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UMD Professor pens open letter to UM President Kaler

Editor's note: On Monday, Feb. 17, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler visited the UMD campus to hold a series of open meetings on the university's current budget situation. UMD History professor Scott Laderman wrote the following open letter to Kaler in response to that visit.

February 20, 2014

Eric W. Kaler, President
University of Minnesota

Dear President Kaler,

I want to thank you for taking the time to visit us at UMD.  The faculty here had for months been anxious to meet with you, so we appreciate that you accepted the invitation.  We trust that we will be seeing you again shortly.

As I assume was made clear during your brief visit, too many of us at UMD – both faculty and staff – are feeling demoralized.  This is in part because of the budget situation in which the campus finds Ladermanitself.  But it is also because we often feel disrespected and devalued within the University of Minnesota system.  You are our president, and we expect you to listen to and represent us.  You assured us on Monday that you are able to separate your responsibilities as the system president and the head of the Twin Cities campus.  With all due respect, I remain unconvinced.

I’m sure I was not alone, for example, in finding it disconcerting when you told us that UMD faculty had regular opportunities to communicate our concerns because we were connected by ITV (or some other virtual method) to your meetings in the Twin Cities with the Faculty Consultative Committee.  As we had to inform you, we are not.  We were removed decades ago by the Regents from that governance system.  We have now created our own shared governance system at UMD.  You are part of it, and I hope you will participate as meaningfully in our system as you do in the other.  I also think it is important to have Vice President Pfutzenreuter more regularly participate in our campus budget committee meetings.  He does, after all, work for all of us.

While I cannot speak for the UMD faculty as a whole, I can tell you that every faculty member with whom I have spoken did not feel appreciably better after your visit than they did before it.  Please allow me to explain why.  As you no doubt gathered from our questions, the budget situation we confront is a matter of tremendous and ongoing concern.  While I appreciate your assurance that you will be working with our local administrators to help the campus move toward long-term stability, the vagueness of your assurance left many of us uneasy.

At the root of many of our concerns is the fact that UMD does not receive the same level of support from the University’s state appropriation as does the Twin Cities campus (or Morris, for that matter).  You are right, as you insisted in the Faculty Assembly, that we must not compare apples to oranges.  But the fact that you followed up that statement by comparing UMD to the College of Liberal Arts in the Twin Cities did not demonstrate a willingness to abide by your own counsel.  Put simply, UMD and the College of Liberal Arts are not both apples.  One is a comprehensive university, with the many functions, programs, and services that implies; the other is a collegiate unit.  Even if, as you told us, seventy-seven percent of both rely on tuition to cover their operating expenses, that is not a compelling demonstration of geographical parity, as you seemed to want us to believe.  Given the myriad things funded by the UMD budget, many of which are funded centrally for the College of Liberal Arts, our students in Duluth are – whatever the actual numbers – receiving less state support than are students elsewhere.  This must change.

And please provide us with accurate numbers.  You mentioned several times – as has Mr. Pfutzenreuter in various venues – that some of the figures being disseminated about UMD are wrong, even “inflammatory.”  I am thus requesting the correct numbers.  We all recognize that there are differences between the campuses, but there must nevertheless be some common units of analysis.  It is frustrating to hear “your figures are wrong” while being denied the provision of allegedly more accurate figures.

Some of us were also unsettled on Monday by your administration’s response (or nonresponse) to a comment by one of our colleagues.  When that colleague suggested that UMD was not being reimbursed by the system for certain expenses it covers that benefit the Duluth branches of the Medical School and College of Pharmacy, both of which are, administratively speaking, Twin Cities programs, you agreed that this sounded like a problem that should be examined and addressed.  I appreciate your encouraging response.  However, after the Faculty Assembly ended, it came to my attention that the Medical School and College of Pharmacy have in fact been trying to accomplish for some years this payment to UMD for services rendered by UMD (SPA, ITSS, et cetera), and some of those on the stage with you knew this.  What is unsettling to me is that they did not respond to this direct question, leaving most of us in the room with the impression that the administration was learning of this situation for the first time.  I worry that this negatively affected my colleagues in the Medical School and College of Pharmacy, as some of us may have concluded that our colleagues with Twin Cities appointments were not willing to contribute their fair share to the costs incurred by UMD.  This is not true.  If the purpose of your visit was to field our questions and provide us with candid responses, there was an obvious failure in this instance.  Why?

I read in this morning’s U of M Brief that the Regents just supported a $4.1 million investment in safety enhancements on the Twin Cities campus.  Whatever the source of those funds, this is wonderful.  Students, faculty, and staff throughout the University of Minnesota system must be made to feel safe, and as someone with many friends and a spouse at the Twin Cities campus, I am heartened to see the administration taking seriously the safety concerns that have been expressed by many people there.  Yet I cannot help but notice that we have not enjoyed a similar responsiveness in finding funds to address the crisis at UMD.  We have safety concerns as well – if you have not already done so, I urge you to consult our local administrators about these – but more broadly we face the possible elimination of academic programs and services and the termination or nonrenewal of faculty and staff.  Our students will suffer.  Where is the urgency in finding several million dollars to address our crisis?

The faculty at UMD would like an explicit assurance from you that the system will treat the budget situation at UMD like the crisis it is and do more than the bare minimum in helping us to resolve it.  If the system provided UMD with less money in recent years because our admissions and tuition revenue were increasing, fairness dictates that the system now come to UMD’s aid as our admissions and tuition revenue have dropped.  After all, our earlier success benefited the system’s coffers.  Now it is time for the system’s coffers to benefit us.

In sum, I am asking that you please do more to fully represent us as our system leader.  When you told us on Monday that “[y]ou stubbed your toe on undergraduate enrollment a couple of years ago and that has cost you continuing ongoing tuition revenue,” one of our colleagues could not have been more appropriate in his response.  If you were truly our system leader, he replied, you would have said that “we stubbed our toe” and that it has cost “us” tuition revenue.  UMD is the second largest research university in the state of Minnesota, and our faculty are working tirelessly to educate our students while making significant contributions to the arts, humanities, and natural and social sciences.  We at UMD are also the University of Minnesota, and our ability to continue with this success should not be in jeopardy.



                                                                                                Scott Laderman
                                                                                                Associate Professor of History