How long does it take to explain a $3.8 billion budget?
Less than three minutes, according to a new University of Minnesota video.
The video, just 2 minutes and 42 seconds long, is part of a new campaign designed to answer a basic question: Where does the U’s money go?
This week, the brief tutorial was unveiled on a new university web page simply titled “Our Budget.” The whole point, says Vice President Matt Kramer, is to make the U’s inner workings a little less opaque to the general public.
“It explains a budget in a way that a person can actually understand,” says Kramer, former president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, who is now in charge of university relations.
Kramer, who’s been on the job since February, readily admits that the university hasn’t done a good job explaining how it spends its money. In his view, that has only fueled speculation that the U is awash in wasteful spending.
Technically speaking, the university has posted its complete budget online, for public review, for years. But Kramer jokes that anyone with the stamina to plow through all those spreadsheets deserves “continuing education” credits.
“I wanted to create something ... that I could send to friends, that I could send to legislators,” he says.
The video, which was produced in house, is filled with inspiring images of students and scientists at work, sprinkled with pie charts that break down where the $3.8 billion goes. One of its messages: Nearly half the money comes with strings attached (such as research grants and private donations), which restrict how the university can spend it.
Alongside the video, there’s a link saying: “Learn more about how we’re cutting administrative costs.” It spells out how President Eric Kaler has been fulfilling a promise to cut $90 million over six years. It mentions, among other things, how the U has saved money by switching to “long-lasting LED” light bulbs and cutting energy use.
Kramer, who spent three years as chief of staff to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said he believes it’s important to explain these efforts in ways that anyone with an interest can easily grasp. “If somebody wants to go deep, we’ve got plenty of resources,” he said. But the “Our Budget” page “is an attempt to answer extremely complex questions in a really simple way.”
Kramer said he plans to add more videos and explainers over time, to shine more light on how the university operates. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” he said, if the next tutorial is about tuition — what does it cover, why does it go up?
“This was just our opening salvo,” he said. He hopes even university employees will take a look and learn something about how the U operates. “Your biggest advocates are your own employees,” said Kramer. “And if your own employees don’t understand, it’s not their fault. It’s yours.”