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***Arne Carlson was Minnesota governor from 1991-1999. Richard Painter is a law professor at the University of Minnesota.

One of the most treasured tenets of the American Dream is that adults will leave to their children a better world than they inherited. The focus was always on the betterment of our children.

Tragically, that aspiration is being assigned to the ash heap of history as instant gratification and greed rise to the fore. Nationally, our adult leaders have not balanced the federal budget in over 20 years and have been using the tax system to lighten the burden on the affluent while passing on the debt to the young. That burden now reaches in excess of $94,000 per person.

Then, of course, our love of sports is so out of control that we use public money to subsidize billionaire team owners with luxury stadiums while reducing our commitment to education. In Minneapolis, taxpayers are still paying off the $150 million of debt plus interest incurred to fund a football stadium for a billionaire owner while imposing draconian cuts to its schools. 

Not to be outdone, the regents and presidents of the University of Minnesota have increasingly been moving more and more assets away from struggling students and into the pockets of overpaid administrators. 

Currently our undergraduates at the University of Minnesota are paying $3,000 a year more in tuition than the national average for public universities, which includes $1,700 more than the national average that universities incur per student in administrative costs.

The university itself reports that student life is becoming increasingly unaffordable with 43.6% of undergraduates worried “about the ability to pay for housing “ and another 20% enduring “food insecurity.”

Just imagine the stress and poor nutrition this causes.

Since 1991, the university president’s salary has soared some 500% from $152,300 to $805,950 not including retirement contributions and other benefits that put the total well over $1 million. Meanwhile, tuition and fees for students have risen from $2,728 to $15,859. 

Unlike 1991, students can no longer work their way through college and, therefore, many rely on student loans. On the average, this comes to over $25,000 for a four-year undergraduate degree.

And although the university president makes two and a half times more than the president of the United States, that has been deemed insufficient. Now she also serves on the Securian Financial corporate board for an additional $130,000 a year. 

In spite of the fact that Securian manages and oversees the university’s massive multi billion dollar retirement system, President Gabel and the regents see no conflict of interest. They tell us that university officials who report to Gabel will look after university employee life insurance and retirement accounts with Securian and protect us from any conflicts of interest.

Continuing on this path is destructive. 

University governance needs a complete turnabout that genuinely focuses on our young. It cannot just be a simple tuition freeze but rather a complete overhaul with major reductions in administrative costs.

The regents or the legislature should:

  •  Set the University president’s salary at a figure that does not exceed that of the president of the United States. This should be a standard for all public entities that receive federal funds. This action essentially trims the excesses of the past and restores a healthier balance.

  •  The Legislature should institute an independent commission to investigate the numerous scandals at the university and the enormous costs they impose on the students and public.

  • The governor should create a council of independent experts to work with the regents and university leadership to steadily lower administrative and other overhead costs while lowering student tuition with the goal of making student loans unnecessary. This also means integrating the athletic department into the solution. Nothing should be off the table.

  • The governor and legislature should set aside $1 billion in a student foundation fund using the annual proceeds from investment ( approximately $50 million ) for purposes of lowering student tuition at all Minnesota public institutions now. The state currently has a $17.6 billion surplus. This $1 billion investment would be a one-time expenditure. In addition, this same approach ( $1 billion set aside in a foundation and invested with the proceeds going to the program ) could be utilized to fund innovative programs in K-12.

The overall goal must be to guarantee to our children access to a quality and affordable educational experience so they are properly equipped to guide us through the enormous challenges of climate change and the restoration of a growing middle class democracy.

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