What Pelowski said about tuition and how to tame MnSCU and the U

Pelowski

Yesterday was practically Gene Pelowski Day.

First the House higher-education committee chairman appeared on MPR’s Daily Circuit.

Forty minutes later, he held a press conference unveiling the latest version of the House higher-education bill.

Then he held his committee’s hearing.

I was there at all of them, and here are a few highlights. He’s always good for a few zingers:

On why he focused on a tuition freeze instead of adding more to the State Grant program:

“(Lower) tuition helps everyone. Everyone in this state is helped by lower tuition. The best type of grant program is in tuition. If we’re going to raise tuition and then selectively spend more to help a few in the grant program, we’re feeding an animal that is insatiable. And that animal has literally brought higher education to its knees in this state. … The grant program helps a few. (Lower) tuition helps everyone. I think it’s time to help everyone.”

On his proposal to beef up administrative reporting requirements for the University of Minnesota and MnSCU — as opposed to the Senate’s proposal to withhold a percentage of funding until both systems meet performance goals:

“Depending on what our target (budget) number is, maybe the approach should be to use both. … We may have the best of all worlds here.”

On how lawmakers could force the U to change its practices, considering it’s technically autonomous from the state (except for its intake of state funding):

“We’re working to find out what kind of mechanism to use with the University of Minnesota. I would hope that the regents would finally use their ability to finally have oversight of the university. But because of the U’s extra-constitutionality, it’s much more difficult. And even working with the legislative auditor, it’s difficult to craft what would be mandatory language for the university.”

On telling the difference between a purely administrative position and an one that includes an academic role, so that cutting administration doesn’t harm the classroom in the process:

“That’s going to be the ongoing problem — and I’m sure we’ll be able to solve it.”

On the “restoration” of legislative oversight of the U and MnSCU, which he says has been gone for the past 8-10 years:

“It’s time we looked at tuition increases the same way we looked at tax increases, and we had the same level of legislative oversight in tuition increases that we have with the tax increase. Both have technically the same impact, and both have a tendency never to go away.”

On the use of a consulting firm to analyze the U’s administrative structure and look for ways to make it more efficient:

“They’re spending a half million dollars to find out something they should already know.”

On the U’s handling of tuition increases:

“I think the U, by its own admission in our committee, raised tuition because it could. I think it raised it way beyond (what) it needed to for the cuts that were being instituted over the last 8-10 years, and I think now there has to be a reversal.”