Regents to vote on capital budget,telescope contract

Brad Unangst

The Board of Regents indicated it’s leaning toward approving a $5 million contract to join the controversial Mount Graham International Observatory project at its upcoming October meeting.

The board will also address the University’s 2003 supplemental capital budget request, which it says – along with the Mount Graham project – will help enhance the institution’s research and academic futures.

The final board vote will take place Friday.

On Sept. 30, interim University President Robert Bruininks endorsed the project in a letter sent to both supporters and opponents.

At least one regent said Bruininks’ recommendation will carry some weight in influencing his decision.

“I’m leaning to vote with the University,” Regent Anthony Baraga said. “But, I will listen to both sides before I make my final decision.”

Officials say access to the Large Binocular Telescope, which will be one of the world’s most powerful, would make the University’s astronomy department one of the nation’s best and enhance research and teaching at the institution.

Opponents say the telescope will only further desecrate Mount Graham, which lies 70 miles northeast of Tucson, Ariz. The San Carlos Apache American Indian tribe considers the mountain sacred. Others say the observatory will destroy ecosystems and animal species on the mountain.

The University received the $5 million donation from Hubbard Broadcasting in January 2001 and will use the money to purchase nine viewing nights at the Large Binocular Telescope and approximately eight nights on other observatory telescopes.

Since then, supporters and opponents have been weighing in on the project. Some opponents held protests outside Eastcliff mansion and the KSTP television building on University Avenue.

The Large Binocular Telescope, which cost $110 million, is one of three telescopes housed on Mount Graham, part of the Pinaleno Mountain range in southeastern Arizona. The mountain is 30 miles from the San Carlos Apache reservation.

Capital budget plan

the regents are set to approve a $61 million supplemental budget request that includes six vetoed projects from last year’s bonding bill. Normally, the Legislature approves a bonding bill every other year.

University officials said they believe there is enough support in the Legislature to approve the projects, which include the construction of the Translational Research Facility, renovations to Jones Hall and predesign work on the Institute of Technology Teaching and Technology Center.

Officials said waiting until the 2004 session for approval would put the University at a disadvantage in competition for funding against other schools.

The supplemental budget is part of the University’s proposed six-year, $775 million capital budget.

Operating budget

regents will also review the University’s 2004-2005 biennial budget proposal Friday. It includes a 4.5 percent tuition increase in each of the next two years and $96 million in new state support. It is the lowest total in 10 years.

The operating budget is approved on a two-year basis by the Legislature in opposite years from the capital budget.

The University is asking the state to enter into a 50-50 financial partnership in exchange for the support.

The plan is expected to generate $46 million from tuition and $50 million in University reallocation over two years to pay for costs associated with four institutional priorities: funding for individual colleges, pay increases for faculty and staff, improved career advising and classroom technologies, and construction of new facilities.

Bruininks said the plan recognizes the state’s current economic hardships while addressing the University’s needs.

The state’s projected budget deficit is approximately $3 billion. Earlier this year, the Legislature asked the University to reduce its operating budget by $24 million to help address the state’s economic problems.

In the past two years, University students have faced double-digit tuition increases, in part because of decreased state funding.

The regents will vote on the operating budget in November and go to the Legislature in early 2003.

“If we get the request, we’re going to do everything possible to keep (tuition increases at 4.5 percent),” Bruininks said. “If this request doesn’t materialize or is greatly reduced or if we have to take base cuts, we won’t be able to hold that tuition figure.”


Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]