Backlash over Regents Scholarship cuts

Some, but not all, employee groups are opposed to the cut.

Anger over a proposed plan to reduce the University of MinnesotaâÄôs commitment to the Regents Scholarship program is not confined to the gaggle of protesters outside ThursdayâÄôs State of the University speech. In an e-mail sent to faculty and staff last week, University President Bob Bruininks outlined a proposal to require employees using the Regents Scholarship to pay for 25 percent of their tuition themselves. Under the current plan, the Regents Scholarship covers the entire cost of tuition for employees who hold more than 75 percent time appointments at the University. The program currently costs the University about $9 million a year, according to University News Service. The proposed changes would save about $2.5 million. Rebecca Monro, associate director for the Institute for Research in Marketing, said the proposed Regents Scholarship cut, combined with a proposed wage freeze and a tuition increase, would add to the disproportionate nature of the UniversityâÄôs cuts. The proposals will hurt the lowest paid University employees the most, she said. âÄúI think there are ways that President Bruininks and the Regents could still save the money that they need to save, but they could look at alternatives that would prevent a disproportionate affect across-the-board,âÄù Monro said. Monro suggested capping the number of credits taken or waving the cut based on income level or for people seeking their first degree. âÄúNobody IâÄôve talked to has said, âÄòjust revoke it,âÄôâÄù she said. âÄúEverybody is suggesting alternatives that could ease it.âÄù University administrators were not available for comment over the weekend. Monro said the cuts would hurt civil service and bargaining unit employees more than other groups, such as professional and administrative (P&A) workers, who need a degree for their jobs. More than 70 percent of the 2,300 employees participating in the program each year are not P&A employees or faculty members. Phyllis Walker, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 clerical workers union, said AFSCME is opposed to any cut to the Regents Scholarship program.

âÄúIf this is cut, itâÄôs really going to impact peopleâÄôs ability to get a higher education,âÄù she said. Emily Dombeck, program coordinator at the Carlson Funds Enterprise is enrolled in the College of Biological Sciences, seeking her first degree. She has been using the Regents Scholarship since she began working at the University in 2001. If the cut is made, Dombeck said it would cost her $1500 a year for classes, and she would have to cut her course load in half. âÄúI understand that things at the University are getting tight and that we all need to make sacrifices,âÄù she said, âÄúbut this doesnâÄôt seem like a sacrifice that everybody has to make.âÄù But not all employee groups are taking a stance against the cut, however. Bill Roberts, chair of the benefits and compensation committee for the Council of Academic and Professional Administrators, said CAPA will likely not take a stance against the cut. âÄúItâÄôs because of the understanding that there is a huge cut in funding [to the University proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty] and cutbacks are going to have to be made,âÄù Roberts said. âÄúThis may be an acceptable one.âÄù While Roberts said he had heard administrators were considering the cut, he said he thought there should be more input on the decision making process, a feeling echoed by many. University Regent John Frobenius, who supports the proposal, said the University would seek input on issues that impact employees. Frobenius, chair of the Board of RegentâÄôs Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee noted that under the proposal, the University still contributes 75 percent of the cost of tuition. âÄúThe University is very interested in making sure this whole financial crisis has a minimum impact on the employees of the University, but at the same time, attempt to keep the University strong,âÄù he said. Still, Walker said the cut would hurt the lowest-paid University employees, such as clerical workers. âÄúIf the University is concerned with saving financial aid, the Regents Scholarship is where they should start,âÄù she said. âÄúThe money should not be saved on the backs of the lowest-paid people. It should be saved on the backs of the highest-paid people.âÄù -Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter.