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Minnesota students, workers, and faculty rally against bloated university administration

By staff

Cherrene Horazuk.

Minneapolis, MN – Roughly 70 University of Minnesota students, faculty, staff and community members rallied together on May 11 outside McNamara Alumni Center, where the governing Board of Regents met to discuss finance and operations amidst brutal budget cuts and job-cutting measures.

The “Board of Regents: Chop from the Top! Rally” was organized by the Students, Staff and Faculty United coalition, including AFSCME 3800 clerical workers, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the UMN Graduate Labor Union – UE (GLU-UE), and the UMN chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

“We are in a pitched battle for the future direction of this public institution and really for higher education as a whole,” said AFSCME 3800 president, Cherrene Horazuk, “On the one side, we have the students, grad workers, staff and faculty who are committed to the mission of research, teaching and service. On the other side are the fat cat administrators and corporate interests who want to get rich off this public institution.”

In March of this year, the university requested an unprecedented $97.5 million in addition to the original request for $205 million. “It’s a money grab,” says Horazuk, commenting on the historic and increasing greed of the university and the noted surplus in the Minnesota legislature. When making these requests, the university threatened huge budget cuts and increased raises to student tuition. [See note 1 below]

In April, the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts informed departments of dire cuts to instructional budgets, the same budgets that pay contingent faculty and graduate students. Cuts would amount to roughly 11% across the board, with some departments seeing a criminal 50% cut. According to the Department of English Senior Lecturer Eric Daigre, a member of AAUP, 30% of the university’s resources were devoted to instruction in 2008, but that number has yet to rise above 23% since. With so little funding to liberal arts classes, instructors have become “the gig workers of academia,” according to Daigre. [2]

These cuts come after a landmark unionizing vote among graduate student workers, who must now negotiate their contract while struggling to pay their bills. Meanwhile 612 administrators at the U make more than Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. Twenty administrators make even more than the president of the United States.

Referencing a conversation earlier this week between Provost Croson and the Council of Graduate Students, Cal Mergendahl, an organizer with the Graduate Labor Union, said, “We’re told that we should be grateful for the fact that we need to go into credit card debt to live off our stipends, that we should be grateful for having bosses that drive us to tears, that we should be grateful to be paying back two paychecks a year to our employer in student fees – this from someone who makes half a million dollars a year.”

In 2012, The Wall Street Journal ran a scathing article regarding bloated, high-paid administrations in the midst of skyrocketing tuition, which pointed out the U of M as a prime example. The Minnesota legislature demanded cutbacks on administrative costs, but rather than cut top salaries, the U hired Huron Consulting Group, a top-three corporate consulting firm that specializes in higher education.

Huron is now pushing a disastrous, corporatizing PEAK initiative, which promises to ensure a “human-centered approach to how services are delivered on campus” and prioritize an “equitable and inclusive employee experience.” In truth, PEAK plans to move frontline clerical jobs out of the colleges and into soul-crushing centralized positions, away from coworkers into jobs with singular, paper-pushing functions. While they claim the intention is not to create layoffs, it is unlikely jobs won’t be lost amidst the confusion and lack of leadership. [3]

In response to this initiative, a central slogan of the rally was “Pause on PEAK! Not one job lost!” Other demands included “Chop from the top!” “Cut admin, not classes,” and “Tell the Board of Regents to fully fund CLA – not their own pockets!” referencing towering upper administrative salaries. “This isn’t a budget crisis,” said Eric Daigre, “It’s a distribution crisis!”

Students for a Democratic Society added, “Defend Ethnic and Gender Studies!” following earlier, leaked plans for cuts as large as 50% to American Indian Studies, 30% to Chicano and Latino Studies, 27.5% to African and African American Studies, 10% to Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, among others. “These cuts were only backtracked after SDS led an action demanding these programs be fully funded,” said SDS member, Gillian Rath. “Even now, they still intend to make cuts and we need to keep up the pressure.”

Audrianna Goodwin of the TRUTH Project pointed out the university was unwilling to provide funding. The TRUTH Project, which stands for Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing, recently released their final report, titled Oshkigin Noojimo'iwe, Naġi Waƞ P̣etu Uƞ Ihduwaṡ'ake He Oyate Kiƞ Zaniwic̣aye Kte, which details the systemic exploitation and oppression of indigenous peoples by the University of Minnesota. The report offers clear steps for the university to restore that relationship, and yet the University of Minnesota leadership has yet to make any public comment on the report.

After the rally, Students for a Democratic Society led a disruption of the Board of Regents meeting to demand protections for academic programs like American Indian Studies. “It is disgusting and shameful that the university is trying to save money in the budget by attacking the vital, important, and hard-won programs,” said Gillian Rath after standing up during the Board of Regents meeting.

In response, disruptors were threatened with arrest and followed out of the building. This indicates a nationwide trend toward increased policing and repression of protesters in response to cuts to academic programs, in particular ethnic studies and DEI programs, as notably seen with the arrest of the Tampa 5 at the University of South Florida. To fight this, organizers highlighted the need for the university campus to stand together to win the fight against austerity and the further corporatization of the U.

[1] Maia Irvin. “UMN Requests $205M from State.” The Minnesota Daily, February 2, 2023.

[2] “Statement on CLA Instructional Cuts.” April 25, 2023.

[3] Douglas Belkin and Scott Thurm. “Cost of College: Colleges’ Bureaucracy Expands Costs.” The Wall Street Journal, December 31, 2012.

#MinneapolisMN #ChopFromTheTop