Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. He's also a fellow at the U's Supercomputer Institute. Read more about Gleason.

Trainwreck at University of Minnesota's Northrop Auditorium

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: July 5, 2010 - 6:47 PM

 

 
 
 
(File from Wikimedia commons - freely licensed media repository)
 
The Reengineering of Minnesota's Northrop Auditorium

A Case Study in Administrative Behavior at
the University of Minnesota
 
 
Executive summary: The Morrill Hall Gang wants to re-engineer (NOT renovate) Northrop in a way that will cost $80 million that we should not be spending for this purpose given our current financial situation. Please note that I fully support getting Northrop up to code, but what is being talked about here is far from that.
 
 
 
The Morrill Hall Gang's overall strategy:
 
  • Create a need for the project by neglect
  • Diss the building and threaten to close it
  • Use slush funds to start planning
  • Come up with an over-the-top justification for the project
  • Get Regent's approval
  • Proceed
 
I. Create a need for the project by neglect
 
 
It is ironic that the Morrill Hall Gang tries to justify the project in terms of good stewardship:

"Further, stewardship of this existing University resource through renovation demonstrates a commitment to sustainability, the identity and history of the institution, and fiscal responsibility."
 
Whose fault is it that Northrop is in such bad condition, Bob?
 

"The University is very concerned about the fragility of the building. Northrop is egregiously out of compliance with code and life-safety requirements and code officials could close the building at any time.”

Steven Rosenstone, Vice President for Cultural/Scholarly Affairs
University of Minnesota

This statement was made by VP Rosenstone and recorded in publicly available minutes of the University of Minnesota Senate Committee on Finance and Planning, January 25. 2010.
 
The person responsible for code violations works for the University of Minnesota. I learned this after I was unsuccessful in getting the attention of the City of Minneapolis or the State of Minnesota to look at this situation. Either Rosenstone is making a statement contrary to fact or the U should close Northrop. Which is it Czar Rosenstone?
 
 
II. Diss the building and threaten to close it
 
 
"Recently, people on campus have described Northrop as uninviting, impenetrable, a 'mausoleum,' under-utilized, and an obstacle to their destination."
 
 
"If Northrop does not serve students and faculty of this University, if Northrop does not serve the academic priorities of the University, and better serve the community, turn it into a parking structure.”
 
 
In other words, if the Morrill Hall Gang does not get its way, turn Northrop into a parking lot? Who were these people? Provost Sullivan, Pfutz, VP O'Brien, the Cultural Czar?
 
And President Bruininks, as recently as 30 June 2010 claimed:
 
"We’re perilously close to closing it [Northrop] because it cannot support the kind of work we do."
 
 
III. Use slush funds to start planning
 
 
A considerable amount of money has ALREADY been spent on the project. Where did it come from and who authorized the spending of these funds? Let me guess... This is the old slippery slope game that has been used time and time again by the Morrill Hall Gang. The expenses for this project – not including hidden agendas that will create de facto new commitments:
 
Capital Budget Amendment Requested at this time

Cost Estimate/Budget for Predesign and Schematic Design:
Predesign and schematic design $ 2,531,206

Total Project Cost Estimate/Budget to be authorized in the future:

Construction Cost $64,068,000
Non Construction Cost 16,763,206
Total Future Project Cost Estimate/Budget $80,831,206
 
And the source of this money?
 
• Higher Education Asset Preservation & Replacement
Fundraising
University Debt
• Northrop Operating & Maintenance Funds
 
 
First: HEAPR money should have been used all along to keep Northrop from deteriorating. This is what is called good stewardship, Bob. Second, the University has no business borrowing money when it is laying people off. If you want to borrow money to preserve jobs, fine. But to claim that we are in a condition of financial stringency while doing this is unconscionable.
 
Fundraising? Again the attitude of this administration seems to be that if they can raise the money for a project then it is OK? They are raising the money on the imprimatur of the University of Minnesota and the community should have some say about priorities for fund raising.
 
 
IV. Over the top justification
 
There is an amazing document from a University of Minnesota Board of Regents Meeting about the project. It sounds like something that Provost Sullivan might have written.  Unfortunately, it is embedded in a huge pdf file on the BoRe web site. When I first read it, I thought it was a satire because of some of the over-the-top claims made by Morrill Hall wordsmiths. Such as:
 
 
"Engaging the people of Minnesota with the world’s leading public figures and change-makers who will challenge us to consider and engage in the most pressing issues of our time."

"The convening place where the greatest minds in the world routinely share innovative ideas and creative work."

"Using new technologies to provide a global platform to engage leaders from around the world and connect the University with global audiences."
 
Certainly sounds like Tom...
 
Further from the document:
 
 "... the reconfigured facility will be a physical embodiment of the University’s “Transforming the U” and “Driven to Discover” initiatives."

Bad start...

"Further, stewardship of this existing University resource through renovation demonstrates a commitment to sustainability, the identity and history of the institution, and fiscal responsibility."

This would be nice if it were true - but it isn't. This is far from a renovation that brings Nothrop into code compliance and it is fiscally irresponsible under the present circumstances.


"Phase II is required to bring Northrop into the 21st century and to ensure its longevity for the future."


Ah, the old 21st century gambit. That won't fly. More ramped up and over the top reasons to come?

"It will serve students and faculty and become an icon for the University in its mission to become a world-renowned institution."

In case you folks have not noticed Northrop already is an icon and the U is a world-renowned institution.

"The reconfigured Northrop will advance the University’s goal of recruiting extraordinary students and ensure their retention and timely completion of degrees."

Ah, so that's the reason for retention problems and untimely completion of degrees - it has all been Northrop's fault? Have you folks no shame?

"Innovation by Design – a collaborative innovation framework that brings together faculty and industry to address compelling global, social and market needs that defy solutions from a single discipline. Breakthroughs lead to intellectual property, products, and services."

Is that anything like the Design Insitute? You remember the organization that was started by Mark Yudof but that was snuffed by the current Morrill Hall Gang because there's no glory in supporting your predecessor's programs.

"Engaging the people of Minnesota with the world’s leading public figures and change-makers who will challenge us to consider and engage in the most pressing issues of our time."

So, ah, how's that going to work? We couldn't even get 40 people to come and converse with Our President about the future of our university and people are going to flock to Northop to consider the most pressing issues of our time? What might those be?

"The convening place where the greatest minds in the world routinely share innovative ideas and creative work."


Routinely? Whoever wrote this should be ashamed of himself. First how is this going to be paid for? Or do you assume these great minds are going to come gratis because they want to be at Minnesota?

"Using new technologies to provide a global platform to engage leaders from around the world and connect the University with global audiences."

This reeks of OurProvost, the one who said: "our fundamental mission as a University must be deployed in service of the broader transnational learning process" What the hell does that mean?

Recognize current extraordinary financial realities by:

Advancing an overall capital plan that maintains current debt ratings

Relying on new revenues to help cover payment for debt costs

Leveraging state capital funding in conjunction with University and private resources


Wow! Recognize current extraordinary financial realities by ignoring them? Since we can maintain current debt ratings that justifies borrowing? New revenues? Is this like the gravel and MoreU Park?

State capital funding? The administration does not have the guts to put this project in its capital funding request because it would get turned down for the boondoggle (at this time) that it is.
 
---
This re-engineering of Northrop at this time is simply wrong. It is ego balm for the soul of the Morrill Hall gang and a kingdom for the cultural czar.

A lame duck administration should not be allowed to do this at the same time that we are going over a financial cliff, especially since the President and many members of the Morrill Hall Gang will not be around to suffer the consequences.
 

 

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