University to request $1.3B from Legislature

If the U doesn’t receive the funding, there is a risk of reduced programs and jobs.

Conor Shine

University of Minnesota officials unveiled a budget proposal Friday requesting $1.3 billion in state funding over the next two years.

The request seeks $642.2 million annually to help fund academic programs and cover operating costs. The University requested a total of $1.4 billion in support during the last biennium, but due to the stateâÄôs multi-billion dollar budget deficit, the University received only $1.2 billion.

This yearâÄôs request seeks an extra $51.1 million annually over the current funding levels to offset the cost of inflation, to allow for the hiring of additional faculty and to increase student financial support.

The budget proposal was presented to the full Board of Regents for the first time Friday. The request could be changed between now and November, when it will be voted on. But changes are unlikely, Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter.

Whether the University receives its full request will depend largely on a set of unknowns including the outcomes of the gubernatorial and legislative races and the state revenue forecast due out in December, Pfutzenreuter said.

University President Bob Bruininks warned about the long-term consequences of the continued decline in state funding and the impact it has on faculty, staff and students.

“If we continue this path of disinvestment, it will be close to impossible to rebuild them,” he said. “The cost of rebuilding, the cost of catching up if we make the wrong calls right now, will be extraordinarily high for the University and for the state of Minnesota.”

Student representative to the board Paul Strain briefly addressed the regents and expressed concerns about the continuing increases in tuition.

He said itâÄôs important that University officials make clear to the state the impact funding cuts have on students, and he encouraged the University to continue to review and cut costs internally in areas that donâÄôt advance the academic mission of the school.

“In response to decreased state support, studentsâÄô tuition has been used to balance the budget and finance our UniversityâÄôs future,” he said. “The rate at which our tuition has increased compared to the increase in the quality of education has become disproportionate.”

Bruininks admitted that continued steep rises in tuition are “not sustainable,” and said if state funding continues to decline, “drastic reductions” in the number and scope of academic programs would have to be made.

Studies have shown there has been about a dollar increase in tuition for every dollar lost in state funding over the past three years, Bruininks said, and if the state is able to keep a steady level of funding for the University, tuition costs can be controlled.

Regent Maureen Ramirez asked Bruininks how faculty and staff would be affected if the full funding request was not met, noting that University workers took a one-time pay cut this year and many are taking voluntary furloughs.

Bruininks said if the “on-again, off-again” compensation strategy continues for much longer, it will hurt the UniversityâÄôs ability to recruit faculty and stay competitive. However, he didnâÄôt rule out the possibility of further pay freezes or cuts.

“Obviously one of the strategies is if we get a big cut, not to take a pay increase next year and see if we can hold on long enough to give it in the following year,” he said.

The University lost about 75 faculty positions over the past year, and the state funding would allow for some of those positions to be filled, Bruininks said.

“I donâÄôt think you can keep cutting faculty and expect to deliver the same quality of education to our students, the quality they have a right to expect given the cost of education today,” he said.