TCSU: Funding cuts risk program, staff reductions

by Tom Ford

University student union members said services and programming in the future Coffman Union are in jeopardy because of lower-than-requested student fees allotments.

“We’re in a really dire situation,” said Karen Lyons, Twin Cities Student Unions marketing director.

Since the Student Services Fees Committee awarded approximately $1 million less than TCSU sought in three different requests, union representatives said they’ll be forced to cut programming and possibly food service.

But several fees committee members said poor fiscal management contributed to TCSU’s financial dilemma, and they refuse to enlarge an already heavy burden on students to bankroll the Coffman project.

During deliberations Saturday, the fees committee increased total funding levels for the unions to approximately $7.3 million, almost $700,000 more than TCSU received last year.

But despite the recommendation amendments, several aspects of the Coffman project – currently scheduled for completion in January 2003 – were not funded, said Kristen Moore, president of the TCSU Board of Governors.

Moore said there’s no money left to subsidize University Dining Services in Coffman and finance the increased operating costs of a larger union.

Mike Berthelsen, a University Office of Budget and Finance officer, said $4.6 million of University spending was committed to fund a Coffman food service area.

Berthelsen said UDS – the service the University is required to use – initially thought it could afford to pay back the debt.

But University administrators determined UDS did not have the money for the project, and responsibility for the cost – $400,000 annually – was passed to TCSU.

Jason Reed, TCSU Board of Governors vice president, said since the contract with UDS restricts the union from bringing in another food provider, TCSU couldn’t choose to decline funding the food service program.

The fees committee refused to fund the $400,000 union fees request.

Tyler Richter, a fees committee member, said poor financial foresight is to blame for the union’s monetary needs, and he doesn’t think students should shoulder the costs.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, vice president for the Office of Budget and Finance, said University administration will likely change the committee recommendation because of the institution’s obligation to complete the project.

Moore said the unions have substantial reserves, but budgets approved by the Board of Regents earmark $6.5 million of that money for completing the renovation. After that money is spent, the union reserves will be severely depleted, she said.

Besides concerns over bankrolling food service, Moore said, drastic cuts in TCSU programming and staff positions were already imminent under the current funding levels.

Reed said the renovated Coffman Union is 313,154 square feet larger than before and includes additional amenities, such as a central University bookstore. Because of this, he said, utilities and maintenance costs are higher and must be covered before other program expenses.

With recommendations for the union’s operating budget falling $400,000 below its request, TCSU estimates its marketing department will be cut in half, 47 full-time and student employees would be lost and 90 percent of TCSU programming would be eliminated, including Spring Jam and College Bowl.

Fees committee member Kevin Ehlert said program cuts will have a ripple effect on several University student groups and urged awarding TSCU full funding.

But many other fees committee members have said, in light of another tuition hike, the union’s operating request is unwarranted.

Committee member Marty Andrade downplayed the impact of the recommendation, saying student activity on campus was sustained after Coffman closed and would continue despite possible program cuts for the unions.

Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]