Regents review budget

Regents voiced concern over the University’s ability to recruit talent after cutting benefits.

by Evelina Smirnitskaya

The University of Minnesota is one step closer to a year of harsh financial realities.

The Board of Regents formally reviewed the 2012 operating budget, which saves more than $80 million through wage freezes and cuts to employee benefits and brings in nearly $45 million from tuition increases, at its meeting Friday.

The regents addressed President Bob Bruininks and top University administrators with questions about lasting impacts of the planned reductions.

With no state funding bill approved at the Capitol, the proposed plan is based on the worst-case scenario for the University and works under a prediction of $520 million from the state.

Tuition outgrew state funding as a revenue stream source for the University for the first time in the past few years âÄî “a new reality,” President Bob Bruininks told the Board.

Under the proposed budget, tuition will increase five percent for the majority of resident undergraduates and for many graduates. Combined with the end of federal stimulus grants, tuition for returning in-state undergraduates would increase 12.5 percent.

The hike, which would be the third major tuition increase in the past decade, could cost the University âÄúits best and brightest,âÄù Abou Amara, president of Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, told the board during a public forum at the meeting.

Amara was one of the seventeen people to speak to speak to the Board at the forum, both in support of in protest of the proposal.

Allen Levine, dean of College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design, expressed their support for the budget, saying they recognize the tough financial decisions the administration has to make.

Five of the people to speak came to represent AFSCME Local 3800 âÄî the UniversityâÄôs clerical workers union âÄî to plead the Board to consider the implications the cuts would have.

 âÄúThe University works because we do,âÄù said Cherrene Horazuk, chief steward of the union.

She and others from the union argued that the cuts to benefits were too much for employees to handle.

However, Regent Steve Sviggum said during general discussion that he believes that UniversityâÄôs staff was too large and called for a cut to non-academic and non-research positions.

He also questioned UniversityâÄôs financial aid spending, and said he is concerned that the school is raising everyoneâÄôs tuition only to give aid to a select number of students.

Another large concern was the ability to recruit and retain quality faculty and staff.

Regent Richard Beeson told the Board that compared to other Big Ten schools, the University of Minnesota’s wages are low, while benefits are high. But with health care and retirement plan also in line for reductions he said that the University needs to be mindful of compensation.

âÄúOur competition is gunning for our top people.âÄù

Provost Tom Sullivan told the board that with the loss of funding, the College of Liberal Arts would lose 60 planned faculty positions.

Meanwhile, enrollment levels at the University have been steadily rising in past years. He said without new faculty to accommodate more students there would be fewer course offerings and larger class sizes.

The Board will vote on the budget proposal at a special meeting on June 20.

Any changes to the proposed budget are unlikely. âÄúI donâÄôt think we have any choice,âÄù Regent David Larson said.

He said the Board has been reviewing the budget for the past months and was aware of âÄúwhat was coming.âÄù

Capital Budget approved, less projects with state support

Prior to the operating budget discussion, the Board approved the capital budget.

Since legislators did not approve a capital funding bill before the session ended, the University took out the larger projects that relied on state funding, which made up more than half of the original budget.

The approved budget includes $71.3 million in building and infrastructure work.

Regent Laura Brod, the only dissenter, expressed a âÄúgeneral concern over the aggressive natureâÄù of the budget.