U regents approve capital plan

The plan calls for $457 million of the $1.3 billion to come from the University.

by Molly Moker

The Board of Regents approved $1.3 billion for its capital plan at its meeting Friday.

The plan prioritizes University construction projects based on need from the 2004-05 to 2009-10 school years. It also outlines how much money is needed for the projects.

That money comes from the Legislature and the University. The plan calls for $842 million from the state and $457 million from the University.

Although the plan relies heavily on state funding, Regents Chairman Dave Metzen said he is unsure whether the University will receive all of that money.

“It’s very unlikely (the Legislature) will fund everything – they never do,” he said.

But the plan is important because it shows the Legislature what the University needs, Metzen said.

Some of the construction projects include renovating

Folwell Hall in 2006 and building a new science classroom building in 2008.

Also at Friday’s meeting, University President Bob Bruininks announced the lowest-paid graduate employees at the University will receive a pay increase starting in July.

The base salary for teaching and research assistants who currently make $13.85 an hour will be increased to $15.25 an hour, Bruininks said.

The announcement came in response to news that the University is ranked 28th out of the top 30 U.S. research institutions for compensating graduate employees, Bruininks said. The Association of American Universities conducted the study, which was based on the 2003-04 school year, said Victor Bloomfield, interim dean of the Graduate School.

Bloomfield said he is pleased with the pay increase, although he wishes it were more.

“I think it will make us more competitive relative to other universities,” Bloomfield said. “And it will be more feasible for students who are already here to concentrate on studies and research.”

The pay increase will affect the 35 percent of graduate employees at the University who currently make the lowest rate of $13.85 an hour. The raise will not affect all other graduate employees who make more than the base pay, Bloomfield said.

Approximately 1,000 teaching assistants and 500 research assistants will receive the raise, he said. It will cost the University approximately $1.1 million, Bloomfield said.

The University has yet to decide how the raise will be funded, he said.

Ryan Murphy, an organizing committee member of the Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105, said the pay increase is a step in the right direction.

Murphy is currently a first-year fellow in American studies, but in the fall, he will be a teaching assistant and will benefit from the pay increase.

Murphy said the increase is a result of the coalition’s work to unionize graduate employees.

Every time the coalition organizes a campaign to fight for an issue, such as the graduate employee pay increase, the University listens, Murphy said.

“Of course, we’re very happy to get a pay increase Ö but only in a union will we have the power to make this a regular occurrence,” he said.

Murphy said he would like the University to take the initiative to work on behalf of graduate students without organized efforts by the coalition.

The University would become the sixth institution in the Big Ten to unionize. It is the only institution left in the Big Ten that has a right to unionize but has not.

Murphy said he hopes graduate employees are officially unionized by the end of spring semester 2005.

“We deserve better jobs to make a better university,” Murphy said.

So far, more than 1,000 graduate students are involved in the coalition.

Bloomfield said he doesn’t think a graduate employee union would be that beneficial.

“The constraints on what the University can provide are real,” Bloomfield said. “We have to stretch to (increase the pay), and this is seen as a recognition which we have known well before the union started.”

The state of research

David Hamilton, interim vice president for research, presented information on University research to the regents Friday.

Although total awards received by University faculty in 2003-04 increased by 2.1 percent from the previous year – totaling $523.6 million – the federal budget for science is basically flat for the upcoming year, Hamilton said.

He said that with the federal budget problems, the National Institutes of Health will only be able to award 200 new grants nationally in the upcoming year.

In the past, the University has received approximately 200 grants each year from the institutes alone. That amount will now be split across the country, Hamilton said.

In 2003-04, University researchers submitted 531 new and competing National Institutes of Health proposals, which would normally be funded from fiscal year 2005 funds, Hamilton said.

Because of the University’s success rate of approximately 44 percent, the institution would have been in the running for approximately 233 new awards from the institutes.

The University’s success rate is higher than the national average, which is approximately 25 percent.

The National Science Foundation will also face a $107 million budget decrease next year.

The University does very well when competing for grants from the foundation, so the decrease will hurt, Hamilton said.

The budget decrease is a result of the federal deficit, the war in Iraq and many other pressures, he said.

In fiscal year 2004, money spent on research at the University was up 5 percent to $485 million, Hamilton said. This is the most critical measure of progress, because it shows how much actual research activity is occurring.

Yet, the amount of money University faculty members asked for in federal grants in 2003-04 was 9 percent less than how much they asked for a year earlier, Hamilton said.

– Kari Petrie contributed to this article.