News doesn’t take a vacation

by Neil Munshi

It was a busy summer.

The president was given the opportunity to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Amid mounting violence in Iraq, a dead soldier’s mother gained national attention. Two years after the space shuttle Columbia disaster, NASA made a triumphant, if stilted, return to space. Most recently, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast.

Amid the subdued chaos of your summer, a lot was going on here at the University.

Here’s a brief wrap-up of the major stories you may have missed.

Regents OK plans for changes, cutting GC

Free from much of the protest and controversy, and with many students away for the summer, the Board of Regents, by an 11-1 vote, approved the contentious plan for the University.

The Board’s decision, handed down June 10, allows officials to implement sweeping academic changes and continues the transformation of the University into one of the world’s top public research institutions.

University President Bob Bruininks’ recommendations will close, reorganize and create several colleges and departments.

General College, the College of Human Ecology and the College of Natural Resources will be dissolved first. The programs are set to be integrated into other colleges by July 1, 2006.

Officials said any changes will be made on an incremental basis over several years.

Opponents of the plan said they fear that eliminating General College will limit educational opportunities for the working class.

Tuition for University could rise

In late May, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the state’s higher-education omnibus bill, giving the University $1.2 billion for the 2006-07 budget cycle.

Though University officials originally requested $126 million, the bill offers only $105.6 million in new money. Officials said they were still pleased with the bill and estimated it should keep tuition increases around 7.5 percent.

A single-digit increase would be the first since the 2000-01 school year.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, called the bill shortsighted.

She said she still predicts double-digit tuition increases because the bill failed to redress the $185 million that was cut in the last budget.

Regents approve reciprocity change

For many North Dakotans in professional programs at the University, tuition is set to increase in fall 2006.

Newly negotiated changes in the tuition reciprocity agreement between Minnesota and North Dakota were passed at a University Board of Regents meeting July 6.

Programs in law, medicine, veterinary medicine and dentistry were removed from the reciprocity agreement.

The decision affects approximately 100 students and officials do not foresee it creating recruitment problems for the University.

New chairman named for Board of Regents

Former vice chairman Anthony Baraga replaced Dave Metzen as regents chairman.

Baraga, a retired radiologist, was vice chairman for the past two years and has served on the board since 1999.

The 66-year-old Chisholm, Minn., native graduated from the University’s medical school in 1965 and went on to serve as chief of staff at the University Medical Center in Mesabi, Minn.

Baraga said he expects the major issues of his two-year term to be the implementation of the plan to make the university one of the world’s top three public research institutions within the next decade as well as the ongoing issue of tuition increases.

Baraga said that despite the controversy, the plans will be good for the University. He stressed that the University is not eliminating the General College, but rather merging it with other programs.

Patricia Simmons, a regent since 2003, will fill Baraga’s old post.

Fees committee finalizes decisions

The Student Services Fees Advisory Committee finalized decisions on reforming and improving the University’s fees process in mid-August.

The committee decided to form a group to handle the particulars of the fees process. The group will include representatives from the Minnesota Student Association and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

It will also have a fees adviser and a budget officer, while MSA and GAPSA will represent student groups.

The working group will also be responsible for deciding the size of the fees committee, looking at the review process, paying stipends to students on the committee and reviewing the appeals process to make it more understandable.

In addition, the group will consider changes that would allow students to choose which groups their Student Services Fees go to.

The committee handles both student groups and administrative units with larger, more complex budgets.

In handling the four larger student services units – Boynton Health Service, student unions, legal services and recreational sports – the committee members voted to put them through the fees committee process in the same years that the University develops its budget proposal for the state Legislature.

The other, smaller administrative student service units – the Daily, the Student Conflict Resolution Center, Summer Cultural Programs and Radio K – will go through the process, alternating years with the first group, in “off years,” beginning in 2007.

Higher Education Act

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed a bill in July that would reauthorize the Higher Education Act for the first time since 1998.

The act governs most federal financial aid programs, and the house bill would generate approximately $11 billion in savings from changes in the student loan program that would be used to reduce the federal budget deficit.

It would also allow students to choose between a fixed or variable rate when consolidating loans, make Pell Grants available to students year-round and require colleges to publish building safety information.

Before the higher education law is renewed, the full House and Senate must vote on the bill.

– Cati Vanden Breul contributed to this report.