Monday, June 21, 2010

Video of FRPE at the Regents' Public Forum

The video for the Board of Regents' Public Forum is now available. You can hear the dean of the Carlson School argue that across the board cuts are progressive because those who make more pay more (seriously--I guess such nonsense is what earns her a $400K+ annual salary), the usual admin sycophants, and a few speakers that voice criticism of the administration (see in particular Cherrene Horazuk from AFSCME and Eva von Dassow from FRPE).

The link below has the video of both the Public Forum and the June 10-11 Board of Regents meeting.

If you only have three minutes, then just watch FRPE activist Eva von Dassow deliver her statement.

For the full text of Eva's comments:

Inside Higher Ed on Pawlenty and online higher ed

UM history professor JB Shank recently spoke to Inside Higher Ed about Pawlenty's iCollege idea.

"...Shank says he is troubled by Pawlenty’s framing of the issue as a battle between pro-efficiency, pro-technology students of the “iPod generation” and stodgy, ivory-tower luddites who care more about self-preservation than lowering barriers to higher education.

“Technophilic talk is a pernicious distraction,” he says, “because it allows for a certain kind of justification for not giving the university the money it needs to provide the kind of education it wants to provide.”

...There is a conversation to be had about the role of online education in lowering the costs of certain segments of higher education, Shank says. But the broad-strokes manner in which Pawlenty seems to be painting the issue on the national stage is not a good starting point, he says. Dubious math aside, the subtext of the governor’s narrative is that a liberal arts education is either obsolete or undeserving of state support, Shank says. This should strike educators as alarming, he says, since online learning platforms are inadequate venues for the sort of extemporaneous Socratic exercises in critical thinking that lie at the core of the liberal arts. (Shank cited a recent column by New York Times columnist David Brooks exalting the societal value of the liberal arts, and pointed out that Pawlenty himself is the product of such an education.)"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More reporting on the Regents' meeting/public forum

On the cuts:

Video on public forum from KSTP:

And two Daily editorials:

New construction to go forward...Regent Allen calls us narrow!

FRPE got some great coverage on our open letter calling for a moratorium on new construction in the Daily. (See the post on the STRIB article below for previous reporting on this issue: A few choice tidbits:


Completion of the [Biomedical] facility will “help position the University as one of the top three public research universities in the country and position Minnesota as a world-leading state for biomedical research,” according to a report by the Board of Regents Facilities Committee.

...In an open letter to the regents, the group [FRPE] said taking on new building projects, especially the Cancer/Cardiovascular facility, will “saddle the University with increased debt and ancillary costs that will hobble the institution in future years, thus posing significant risk to its quality and stature.”

On Monday at a public forum to address the budget crisis, FRPE member and associate professor of Classical & Near Eastern Studies Eva von Dassow expressed concern about the project, noting that a biomedical facility is valuable, but now — in the midst of a financial crisis — is not the right time.

“The College of Liberal Arts, which has already lost dozens of faculty positions, stands to lose dozens more, while the construction of a new biomedical facility is to include the addition of 40 new faculty,” von Dassow said. “CLA is a significant revenue generator … This cash cow will be milked yet harder now — but at the price of the quality the administration advertises and to the detriment of the University’s educational mission.”

University President Bob Bruininks defended the project Monday after the public forum.

“I stand behind these investments, I think they’re vitally important,” Bruininks said. “At the same time we’re making these investments, we’re taking out of circulation obsolete buildings, obsolete laboratories, decommissioning space that is no longer relevant and driving down the operating costs of the University.”

...Regent chairman Clyde Allen said FRPE’s criticism is narrow in view.

“I think some of the criticism may come about from the changing emphasis on disciplines,” Allen said. “But our world is changing and we need to keep up.”

...The plan to add 40 new faculty members to the district upon completion also troubles the FRPE, which posted on its blog that in light of recent cutbacks, spending the additional money will be detrimental to students’ education.

“These cutbacks have already resulted in reduced teaching support, increased class size, layoffs, furloughs and temporary pay cuts,” the letter said. “Students have already endured both a decline in the quality of their education and repeated tuition increases.”


It is deeply concerning that the Board is still drinking the strategic positioning kool-aid at a time when core academic programs are being gutted. But who cares about our students? The admin and unfortunately the Regents seems to think that the ticket to greatness is speculation in the biomed sciences, where they hope to land lots of big grants (which don't cover their costs) and probably score some lucrative patents. The pursuit of revenue via intellectual property claims is akin to playing the lottery with the money of the citizens of Minnesota. The goal is to produce the elusive thing that the market values (a la Ziagen), to privatize that valuable discovery or creation that was made possible through public funding, and then to grab the profits for the U and the inventor/creator. Right now the U is breaking even with its patents, so there doesn't seem to be all that much promise that this is going to bring us the money and glory. (see If the State thinks that expanding the research-based units of the U is a prudent use of public resources, then state funding needs to be increased, because we can't do this and protect the quality of the education that we offer our students. So brace yourselves for yet deeper cuts in academic units and more increases in tuition to help pay for these delusions of grandeur.

Monday, June 14, 2010

FRPE at the Regents' Public Forum

FRPE activist Eva von Dassow made the following remarks at the Regents’ Public Forum today.


We are told that the university is in financial crisis, a crisis so severe as to necessitate eliminating academic units and programs. Yet, as set forth in the budget plan for fiscal 2011, the university’s budget continues to grow: total revenues, assets, and expenditures are all increasing. Indeed the state appropriation has declined, but only to 2006 levels. That doesn’t look like a severe financial crisis. Meanwhile, we look around and see the administration dedicating huge sums to new initiatives, new construction, selected sports – and to itself: expenditures for central administration keep rising. Financial stringency leaves undiminished the numbers of vice presidents, not to mention the salaries of top coaches.

No, these highly-paid positions are not to be reduced; rather, the university must shed faculty. To cut costs in its burgeoning budget the university must slash the numbers and variety of courses it offers students, whose tuition it keeps raising. It must shrink graduate programs, withdraw instructional support for the curriculum that remains, and cut funds for research and public engagement.

This is how to achieve excellence? This is how to guarantee undergraduates an extraordinary education? This is how we become one of the top three universities in the universe?

Meanwhile, we are all asked to participate in the quest to generate new sources of revenue, as well as finding ways to hold down costs and enhance “productivity.” Yet the university’s current budget model effectively requires units to compete against each other for funds, inhibiting the collaboration that would best serve the institution both financially and academically. Now the plan is to cut our way to distinction by pruning the tree of knowledge.

All of the verbigeration about “excellence,” about “strategic investments,” about “advancing quality,” and so on, is deployed to obscure the goal of using the present financial crisis as a tool for starving certain parts of the university in order to feed others. No explicit relationship is ever articulated between revenue generation and other elements of the propaganda. But the objective is evident: those programs engaged in the production of knowledge that is readily turned into money are the targets of “investment,” while the rest are to be downsized into an efficient credit-and-degree factory, featuring a handful of well-supported “star” faculty to make the programs look good – while as much curriculum as possible is delivered by the cheapest possible instructors.

Accordingly, the College of Liberal Arts, which has already lost dozens of faculty positions, stands to lose dozens more, while the construction of a new biomedical facility is to include the addition of 40 new faculty. Certainly biomedical research is valuable, but why should students pay $11,000 per year to get an etiolated liberal-arts education on an assembly-line model? CLA is a significant revenue generator, teaching by far the most students while receiving proportionately the lowest share of the state appropriation, so that CLA students effectively subsidize the rest of the university through their tuition. (Same goes for IT.) This cash cow will be milked yet harder now – but at the price of the quality the administration advertises, and to the detriment of the university’s educational mission.

The Regents ought to use their authority to exercise far closer scrutiny of the university’s expenditures and how they do or do not align with its core mission of education, research, and public engagement. The present administration’s plans would transform what was erstwhile a great research university into a handmaiden of industry, where, for the price of a real education, students receive gussied-up vocational training and exit in debt.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Update on the Resolution on Salary Reductions

At the March 25 Faculty Senate meeting, FRPE proposed a Resolution on Salary Reductions (see Although the Resolution was defeated, the FCC asked the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs (SCFA) to meet with FRPE to discuss our concerns about the regressive structure of this year's pay cuts. In April, several FRPE activists met with the SCFA, which quickly acted on our concerns by crafting and passing a revised resolution. Although FRPE differs with the SCFA about the extent to which the administration introduced progressivity into the pay cuts, and also disagrees with its framing of merit raises as offsetting the regressive structure of the pay cuts, we applaud the SCFA's sincere effort to make progressivity a key component of future discussions regarding the structure of pay cuts. (Read the text of the Resolution here: SCFA chair Kathryn Hanna is to be commended for moving forward in good faith.

Unfortunately, even this very modest proposal went down in flames at the most recent FCC meeting. Several members of the committee has serious reservations. Professor Curley objected because "the resolution tries to influence what a future set of faculty should be doing; he said he is willing to let future faculty decide for themselves and does not want to tell them what they should be doing." (Even though he notes earlier that Senate resolutions are not binding!) Professor Luepker argued that "from the viewpoint of the Academic Health Center, it may be difficult for some to understand the impact progressive salary reductions will have on recruiting and retaining highly-productive faculty...if there are significant reductions—it would be a job-killer." Agreeing with Professor Luepker, Professor Kahn noted that progressive cuts would "affect the recruitment and retention of faculty." Professor Chomsky added that "the problem is not so much about the people already at the University, it is about recruiting. There is already trouble in recruiting, and if prospective faculty members see that higher-paid individuals see larger salary cuts, they may choose to go elsewhere. The proposal could have an impact on getting people to Minnesota." (Yeah, because other universities are hiring like crazy, you know, and all of our best and brightest only care about money.)

Professor Cramer proposed that the resolution be amended so that it merely called for the administration to present alternative models that incorporate greater and lesser degrees of progressivity to the relevant governance bodies. In effect, he recommended that any support for a more progressive structure to the cuts be expunged from the Resolution.

In response, Professor Hanna "reported that there is a lot of sentiment on the Committee on Faculty Affairs in favor of more steps in the progressivity of the reductions (beyond the 1.15% and 2.30% for senior administrators)." Professor Gonzales added that "she understood the argument that more progressive salary reductions could cost the University some of its "stars," but said she would like to point out that it is the hard work of people who are NOT stars that allows the stars to be stars. She said she supported more progressive salary reductions because the stars are not often mindful of other people who do work—teaching and service work, for example— that allows them to be stars, and the stars also need the Minnesota "brand" to which all employees contribute."

Finally, Professor Cramer (the future vice chair of the FCC) "commented that he has not heard today anything he has not heard before, and asked that the resolution be tabled. (It was noted that a motion to table was not necessary because there was no proposal before the Committee to do anything.) He said he did not want to discuss the subject again and did not want the resolution to go to the Faculty Senate. Professor Hanna noted that the FCC retreat in the fall includes a session with some of the faculty members who initially proposed more progressive salary reductions, so the Committee might wait to hear what they have to say. The Committee took no action on the resolution."

The minutes from the FCC meeting also indicate how little consultation there was regarding the structure of the cuts. Kathryn Hanna noted that the administration "did not seek any feedback on them [alternative models] as they were developed." Instead, the administration only presented more progressive models to Professors Chomsky and Oakes, and these data were not shared with others "because some of the numbers (percentages) were so high." (Er, if the numbers were so high, then it would seem that presenting them would have strengthened, rather than weakened, the administration's case.)

So don't hold your breath waiting for the FCC to bring forward a meaningful resolution on progressivity in pay cuts to the Faculty Senate next year. The SCFA could still bring forward its resolution, but we consider this to be unlikely given the strong opposition from the FCC.

Update on the status of FRPE's Resolution on Financial Stringency

At the March 25 Faculty Senate meeting, FRPE proposed a Resolution on Financial Stringency (see Although the Resolution was tabled, the FCC referred it to the Senate Committee on Finance and Planning (SCFP) for further discussion and possible action. On April 20, several FRPE activists met with the SCFP to discuss a revised proposal, which recommended that the SCFP "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." (For the full text, see for the full statement.)

Our intent was for faculty, via the SCFP, to play an independent role in assessing the expenditures and mission of the University, which would hopefully produce ideas about places where cuts could be made that would have minimal effect on the core work of education, research, and outreach. Since the April 20 meeting, the SCFP has moved forward with its own proposal, which is so watered down that it bears little resemblance to our original proposal. On May 4, Professor Luepker proposed that the committee meet with units so that it could learn about their respective missions, accomplishments, and future plans. He noted, "The primary goal would be to educate us [the SCFP], we are consultative, not having line authority." Professor Konstan immediately noted that "this was not what the guests [FRPE] asked for," but he added that he liked the idea. The SCFP met again on May 18th and revisited the "audit" proposal. Professor Luepker voiced a concern about moving forward with even the very modest proposal from the previous meeting: "...the President needs to agree with the proposal that the Committee conduct reviews of administrative units, but to do so seems to be within the charge to the Committee and if some units are recalcitrant, they will appear in the minutes." In other words, the faculty need the president's permission to scrutinize the administration, and it is up to the units what they submit for scrutiny. So much for faculty oversight and transparency.

In sum, at this point FRPE holds little hope that the SCFP will move forward with an independent evaluation of central administration. And should a review take place, it will be done under terms set by the President and is hence unlikely to produce recommendations that will result in fundamental changes in central administration.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Report on FRPE's meeting with Senator Cohen

On Tuesday, June 8, several FRPE activists met with Senator Cohen, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and sits on the Senate Committee on Higher Ed. Below is our report.


In advance of Senator Cohen's arrival, we talked among ourselves about what issues we hoped to explore. These included the matter of tenure (frequently misunderstood outside academe as merely job security), the implications of the casualization of instructional (and research) labor, and the negative effects of precarity on the quality of education. A related concern is what "productivity" means: as long as the focus is on measurable outcomes, contingent labor looks like a good thing; however, progress in knowledge has nothing to do with "productivity" (not to mention "efficiency"). Accordingly, we must find ways to confute the instrumentalist argument for higher education, and we might hope Cohen could suggest how to frame this issue. Meanwhile, we also wanted to find out about the views that Cohen, his colleagues on the legislature, and their constituents hold of the U and of its faculty; what are the dimensions of the disjuncture between the U on the one hand and the legislature and the public on the other; is there, moreover, a disjuncture between the terms in which the legislators discuss this and the way they discuss it with their public(s)? Also, what does the higher ed committee do and how does it work?

Upon Cohen's arrival, after introductions we invited him to enlighten us on how the U is perceived at the Capitol. He first spoke in general terms of how successive presidents present the U to the legislature, and of the U's importance as the "economic engine" of the state. As to appropriations, being chair of the finance committee, he also outlined how target appropriations are set. We then steered away from the "economic engine" concept of the university, explaining that we believe it to be harmful to education and research in manifold ways. We brought up the differential budgetary allocations among colleges, the effects (practical and ideological) of rising tuition, the U's budget model, and the deployment of resources for new initiatives that putatively have economic promise at the expense of parts of the U that putatively don't; in this way disciplines that are most easily instrumentalized get supported while disciplines that are inherently non-instrumental are starved, despite their being essential to the U's core mission. Cohen received these ideas and data readily, disavowing the utilitarian notion of education (in particular higher education), and he expressed consternation at realizing that, through their tuition, students in the College of Liberal arts in effect subsidize the rest of the U.

Prompted by a question from Cohen about the search for the next president of the University, as well as other remarks touching on the faculty role in governance, we described how the faculty are excluded from any meaningful participation in governance; the University Senate has no real governance powers; and the faculty are given virtually no role in the presidential search. This apparently ran counter to what Cohen had assumed, though he commented that these issues are internal to the U.

We asked Cohen whether Governor Pawlenty's notion that "basic" university courses should be offered on line, rather than in classrooms, is widely shared among legislators. Cohen said it was not, and expressed incredulity that Pawlenty himself could really hold such a view.

Finally, we explored the idea of developing a program of faculty outreach to legislators and their constituencies, with a view to enriching and transforming the public debate over what the university is and does (likewise, more broadly, education). Cohen mentioned that there used to be fairly frequent meetings, often held in people's homes, involving legislators and faculty members -- many U of MN faculty live in his district, making it fairly easy to get people together. He wasn't sure how this practice was instigated or why it lapsed. He said legislators would gladly agree to recommencing such meetings, and suggested procedures for organizing the faculty to participate, but demurred somewhat with regard to constituent participation, especially beyond the Twin Cities.

As can be seen we never managed to raise certain of our principal concerns, despite the length of the conversation (more than two hours). Nonetheless, many issues got aired, and we as well as Senator Cohen came away from the meeting newly informed about them. Notably, our guest learned that the university administration does *not* represent the U or its faculty.

Fewer professors. Fewer classes. Cuts in pay.

From today's STRIB...

So Bruininks' proposed budget is out. Some highlights:

* 4.4% increase for in-state undergrads (would be more without the stimulus $$$)

* Pay cuts (but they still found money for raises, since the admin will never let bargaining unit employees get a raise when non-unionized workers do not!)

* Layoffs

* Firing adjuncts

* CLA lost 52 faculty positions, which means that 145 fewer courses will be offered, which in turn means that the average class size will have to increase in order to provide the same number of seats

On the draconian cuts to CLA, Bruininks noted:

"If you cut hundreds of sections, and you cut them quickly because of the size of this budget cut, I think we'll have some short-term dislocations and some short-term problems."

But no matter, there is still loads of money available to fund the new cancer and cardiovascular research center, which is part of the proposed Biomedical District. The STRIB reporter quotes from FRPE's open letter to the Board, which called for a moratorium on all new construction:

"We fear that new building projects will saddle the University with increased debt and ancillary costs that will hobble the institution in future years."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Introducing the prez search committee

The Board of Regents approved the presidential search committee yesterday afternoon. One Regent, Dean Johnson, voted against the slate, arguing that professors were over-represented on the committee. Regent Larson lamented that there is no business representation on the committee.

The presidential search committee:

Chair, Patricia S. Simmons - Regent

David A. Bernlohr - Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Head Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics Joint Department of the Medical School and College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota

Nancy E. Carpenter - Professor of Chemistry, Division of Science and Mathematics, University of Minnesota Morris Morse Alumni Award for Undergraduate Education

Etty DeVeaux - Administrative Director, Department of Plant Biology and Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota

Marti Hope Gonzales - Associate Professor, Department of Psychology College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

Elliot S. Kaplan - Attorney and Partner, Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi

Ryan Kennedy - B.A., Political Science, College of Liberal Arts 2009, Candidate, Master of Public Policy, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs

Richard Leppert - Regents Professor, Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota Morse Alumni Award for Undergraduate Education

Allen S. Levine - Dean and Professor, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences University of Minnesota, Director, Minnesota Obesity Center

Bruce W. Mooty - Attorney and Principal Gray Plant Mooty

Carol M. Person - Judge (retired), Minnesota District Court, Sixth Judicial District, Duluth

Eric S. Sheppard - Regents Professor, Department of Geography, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

Read more here:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuition going up again

U of M alum Jenna Ross has a piece in yesterday's STRIB about ever-rising tuition. Not a big news flash for those who have been following this issue, but a useful reminder that our students are getting screwed. Unfortunately, with the deep cuts to instructional budgets, higher tuition will not result in increased quality of education.

Read more analysis on the Periodic Table:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

iCollege: The governor's solution for the problems of higher ed

Governor Pawlenty recently appeared on MPR's Midday show.

Among other things, he shared his analysis of the problems facing higher ed in Minnesota, which he compared to Blockbuster Video stores (read: out of date, behind the times). His prescription: become like an iTunes store (iCollege) and offer basic courses online. This will work, he presumes, because online courses are cheaper than brick and mortar classes, and because they don't have to be taught by tenured faculty (who apparently aren't very good at lecturing anyhow). He also claims that studies show that student learning is as good, or better, than the traditional classroom. I wonder which studies he is reading, because what I've read in the minutes from University Senate committees suggests a far more complicated picture in terms of cost and quality. Perhaps the real agenda is to get rid of all of the pesky tenured professors, since most of them probably don't vote for him anyhow.

But the online education mania is shared by some who don't have Pawlenty's conservative pedigree. Anya Kamenetz's recent book, "DIY U," (Do it Yourself) shares his enthusiasm for online education. She was recently interviewed on MPR's Midmorning show:

Brace yourself, this issue is not going away.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Open Letter to the Board of Regents

Dear Regents,

We write to express our concern about how the administration proposes to address the budgetary crisis facing the University of Minnesota, and in particular about its proposals for new construction. The University faces significant challenges in the upcoming biennium, challenges that are all the more daunting since they are taking place in the midst of a leadership transition. We urge the Board of Regents to carefully consider how the decisions made in this year’s budget will affect the future restructuring of the University. In particular, we fear that new building projects will saddle the University with increased debt and ancillary costs that will hobble the institution in future years, thus posing significant risk to its quality and stature.

Why does new construction concern us? Building projects do not pay for themselves. Although construction costs are not paid out of the O&M budget, the University must pay maintenance and utilities on new buildings out of our operating budget. In some cases, new construction includes commitments to add faculty lines, even while faculty positions continue to be cut in most academic units. New construction therefore inevitably adds to recurring costs at the University of Minnesota.

For example, the administration wishes to move forward with the construction of a new biomedical complex. Although the project has been scaled back, according to the Minnesota Daily, the project will cost the University $109 million from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2019 over and above the cost of construction. Of this, $40 million will be for startup costs, $18 million for facility operations and overhead, and $51 million on programs and faculty. Forty new faculty principal investigators will be hired to work in the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research and the Cancer/Cardiovascular facility. The administration claims that $31 million of this will be paid for with grants. Aside from the risk of counting chickens before they hatch, the assertion that grants cover the cost of new faculty lines is simply false. Vice President for Research Mulcahy observed at a recent presentation to the Senate Committee on Research that grants do not cover their costs.

We have not seen a single budget projection that anticipates increased state funding in the near future. New projects that add to recurring costs or debt can therefore only be paid for by making deeper cuts to existing units, raising tuition, or some combination of the two. Embarking on new projects is imprudent in a fiscal environment in which existing academic units have already undergone cuts that severely damage the educational and research missions of the University. These cutbacks have already resulted in reduced teaching support, increased class size, layoffs, furloughs, and temporary pay cuts. Students have already endured both a decline in the quality of their education and repeated tuition increases.

The citizens of Minnesota and legislators may question the wisdom of major capital projects in today’s dire fiscal situation, in particular those investments that do little to enhance the teaching mission of the University. In addition to the concerns expressed above, we fear that spending on new projects at a time when existing programs are suffering could appear profligate to the wider public and hence jeopardize future state allocations.

Given these long-term implications, we recommend a moratorium on all major building projects until the University, in consultation with faculty and students, develops a viable long-term plan for dealing with the “new normal” of reduced state support.

We, the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education (FRPE), welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you before the June Board of Regents meeting. We are an independent network of faculty at the University of Minnesota. You can read more about us on our blog,, and can reach us by email at


Bruce Braun, College of Liberal Arts
Teri Caraway, College of Liberal Arts
Eva von Dassow, College of Liberal Arts

on behalf of Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education

Cc: Minnesota House and Senate committees on higher education