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: http://umnfaculty.blogspot.com/2010/06/fewer-professors-fewer-classes-cuts-in.html#links.) 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 http://umnfaculty.blogspot.com/2010/05/proposed-changes-to-regents-policy-on.html.) 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.