Critics put spotlight on UMD arts dean’s spendingThe University of Minnesota has faced hard times in recent years, dealing with a current budget shortfall of $152 million. But at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s School of Fine Arts, spending has increased by 44 percent since 2004.
By: Jana Hollingsworth and Brandon Stahl, Duluth News Tribune
The University of Minnesota has faced hard times in recent years, dealing with a current budget shortfall of $152 million by cutting staff and salaries while raising tuition for students.
But at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s School of Fine Arts, spending has increased by 44 percent since 2004. And the school’s dean has spent thousands of dollars yearly on overseas travel, including trips to Turkey and Italy, that faculty and student critics say has brought little benefit to the school.
At the center of that criticism is Jack Bowman, the school’s dean, whose backing of expensive, high-profile arts events comes at the expense of other programs that could serve a larger number of students, the faculty members and students say.
Two of those affairs are the annual Sieur du Luth Summer Arts Festival, which spent more than $1.1 million over its revenues from 2006 to 2009, and the Italian American Festival held in 2004, which went $419,000 over its initial budget.
“Sieur du Luth is a big splash … when the rest of the departments are suffering,” said one professor, who like others interviewed in this report, declined to be identified for fear of retaliation.
“It’s not a bad idea,” the professor continued, saying the festival has merit but isn’t cost-justifiable. “It just needs to start small, build your audience, and let it grow from there.”
Top administrators at UMD are aware of the numbers, but argue they don’t tell the whole story. Budgets change, Vince Magnuson, the vice chancellor for academic administration, told the News Tribune, and may have been created months before the start of any of the programs.
“Oftentimes, we put in additional money to help support (programs),” he said.
Yet despite how the administration justifies the cost overruns, six of the school’s professors told the News Tribune the dean’s spending leaves the rest of them fighting for money to recruit top students.
And Bowman’s travel — ostensibly to recruit students and raise money for the school — is a particular sore spot.
While his overseas trips made some economic sense initially, one professor explained, they date back to a time at the university when money was flush. These days, the message from the U of M is that the university is in emergency mode.
“For the last two years, we’ve been dealing with cutbacks; losing faculty positions, funding for projects,” the professor said. “One of my fears is that (Bowman) will leave, and we’ll be broke.”
Trips to Italy, Turkey and Germany
Expense reports reviewed by the News Tribune show Bowman, whose annual salary is $128,500, spent nearly $30,000 on flights, meals and hotels in one year alone.
Bowman’s travel between April 2009 and May 2010 included at least four extended trips to Europe and 11 domestic trips. Expenses include dinners exceeding the university’s per diem of $46 (one for six people in Palermo, Italy cost $450, or $75 apiece), lodging at better-than-modest hotels — a room in St. Paul came to $198.66 per night — and cell phone use. One statement shows Bowman incurred $279 in roaming charges while on a trip to Italy and Turkey, despite a cell phone allotment of $1,560 a year.
Bowman’s expense reports give reasons for his trips. Visits to France, Italy and Turkey were explained as relationship-building meals and meetings. One trip to Germany was to explore starting a music program at a university there.
An item on his written itinerary for Palermo was sight-seeing.
Most professors interviewed for this story agreed that international relations are important to students, who can benefit from relationships formed at conservatories and universities overseas. But they questioned Bowman’s travel, saying that electronic methods would be a cheaper way to communicate.
“Is it really necessary to travel back and forth and back and forth to make something work?” one professor said. “I think a lot of the conversation can take place via e-mail and Skype.”
Asked by the News Tribune to address the issues in this story, Bowman said: “I’m an honest man; I do my job. I know when something is a witch hunt.” He declined to comment further.
Magnuson said fundraising and relationship-building are most effective when done face-to-face. Deans have no specific travel budget, he said, and trips are discussed with Magnuson beforehand.
“Could an individual cut down on travel if needed?” Magnuson asked. “It would be possible to cut travel budgets (but) at some risk to overall administrative effectiveness.”
Bowman isn’t the school’s only world traveler. Records show a former UMD School of Fine Arts student, Emily Hagen, was hired to take notes for Bowman because of her fluency in European languages on a trip that included Lyon, France; Istanbul; Palermo and Rome. UMD paid for her airfare as part of $5,000 in travel money she was given to work on an opera research project in Palermo.
Bowman and Hagen’s Turkish travel comes as the university forges a separate effort to recruit students from that country. An independent contractor hired from Turkey has been granted a $5,000 travel budget, plus some meals and other expenses in Duluth.
The work with Turkey is still in beginning stages, Magnuson said, and will involve Turkish students spending two years at UMD and two years at a Turkish institution, and vice versa. Sixty students from Turkey have participated in summer programs.
But several professors said the Turkey program comes with little financial gain to UMD or value to most students.
“It benefits a few of them,” one UMD professor said. “Those students who get to travel — they’ve had wonderful experiences in Palermo and Istanbul. It hasn’t touched enough students, frankly.”
Nicole Jordan, a violist who graduated from UMD in 2008, was able to travel to Turkey as the principal player in the orchestra. She said the experience was appreciated, but she wasn’t given the chance to study overseas at a music conservatory for a semester as she expected.
Of the many relationships being built overseas by Bowman, Jordan said, “It seems something done for personal gain rather than for the gain of all.”
Vice Chancellor Magnuson responded to the criticisms, saying it’s the goal of the university to internationalize its curriculum and prepare students to work in a global society. Overseas exchanges are part of that. Cutting international programs from budgets would put students at a disadvantage, he said.
“UMD is the place where tomorrow’s leaders are provided an opportunity to prepare for a career in the global marketplace,” he said.
Record at previous schools
While Bowman faces criticism from some of his current faculty, his past tenure also has engendered dissatisfaction. He was dean of the College of Communications and Fine Arts at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., from 1992 to 1995, and dean of the Petrie School of Music at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., from 1995 to 2001.
Dr. John Jost, director of choral activities at Bradley University, said Bowman micromanaged faculty and pressured them to produce an opera that they had little interest in doing.
“We just didn’t feel that was the place of a dean,” he said.
“Within one term, he pretty much united the entire college against him,” he said. “In fairness to him, he did some things that were helpful to the school. …. But the overall impression has been, at least here, very negative.”
Bowman left his tenure-track position after his third year, Jost said.
Robin Wallace, a former professor of music history at the school who is now a professor of musicology at Baylor University in Texas, expressed similar sentiments.
“Within months of arriving at Converse, Jack Bowman had made enemies of virtually the entire senior faculty in the School of Music,” Wallace said. “A university, which depends on openness and academic freedom for its very identity, cannot be run by intimidation and favoritism without destroying morale and sabotaging the learning environment.”
However, another Converse professor said he had a far more positive experience. Scott Robbins, whom Bowman hired in 1998, said he felt Bowman helped the music school “move forward in a positive direction.”
“Some of the things he wanted done are things we’ve implemented after he left,” he said.
School's reputation endures
The reputation of the School of Fine Arts is a good one despite Bowman’s excesses, professors said, and what it offers is “tremendous” in its various departments, including art and design, music and theater. But there is a strong distrust of the dean from students and faculty alike, they say.
Though Bowman has had nine complaints filed against him, none has resulted in disciplinary action, according to UMD’s human resources department.
Still, his critics say there could be improvement and the school could better serve all of its students rather than those in a few narrow disciplines.
“It’d be amazing to see what would happen if his stifling presence were gone; how much more each program could grow,” one professor said. “He is not a good ambassador of UMD’s School of Fine Arts.”