Op-ed pick: Chair of U’s Board of Regents fires back at Carlson

Three days after former Gov. Arne Carlson’s broadside against administrative bloat at the University of Minnesota, Linda Cohen, chair of the university’s Board of Regents, fired back. Also on the opinion pages of the Star Tribune, Cohen charged that Carlson was guilty of “inaccurate information, omissions and contradictory criticisms.”

It’s hardly surprising that Cohen would write such a piece, given that the regents were among Carlson’s targets. He’d said that the Legislature should change its process for appointing regents, to ensure they had the skills necessary to manage the institution. Cohen counters that the regents and President Eric Kaler “share a commitment to aggressively tackle administrative costs and keep a quality higher education within reach of Minnesota’s families.”

“The university has realized millions of dollars of savings by closing and merging colleges, freezing salaries, leaving faculty slots open, drastically cutting energy and technology costs, decommissioning old buildings, increasing employee-paid health care premiums, eliminating entire administrative offices and vice president positions, and redirecting administrative costs to our core missions of teaching, research and outreach,” Cohen writes.

Another of Carlson’s points on Sunday was that it is no longer possible, as it was in his day, for a student to work his way through college without racking up debt. Cohen replies:

“Minnesotans might be surprised to learn that for families earning adjusted gross incomes of $75,000 or less, the university’s Twin Cities campus has a lower net price (tuition, fees, room and board minus financial aid) than any other four-year college in the state — public or private.”

She also bristled at Carlson’s recitation of salaries at the university that compensate its officials more handsomely than, say, the president of the United States.

“Carlson’s column also rehashes claims from a months-old Wall Street Journal story that the university has already successfully rebutted in a series of public hearings, particularly the assertion that 81 ‘administrators’ earn more than $200,000 a year. Actually, the number is less than half that total, with the others having teaching or academic leadership responsibilities. …

“The belief that the U can cut salaries and benefits while retaining our talented world-class faculty and staff is unrealistic. Just last year, the university’s prized researchers brought more than $749 million in grants into Minnesota.

“Just like any other business, the university recruits faculty and staff in a market. Despite Carlson’s wishes, market salaries are not calibrated to those paid to elected or appointed government officials, who should, arguably, be paid more.”