Yudof looks for cuts in all the wrong places

In the 2000-01 Biennial Budget Proposal, President Mark Yudof requested $198.8 million for competitive compensation, enriching the undergraduate experience, financing health professional education, connecting the University to the community and promoting a climate of quality service. Gov. Jesse Ventura proposed a higher education bill offering $121 million to the University. The House passed a similar bill matching Ventura’s dollar amount with a few changes in spending, but the Senate’s bill cut the original figure by more than half to $82.6 million. Due to the possible lack of funding that would occur should some version of the Senate bill pass, Yudof has begun looking for places to cut his budget. One program that might get the axe is the undergraduate initiative.
The undergraduate initiative is aimed at enriching the undergraduate experience at the University. The budget for this program includes funding for freshman seminars, more advising and career services, and technology-enhanced learning. It is important to think about the advantages offered by the undergraduate initiative before letting it go over other University endeavors.
Freshman seminars would receive the largest piece of the $32.6 million undergraduate initiative pie. $14.1 million would go to adding freshman seminars available to all freshmen on campus. These seminars would be a good way for students coming from small towns to adjust to the large University environment. With many lecture enrollments reaching over 100 students, it can be a drastic change from high school classes of 20 students. The seminars would be taught by faculty in small-class settings. Classes would focus on developing students’ analytical capacity and writing skills. This program would be integrated into the University system gradually while offering students the chance for more one-on-one contact with faculty members.
Although freshman seminars would get the most funding, there are many other valuable programs included in the budget. The undergraduate initiative also addresses the chronic shortage of advisors and career service staff members — currently it is difficult for students to get individual attention from advisors and staff. At any university, the focus on academic and career advising should be a high priority.
The initiative would also fund technology training for faculty members to enhance the learning experience. Yudof’s proposed budget allotted $6 million for this purpose. Technology is a vital part of every college campus. It is especially important here at the University to keep everyone connected. Only knowledgeable instructors can teach students the technology skills they will need in the next century.
While each part of the budget proposal is important, there are certainly other programs of lesser value than the undergraduate initiative. This worthwhile plan deserves to be looked at more closely before being thrown away. In handling the likely inadequate funding from the state, Yudof and his advisers should look for less deserving programs to cut.