Last Friday, the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents unanimously approved President Bob Bruininks’ plan to request the state to borrow $193 million for major building and renovation projects, notably including a new physics and nanotechnology center and the renovation of the long-outdated Folwell Hall. Over half of this money, however, is designated for the less glamorous but essential Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) fund, used to make repairs and updates to aging University buildings. The suspiciously round $100.0 million HEAPR request does not detail specifically how any of the funds are to be spent, despite the administration’s insistence that there is a $250 million repair backlog and 30-year time horizon for addressing all building needs.
Publicly asking the state to borrow such a sum without specifically accounting for its proposed spending is terrible legislative strategy. Following this same route in 2008, the University received only 35 percent of its original HEAPR request, further delaying essential repairs and eventually increasing costs. A more powerful strategy would employ a detailed project breakdown, including the time since last repair, accumulated costs of past delays, number of students and faculty affected and an estimated price range for all backlogged repairs.
Regents Dean Johnson and David Larson deserve credit for questioning the proposal’s non-specificity, but the Regents’ unanimous vote demonstrated a failure of oversight. The regents should not allow the University to repeat past failures by using opaqueness and generality as a legislative strategy.