happen, Vice President Rosenstone pointed out. He agreed with Professor Martin on the need to get everyone at the University to understand the new reality, and how to engage across the institution to make changes necessary to advance the excellence of the University.

[Given what has gone on around here - Graduate School coup, AHC re-org by executive fiat, smothering General College, strategic propaganda initiative, just as a couple of examples - it is going to be difficult to engage across the university. The blame lies at the feet of the Morrill Hall crowd expecially the individuals sitting in the president and provost's office, as well as the cultural czar.]

Mr. Pfutzenreuter said he was "question fatigued." Everyone asks questions about how to deal with the situation but no one provides answers.

[Ah but many of us - or at least some - have provided answers. The Morrill Hall crowd just doesn't like them and has been in denial.]

If one wants the faculty to know about the situation, it will be necessary to send someone to every department meeting, Professor Konstan said. Or one could try the blue-ribbon task forces in each college as a way to reach a more-interested subset. He wondered if one really wants to approach faculty now--leading to them worrying about the financial future rather than doing their jobs.

In terms of faculty involvement, Professor Luepker said, Committee members listen to the information but they are also representatives of groups on campus. What deserves repeating is that while people like to focus on the state cutting its appropriation to the University, the University also has $80 million in additional costs each year. That applies to everyone; all can see what they would do with more money. It is time to recognize, with Pogo, that "we have met the enemy and he is us." He and Professor Oakes were recently at a faculty meeting and asked for time to report on what FCC is doing; the chair was concerned about frightening the faculty and distracting them from their teaching and research.

It is important to involve more faculty members in thinking about these issues, Professor Seashore said.

[Our administration has avoided this solution like the plague. Our provost has talked about conversation, but he is not interested in one. The most frequent comment from our president lately has been no comment. Show us you're serious and a lot of faculty would get involved. Otherwise, don't waste our time.]

Professor Martin said there was task force consensus that the University needs a culture change. In response to Professor Seashore, she said that no one believes that DECISIONS will be made at the department level, but people must understand the situation.

Dean Finnegan agreed with Vice President Rosenstone that for whatever reason, the state has only so much money to invest in the University (there could be more if the state were to deal with the problem of over-built higher education, but until it has the fortitude to do so, the state is stuck where it is).

[There he goes again... Let's be a little more specific about your sniping, here, Dean Finnegan - what, exactly, is on your mind?]

Is it possible to get faculty to have an ownership culture in the University, versus a "reside in" culture, Professor Konstan asked? That used to be the case; for it to work, it must go hand in hand with trust.

[On the money, again, Professor Konstan. Time to stop the posturing in Morrill Hall?]

Some remember the mid-1990s, when some members of the Board of Regents blamed the ills of the University on faculty tenure, Dean Finnegan said, and those were dreadful times. The conflicts caused deep rifts and no one wants to return to that situation. Professor Chapman said he understood but that it will be difficult to do something with programs to deal with the pending situation if there is no way to achieve financial savings.

[Ah, especially in the AHC, some of the major players in the attempt to destroy tenure are still pretty high up the greasy pole...]

State support remains crucial and the University needs to develop a new compact with the state "that more clearly articulates the long-term rationale and responsibilities of the state to support teaching, research, and outreach."

[I think this is, indeed, possible. But not the way the Morrill Hall gang are planning. If you want the legislature to play ball, you are going to have to get down on your hands and knees, put on the sack cloth and ashes, and apologize for bad, arrogant, behavior lately. Then you have to agree to a covenant that INCLUDES a high quality/reasonable tuition model. You simply cannot view tuition as a "revenue source." Figure out what it really costs to educate a student for a year. Tuition + the state's contribution cannot exceed this. If you are really serious about trying to save the university from itself - this is the simple roadmap. If I am incorrect about this, let's have an honest dialog? Bob, Tom?]

Professor Luepker noted that the University has talked about the $250 million in new Medical School buildings north of the football stadium. Is there any projection of the return-on-investment for those facilities, or the patents it will take to pay them off? The task force did not see any such data, Dr. Rosenstone said, but that is the type of question that needs to be asked regularly.

[And I have asked this question from the very beginning. No one was interested. Q.E.D.]

There are other compelling reasons to do the research, Dr. Rosenstone pointed out, but the financial questions have to be asked. Professor Morrison said that supposedly the cost of the facilities is to be covered by the indirect-cost recover funds that will be generated to pay off the bonds. But there is a gap between the indirect-cost rates and actual costs, Dr. Rosenstone pointed out again, and one must fully account for the personnel costs in the new facilities.

[Exactly. And these points were made by me on two different blogs. Absurd claims were made by Frank Cerra and Fitz on this.]

In terms of real estate, the University owns 27,616 acres of land, and some it is critical to teaching, research, and outreach.

[Cough, cough... Any reasonable person would look at that number and start thinking about selling some of this land. But apparently not the Morrill Hall crowd. They are still in land acquisition mode.]

Professor Morrison asked if it is possible to have a compact with the state. He noted that he has spent a lot of time at the legislature; one can deal with this year's legislators, but next year things will be different. The compact with the state was written in 1851 and it has broken down, and he said he was not sure anyone could deal with the fact that it was broken.

[Dr. Morrison is pessimistic about a new compact. I disagree, but have to admit that he has an enormous amount of wisdom and experience. I think that a new compact is possible if we move from the high tuition model in return for better support. Look at Ohio State. No tuition increase in three years. What exactly is going on there?]

Since the early 1980s, the University has asked for general funds and that the Board of Regents be allowed to invest them. Maybe it is time to rethink that approach, and to put undergraduate students, some of the activities in agriculture, medical education and so on, at risk for loss of appropriations and let the legislature know what will happen if fails to provide funds.

[Try it. This would be an incredibly stupid thing. First you would look foolish to the public if you took it out on undergraduates. And second, you need money from the legislature. If you try to pull a stunt like this, you will regret it.]

The scope and size of the central administration needs to be re-examined and whether it is providing value. When he came to the University, there was the vice president for academic affairs, the vice president for finance, and the vice president for lobbying--and that was it. Now there are staffs and staffs; the administration can do more to control the size.

[I could cite chapter and verse on this. And I am tired of the administration chopping a few peons in their office as human sacrifices. Let's seem some actual Vice Presidents/Provosts and associate vps and assistant vps phased out. Chiefs of staff? Maybe if you need a chief of staff, you have too much staff? Or you are irrelevant?]

Second, what is to be done with units showing a profit, Professor Morrison asked? Should they stand on their own resources, or should the central administration cream off the profits? The 300-pound gorilla in the discussion is the Academic Health Center. If the AHC goes a separate way, as seemed to be suggested last week, what will that do to the calculations? He surmised that it could make the situation worse.

[Horse, barn door, locked...]

Tuition is the revenue stream with the highest potential for significant, long-term growth, although not without restraint.

[No it is not, and it is key that this be understood. It is not a "revenue stream." It is a reflection of the cost of education and not a parameter that can be adjusted when the U is short of money because of its ambitious aspirations.]

It must build upon its tremendous progress over the past decade and continue to advance the quality and reputation of a U of M education.

[The time for posturing is over. "tremendous progress"? Give me a break. You are asking student to pay more, for less. It is time for brutal realism about our situation, not Mary Poppins prattle.]

Crookston, Duluth, and Morris are now at or over-market in their tuition rates. There is need for a candid conversation about the quality of education and how the University compares with its competition, about the supply of qualified students, and where additional investments in program quality, scholarships, recruitment, and the student experience are needed.

[As I was saying...]

Should the University serve more undergraduate students beyond Minnesota and the reciprocity states?

[Ah, that would be no. Hidden here is a question about revenue and ambitious aspirations. The fire sale on out of state (not reciprocity) tuition is something that needs serious discussion. We are turning down qualified Minnesota students for what?]

Should the University continue to move to higher tuition with higher levels of financial aid for undergraduates of modest financial means?

[That, too, would be no. Even though the Morrill Hall crowd would have us believe that this is the only way possible, there is obviously another model, e.g. Ohio State where there has been no tuition increase in the last three years, no layoffs, and a 2.5% pay increase this year. How can this be? Why don't we hear the admin speak to what is going on in Ohio?]

Lower-division courses subsidize upper-division courses; it would not be possible to have small-enrollment upper-division courses without large-enrollment lower division courses.

[And yet this administration fought tooth and nail to beat down the number of large classrooms in the new Taj Bruininks that replaces the former Science Classroom Building. And this despite input from faculty about how stupid this was. There is a difference between dictatorship and leadership.]

Ms. Stahre said that with respect to increasing tuition and the quality of education, the only time students hear about quality is in the talk about the student-faculty ratio. That is not an adequate measure; how is quality measured? That question needs to be answered much better than it is now, Dr. Rosenstone said. Graduation rate is a proxy. It is incumbent on the institution to demonstrate, in a thoughtful way, why it is a good investment to come to the University.

[Others are not so sanguine. As for commitment to quality education at an affordable cost? Meaningless drivel. The administration has flatly failed on its promises of excellence and affordability." Daily (13 Oct 2009)]

The fourth strategy advocated by the task force is narrowing the scope of the mission. "As important as new revenues, cost-cutting, and efficiency gains are, in our judgment, together they will not yield sufficient new resources to ensure the excellence of our University. We cannot become one of the best universities in the world and meet our land-grant responsibilities without narrowing the scope of our mission to advance a distinctive constellation of excellence."

[Why is there always an assumption in these discussions that we are to become one of the best public research universities in the world? This is insane. Why not one of the best schools in the BigTen? Those of us who have suggested this repeatedly, have been called "doubters" by the Morrill Hall crowd. Please, stop the posturing.]

Big decisions must be informed by data and analysis, Dr. Rosenstone said; in the past, some big decisions have been made without the full analysis one would expect. If the University doesn't have all the money it would like to compete against some of its peers, it needs to play smarter.

[Bingo, Dr. Rosenstone. Do we really need a cultural czar?]

Getting faculty buy-in will be crucial, Professor Roe said; they must feel they have an interest in the identifying solutions and will be listened to if the University is to retain their loyalty.

[Lord, love a duck. Why do you think faculty will buy in? Why should they? When has the faculty been invited to the table for a true consultation? The answer lately is: never.]

What is the next step, Mr. Erikson asked? That is the President's decision, Dr. Rosenstone said.

[He should be tasked to take care of the 2011 problem Professor Morrison identified. We should begin an immediate search for a new executive who can be hired asap. This person should be involved in the long term problems mentioned in this discussion. No one who is worth much is going to come in with the marching orders all tied up in a neat little bundle by his predecessor for implementation. ]

Everyone is expressing the view that there will need to be restructuring and incentives to engage faculty, Professor Seashore said; even if the decision about the big picture is made on high, faculty must be engaged at the unit level--and not all of them have to be, there just needs to be an energized number. Faculty will do this work for very small amounts of money.

[I know Dr. Seashore means well, but this is a truly ironic comment.]

Either this Committee or the Faculty Consultative Committee needs a deep discussion with the President, Professor Konstan said, that hits hard on the point that the University cannot wait, on what the next steps will be or who he has charged with carrying out the next steps. These issues cannot be allowed to slip into the next administration.

Professor Luepker noted that the Faculty Consultative Committee had volunteered for the job but was turned down.

[This takes the proverbial cake. We want faculty buy in. We want faculty on board. Yadda, yadda, yadda...
Leadership, anyone?]

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)