When I was in college, the most popular commentary on the human condition was a cartoon character named Pogo. And his most memorable line was, “We have met the enemy and he is Us.”
Tragically, that sentiment is applicable today regarding our attitude toward the gross mismanagement shown by those who represent themselves as leaders at the University of Minnesota. Let there be no misunderstanding. We have a most competent faculty, excellence in research, and an eager-to-learn student body. But this commitment to excellence does not extend to Morrill Hall.
During the past year, there has been an array of negative stories about management that are harmful to the reputation of the University. All involve allegations of dishonesty, cover-ups, misrepresentations, conflicts of interest, financial abuse, and poor hiring practices. Self-indulgence clearly trumps public service. The environment is such that no one is responsible. For instance, we have learned that in the area of testing drugs for large pharmaceutical companies, the oversight process was corrupted by the presence of university professionals who were on the payroll of the very companies whose drugs were being tested. We also know that the former chief counsel of the university wrote the language claiming exhaustive investigations by entities that never engaged in such endeavors. Further, we know that President Eric Kaler, his management team, and the Board of Regents used those false claims to beat down critics, including faculty members who called for an independent review. They simply buried the truth.
Sadly, this was all brushed aside by Kaler’s promise of new “protocols” that would eliminate all problems. In short, no one was to be held accountable for the wrongdoings of the past.
Where is the oversight?
Now, we have a growing scandal in the athletic department where Kaler and the Board of Regents hired an athletic director and associate without proper review and the result has been a very public sex scandal and the usual cries of shock from the appointing authorities. This was followed by the revelation of extraordinary misspending and waste in the athletic department. Again, no one is accountable.
There is a reason for this and that is there is no oversight of university management. The sad reality is that the Board of Regents is little more than a band of cheerleaders for the president and regents are content as long as they are accorded praise from the administration and receive a variety of perks including box seats at the football games, etc. It is more about recognition than responsibility.
And then we have the Minnesota Legislature, which appoints the Regents but fails to conduct any meaningful public oversight.
One positive legislative move
The one move the legislature made that was positive was the engagement of the Legislative Auditor to audit drug testing at the university. Yet, although the report was highly critical, the legislature refused to hold hearings on the cover-up or hold the president and the Regents accountable. This environment clearly invites more abuse, more harm and more negative revelations.
No organization can succeed without good management and quality oversight. If anyone doubts the content of this column, my question to you is: If this were a private company, would you invest in it?
But we as citizens do invest in it and invest heavily. That is precisely what we should do, because the University of Minnesota is central to our quality of life. They do such a superb job in discovering and preparing our children and us for tomorrow. Unfortunately, academic and research excellence is jeopardized by inept managers whose philosophy is misguided and self-serving.
Fortunately, Regent Michael Hsu, a more recent appointee, has been raising his voice publicly about the lack of communication and handling of Norwood Teague’s resignation. This gives me hope. However, it is time for all of us to recognize our responsibility to speak out and insist on a thorough housecleaning at Morrill Hall. If we fail to do so, then Pogo’s truth becomes our reality and we fail our children.
Arne Carlson served as Minnesota’s 37th governor. He served two terms, beginning in 1991.
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