One Party Government: Higher Education

It’s the season to post about the big news stories of this year, 2013. Nationally, pick one of the many and there were many, many of which will carry over into 2014. Here in Minnesota, there are also several top stories to consider but I submit almost all of them have one thing in common: one party government. That’s my pick for local story of the year, predictably a year of almost no unaccountability, no matter the results. Let me resume blogging by reviewing several results of Minnesota’s first experience with one party rule in decades.

Let me take you back to early January, when The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported troubling administrative bloat at the University, well above national norms. As recapped by The Washington Post’s Charles Lane, “the number of employees with ‘human resources’ or ‘personnel’ in their job titles has grown from 180 to 272 since the 2004-05 academic year.” Former Governor Arne Carlson added this perspective on April 6:

When I came into the governor’s office in 1991, the president of the university made approximately $152,000. I made $112,000 — for a gap of some $40,000.

Today, the governor makes $120,000, and the university president is paid $610,000 — a gap of $490,000.

The lead attorney for the university makes $295,000. That’s about $180,000 more than Minnesota’s attorney general, $95,000 more than the attorney general of the United States, and over $70,000 more than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The university president’s chief of staff earns a salary comparable with that of the U.S. secretary of state. The university lobbyist who pleads the school’s case at the State Capitol earns some $60,000 more than the governor.

Joel Maturi, a fundraiser and part-time teacher, makes $468,000; the president of the United States earns $400,000.

Overall, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post found some 17 administrators making over $300,000 per year — well more than the vice president of the United States. Some 81 earn over $200,000 per year, or more than any cabinet-level secretary.

He then described the platinum retiremnet package the University’s management receives, well above those they supervise. Carlson has been one of the U of M’s most supportive and loyal alumni but even he knows that something is wrong and something must be done. So what was done, with the DFL in total charge? The Governor huffed and puffed and soon University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler began publishing studies claiming the problem is overstated, a problem of job classification in the original WSJ study, the excessive compensation issues deftly ignored. The Legislature then struck a deal for – get this – still more funding in exchange for a two year tuition freeze.

In September, perhaps kicking off their 2014 lobbying season a little earlier, Kaler has been publishing more studies and a promise to trim $ 15 million from his administrative budget, about 1 percent, and without layoffs. Small cuts like that can even be done by shifting the where in the budget these expenses are charged. Incidentally, Mr. Kaler went out of his way to select consultants he has used before coming to Minnesota. And let’s not forget that former Senate DFL Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller heads the Office of Higher Education and that (disgraced) former Senate DFL Majority Leader Dean Johnson is Vice Chair of the Board of Regents.

The University and our local major media are bastions of “progressive” politics so the University need not fear press scrutiny.  Call it professional courtesy.  Instead, we have to read The Wall Street Jounal and The Washington Post to see past the facades.  And now, these financial problems will remain safe from review by one party lliberal government until at least 2015.