Op-ed pick: Former Gov. Carlson rips into U for big spending, high costs


Three times in the last month — first on his own blog, then in Minnpost, and last Sunday in the Star Tribune — former Gov. Arne Carlson has leveled an incendiary charge at his beloved University of Minnesota. He writes that the university is suffering from “administrative bloat and excessive compensation costs. Despite administrators’ efforts to brush aside the importance of these rising costs, it is of vital importance that we deal with them and prevent further harm.”

The notion that the university is spending too much in the front office is not new; Carlson himself cites supporting stories in the Star Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. What’s so eye-popping about these essays (really slightly different versions of one essay) is that it’s Carlson who’s writing them. He’s the governor whose school spirit runs so deep that his official portrait shows him posing in Gopher colors on campus.

It also doesn’t hurt his case that he writes it very effectively, with stunning examples of those rising costs.

“When I came into the governor’s office in 1991, the president of the university made approximately $152,000. I made $112,000 — for a gap of some $40,000,” he writes.

“Today, the governor makes $120,000, and the university president is paid $610,000 — a gap of $490,000.

“The lead attorney for the university makes $295,000. That’s about $180,000 more than Minnesota’s attorney general, $95,000 more than the attorney general of the United States, and over $70,000 more than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The university president’s chief of staff earns a salary comparable with that of the U.S. secretary of state. The university lobbyist who pleads the school’s case at the State Capitol earns some $60,000 more than the governor.

“Joel Maturi, a fundraiser and part-time teacher, makes $468,000; the president of the United States earns $400,000.”

That last example came up Monday in Carlson’s conversation with Kerri Miller on The Daily Circuit.

“You can’t have a fund-raiser making more than the president of the United States and then come to the taxpayers and say, ‘You’ve got to pay more taxes to afford us,'” Carlson said.

Miller asked: If administrators think that’s what the market will bear, and Maturi is good at his job, why not pay him that amount?

“That’s absolute nonsense, and it won’t bear out under any scrutiny,” Carlson replied. “But that’s not really the point. I think we have to recognize that all of us … are in the business of serving the public, not vice versa. And it’s not just an issue of salaries. It’s an issue also of competent management.” He repeated his call in the op-ed for a management consulting firm to come in and review the university’s management practices.

He also wants to change the appointment process for the Board of Regents, ensuring the selection of regents with the skills to oversee the institution’s management. “This explosion of administrative costs should never, ever have occurred,” Carlson said. “And that reflects directly on the Board of Regents.”

The big losers, he said, are the students who must mortgage their future to get an education.

“In my day, you could work your way through college without any debt. Today, the average student graduates with a debt of approximately $30,000. You get married, that’s a $60,000 debt for a married couple. And that delays their ability to get into the housing market, which has obvious implications for the economy,” he said.

“Can the student afford it? Can the average family in Minnesota afford to send their sons and daughters to the University of Minnesota without coming out on the debt side? That’s what it’s about.”

  • David Bastien

    Arne Carlson is the best governor in my memory, and I’m pretty old. He understood government so that he was able to reduce the costs of government, maintain or improve the quality of services, and leave his successor with an organization with high moral. His sriticisms deserve to be taken very seriously. I am a three degree graduate of the UofM and am extremely proud of my education, but I wholly concur with his criticism of the U. While there are some very, very good aspects to our university, there are some really serious shortcomings, especially in the administration (including its legal operations). I believe that a thorough study of the U’s management is in order and can think of no one more qualified or trustworthy than Arne Carlson to lead that study.

  • JQP

    As an alum of the University of MN – I wouldn’t recommed it to anyone. It’s a festering pit of like minded idio-paths who think more of marketing and puffery than hard and fast dedication to basic visible accomplishment that is of value to the student attendees.
    1- the whole world class rubbish from Keller forward has been a categorically moronic pursuit. Its a non-specific goal that has no functional measure. Its like telling your kids they need to be “thinkier” in order to succeed. Yeah … that’s clear.
    2 – Get rid of the artificial publish or perish justification for tenure. any idiot can publish hundreds of articles that do little more than add an apostrophe to history. Consider the GPA of graduating students, percentage hired vs. national average, hiring companies feedback on preparedness of students,
    3- Establish a functional and durable process that allows professors to clearly and cleanly move from academia to incubator business ( converting a U process into a patent, and, if staff is willing, into a business) and then back to academia … but DO NOT have them hovering in both positinos at once. Maintain all of those businesses as location for student employment – from janitors to lab-techs, to business interns to demographers to … get it. an engine for practical world skills. Think UofMn, Inc.
    Quit telling everyone you are being a leader and be one. If you are leading .. everyone knows it.

  • Ron

    I had great respect for Elmer Anderson. It strikes me that Arne Carlson may be
    his second coming.