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Bloggers track U’s ballooning administrative spending

University’s spending now drawing attention from national publications as well.

President Eric Kaler has described his frustration with the University of Minnesota administration’s shaky grasp on the details when it comes to the swollen payroll.
MinnPost photo by John Noltner

Last week, the front page of the Wall Street Journal carried a lengthy, thoroughly reported story chronicling the University of Minnesota’s ballooning spending on administrative salaries over the last decade. Between 2001 and last spring, the piece reported, the U of M added 1,000 administrators.

Thanks in part to that 37 percent increase, the university’s Twin Cities campus “had the largest share of employees classified as ‘executive/administrative and managerial’ among the 72 ‘very-high-research’ public universities in the 2011-12 academic year,” the paper reported.

During the same time period, tuition and fees for in-state students more than doubled to $13,524 a year, some $5,000 more than the average at four-year public colleges. Students must now work nearly full-time to pay the freight, a point the Journal illustrates nicely by quoting a sophomore who maintains a website listing campus events that feature free food.

Officials have disputed some of the statistics, noting that not all institutions report administrative spending the same way, and defended the value of some of the hiring. But university President Eric Kaler is quoted at the top of the story, describing his frustration with the administration’s shaky grasp on the details when it comes to the swollen payroll.

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Whether damage will accrue to Kaler’s 18-month-old administration remains to be seen. At the time of his appointment, Kaler vowed to cut administrative costs and to ferret out waste; critics were initially thrilled but seem to have slipped into wait-and-see mode as the low-hanging fruit gives way to tougher decisions.

Also unknown: Whether the controversy, and the Star Tribune’s decision to reprint a Washington Post commentary that utterly failed to mention Kaler’s efforts to curb past excesses, will affect the university president’s chances of convincing lawmakers to buy into his plan to freeze tuition in exchange for the restoration of some state funding.

MinnPost will have more coverage of the fallout soon; for now, readers might want to spend some time perusing a local blog that’s tracked and archived information on growth in university spending for years, The Periodic Table.

It’s maintained by Bill Gleason, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology, with contributions from local attorney Michael W. McNabb, who has both a B.A. and a J.D. from the institution. (Alert readers will recognize Gleason’s name from MinnPost’s comments thread, where he is a frequent participant.)

You can spend hours backtracking through their gleanings — the Journal certainly checked in with them and mentions some of the little-known controversies they follow. Indeed, they’ve chronicled the ink the topic has earned in the last few days, including an annotated selection of reader comments from other websites.

In the interest of winnowing the field, we offer a links to a few posts that are particularly relevant to the current controversy. Gleason’s annotated recaps since Dec. 29 are a good starting point and include plenty of trackbacks. McNabb’s most relevant contributions include On The Cost of Administration Part III; Whose Fault–Crushing Student Debt; The Rest of the Story; Ten Year Review of University Inc.; The Cost of “Top Talent” Part III