Bruininks: focus on cutting costs

Regents also passed the new conflicts of interest policy.

by Taryn Wobbema

With $100 million in additional costs and $32.3 million expected in cuts from the state, administrators at the University of Minnesota have laid out which factors will have to be considered while constructing the 2011 budget. University President Bob Bruininks stressed the need to cut costs when addressing the Board of Regents on Friday. The budget trouble comes from more than just the cuts from the state. The University anticipates it will spend $59 million next year on annual cost increases. In addition to $32 million in pay raises, the University also has to deal with two extra weeks on the pay calendar, which will cost an extra $41 million. A mandatory readjustment of fringe benefits will cost about $10 million. To brace for the shortfall, administrators have begun laying out plans to close the funding gap. Each department will have to cut an average 2.75 percent from its budget. A furlough program has also been proposed and is awaiting a March 25 vote by the Faculty Senate . Under the furlough proposal all staff would take at least three days off. Top administrators would take six and everyone could volunteer up to 10 days without pay. Bruininks said the University has to be creative in cutting spending to âÄúshelter studentsâÄù by keeping tuition down. He said tuition has experienced a net increase by an average of 3 percent each year since 2001. This year it will increase by 7.5 percent, but undergraduate Minnesota residents will only be asked to pay about 4.4 percent more, due to the UniversityâÄôs use of federal stimulus dollars to offset the hike. The University is looking at mandatory unpaid days off for all staff and cuts to every department. Though the furloughs are unpopular among some, Bruininks said departmental cuts will increase without them. The money saved from the furlough days will go back into the department from which it came. âÄúThis doesnâÄôt ship it to Morrill Hall,âÄù Bruininks said. If the furloughs donâÄôt happen, departmental budgets would be cut more drastically and since about 70 percent of those go toward personnel, the University would be looking at more layoffs. As it is right now, the president said the University is trying to limit job loss to retirement. Last year, the University required each department to trim an average 5.5 percent. All of these are just short-term fixes to a problem that administrators consistently call âÄúthe new norm.âÄù Besides balancing next yearâÄôs budget, the University is also working on long-term plans to grow revenue from other sources such as private donations. Programs and departments are also being evaluated to determine which should see continued investment, which should have permanently reduced budgets and which can be cut. Setting next yearâÄôs budget will still take several months, but regents agreed upon the need for transparency. At the meeting, Bruininks referenced a monthly dinner he and the regents have that is funded by donations to the University. At this ThursdayâÄôs dinner, about 20 distinguished professors were also invited to the dinner. Celebratory dinners, such as this, cost about $10 to $12 per person and will not likely be cut from the budget, Bruininks said. The University would be a âÄústerile environmentâÄù if such low-cost gestures were not made. Conflicts of Interest policy passed The Board of Regents passed the UniversityâÄôs revised conflicts of interest policy that will keep relationships between faculty and staff and businesses in check. A previous threshold of $6,000 has been eliminated and instead employees will be required to disclose all income from outside the University. The policy states that the purpose of the regulation is not to discourage relationships between researchers, faculty and businesses, but to ensure that they are âÄútransparent, grounded in objectivity and do not improperly influence covered individualsâÄô professional judgement.âÄù The RegentsâÄô policy grants authority to the administration to monitor and handle any issues that may arise regarding an employeeâÄôs conflicts of interest. – Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter