Faculty questions U budget spending

Professors at the University and nation wide say schools need to rethink their spending habits.

by Evelina Smirnitskaya

As the University of Minnesota is making its biennium budget request to the state, some faculty are critical of how the school allocates its funds.
Gary Rhoades, the general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, said the University administrationâÄôs talk of a budget crisis is overplayed.
âÄúThere is this thing,âÄù Rhoades said, âÄúnever let a crisis go to waste.âÄù
Perceived scarcity enables the administration to engage in planning and reorganization of academic funds, Rhoades said.
State funding makes up 19.5 percent of the budget, according to data from the University Office of Budget and Finance.
âÄúA University has multiple revenue strings,âÄù he said.
Public universities have become increasingly dependent on tuition rather than state money, Rhoades said.
Tuition is the highest revenue source at the University, accounting for 25 percent of the budget. Income from tuition and student fees rose 7.8 percent from 2008 to 2009, while state appropriations decreased 3.5 percent, according to the UniversityâÄôs 2009 Annual Report.
However, overall University revenue decreased 2.2 percent, while the expenses increased 5.7 percent.
The University has a set amount of revenue sources, said Ben Ansell, a political science professor specializing in economics at the University. To compensate for the loss of state funding, the University would either have to take money from endowments âÄî something it would rather avoid, he said âÄî or make private enterprise deals between the University and companies, which would take time.
âÄúYou canâÄôt magically create a new wonder-drug out of thin air,âÄù Ansell said.
The way money is spent indicates the UniversityâÄôs priorities, Rhoades said. There has been a disproportionate increase in non-educational spending, he said.
If thereâÄôs a crisis, the emphasis needs to remain on academics, he said, and there needs to be open discussion between the administration and faculty about spending priorities and budget.
There need to be cuts in administration, said professor Eva von Dassow, a member of the Faculty for the Renewal of Higher Education. Though she recognized the need for administrative support, she questioned costs associated with it.
âÄúThe essential core of the University is faculty, students and staff who support the work of teaching and research and public engagement âÄî and thatâÄôs where resources should be focused,âÄù von Dassow said.
Von Dassow also criticized the administration for lack of accessible budget information.
The UniversityâÄôs financial information is already posted online and is available to the public, but the administration is working on improving the clarity of the data, University Budget Director Julie Tonneson said.
âÄúWe canâÄôt force people to be aware,âÄù she said. âÄúAll we can do is make the info available.âÄù
Without an increase in state funding or upping tuition, major cuts would have to be implemented University-wide, Tonesson said.
âÄúWe are people and facilities,âÄù she said, âÄúand those are the biggest cost pools.âÄù