Monday, April 26, 2010

April 22 Open Forum with the Prez

Last week President Bruininks held an open forum to give members of the University community an opportunity to discuss the state of the U with him. This forum was scheduled because his State of the U speech was canceled. A number of FRPE members attended the forum and asked the President some tough questions.

You can view video of the campus forum (in six segments, each about 10 minutes in length, but the quality is not so great--on my player the audio is screwed up but I have a MAC, maybe it will work better on PCs):

The Daily's report on the open forum:

Bill Gleason's commentary on the open forum, in four parts:

FRPE's SCFP proposal

Fiscal circumstances now and for the foreseeable future require the University of Minnesota to reduce its expenditures. Reductions should be made where they will least impair the University’s core missions of education, research, and outreach. Prior to eliminating academic units and programs, therefore, it is essential that broad scrutiny of the University’s finances and operations be undertaken, in order to determine where economies may be implemented with minimal impact on the academic mission. The faculty, who bear primary responsibility for carrying out the mission, must play a commensurate role in determining where budgetary reductions are advisable. As the Senate Committee on Finance and Planning is the governance body charged with advising the administration on financial and operational planning, it is this committee that must spearhead this undertaking.

Accordingly, we propose that this committee commence an ongoing, proactive review of the University’s finances and operations, selecting one or more initiatives, programs, or units to examine per year, and conducting for each one a detailed cost/benefit analysis anchored to the University’s academic mission.

This review would focus on aligning the expenditure of resources with fulfillment of the academic mission. There are many areas where the alignment of expenses with the mission could be scrutinized. One such area is central administration. The size and cost of central administration have grown more, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the University’s budget, than any other part of the University’s operations. There is widespread concern about rising administrative costs and about whether these costs represent the optimal means of serving the University’s mission. Central administration should therefore be the first “item” chosen for review. The review should scrutinize every office comprised within central administration, examining what each one currently costs, what it does for the university’s mission, and whether that could be accomplished for a lower cost.

Undertaking such reviews has the potential to yield more than financial benefits. First, they will help to identify areas where the University may economize without impairment of its academic mission. Second, by involving faculty and staff in the process of determining where cuts are made, such reviews will help develop confidence in the administration and support for the budgetary decisions that are made, confidence that is lacking among many faculty and staff now. This process will thus establish a new norm in faculty-administration relations in advance of the transition to a new administration.

Prepared by Bruce Braun, Eva von Dassow, and William Messing

Saturday, April 17, 2010

P&A = slave labor?

The administration has put forward a new policy, Modifying Appointments of Academic Professional and Academic Administrative Employees for Financial Stringency. It allows the administration to treat P&A employees, who already deal with precarious employment practices, in an even more arbitrary fashion. The text of the proposed policy is below.

The University reserves the right to modify the appointment terms of Academic Professional and Academic Administrative (P&A) employees throughout the University system in order to address financial stringency. Specifically, the University may: 1) reduce P&A salaries or percentages of appointment during the term of an employee’s appointment; 2) impose unpaid furloughs or other mandatory unpaid absences; 3) postpone compensation; or 4) take other actions as determined by the University in its sole discretion. All P&A appointments are made subject to this right, effective June 1, 2010.


The President will determine whether a financial stringency exists. The authority, by delegation of the President, to modify terms of appointment under this policy will reside with the Vice President for Human Resources.


Any modification of terms of appointment under this policy must:

Have a defined term, not to exceed two years unless renewed by the Vice President for Human Resources under this policy;

Be communicated to affected employees in a timely fashion in advance of implementation.

The policy becomes official in June. New policies undergo a 30-day review period, which gives employees a chance to comment. You may leave a comment here:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big grants...not the solution to our budget woes

A key component of the U's strategic positioning initiative has been to expand parts of the University that can compete for large federal grants. As Bill Gleason has noted on his blogs, these grants often end up costing the U money since they do not fully cover start-up and overhead costs. A 2007 Science article noted that "the bulk of scientists' salaries and overhead costs are not set up to support faculty members long-term." As grants become more competitive (due to declining federal funding and more pressure on faculty to apply for grants), we need to ask some pointed questions.

First, can we afford to continue plowing resources into parts of the U that live off grants? (E.g., is it wise to build that $200m biomed facility, which will include 40 new faculty lines? See As Joe Konstan, member of the Senate Finance and Planning Committee told the Daily: "“I came away feeling a big chunk of the solution isn’t going to be deciding we can do things a bit more efficiently here or there, but deciding there are substantial chunks [of the University] that, as much as we can do them well, we just can’t afford to do.” (

Second, how is the financing gap for these grants being filled?

Third, how will these facts about big grants shape discussions about how to restructure the U? A common myth is that the humanities are the ones being subsidized by universities, but in fact many humanities and social science programs more than cover their expenditures with the tuition revenue that they generate. (See

At last there is some honest talk starting about this matter. VP Mulcahy met recently with the Senate Research Committee. Select portions of the minutes are appended below.


Dr. Mulcahy recalled that about 18 months ago the President appointed a working group to address financing the future of the University; the group issued a report that was subject to considerable discussion. One question the report asked is whether there are revenue streams that might be enhanced. One suggestion was to increase the volume of sponsored research and thereby collect additional indirect-cost funds. Many, however, recognized the fallacy in that suggestion: The University does not recover the full cost of research, so increasing the volume of sponsored research would mean greater cost and that the University would have to increase its subsidization of research. Many do not understand F&A costs, so he had a session with the President's executive team to introduce the idea that the University should introduce changes in its policies and practices.

The federal role is one part of dealing with F&A costs, Dr. Mulcahy said, but what is done at the University is another part that affects what the institution receives in F&A income. For one thing, the University has a practice of sometimes voluntarily waiving F&A income it could receive. This issue fits with the larger question of sustainability of the research enterprise because the challenges to sustainability are tied to the revenues available to put systems in place, provide infrastructure, matching funds, equipment, and so on. F&A income is a big piece of the revenue used to support research, so to the extent units decide to waive F&A charges, it adds to the challenge of sustaining the research enterprise.

F&A costs (indirect costs, overhead) are real costs incurred while conducting research. They are related to administrative management, providing facilities, and "costs that are incurred for common or joint objectives and, therefore, cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project." F&A costs are costs that some sponsors will reimburse based on a calculated average rate developed and negotiated in accordance with OMB Circular A-21. The cost-recovery mechanism is not, Dr. Mulcahy emphasized, a "tax" on grants or investigators. The University is not "taxing" the federal government or the PI; this is a cost-recovery mechanism.

The reason this is so important is that in the University's budget model, all costs to operate administrative units are distributed to colleges, as are all tuition and most F&A revenues and state funding. F&A funds are one way colleges pay for services provided by the University, and make up an important revenue stream.

The calculation of the F&A rate is different from the actual F&A costs. Dr. Mulcahy explained the formula used, which results in a calculation of a 62% indirect-cost rate for the University of Minnesota. One would think that this would mean the federal government would provide 62 cents in addition to each research dollar provided, but it does not.

The actual rate negotiated with the federal government is 51%. The reason it is lower than the 62% is because there is a federal cap of 26% on administrative F&A costs. The federal government agrees that the University has demonstrated legitimate administrative costs of 32.57%, but it will only pay 26%. It also agrees that the University has legitimate other indirect costs that total 30.31%, but it has only agreed to pay 25%. The University can justify the 62%, but the federal government gives it 11 cents less than that for each research dollar. The administrative cap of 26% has been in place since 1991, ever since there was a scandal involving a yacht at Stanford...since 1991 with respect to paperwork and regulation required by the federal government, one realizes it has gone through the roof—but there have been no additional F&A funds from the federal government to respond to these mandates. The difference between the 32.57% and the 26% costs the University about $7 million per year.

If the full F&A rate of 51% were applied to all appropriate sponsored research costs, the University would receive $145 million per year. The EFFECTIVE rate, however, is 37%, because the University only received $104 million in 2009. It is not that the federal government is not paying the full rate (which some agencies do not), but that other funding organizations do not, either. The average rate from the federal government is only 42.6% because some federal agencies do not pay 51%. The clinical-trials rate is 26%, as is the off-campus F&A rate. Many sponsors limit F&A to less than 51%, including collectives, the State of Minnesota, commodities groups, research foundations, etc. One can see the point of view of foundations (e.g., American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association): they want their money to go to research for a cure, not for administrative costs. But that leaves the University paying those indirect costs. In some cases, sponsors may cap total costs, direct and indirect, and make no distinction between them. That makes proposal with lower F&A costs more competitive.

One big reason the University does not receive 51%, however, is that it sometimes voluntarily waives F&A costs that are allowable and that the sponsor is willing to pay.

Effective F&A rates vary by college.

CBS 42.6%
CEHD 38.5
CFANS 17.0
CLA 41.3
HHH 29.3
IT 39.5
Med School 37.8
Pub Health 36.2
Vet Med 28.6
UMD 28.3

The number of waiver requests increased considerably starting in 2003. In 2008, increasing awareness about waivers led to a decline in 2009. But the increase from 2003 (about 18) to 2008 (about 190) is a cause for concern.

The deans maintain that there are legitimate reasons for granting waivers, Dr. Mulcahy said, and he agrees. There are good reasons, peculiar to each circumstance, so it would be unwise to adopt a general policy prohibiting waivers. Some of those reasons include seed grants that may attract larger grants, hardship for a new PI, awards that include equipment or building funds, community-relations or library projects, student-services projects, when a department is committed to undertake the research regardless of external funding (so any money is better than none), small cost, junior or incoming faculty member, etc. But the University of Minnesota is more generous with F&A waivers than other top research universities.

Dr. Mulcahy noted again that the University has a total unrecovered cost of research of about $75 million (the difference between the full rate of 62%, or $179 million, and the effective rate of 37%, or $104 million). $34 million of that $75 million is difference between the full (62%, $179 million) and the negotiated rate (51%, $145 million). The other $41 million is the difference between the negotiated rate ($145 million) and the effective rate ($104 million). The key point is that someone paid that $75 million. The $34 million is, in essence, the cost of doing business—the University is not going to recover the difference between the full/actual rate of 62% and the negotiated rate of 51%. But of the $41 million difference between the negotiated and effective rates, perhaps half is recoverable. Not all of it, Dr. Mulcahy said, because some sources will not or cannot pay the negotiated rate, but with more stringent University rules, it should perhaps be able to recover $20 million.

So the institutional "cost" per dollar of research is about 25 cents for every unrecovered F&A dollar.

Dr. Mulcahy next identified myths about F&A cost recovery; all of the following statements are false, he said.

-- F&A cost recovery from increased research represents a financial strategy to resolve the University's financial challenges.
-- The University recovers the negotiated F&A rate on all direct costs.
-- F&A waivers are approved as exceptional circumstances though a controlled process.
-- Conducting more research doesn't cost more since we already have the resources. (He said he hears this all the time, but it does cost more to do more.)
-- There is nothing the University can or need do to recover more of the legitimate costs of conducting research. (The fiscal times demand that everything possible be done to control costs.)

There are few ways to infuse more money into research, Dr. Mulcahy said, and two of them are to increase F&A recovery and to increase money from the commercialization of technology.

Another myth, Professor Cleary said, is F&A money generated in one unit helps to cover the costs of projects in another unit. That is a myth to this extent, Dr. Mulcahy said: Even if the unit recovered the negotiated rate, it would not cover all the costs of doing research. It is only possible to cover costs related to research, not to other parts of the University, so one cannot say that NO dollars ever went to another unit, because the funds are all pooled.

Professor Bearinger said there is a conundrum in that, while the intent and hope is that research funding to the University will double or more in the future, so too would the deficit resulting from unrecovered costs of administering research grants. If funding doubled, the current $41 million "deficit" would become an $82 million deficit. The question is, then, what is the message to faculty, particularly to new faculty? One hears that "researchers are costing the University money," but that is not the message that should be sent. There is a need to think about talking points with particularly consideration to incentives for new PIs. If one considers the 62% actual costs and the 51% negotiated rate, Professor Anderson said, some of the costs are offset by benefits—which must be real or the University would not pay the costs. There are benefits in standing, in ranking, etc.; the research is buying something the University is willing to pay for.

Dr. Mulcahy said that the University has three missions and it does not recover the full cost of any of them. It will not stop providing education. In doubling the research volume, it must be disciplined about accepting lower F&A rates. At one extreme is not allowing any variation from the rates; at the other is allowing great variation. The University has tended toward the latter end and needs to achieve a better balance.

Regents Professors weigh in

The FCC invited the Regents Professors to their April 1st meeting. They had a lot to say. Some choice comments:

"As a DGS, one is seeing the impact of budget cuts and must be concerned about the future of graduate education. They have already taken a 4% cut in their instructional budget, which affects the TA budget, and now must model additional cuts. They only place they can take money is from the same budget because they are not lecturer-rich so that they could offer up those positions. The result is that the TA budget has been hit twice in the same year, which has an impact on what they can do today and tomorrow and on the number of students they can support. Every day is a bad news day, and down the road, one must ask what will happen to graduate education. In addition, the University is in transition, things are up in the air, so programs are difficult to administer."

"Across-the-board cuts are easier than targeted cuts but they do not make sense. There is a need for hard decisions and criteria for determining what is important so that the colleges can decide what departments to support or not support. The 3-5-8% cuts are frustrating because they undercut the quality of the University."

"This group, the Regents Professors, is not hurt like others but they see the impact on their programs. One guest said that students are supported predominantly on RAships in their department. As people think about moving the University forward, they need to think about departments that do not traditionally support graduate students with grant funds because the faculty cannot obtain a lot of grant funding. When the University comes out of this, does it want strong science departments and weak humanities?"

"Professors Gonzales and Oakes reported that they have been pressing the President and Provost for strategic plans and scope of mission discussions and have worked on the fiscal crisis the entire year. They have no idea what the plan is. That is a problem, which is one reason why the Regents Professors were invited to join the Committee today."

"The frustration in CLA with the protocols in place for approving Liberal Education courses (effective for incoming students as of Fall 2010), among a number of CLA department heads as well as faculty, is very high. At worst, the protocols as followed by the Committee on Liberal Education (CLE) have been described by several individuals in various departments as "infantilizing"; chairs have reported their course proposals being sent back repeatedly for revision (if not outright refused), sometimes as many as four or five times, requiring an enormous expenditure of faculty time for what often seems like small return. Fall registration begins in just two weeks. Though CLE has been reviewing courses for a full calendar year, the number of approved courses—required for graduation—remains a fraction of what was available to students under the old system now being phased out. Under the various categories...less than half as many courses as in the past are now listed as approved on the OneStop website. If insufficient numbers of courses are available to students, their graduation will necessarily be delayed, thus disrupting the University's efforts to improve the four-year graduation rate."

"One of the Regents Professors commented...that "it [the budget model] is crazy.""

"One must be concerned about the decline in the sense of the collective and commitment to the University. It is difficult to get buy-in for a University-wide program, and when one cannot get feedback from central administration, one gets the sense that faculty are tolerated on campus, for the work they do, but the administration appears outcomes-oriented and seems not to welcome participation. If the Faculty Consultative Committee cannot make headway, who can? This situation represents a decline in a sense of the University shaped by the faculty, not just one where faculty members are employed by the University."

"In response to a question about whether the presidential transition is a problem, Professor Luepker said he thought it is. A lame-duck president may be in a good position to make decisions, he said, and the University needs decisions now or the next president will be left with a bigger mess. He said he thought the faculty should press hard for decisions now. One Regents Professor said that there is a concern that if nothing except defending the institution is on the table for the incoming president, the situation would invite the administration and new president to do what they want."

"None here would disagree with the proposition that the central purpose of the University is education and intellectual activity. It seems that that central mission has been bled in the last three years for other purposes. One can argue about 3% versus 5% cuts, but the University could get rid of its intercollegiate athletic program, sell the stadium, and let it function on its own. It's also worth asking if the investment in the branding campaign, "Driven to Discover," has contributed anything to the educational mission of the University."

"What will be the faculty participation in the presidential search? [Professor Gonzales explained the interaction between the Committee and the Board of Regents about faculty participation in the presidential search.] One hopes that the Bruininks/Sullivan regime will be gone; the University needs new leadership. It is not getting leadership with the central educational mission at the heart of the concern, so this will be a smaller and weaker university. The effort to strengthen the core mission of the University has been bureaucratized to death because of what the central administration has been preoccupied with, such as the stadium and "Driven to Discover." It is not clear how effective faculty governance is—if this Committee can't get plans out of the administration, who can? The faculty rely on this Committee, which does great work."

"Why can't this Committee get the administration to provide plans? And if not, what should they do? This Committee is the faculty's voice; if it is unable to represent the faculty, other faculty should help. One does one's work knowing that the members of this Committee are doing the hard work of speaking for faculty in governance, for which they are to be thanked. If nothing is getting done, the faculty needs to know that."

"The University is never going to get rid of athletics. The key message from the Regents Professors could be significant: If there is not adequate faculty representation on major committees, including those dealing with budget cuts, the University is in big trouble. Faculty should be at least 60% of the representatives on major committees; the message from this Committee and the Regents Professors could be that without major faculty representation, it will be impossible to avoid having the administration run the institution."

"The faculty are not just employees. The faculty provide the intellectual and pedagogical stuff that makes for a great—or mediocre—university. And it is the faculty, not the administration, that must shape the University. The faculty do the intellectual work that makes this a great university."

"Professor Gonzales mentioned the upcoming "intellectual future" meeting and, in response to a query, explained that twice per year this Committee has a meeting with the President and senior vice presidents devoted to a discussion of the intellectual future of the University. The Committee identifies a theme to guide the discussion. The theme for the next meeting is "How to trim the tree of knowledge: Downsizing the University.""

"Faculty members in general recognize that this is an extraordinary situation. Their parochialism will or must give way to recognizing they are part of a larger community, and that decisions will be required for tough cuts. Faculty voices must be a part of the decisions."

"Professor Chomsky said she endorsed the idea of the Regents Professors speaking. The administration hears from this Committee, with considerable communication in private, and it also hears shriller voices (who complain correctly about concerns like the failure to justify administrative expenses, but aren’t doing so effectively). For the administration to hear directly from the Regents Professors cannot hurt." (Who are you referring to, Prof. Chomsky???)

"The department chairs in one college were informed about the budget cuts and told they nonetheless had the responsibility to retain current student headcounts in order to generate tuition revenue at current levels. The necessary result is larger class sizes, for which, in the 1980s, the University was criticized severely by the legislature. The President’s communication to the University regarding the budget cuts insist that quality will not be sacrificed, which can be read to suggest that the institution has been wasteful, which hardly seems to be the case. At what point do claims about steady-state quality (demonstrably untrue) in the face of repetitive severe cuts become counterproductive (for example, in the eyes of the legislature)? It appears that the University's response is that it will have a lot less and at the same time somehow get better." (yes, there is a Santa Claus...)

Meeting behind closed doors

Given the importance of the March 25 Faculty Senate meeting, and given that the FCC unanimously endorsed the Prez's ultimatum to faculty, it is regrettable that the FCC closed the two-hour meeting that it held prior to the Faculty Senate meeting on March 25. So much for accountability. The minutes are appended below.


Faculty Consultative Committee
Thursday, March 25, 2010
12:00 – 2:15
N202 Mondale Hall

Present: Michael Oakes (chair pro tem), Melissa Anderson, Carol Chomsky, Chris Cramer, Shawn Curley, Janet Fitzakerley, Kathryn Hanna, Caroline Hayes, Emily Hoover, Brian Isetts, Walt Jacobs, Jeff Kahn, Russell Luepker, Jan McCulloch, Martin Sampson, Kate VandenBosch, Cathrine Wambach, Becky Yust

Absent: Marti Hope Gonzales, Nancy Carpenter

Guests: President Robert Bruininks; Provost E. Thomas Sullivan

Other: Kathryn Stuckert (Office of the President)

[In these minutes: Faculty Senate meeting]

Faculty Senate Meeting

Professor Oakes convened the meeting at 12:15 and accepted a motion to close the meeting. It was adopted unanimously.

The Committee discussed the Faculty Senate meeting that immediately followed this meeting, identifying the major issues, those who might speak, and the order in which matters would be discussed.

The President and Provost joined the meeting at 1:30; the Committee discussed with them the major issues that appeared to be of concern to faculty at the upcoming Faculty Senate meeting.

The Committee noted the distinction between the 2% compensation pool increase and any individual's potential salary increase: The delayed 2% compensation pool increase is not an across-the-board 1% raise for all faculty and P&A staff.

Professor Oakes adjourned the meeting at 2:15.

Commentary on the Daily's interview with the Prez

Bill Gleason's Periodic Table blog has some excellent commentary on the Prez's interview w/ the Daily:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The university lobby

"...the University of Minnesota is among the biggest spenders in higher education when it comes to lobbying in Washington. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog on campaign and lobbying spending, reports the university spent more than $1.7 million the past decade, including $510,000 last year. That amount ranked the university 20th among 872 education-related institutions that filed a report. In its defense, the university says it received $400 million in federal research grants last year, including about $35 million for the school's Academic Health Center, which essentially oversees all its research, education and outreach efforts. Collectively, that seems like a sound return on investment. But at least one part of that expense deserves scrutiny. The university hired the top-earning lobbying firm in Washington — Patton & Boggs LLP — to sway the Federal Transit Administration and other agencies regarding the Central Corridor light-rail line, which is proposed to run though the campus. The university wanted to protect its research projects from being affected by the location of the line. Again, that sounds like a smart move ... until you note that the university was lobbying against other taxpayer-funded entities such as the Metropolitan Council and Ramsey County. In short, that means Minnesota tax dollars were spent lobbying for and against the same project."

Sustaining Excellence Steering Committee

The committee's charge:

"We should be proud of the substantial progress we’ve made since we launched strategic positioning in 2004—achieving higher graduation rates; improving student support; strengthening areas of academic priority; increasing research dollars and tech transfer; and implementing more effective and efficient administrative operations. But there are still key areas that require creative thinking and difficult decisions in order to achieve sustainable results and secure the University’s long-term future. Many issues have long been on the radar, including (but not limited to) the University’s academic quality and performance; its priorities with regard to education, research, and public engagement; its financial viability; the future of the Academic Health Center; and metrics and measures to assess our progress and impact. While it’s tempting to recast our plans in light of the economic downturn, the truth is that the challenges we face today—including diminished public support, changing demographics and state spending priorities, intense competition, and increased demand for public accountability and demonstrable results—were on the horizon when we began this transformation. The economic downturn has not created these challenges, but it has accelerated the timeframe in which we must react to the “new normal.”

To act on this renewed sense of urgency, I am charging a new Sustaining Excellence Steering Committee, consisting of several members of the Future Financial Resources Task Force plus additional all-University representatives, with overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the task force and ensuring that the serious decisions that must be made in the coming months advance the University’s strategic plan, aspirational goals, and long-term best interests. I am asking each of you to serve on this committee, which I will convene approximately once a month."

Rusty Barceló, Vice President for Equity and Diversity
Kathy Brown, Vice President and Chief of Staff
Carol Carrier, Vice President for Human Resources
Steve Cawley, Vice President & Chief Information Officer
Frank Cerra, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences
Alison Davis-Blake, Dean, Carlson School of Management
John Finnegan, Dean, School of Public Health
Amber Peifer Fox, Senator, Council of Academic Professionals and
Karen Himle, Vice President for University Relations
Robert Jones, Senior Vice President for System Academic Administration
Gail Klatt, Associate Vice President for Audits
Kjell Knudsen, Dean, Labovitz School of Business and Economy, UMD
Kristi Kremers, President, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly
Stephen Lehmkuhle, Chancellor, University of Minnesota, Rochester
Russell Luepker, Professor, Epidemiology
Judith Martin, Program Director, Department of Geography
Tim Mulcahy, Vice President for Research
Kathleen O’Brien, Vice President for University Services
Richard Pfutzenreuter, Vice President & Chief Financial Officer
Peter Radcliffe, Director of Planning and Analysis
Steven Rosenstone, Vice President for Scholarly & Cultural Affairs
Paul Strain, President, Minnesota Student Association
Tom Sullivan, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost

"I still believe that our aspirational goal of becoming one of the top three public research university systems in the world can be achieved, but only if we act creatively, decisively, and quickly. I look forward to any additional feedback you may have on this model and strategy, which I began to share with the Board of Regents at its October meeting."

Read the whole document here:

The President's State of the U address

Is available here:

Nothing surprising but also not much that is reassuring. The Prez has still not enunciated a clear definition of priorities beyond vague commitments to maintaining excellence.

"We know that we must become leaner, nimbler, and more productive in order to survive current and future budget shortfalls--but this must not happen at the expense of the University's academic strengths or comparative advantages."

"We need to know your top priorities and those programs at the bottom of your list, what you hope to strengthen, and what you are willing to cut." Citing Peter Drucker, he calls this "planned abandonment."

The Prez refers to the "economic value" of research and calls on us to be "aggressive and entrepreneurial." He proposes a Wal-Mart style practice of units cutting their costs by 2% a year for five years. Welcome to the corporate U.

It seems that instead of presenting sound proposals for redefining our priorities, there is a real danger of increasing workload for faculty and ever higher undergraduate tuition rates. If this is what "new normal" means, we'll pass.

The Prez assures us that the decisions about charting the U's future will not be made in a top-down fashion, but the composition of the U's steering committee, which is packed with high-level administrators, is a bad sign. Will decisions be made based on the ability of units to attract grant money (a market logic, although a screwy one since many grants don't actually cover their total costs) or based on their contribution to undergraduate teaching and research (note: much excellent research is done without huge grants)?

Will the admin impose a series of across-the-board cuts, leaving it to the colleges to make the tough decisions? FRPE called for an audit precisely because we need to know how the different parts of the University fit together and how revenues and expenditures contribute to our core missions. Without that, how will we adjust to a sustainable "new normal"?

Perhaps it is a bad analogy, but it seems like the U bought a McMansion when we were flush with state funds (2008 was our highest ever). We were living beyond our means, thanks to the U's strategic positioning effort to become a "top 3" research institution, and now students, staff, and faculty will pay the price. Meanwhile, CLA's sabbatical policy is inferior to that of many small liberal arts colleges (e.g. Gustavus Adolphus).

The latest from the Daily

On the State of the U address:

Last week the Daily interviewed Bob Bruininks. You can read the short version here:

For the full version, with audio:

And an excellent investigative piece, with the following highlights:

According to a September report from the Future Financial Resources Task Force, the University must “narrow the scope” of its mission if it is to remain viable in the increasingly competitive arena of higher education. Last fall, Senior Vice President and Provost Tom Sullivan sent a letter to the dean of each college, instructing them to create a “blue ribbon” committee. Among the questions Sullivan asked each group to consider: “What programs should be discontinued or eliminated?”

In October, Bruininks established the Advancing Excellence Steering Committee, charged with guiding the decisions that will soon be made about the University’s future. In an e-mail obtained by the Daily, Bruininks told the committee, “We have just 12 months to 14 months to be prepared to publicly articulate our priorities and needs.”

With the immediate and lasting issues clear, Bruininks sent an e-mail to 23 University leaders establishing the Advancing Excellence Steering Committee. Working from the framework provided by the Future Financial Resources Task Force and populated primarily by administrators — including 13 vice presidents and three deans — the committee is focusing on a variety of areas, among them undergraduate and graduate education, the future of the health sciences, research and long-term financial planning. Bruininks laid out a threefold purpose of the committee: provide University-wide leadership, identify and address priorities and policy issues and communicate with units to ensure adequate consultation while sharing the results of the efforts of the committee. “We face difficult decisions involved in setting priorities, allocating limited resources and strengthening some academic programs while reducing, consolidating or eliminating others,” the e-mail said.

Around that same time, blue ribbon committees in every college were setting out to model a 2.75 percent budget reduction for 2010-11. They were asked to consider in their planning which programs should be maintained or strengthened and which should be dramatically reduced or eliminated. The recommendations were passed along to deans for use in ongoing annual budget discussions with the University’s trio of senior vice presidents.

Computer science professor Joe Konstan was a part of the Institute of Technology’s blue ribbon committee. As he went through the process of trying to find fat that could be trimmed out of the college’s 2010-11 budget, Konstan ended up frustrated. “We looked at the data and said, ‘We’re pretty lean, and we’re doing really well,’ ” he said.

Liberal Arts’ “CLA 2015” was the only blue ribbon committee to publicly release its recommendations. It laid out $5.58 million of cuts, but no specific departments or programs were targeted...The committee reported to CLA Dean Jim Parente that the college could not sustain another round of cuts of the same magnitude and still continue to effectively operate all of its units.

And the CLA committee was not alone. “I came away feeling a big chunk of the solution isn’t going to be deciding we can do things a bit more efficiently here or there, but deciding there are substantial chunks [of the University] that, as much as we can do them well, we just can’t afford to do,” Konstan said of his involvement on the IT blue ribbon committee.

Provost Tom Sullivan said the Steering Committee is not a decision-making body, nor will it recommend individual programs or departments for reduction or discontinuation. Potential program changes filter through Sullivan regardless, with final authority designated to the Board of Regents. Sullivan said decisions will emanate from a groundswell, bottom-up process, but there are faculty members who wonder if their ideas will be given full weight.

“The real question is … will they be able to receive all of the information in all of its detail and subtlety at the top?” asked William Beeman, an anthropology professor and faculty senate member. He said many in the senate classify the decision-making at the University as top-down, just the opposite of what Sullivan describes. “There’s some suspicion among faculty members … that many of the decisions will be made in a top-down manner and that the consultation is largely cosmetic.”

As long as the economy thrived and states were able to subsidize growth, schools were able to expand while simultaneously supporting programs that lacked enrollment or distinction. State support dipped in the early 2000s but rebounded to reach an all-time high in 2008. This time, the precipitous drops projected in state appropriations likely won’t be recouped for some time; Bruininks said they may never return to pre-recession levels.

Whatever the reason for the stagnation of government money, the burden has shifted to students. In 2010, tuition overtook state support as the University’s largest revenue stream. In-state tuition surpassed $10,000 and has increased over 100 percent since 2001. When tuition increases offset decreases in state appropriation, the money isn’t always plowed back to the students. In a February memo to Bruininks, the faculty senate committee on finance and planning said: “It also appears the added [tuition] money will be controlled by central administration rather than the schools and colleges. The increases will have to be used to offset state budget cuts and therefore will not be available for instructional purposes.” Still, for the foreseeable future, tuition is the most promising candidate for bolstering revenue, according to the Future Financial Resources report. The gap between rising tuition and stagnated state money will likely only protract further.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What REALLY happened on March 25

An excellent letter to the editor at the Daily by FRPE activists Eva von Dassow and Karen-Sue Taussig:

Also in the Daily: coverage of the grad student fee march and a report on efforts by P&As to recognize and encourage their participation in faculty governance:

State of the U Speech Canceled

On the afternoon of March 31, the Office of the President announced that he would not deliver the annual State of the U speech on April 1. Suffering from a bad case of laryngitis, the President cannot speak audibly for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, the speech will not be rescheduled since the semester is almost over. The text of the speech will not be released until Monday. The announcement "indicated his intention to look for additional opportunities to interact with the University community this spring and next fall." We look forward to these opportunities.