Archived Story

Paid leaves outdated

Published 9:39am Monday, March 19, 2012 Updated 11:49am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Every budget session the University of Minnesota cries poor, laments the declining levels of state support for the institution, and suggests darkly that as financial support from the state fails to keep up with University demands, it will become less competitive with other such state institutions to the detriment of the residents of the state.

While representatives of the University may trot out charts and graphs to outline unsatisfactory funding trends, you’re unlikely to see an analysis of the 30-year trend of the cost per student to run the institution or the cost of tuition adjusted for inflation. That’s not by accident because, of course, it wouldn’t be pretty.

So where does all that money go? The cost increases per student in excess of inflation? Hard telling. The University doesn’t tell us, because for starters it doesn’t tend to want to isolate the costs in excess of inflation in the first place, much less parse them for the factors that drive the expense.

But now and then, this time thanks to reporters at the Star Tribune, we get a glimmer of how tax dollars get spent at the University: stories of $2.8 million of executive salaries given by departing President Bob Bruininks to administrators on leave who never intended to come back.

And we now learn that Bruininks himself is entitled to a 12-month $455,000 salary while on leave “for the purpose of assisting him on his return to the faculty.”

Parting is such sweet sweet sorrow.

Pity Tania Chance, the H.R. director whose quarter-million-dollar payout from the Burnsville school district has — rightly — raised such a ruckus. Her transition includes two letters of reference, but no promise of a new job.

Transitions can be difficult, but a cool half million would probably make it a little easier. President Bruininks is headed for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs where he’ll be paid $341,000 and bring a support staff of several others who will cost another $200,000 or so.

Meanwhile, in this difficult time of transition Bruininks will apparently lead the Bush Foundation on an interim basis. No report on what he’ll be paid there.

This is nothing personal against President Bruininks. He ran a huge institution. Perhaps he was worth more than he was paid. If so, somebody should have made that argument at the time.

But here’s the problem: This is the tip of the iceberg. Don’t believe that institutions that spend tax dollars in this way in this instance don’t spend like this in general.

The days of the poor scholar are clearly long gone. But in a time when millions of Americans would love to get paid for working, the idea of well-funded sabbaticals and transition leaves is out of date.

There’s linkage between this situation, spending practices in general and the seeming inexorable cranking up of tuition costs year after year. Remember that next budget cycle when the University cries poor.


— St. Paul Pioneer Press

  • J Mullins

    Interesting to see that the DJ, a newspaper generally the organ of the liberals and the other elements of the DFL, such as public employee unions, would allow this piece to appear here. For, will it not raise questions or assertions that this high level rip off policy is a natural, perhaps inevitable of the city, county, state practice of paying retiring public employees for accumulated sick leave? The highly paid officials of state government and the state universities are just mimicking lower level scams prevalent through the state.
    What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  • Phaedrus

    “The days of the poor scholar are clearly long gone.” – Rubish! The days fo the poor administator may be long gone, but you can’t legitimately make the quoted claim about the scholars (the one’s actually teaching the classes). All of the examples cited in the article are about Administrators (a University President, “executive salaries” and an H.R. Director), not faculty (and the same is true about cashing out sick leave – the big $$ payouts are to administrators).

    Bruininks (and probably some others in medicine, engineering, etc.) make substantially more than the “average professor,” but the Business school charges $100-135 more per credit than “normal” and that’s probably true for the other specialized fields.

    And the whole, “if they’re doing it here, they’re doing it in other areas” is laughably bad reasoning. It’s called a Hasty Generalization and is akin to saying, I know 3 people in TX who are jerks, so everyone in TX is a jerk. That’s easily recognizable as terrible reasoning, so you’d have to be stupid to buy into that line of reasoning.

  • markcasper

    I too am surprised by this article, and I agree. There may be some generalizations that shouldn’t be made but for the most part I believe its right on the money, no pun.

    Its hilarious to me that Mr.Wolf would point out that this is not the case of the “average professor” not being a part of this. There have been articles like this for several years in the Tribune, most of the time it has been about the “average professor”, how they make upwards of 100-200K a year and then are gone most of the time and grad students actually do the classroom teaching. I wish I could remember details, but it was outrageous.

    No wonder tuition is so high, its not for lack of money, its for lack of accountability at the U. They are simply an autonomous “kingdom” of their own with little or no oversight.

    High tuition? Can you imagine how much this has added to the Student Loan debt owed by the students that do go there? What happens to much of that debt? Thats right its never repaid, because many people simply cannot get employment after graduation that allows them to pay it
    back. The best among them live hand to mouth until their late 30′s paying off the debt.

    What a farce, the U gains more funding from the State. Tuition goes up anyway, and then the Federal government gets stuck with the debt for loans for the inflated tuition costs, while the admins take lavish sabbaticals, while the professors are no where to be found in the classrooms and the grad students do the work.

    Yes there is something wrong with that picture.

    • Phaedrus

      Mr. Casper, let’s start with some facts that you can look up and verify.

      “Between 1991 and 1997, appropriations were either reduced or held relatively constant. There were increases in 1998 and 1999, after which real dollar appropriations declined to the 2005 level of $1.27 billion. On average, HEPI [Higher Education Price Index] adjusted appropriations increased by 1.4% between 1970 and 2005.”

      “In 1991, total inflation adjusted appropriations were $1.44 billion. After reductions in appropriations in 1992 and 1993, subsequent appropriations increased until appropriations totaled $1.48 billion in 2002. Between 2003 and 2005, appropriations declined each year with total appropriations of $1.27 billion in 2005. On average, CPI adjusted appropriations increased 1.9% from 1970 to 2005.”

      From the Bill passed last summer:
      Subdivision 1. Summary By Fund. The amounts shown in this subdivision
      1.15summarize direct appropriations, by fund, made in this article.
      1.16 SUMMARY BY FUND
      1.17 2012 2013 Total
      1.18 General $ 1,282,884,000 $1,282,633,000

      So we can see that from 2005 to present state appropriations have “grown” from $1.27 billion to $1.28 billion, but that it’s still less than the $1.44 billion that was appropriated in 1991.

      Using an online “cumulative inflation calculator” we find that “Total inflation from January 2005 to January 2011 is 15.48%” So if we take the $1.27 billion and multiply it by the rate of inflation over that time we get $196,596,000 and then add it to the 2005 amount to get $1,466,596,000 – just to keep up with inflation and we can see that the funding for 2012 is about $183,712,000 less (and it decreases in 2013 as well.

      Given this we can conclude that the line, “What a farce, the U gains more funding from the State. Tuition goes up anyway” is complete nonsense.

      If we couple that with the increase in the number of students over that period, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why tuition is increasing. Remember, they are allocated a certain amount, and if you divide it by the number of students and that number goes up, then the allocation per student goes down, which means tuition goes up (and that’s assuming that the costs to heat/cool the buildings, etc. stays exactly the same).

      These are public institutions and their budgets are available to the public. You, or the author of the editorial above, can (and should) look things up.

      So when the editorial says, “you’re unlikely to see an analysis of the 30-year trend of the cost per student to run the institution or the cost of tuition adjusted for inflation. That’s not by accident because, of course, it wouldn’t be pretty.” They are spewing stupidity – the numbers are there, so there’s no point in blindly speculating about how it would look. If the author is too stupid or lazy to do the work, they shouldn’t be making claims about things when they are clearly out of their depth.

      And all of this foolishness about “accountability” is the same thing. You can look up the numbers, there are auditors who go through the books, the legislature looks at the spending, etc. If you want to talk about accountability, let’s start by practicing it and being accountable for the things we put in print.

      • camobabe

        But, Phaedrus, have you seen your earnings accelerate only at the rate of the taxpayers carrying the freight, the students paying the tution? The earnings of university level teachers have climbed faster, much faster, than the average working family, and the sense of entitlement to unbounded pay and benefit levels seem undiminished. Do your allocations of tax money to the university system which in your words are “adjusted for inflation” in fact match the actual dollar figures allocated and requested, or would those “adjusted for inflation” amounts look considerably higher when expressed in current dollar figures?

        • Phaedrus

          And Camilla, you have something other than your imagination, intuition, speculation, etc. to support those irresponsible claims. But the question is, why are you asking me? If you’re just going to wantonly spread innuendo to suit an ideological perspective by asking rhetorical questions, why bother? You undermine your own credibility that way (not that you have much anyway), but that’s just incredibly lazy. The information is out there, go look it up and then contribute to the conversation, otherwise you should be ashamed of that post.

          The “adjusted for inflation” aren’t my words (that’s why they are inside quotation marks) they come from a legislative report. As noted above, you can look it up or look foolish, your choice.

          • BillSchulz

            In other words, Camilla has caught you in your manipulations of figures and pointed out that regardless your assertion that the figures “adjusted for inflation” show less than a percent of growth, the actual dollrs being spent for faculty salaries, benefits, expenses, perks, etc., have grown at a pace only eclipsed by health care costs. So, if the working family paying for a child’s coolege costs was making $28,000 in 1991, and 56,000 today, yet the cost of living index has gobbled up all the seeming rise in wages. And now, they get to pay almost three times what the tuition was in 1991. And the salary and total compensation for the faculty has grown from an average of $88,000 to $200,000, but we should disregard that since your “adjusted for inflation”
            figures say the increase is trivial. But the professor has more than doubled his income nonethless. Good illustration of the old maxim , “Figures lie, and liars figure”.

            And, although the phrase “adjusted for inflation” are not yours, just what have been quoted by others, those figures are used to base your arguments, knowing the ambiguous nature of the amounts, percentages and growth rates which slide around in an amorphous way, waiting only for you to coalesce them in whatever manner suits your purpose: obfuscation. Whenever anyone scores a point on you you accuse them of being stupid or dishonest, your own defense against having been exposed.

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