Regents talk budget, buildings

At their May meeting, University of Minnesota regents tackled how budget cuts would affect both current faculty and potential new recruits.

Kathryn Elliott

Four out of five initiatives to cope with deep reductions in state funding, as listed on University of Minnesota President Bob BruininksâÄôs website, deal with faculty salary and benefits.

For current employees, thereâÄôs a wage freeze, a voluntary retirement incentive option and increased medical premiums. New academic employees, also subject to the wage freeze, will be compensated with higher retirement contributions from the University.

A series of Board of Regents committee meetings Thursday centered on the scramble to make ends meet.

RegentsâÄô discussion on University faculty tenure and compensation revealed concerns about attracting excellent faculty during the wage freeze.

Provost Thomas Sullivan framed a presentation on salary comparisons by asking if the University is positioned âÄúto recruit and retain faculty of the highest quality.âÄù

âÄúThe answer appears to be no,âÄù Regent Maureen Ramirez later commented.

âÄúYou canâÄôt do this very often and stay competitive,âÄù Sullivan said after the presentation. However, he said, âÄúWeâÄôre not conceding that the quality of faculties is going down.”

During the policy review, new or recently re-appointed Regents David Larson, Laura Brod and David McMillan were the most vocal, asking questions about budget and salaries.

Brod asked whether colleges thought they could âÄúlock inâÄù larger budgets by giving more faculty tenure.

Larson commented that hefty benefits packages didnâÄôt seem to draw new, talented faculty as much as high salaries do.

The Board of Regents voted to approve recommendations for 160 faculty membersâÄô promotion, continuation or non-reappointment.

Only two of 97 faculty members who were evaluated for tenure and promotion to associate professor were denied tenure this year.

Despite this, Sullivan said, no one should assume that almost all faculty members at the University achieve tenure. About 58 percent of University faculty that came in seven years ago are now tenured.

The culling out, he said, is like an NCAA tournament with a Sweet 16 and a Final Four, in the sense that the pool of candidates significantly decreases over the seven-year evaluation period.

Med School

The Finance and Operations Committee heard a financial overview of the Medical School geared toward âÄúcorrecting recent headlinesâÄù about its deficits.

The overview identified programs and areas at serious risk due to less state funding.

The Medical Education and Research Costs program, which funds organizations that provide clinical training, is at risk of major reduction or elimination, according to the presentation given by University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter and Aaron Friedman, dean of the Medical School.

MERC funds partially come from federal Medicaid matching funds obtained by the Department of Human Services. The University estimates that $32 million will be cut from sites that train Academic Health Center students.

Another at-risk program, Graduate Medical Education, sponsors more than 80 residency and fellowship programs at nearly every hospital in the Twin Cities, its website said.

In 2010, $29 million âÄî about half the stateâÄôs total distribution to sponsored institutions âÄî funded University-related medical and residency expenses.

As a cost recovery effort, the Medical School negotiated $5.7 million toward administrative costs from the Metro Minnesota Council on Graduate Medical Education and affiliate hospitals.

Building shuffle

The Facilities Committee reviewed nine building demolitions and a decommissioning that will start this summer. Buildings scheduled to be demolished include Norris Hall, the Veterinary Anatomy Building, Wesbrook Hall and several houses owned by the University.

Wesbrook Hall, next to Northrop Auditorium, has been âÄúidentified for removalâÄù on all campus master plans since 1910. Eddy Hall, the oldest surviving building on campus, will no longer be used but will not be razed because of its historical significance.

The University estimates it will save almost $1 million in annual operating costs by tearing down or decommissioning the buildings.

Starting in July, Lind HallâÄôs first floor will get a $6.2 million renovation. The project will create a central hub for the College of Science and Engineering advising, student services and welcome center.