Bruininks addresses U funding priorities

Kari Petrie

Citing the need for continued financial investment in the University, University President Robert Bruininks outlined for the Board of Regents on Friday a set of principles for readdressing the institution’s 2004-05 state funding request.

The University asked for $96 million in increased state funding for each of the next two years. The state is facing an estimated $4.2 billion state deficit that will impact future University funding.

Bruininks told regents the board should be prepared for a “long-term marathon” in dealing with the situation.

Bruininks said the University must balance its budget, but also ensure continued support for students, faculty and academic programs. He said improving undergraduate graduation rates and protecting the Academic Health Center are top priorities.

Bruininks’ insistence on investing comes at a time when the University received an approximately $49 million reduction in state funding for 2003 and faces another decrease for 2004-05.

“There needs to be investment in (the University), no matter what the circumstances are with the state,” he said.

Bruininks said increasing University revenue and reducing administrative and operating costs should also be priorities.

Regents agreed generating new University revenue was a priority, and said increasing tuition was part of the solution.

Regent Dallas Bohnsack said while tuition plays a crucial role in the University’s revenue, increasing it might put a strain on students.

“A small amount of money has a huge impact on students,” he said. “It’s painful for all of us.”

Regent Frank Berman said any tuition increase should not prevent students from attending the University.

“We need to ensure access, ensure a diverse campus and ensure a vibrant campus,” Berman said.

He added that if tuition goes up, the University must increase its student services.

Bruininks unveiled plans to address Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s $25 million reduction, saying the University is prepared to protect student interests, including financial aid and scholarships.

His plan calls for departments to include specific cost-cutting measures, while staying consistent with University priorities.

Bruininks also stressed the importance of involving University students, faculty and staff in dealing with these cuts.

“I felt if we hit some areas and left other things untouched when it came time to deal with an even more challenging set of circumstances Ö we wouldn’t have been in efficient shape,” he said.

Last month, University colleges and administration received letters informing them of their shares of the $25 million reduction.

The letter urged department administrators to consider the University’s mission and commitment to students when planning their cuts. Reduction plans are due to the Provost’s office today.

The reductions are based on each college’s percentage of the University’s budget they receive.

Regent Peter Bell said he was concerned there was too much time between the deadline for the department’s reduction proposals and the March regents meeting.

Regent Jean Keffeler said she thought the time frame was adequate, but expressed concern that the board hasn’t taken a long-term look at the reduction.

Regents will vote to approve the revised fiscal year 2003 budget at its March meeting.

Kari Petrie covers University Board of Regents and administration. She welcomes comments at [email protected]

Paul Sand covers University Board of Regents and administration. He welcomes comments at [email protected]