Budget cuts to be outlined at Regents meeting

Sarah Hallonquist

Now that decisions on the University’s $290.5 million legislative budget request are out of the Board of Regents’ hands, this month’s meeting will entail more discussion than action.
Items on the docket include $6.3 million in administrative budget cuts and an overview and discussion of employee health plans. Regents are also expected to approve designs for a first-of-its-kind dance center for the Twin Cities campus and development plans for the South Mall project.
In December, University President Mark Yudof put forth nine targets for separate administrative departments to pare down their spending and resource pools. The largest budget cut proposed is $1.6 million in the executive vice president’s office. The smallest, $30,369, is in the general counsel’s office.
In addition, the regents initiated their own budget cut of $25,000. The money will come from reducing the number of regents who attend a national governing boards’ conference and eliminating excessive office equipment, such as fax machines for each regent.
“We saw the administration taking those steps,” said Regent Jessica Phillips. “We thought, we need to do the same.”
Outlines for all the cuts will be finalized March 16, when the resources will be allocated in a separate account. As of July 1, the account’s balance will be used for academic projects and needs.
The board will also begin a discussion on employee health plans. In light of increased health care costs, officials will consider alternatives that would bring down the University’s $48 million in annual health care spending.
Board members will likely approve plans to build a dance center on the West Bank campus. Construction would start in May and be completed by October.
The proposed site is on the corner of 21st and Riverside avenues, near the Department of Theater Arts and Dance. Norris Hall, on the East Bank, is the current home of the program.
“It’s a gem of a design in my opinion,” said Regent Michael O’Keefe of the $4.3 million plan.
Margaret Maddux, director of the University’s Dance Program, said she hopes the new space will allow for more performances as well as safer training facilities.
“We will have three really nice size studios,” she said. “So from that standpoint, it will be wonderful.”
Board members will also hear and approve the organizational framework of the South Mall reconstruction project, which includes building new student housing and Coffman Union renovations.
“We need to move ahead on this front fairly quickly and get some housing up for students,” Phillips said. “The need is there.”
Regents will also hear reports on student leadership development, an annual update on the University’s research and the school’s cooperative agreement with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
Announced last month, the agreement includes proposals for new transfer policies and joint degree programs between the two school systems.
Regents will also discuss the Virtual University, a plan to expand computer access to the school statewide.
O’Keefe said the issue has been a frequent point of discussion for board members.
“There’s a need to respond to needs of communities across the state,” he said. “And one way we deliver services is through distance learning.”

— Staff Reporter Colleen Winters contributed to this report.