Regents hear pushback on proposed tuition hike

The board also discussed the M Health merger, athletics department oversight and expanding medical amnesty immunity.

by Kevin Beckman

For the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents, the docket has been chock-full.

On top of approving Mark Coyle as the next Gophers athletics director, the board heard public feedback on the University’s proposed budget, discussed additional board oversight of the athletics department and reviewed proposed changes to the Student Conduct Code at its meetings Thursday and Friday.


Tuition increases

Despite drawing strong criticism from University of Minnesota students, President Eric Kaler’s budget recommendation for the 2017 fiscal year includes a tuition increase for three of the school’s campuses.

Kaler presented his $3.8 billion budget recommendation to the University’s Board of Regents Thursday and Friday. The proposal includes a 2.5 percent tuition hike for resident and reciprocity undergraduate students on the Twin Cities campus. Under this proposal, tuition is expected to increase $306 per year.

On the Twin Cities campus, nonresident undergraduate tuition rates will rise 9.9 percent  — amounting to an extra $2040 per year. At the Morris campus, the same demographic would see a 16.8 percent increase of $2,000 per year under the proposal.

No tuition increases were proposed for resident undergraduates on the Morris or Rochester campuses. However, Kaler’s recommendation did include a potential 2.5 percent raise for Duluth nonresident undergraduates.

“My focus, as well as the Board’s, is to continue to provide student with an exceptional education at a world-class research university that is as affordable and accessible as possible,” Kaler said at Friday’s meeting. “This plan is responsive to the needs of students…while being market-sensitive.”

The proposal was met with a motley of reactions from regents, including praise and disappointment. Some regents expressed worry over rising costs; Kaler’s recommendation would raise room and board by $314 a year for Twin Cities undergraduates.

“I care about the total cost of attendance,” said Regent Thomas Devine. “I am concerned about the increases that we see that are being offered with respect to room and board rates … I would like to see those rates as low as possible.”

Regent Laura Brod said she was pleased with Kaler’s budget proposal, adding that the recommendations were focused and sensible.

“We talk about students as students, but they’re also buyers,” Brod said. “They’re choosing us because of the value of the education that they feel they’re receiving here [and] I think that this budget delivers on that value.”

Regent Darrin Rosha raised concerns that tuition would increase at a rate higher than that of inflation.

“If we go with increases that are above inflation, we lose the moral authority to say we want to keep the cost of higher education down,” Rosha said. “Anytime we’re talking about increasing tuition beyond inflation, we are part of the problem.”

At a public forum following Friday’s board meeting, students voiced disapproval with Kaler’s recommendations, and questioned what they see as negligent funding toward student mental health resources.

“If we fail in telling you that advocating for a hike in tuition or the lack of budgetary focus on mental health is not the answer, then I hope you all will consider walking the walk on privileging Minnesota students,” said incoming Minnesota Student Association president Abeer Syedah. “Spiking tuition … is not the answer.”

Sophomore Max Franz conveyed similar sentiments. “Raising tuition is probably one of the largest contributing mental health problems for students,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”

In a press release issued after Friday’s forum, the University said an additional $97,000 would be allocated to mental health availability for Twin Cities campus students as part of Kaler’s proposal.

The Regents are expected to vote on Kaler’s budget proposal in June.


Health system merger

A plan to combine Fairview’s hospital system with the University of Minnesota Physicians — called a top priority for the board this year by Chair Dean Johnson — was discussed Thursday.

The new organization — known as M Health — would create a partnership between both institutions’ physicians.

The Board approved a letter of intent to explore the merger in October. University officials said combining the two systems would increase patient care efficiency. The revenue from the merger could be diverted to the University’s Academic Health Center. 

“Access to sites and patients across the system and the state will give us a better chance to work with industry,” said Dr. Brooks Jackson, dean of the University’s Medical School. “[It] will also provide better access for patients to new drugs and devices across the state they didn’t have access to previously without coming to our campus.” 

On Thursday, Dr. Barbara Daniels, University of Minnesota Physicians CEO, said the University of Minnesota brand will help draw more patients.

The new entity would have a board of directors, comprised of seven members appointed by the Board of Regents, and seven members from the community. A search committee is currently looking for a CEO; the leader would be appointed via Board of Regent approval.

Though much of the specific language of the merger hasn’t yet been agreed upon, University officials expressed optimism that the merger would be completed in coming months.

“We’re getting very close to the finish line,” Kaler said.


Athletics Department oversight

Building off of conversations from April’s meeting, the Regent’s Governance and Policy committee considered additional oversight for the athletics department and its coaches.

Regent Michael Hsu introduced a resolution last month requiring large coaching contracts to receive regent approval.

Under current University policy, the Board of Regents has authority to vote on transactions when they are of high public interest or have a value exceeding $2 million.

On Thursday, Board members expressed reluctance over unnecessary oversight, but said they recognized the need for closer scrutiny of high-earning athletics administrators.

“I don’t want to make decisions about how much this coach gets paid,” said Regent Rosha, “But I do think that the people of the state do expect us to be indicating and making decisions with the administration on what we should expect from our athletic department.”

After the discussion, Governance and Policy committee chair Linda Cohen forwarded a resolution to continue discussing athletics department oversight in June.


Changes to the Student Conduct Code

Following the Board’s request for a comprehensive review of the Student Conduct Code, the Regents’ Academic and Student Affairs Committee discussed bolstering the clarity of sexual misconduct and medical amnesty definitions.

A proposal to broaden punishments of sexual assault would include all aspects of sexual misconduct such as relationship violence, sexual assault, sexual or gender-based harassment and stalking.

Additionally, the committee discussed expanding immunity protections for underage drinking in the event of medical emergencies.

Since 2013, Minnesota state law has granted prosecution immunity to underage drinkers in the event of medical emergency. The University’s student conduct code includes a similar provision, granting immunity to those in need of emergency treatment, as well as the student who called for assistance. The Board discussed expanding the immunity provision.

Rosha said the code should include language to ensure that more than two students could be protected from prosecution.

The Board will continue student conduct code discussions at the next meeting.