Regents approve budget, 3.5% tuition hike

The board also discussed changes to administrative leave policy.

Emma Nelson

The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents approved President Eric Kaler’s budget for fiscal year 2013 last week. The approval marked the beginning of Kaler’s second year in office.

The board also discussed changes to policies regarding administrative leave packages and will vote on the recommended changes next month.

At the meeting, Kaler also expressed his intention of fully reinstating the Regents Scholarship, bringing applause from the crowd.

“The Regents Scholarship is a much valued [employee] benefit,” Kaler said, noting the reduction in the number of University employees pursuing degrees since the scholarship was cut to 75 percent coverage in 2009.

Regents praised Kaler throughout the meeting for successes during his first year in office.

Chair Linda Cohen, who served on the Presidential Performance Review Committee, called Kaler’s leadership during the past year “exceptional.”

The board also recognized senior leaders who are retiring, including Kathleen O’Brien, vice president for University Services, athletics director Joel Maturi and Chancellor Charles Casey of the University’s Crookston campus.

‘Investing in excellence’

Kaler’s operating budget focuses on investments in both students and employees through increased funding for scholarships, a relatively low tuition increase and plans for new faculty.

The budget channels $30 million into academic programs, Kaler said, as well as approximately $11 million for hiring about 100 new faculty members.

Also included is a tuition increase of 3.5 percent for undergraduates. It was initially set at 5 percent, Kaler said, but after hearing student concerns, state funding was used to decrease it. It’s the lowest tuition hike in a decade.

Regent Tom Devine said the increase “sends a clear message that all of us are very concerned about what’s going on [economically] and that we’re working hard to deal with that.”

But rising costs in housing and student fees are still of concern to students, he said, and are issues that he wants to see taken into future consideration.

Restoring trust

Economic struggles throughout the state also factored into the board’s discussion of administrative leave packages.

An ad hoc committee that convened three times in recent months presented its policy suggestions — which will be voted on next month — giving rise to concerns about attracting new administrators.

“[This issue] directly affects Minnesota families and students struggling in this economy, so we’ve taken this duty seriously,” said Regent Richard Beeson, who presented the report.

The new policies would give the president authority to manage normal pay increases financed through the annual budget but would require approval by the board’s chair and vice chair for more significant compensation.

Administrators would also not be eligible for administrative leave packages but would rather be able to take a sabbatical with up to six months’ pay.

Ideally, most issues would be taken care of up front, Beeson said. According to the report, the president would negotiate terms and conditions of employment at the time of hiring in order to clarify any future compensation.

Regent Patricia Simmons said the new hiring process may deter some and would also place a lot of responsibility on the board to “acknowledge what the marketplace really is.”

Kaler said losing potential hires is a possibility if the hiring process becomes “too cumbersome,” but that the public’s trust is paramount.

“There are very few things more important to the University than the trust we have from the people of Minnesota and their leaders,” he said. “And you can rely on my administration to reward that trust every day.”