The first line in the University of Northern Iowa’s mission statement describes "a distinguished arts and sciences university with an outstanding teacher education program." This statement was jointly developed by faculty and administrators many years ago to epitomize UNI’s core values. As a business professor for 32 years, I have consulted with industry and taught finance and managerial science. I know well-run businesses make budget allocations in keeping with their mission statement.

Last month, UNI was fortunate to have a presentation by Dr. Howard Bunsis, a CPA and professor of accounting with a Ph.D. and MBA from the University of Chicago and a juris doctorate from Fordham University. He is an expert on governmental accounting, specifically the evaluation of accounting operations at universities. Some 45 minutes before his presentation, UNI Public Relations released material critical of his conclusions claiming misinterpretations of UNI’s audited financial statements.

Administrative financial staff and the provost attended the talk, but did not ask questions, disputed nothing, and ignored a sincere invitation to talk or ask questions afterward. Instead, they held an invitation–only discredit session after the talk with the press. Shockingly, there was a security guard at the door that turned away students or anyone else. Why? It would appear they really didn’t want anyone to ask questions or engage in meaningful debate about university finances.

UNI has $70 million in unrestricted assets, which administrators claim they cannot use to meet the current budget shortfall. However, these assets are defined in UNI’s financial reports as "not subject to externally imposed stipulations." In their media discussions, administrators conveniently fail to state that unrestricted assets are discretionary. There is no question that these assets are available to UNI administration for meeting a $5 million shortfall emergency.

Dr. Bunsis’ report is based on UNI’s independently audited financial statements, as well as information released to the U.S. Department of Education by UNI. It shows that UNI’s administrative costs have soared over the last 5 to 10 years. Upper level administrative salaries grew by 42 percent against a 15 percent increase for teaching. Currently, instructional costs represent only 25 percent of the overall expenses at UNI, with the remaining going to areas other than teaching. Over 50 administrators serving underneath the President and Provost make more than $100,000 a year. Dr. Bunsis’ analysis, available on the web, also shows UNI administrative costs are about $1,000 more each year per fulltime student compared to our peer institutions. Are these allocations consistent with UNI’s mission to deliver outstanding instruction?

Over the last 14 years, UNI’s intercollegiate athletics received $60 million to shore up annual deficits using tuition and taxpayer dollars (general education fund). These administrative decisions were made contrary to direct input from the UNI Faculty Senate. Does it make sense to retain operations that are losing large sums of money, at the expense of UNI’s core mission as an outstanding liberal arts and teacher education institution? UNI is laying off professors in French, German, philosophy, geology, geography, physics and teacher education at the same time that the football team spends $1.7 million more per year than it takes in.

The university budget reveals other questionable priorities. The UNI administration allocated $815,170 to a President’s Fund for Strategic Initiatives, $406,271 to a Provost’s Fund for Strategic Change, $1,137,466 for public relations, $90,000 for university branding and $509,379 for athletic department promotion and ticketing. In contrast, most associate professors at UNI start with an annual salary a little over $50,000. How do these budget allocations by UNI administrators reconcile with the core mission to maintain and develop a distinguished liberal arts and teacher education program? Faculty would like to discuss concerns like this, but the administration has patently refused to have that conversation.

Lack of transparency and open communication is truly distressing. In business and education, it is essential for leaders to actively involve all stakeholders, consider cuts carefully in relation to the core mission, and strategically eliminate programs that fall outside the organizational mission. An outstanding liberal arts and teacher education program is the defining feature of UNI’s mission statement. Cutting these academic programs to retain expensive administration, deficit-producing athletic programs, and ill-defined administrative discretionary spending makes no sense.

The faculty wants to have a fair, open and transparent discussion about these issues, but at last week’s Board of Regents meeting, the UNI administration left when factual discrepancies were pointed out to them. This illustrates why UNI administration has press conferences with security guards at the door: They want to keep the facts out. A strong university encourages open debate that doesn’t lock out those with opposing views and the facts to support their positions.

(19) comments

GSCCF
GSCCF

The unrestricted assets can't be used to avoid cuts because there are rules governing those funds. For example, the Northern Iowa Student Government Contingency Account is an unrestricted asset, but that money can only go towards student organizations and has to pass certain guidelines and is approved by the Senate.
Also, this meeting following the Bunsis meeting was not actually a meeting. It was an interview by KWWL. They simply asked for a comment down the hallway from the Bunsis meeting to avoid background noise. It's standard procedure for TV news crews. From what I understand, this whole situation about refusing to admit students is a complete fabrication by Ms. DeSoto - at least that's what students who witnessed the interview told me. --Spencer Walrath, just now on Facebook. (Immediate past President of the UNI Student Body)

kornpett
kornpett

[quote]GSCCF said: "The unrestricted assets can't be used to avoid cuts because there are rules governing those funds. For example, the Northern Iowa Student Government Contingency Account is an unrestricted asset, but that money can only go towards student organizations and has to pass certain guidelines and is approved by the Senate.Also, this meeting following the Bunsis meeting was not actually a meeting. It was an interview by KWWL. They simply asked for a comment down the hallway from the Bunsis meeting to avoid background noise. It's standard procedure for TV news crews. From what I understand, this whole situation about refusing to admit students is a complete fabrication by Ms. DeSoto "[/quote]

It is convenient for the UNI administration to have people willing to call the United Faculty president a liar. In fact, UNI scheduled a general press availability (not just KWWL) with the VP of Finance after the presentation by Howard Bunsis. Faculty and students were denied entry.

By definition, unrestricted net assets can be used for any institutional purpose. Yes, the administration may have plans to use the funds for certain purposes, but the use of the funds is, in fact, unrestricted. The VP of Finance has previously acknowledged that these funds could be used to plug a temporary budget hole, but that he (and the UNI administration in general) views the budget situation as not temporary. Let's remember that the administration has already said that it can meet all of it's financial obligations for the current year and that the Iowa legislature just approved an 8% funding increase for UNI. The question to be asked of the UNI administration is what is their clear vision for making this "reallocation and realignment" and why did they decide to do it without faculty input?

Bears2010
Bears2010

Can someone answer a question for me? I have seen several articles and comments stating "without faculty input." Are the faculty not just employees of the university? Why do you need any input from them? Do employees of a private company have input in cutbacks? Why is this any different.

imsmpls
imsmpls

[quote]GSCCF said: "The unrestricted assets can't be used to avoid cuts because there are rules governing those funds. For example, the Northern Iowa Student Government Contingency Account is an unrestricted asset, but that money can only go towards student organizations and has to pass certain guidelines and is approved by the Senate.Also, this meeting following the Bunsis meeting was not actually a meeting. It was an interview by KWWL. They simply asked for a comment down the hallway from the Bunsis meeting to avoid background noise. It's standard procedure for TV news crews. From what I understand, this whole situation about refusing to admit students is a complete fabrication by Ms. DeSoto - at least that's what students who witnessed the interview told me. --Spencer Walrath, just now on Facebook. (Immediate past President of the UNI Student Body) "[/quote]

Mr Cawelti- Thank you for asking Spencer to refute the information provided by Professor Thompson (a finance professor at the esteemed UNI) as well as the information provided by Dr Bunsis (a MBA and PhD from Univ of Chicago and the national expert on university finances). I'm sure UNI has taught Spencer more about university finances than either of these two gentlemen could ever hope to learn.

Also, Spencer admitted he was not there when the University prevented students from attending the following news conference and then wrote you back on his FB wall to tell you that he received a call from a woman saying she was refused entry. I appreciate you coming back to the Courier site to set the record straight.

Thanks for throwing Spencer under the bus by asking him to provide you with information that he can not know (is just repeating the "administration line") and then mis-quoting him here by not amending the information as he asked.

kornpett
kornpett

[quote]Bears2010 said: "Can someone answer a question for me? I have seen several articles and comments stating "without faculty input." Are the faculty not just employees of the university? Why do you need any input from them? Do employees of a private company have input in cutbacks? Why is this any different."[/quote]

Great question Bears! All "real" universities operate under the principle of shared governance. That means that the administration and faculty participate together in making significant decisions about the operation of the university. At UNI, for example, the Vice President for Academic Affairs (i.e., Provost) grants that all proposals regarding the curriculum (i.e., courses of study) originate with the faculty. That was violated at UNI; hence, the vote of no confidence.

GSCCF
GSCCF

Kornpett--I was waiting to talk to someone who actually did know--and I just did on the phone--and Spencer also gave me permission to quote him directly. Whoever talked to him (Spencer) later was wrong--according to Milissa Wright, Interim Director of UNI Security. SHE WAS THERE--and in fact told whoever wanted to get it that it was NOT a press conference, but a private press interview. It was not an open forum. According to Milissa, there were no questions and answers except from the interviewer and interviewee. That's what happened. As for what the Unrestricted funds, there's no guarantee that either Bunsis or Thompson seems to understand, given the very large ax they have to grind. You cannot use those funds to pay for ongoing expenses, such as salaries, as I understand. By the way, Kornpett, you need to identify yourself--anonymity allows you to spout all you want with little responsibility. --Scott Cawelti

Incidentally, you can call her too and get the straight story, as Frank Thompson and Cathy DeSoto should have.

timbrackett
timbrackett

[quote]Bears2010 said: "Can someone answer a question for me? I have seen several articles and comments stating "without faculty input." Are the faculty not just employees of the university? Why do you need any input from them? Do employees of a private company have input in cutbacks? Why is this any different."[/quote]

If the person running said private company is an effective leader, the employees do have input on cutbacks. But that's besides the point. This whole movement to run our government/public institutions like a private business has become sickening!

cfparent
cfparent

@Scott Cawelti: It's very easy for you to rest on your laurels when you are a champion of the current UNI administration. You risk nothing by signing your posts. It must be acknowledged that speaking out against the administration has resulted in firing of certain tenured faculty. Allen and Gibson have created a climate of fear for speaking out, but you have the luxury of collusion.

It was embarrassing to see your posts on Spencer's facebook page. You were a straight man feeding him lines, and he responded dutifully.

This administration has changed grades without instructor's permission, changed curricula without appropriate input and shared governance, and now has nonmajor advisors working with students to take token courses to complete majors that have been eliminated. Traditionally offered courses are no longer available. The promise that students could finish out their majors was disingenuous---many of those courses, and the professors who taught them, have been eliminated.

jjd
jjd

Even the UNI VP for Finance acknowledges that "some" of the unrestricted funds could be used to fill in for cuts over the short term:
http://wcfcourier.com/news/local/budget-expert-says-uni-should-use-reserves-to-cover-deficit/article_ef836c5c-7f93-11e1-a5bc-001a4bcf887a.html

No, you can't spend reserves forever, but the UNI administration "plans" involve plenty more wishful thinking than the more modest proposal to dip into a small fraction of the reserves for one year. Keep in mind that when the administration proposed the closure of PLS-RDS and sweeping academic cuts that legislative appropriations had not been settled - and still are not settled as of today.

GSCCF as well as UNI administrators bring up a red herring argument in stating that unrestricted reserves are not completely unrestricted. The real question is whether it would have been permissible to use up to $4M in reserves for one year so that PLS-RDS and academic programs could have remained so that if cuts of such a scale were in the end necessary, a deliberative, inclusive process could have developed a budget reduction plan that harmed UNI to the least extent possible going forward.

No, the real wishful thinking is that of UNI administrators who believe that they are actually going to realize $4M in real savings with their cuts. There will certainly be revenue losses as at the very least students that want to major in French, German, etc. will not come to UNI (great feature story on the UNI website, http://www.uni.edu/this-is-uni/uni-harvard-and-mit-how-one-student-got-internship-lifetime, too bad his Bioinformatics major no longer exists). Not having PLS-RDS will make UNI less competitive in recruiting education students and competitiveness will be impacted across the board when gaping holes in UNI's degree offerings, such as the absence of a geology degree, affect perceptions of UNI's academic quality.

There are also direct short-term and long-term costs that impact the amount, if any, that will be actually saved under the UNI administration's plans. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be used to pay faculty to do -- nothing just so that they agree to leave UNI. Meanwhile temporary faculty members will need to be hired to cover for the faculty who are being paid to do nothing. In the case of PLS-RDS, field experience activities that were performed on campus now need to be done elsewhere. This will not be free. Not only will more organizational work be needed on campus, funds will be directed off campus to help public school districts facilitate these experiences. That is unless I am mistaken and public school teachers and school districts are looking for additional unpaid work.

It really does not shoot holes in Frank Thompson's arguments to state that "he has an axe to grind". I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that there may have been a "private press interview" rather than a "press conference" - for sure President Allen probably did not enjoy being called to task for his "misstatement" about not laying off anyone at his joint press conference with the Board of Regents in April. I would understand his preference for "private press interviews" after seeing him called to task.

No, the real question is why President Allen can close the PLS-RDS and academic programs without proof of savings and without exploring reasonable alternatives with key stakeholders before unilaterally making very questionable decisions. If mistakes are being made, UNI and all of Iowa will pay. Nonetheless, very little discussion went into these decisions and little has been offered since to lend confidence in the processes and outcomes of what has come from UNI administrators.

cfparent
cfparent

Additionally, Scott Cawelti, holding a private press conference rather than engaging in public dialogue about the cuts to the liberal arts core at UNI is indicative of the authoritarian, rather than shared governance, style of the current UNI administration. What is the administration afraid of?

Why am I not speaking out in my own name? Because I see the writing on the wall. I value my position at UNI, even though I'm heartbroken over the devastation that the current administration has put into force. And that term is intentional. These changes were made by force rather than dialogue.

Dog
Dog

Scott is certainly no "champion" of this or any other administration. He's been a steady gad-fly well known for telling it like it is and for holding feet to the fire when such holding is needed. He's been around awhile and knows UNI very well. Calm down....angry rhetoric does little good.

CornellU
CornellU

This whole movement to run our government/public institutions like a private business has become sickening!


Yes because we want government/public institutions to do whatever they want with no controls in place to keep them efficient. We must continually pump money into them at all costs because they demand it. We must never try to control costs.

reojoe
reojoe

[quote]CornellU said: "This whole movement to run our government/public institutions like a private business has become sickening! Yes because we want government/public institutions to do whatever they want with no controls in place to keep them efficient. We must continually pump money into them at all costs because they demand it. We must never try to control costs."[/quote]

Edurcational instertutions ain't bidnesses. Pure and simple.

timbrackett
timbrackett

[quote]CornellU said: "This whole movement to run our government/public institutions like a private business has become sickening! Yes because we want government/public institutions to do whatever they want with no controls in place to keep them efficient. We must continually pump money into them at all costs because they demand it. We must never try to control costs."[/quote]

It's always either/or with the extremists, isn't it? I live in a both/and world, so I believe it is possible to run institutions responsibly without trying to run them like a private business.

balboabombast
balboabombast

[quote]Bears2010 said: "Can someone answer a question for me? I have seen several articles and comments stating "without faculty input." Are the faculty not just employees of the university? Why do you need any input from them? Do employees of a private company have input in cutbacks? Why is this any different."[/quote]

Bob said: The University is not a business; the attacks on higher education across the country belies everything "Our University" stands by an ideological cabal of overpaid siege administrators.

cubbies08
cubbies08

It's always either/or with the extremists, isn't it? I live in a both/and world, so I believe it is possible to run institutions responsibly without trying to run them like a private business


Why is controlling costs such a difficult concept for the left to understand? Higher education is in trouble but let's not try to fix it. Bury head in sand and hope it takes care of itself. Tim I expect that from reojoe but I thought you had some common sense.

reojoe
reojoe

[quote]cubbies08 said: "It's always either/or with the extremists, isn't it? I live in a both/and world, so I believe it is possible to run institutions responsibly without trying to run them like a private businessWhy is controlling costs such a difficult concept for the left to understand? Higher education is in trouble but let's not try to fix it. Bury head in sand and hope it takes care of itself. Tim I expect that from reojoe but I thought you had some common sense."[/quote]

Yes, because we did a bang 'em up job of "controlling costs" during the Bush and Reagan years, eh?

In which way is "higher edurcation in trouble," aside from funding? Please clarify for this higher edurcator.

timbrackett
timbrackett

[quote]cubbies08 said: "It's always either/or with the extremists, isn't it? I live in a both/and world, so I believe it is possible to run institutions responsibly without trying to run them like a private businessWhy is controlling costs such a difficult concept for the left to understand? Higher education is in trouble but let's not try to fix it. Bury head in sand and hope it takes care of itself. Tim I expect that from reojoe but I thought you had some common sense."[/quote]

Higher education is in trouble. At a time when the BRIC countries are dumping more money into higher education, we are cutting funding to higher education. You are correct, higher education is in trouble. And our standing in the world will soon be in trouble as well.

JD Kinnick
JD Kinnick

Most "mission statements' aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Most schools mission is to increase their endowment as much as possible...

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