During the current legislative session administrators from the University of Minnesota will be asking the state Legislature for an increase in appropriations of 10 percent. While few would question the value of education, in the case of the U there are good reasons to question the price.
If the state is going to increase funding for the U, we should have a reasonable expectation of seeing a positive return on this investment. In exchange for the added state dollars we would like to see an increase in the number of Minnesotans being educated, or a reduction in costs for students, or an increase in the quality of the education being provided — ideally, all three. Based on past performance, none of these expectations is likely to be met.
Since 2012 state funding for the U has increased by 16 percent. If we look at the enrollment numbers for the U, we can only be disappointed with what this increase in funding has provided. The number of students enrolled in 2016 is 1,000 less than in 2012. If we then look at the number of these students who are from Minnesota, we might well be outraged. Since 2012 the number of Minnesotans enrolled has been lowered by 2,000; one half of this reduction is due to an increase of the number of out-of-state students recruited to take the places of Minnesotans.
We would also be disappointed if we hoped that the increase in taxpayer money had led to tuition relief for overburdened students and their families. Tuition income collected by the U has increased at nearly twice the rate of inflation since 2012. Per-student tuition revenue increased over 9 percent during this period.
Reasons for concern
When it comes to examining changes in the quality of education being offered at the U there are profound reasons for concern.
If we were to walk around any of the U’s campuses and poke our heads in various classrooms, labs, and offices, we would find much to praise. Occasionally, we would find instances of inefficiency or outright waste. While regrettable, a certain amount of inefficiency is inevitable in any large organization, and can only be completely “eliminated” at the cost of expensive, stultifying, and wasteful levels of oversight.
But there is something we would see that should lead us to question the U’s commitment to offering its students a quality education: classes without professors. Recently, the U’s College of Liberal Arts Student Board conducted a survey that found that nearly half of economics majors on the Twin Cities campus had never had a class in their major taught by a faculty member. Three-quarters of undergraduate economics courses last semester were taught by graduate students or teaching assistants.
This situation cannot be the result of a slip-up or an oversight — it could only occur in an institutional environment where education is undervalued. We can see this value system writ large, if we look at the employment patterns of the U as a whole. Over the last 10 years the number of full-time faculty at the U has increased by 12 percent, but the number of persons employed in leadership/professional and administrative job categories has exploded by 40 percent.
Ascendancy of bureaucracy
These staffing decisions both reflect and embody the values of the institution. This shift in the relative employment numbers between these two groups mirrors a shift in the perception of their relative values, creating a culture that favors the ascendancy of bureaucratic control over plain teaching. In the U’s present culture any additions to its revenues would just magnify this trend.
With no reason to expect that an increase in the state appropriations for the U will lead to improvements in quality, quantity, or cost, the Legislature would be ill-advised to approve any increase. In fact, It may be time for the Legislature to take on an additional role and teach the U a lesson.
Robert Katz is an employee of the University of Minnesota libraries.
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