50 rally for Regents Scholarship outside of McNamara

The group was urging the Board of Regents not to support a proposed cut to the program.

About 50 people gathered in front of McNamara Alumni Center to protest proposed cuts to the Regents Scholarship. Photo: Vadim Lavrusik, DAILY

Ashley Goetz

About 50 people gathered in front of McNamara Alumni Center to protest proposed cuts to the Regents Scholarship. Photo: Vadim Lavrusik, DAILY

About 50 protesters rallied in support of the Regents Scholarship outside the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, hours before they presented a petition with more than 1,000 signatures opposing a cut to the program to a Board of Regents committee. Braving single-digit temperatures, the group urged the regents to vote down a proposed cut to the program, which would allow University administration to change the contribution the University makes to scholarship users. The regents discussed the cut Thursday and will vote on the proposal at their next meeting in May . The Regents Scholarship currently covers the total cost of tuition for employees with a 75 percent time appointment at the University. University spokesman Daniel Wolter said the proposed changes right now would require a 25 percent contribution from those using the scholarship, which would save about $2.5 million. The Regents Scholarship currently costs the University about $9 million a year. Phyllis Walker, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 clerical workers union, presented the RegentâÄôs Faculty, Staff and Students Affairs Committee with the petition at their meeting hours later. âÄúA 25 percent cut might not be high for high-income people, but thatâÄôs not who weâÄôre talking about here,âÄù Walker said. About 2,200 to 2,400 employees use the program each year, more than 70 percent of which are not faculty members or professional and administrative workers, Carol Carrier , vice president of the Office of Human Resources, told the regents. Most of the protesters, armed with signs reading âÄúChop from the topâÄù and âÄúDonâÄôt balance the budget on our backs,âÄù raised their hands when asked if they had used the scholarship in the past. Barbara Bezat , president of AFSCME Local 3937 was one of the speakers at the rally. âÄúI think this is a hasty decision based on short-term thinking,âÄù she said. âÄúThis is the only academic benefit University employees have … It flies in the face of rational budget decisions as far as IâÄôm concerned.âÄù At the committee meeting later in the afternoon, Carrier discussed the proposed cuts and other options employees could use should funding for the program be cut, such as the Hope Credit program , which received expanded funding from the federal economic stimulus package. Under that program, students are eligible to receive up to $2,500 in tax credits to cover the costs of undergraduate education over four years, Carrier said. âÄúIf we are paying, as we do now, 100 percent of tuition, then the tax credit just sort of goes away,âÄù Regent John Frobenius said at the meeting. âÄúThe employee could apply for that for supplies and materials, probably, but not for the tuition. WeâÄôd not take advantage of some stimulus help.âÄù However, the credit program wouldnâÄôt cover people seeking graduate degrees, like Kem Tae Lynch. She said the proposed cut would cost her about $650 more per class âÄî $100 less than she makes each month. âÄúI canâÄôt pay rent and eat if I go to class [if the cut is approved],âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs a benefit that a lot of us who have college degrees use as reasoning to work for the University of Minnesota.âÄù âÄúThis is part of the overall solution to our budget problem,âÄù Regent Clyde Allen said, noting the proposed cut could save about 40 jobs. âÄúIf you donâÄôt find it here and you donâÄôt find it somewhere else, other than salaries and things, youâÄôre talking 40 jobs.âÄù At the rally, protesters called on the University to keep cuts from hurting the lowest-earning employees. âÄúDonâÄôt cut the very program that so many low-income University workers have to give them the tools to make the University a better place for its students,âÄù Walker said. “I would say to them, ‘don’t balance the budget on the backs of the lowest-paid workers.’ I would say to them, ‘don’t cut the Regents Scholarship.'” âÄúWithout free classes, the jobs become a dead end,âÄù David Skeie , a buildings and grounds worker, said at the rally. âÄúThe U ought to continue offering free classes for workers, otherwise it will be even more of an elitist institution that it already is.âÄù -Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter