New report says U top-heavy; Kaler says report 'dead wrong'

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 19, 2014 - 5:52 AM
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University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler

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For the second time in two years, the University of Minnesota is fending off accusations that it has one of the most top-heavy administrations in higher education.

On Sunday, the Institute for Policy Studies singled out the U as one of the five “worst overall offenders” in a report called “The One Percent at State U.”

The report, by a self-described progressive think tank, accuses the U and other schools of spending lavishly on top executives and administrative staff at the expense of students and faculty.

Eric Kaler, the U’s president, dismissed the report as “dead wrong.” He said the institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., used “incorrect data to reach erroneous results,” and painted a distorted picture of his record as president.

The authors of the report said they analyzed public data to determine which public universities were spending the most on executive salaries and administrative staff.

At the University of Minnesota, they reported, the number of “non academic” administrators tripled between 2010 and 2012, from 762 to 2,384.

They also concluded that, per student, administrative costs have soared while spending on financial aid has dwindled since 2006.

“Minnesota’s big problem is with this huge administrative bloat,” said Andrew Erwin, one of the authors. “It’s obvious that’s really going to affect student debt.”

The University of Minnesota ranked No. 3 on the report’s list of “worst overall offenders,” along with Ohio State (1), Penn State (2) the University of Michigan (4) and the University of Washington (5). The list, the report said, was based on several measures: “excessive executive pay, faster than average rising student debt, inflated nonacademic expenditures, and large increases in low-wage and/or contingent faculty.”

University of Minnesota officials said they were baffled by the conclusions, and said they fly in the face of the data. “For them to say we’ve reduced financial aid by 36 percent is wrong, that’s just wrong,” said Kaler. “We’ve increased financial aid substantially.”

Chuck Tombarge, a university spokesman, said the report “comes across as very political,” and that the statistics were either misrepresented or “in some cases are outright wrong.”

Accusations about administrative waste have dogged the university for several years. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that the University of Minnesota had the largest share of administrative employees among the nation’s 72 top public research universities, and that its administrative ranks had grown by 37 percent since 2001.

The university disputed those findings, saying that it had reported the information incorrectly to the federal database that was used for comparison.

Since then, the university has commissioned a number of studies that concluded it was not unusually heavy with administrators. At the same time, Kaler, who became president in 2011, vowed to cut $90 million in administrative costs by 2019 as part of what he called an ambitious plan to “work smarter.”

In light of that history, Kaler said, the institute’s report was especially frustrating. “My priorities are to invest in our faculty and in our financial aid, which is exactly what we’ve done,” he said.

The report also lists the university’s president as the 12th highest paid executive of a public university. Kaler’s salary is $610,000, according to Tombarge, which he said ranks 27th on a new survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education. He noted that, for the last two years, Kaler has refused to accept annual raises from the Board of Regents, asking that the money be used for scholarships instead.

 

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

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