Budget proposal highlight of regents meeting

Patrick Hayes

MORRIS, Minn. — University President Mark Yudof presented a $228.9 million biennial budget proposal to the Board of Regents on Friday, including $32.2 million for more competitive faculty salaries.
The budget proposal consists of two parts: $160.1 million for basic University activities and $68.8 million for future investments in the University.
The proposal includes a 3 percent inflationary salary increase for faculty and staff members, funds to cover increasing health-care costs, investments to enhance the undergraduate experience and funds for facilities, libraries and technology.
It also includes investments in faculty compensation, biological and medical sciences, and computer and information sciences, along with funds to educate state health professionals and ensure agricultural and rural vitality.
The proposal will be submitted to the regents in October for approval. Final approval will come during the spring legislative session.
The budget proposal includes $81.2 million for health insurance costs, which Yudof said has increased by 20 percent since the last contract.
Fred Morrison, University Law School professor and Faculty Consultative Committee chairman, said the bigger problem with the health-care plans lies with the nature of the policies.
Currently, many University faculty and staff do not receive full coverage under the health insurance plans. The health insurance plans also have problems with high co-payments and deductibles.
In 1997, a task force was devised to examine and find solutions to the problems within the health-care plans at the University.
Morrison said the task force has looked at ways to provide major medical coverage, set up tax-deductible accounts and broaden insurance programs.
The task force is expected to present its results to the University Senate, a faculty-student governing body, in mid-October.
If the state Legislature doesn’t approve the proposed increase in spending for health insurance costs, other programs will be cut to make up for the costs, he said.
Yudof recommended $32.2 million as part of a four-year plan to create 122 additional faculty positions and to raise faculty salaries to make the University more competitive.
The goal, Yudof said, is to bring the University to the mean salary level of the top 30 research facilities by 2005. The University currently ranks 25th.
“It’s important to the institution, and it’s important to the economic development of the state,” Yudof said.
The proposal also includes a 3 percent pay increase, or $50.7 million, for faculty and staff members and $1.7 million to raise the University’s minimum wage, bringing full-time faculty and staff pay to $12 per hour, Morrison said.
Yudof also aims to address the shortage of state health professionals in the budget request.
Currently, Minnesota has more than 200 openings for pharmacists, 1,880 for nurses and 100 for medical technologists, according to a presentation given by Frank Cerra, vice president of the Academic Health Center.
“Minnesota is facing a severe shortage in health professionals, as is the nation,” Cerra said.
The budget proposal includes $16 million for core funding of the Medical School and $7.1 million for educating more health professionals in Minnesota.
The $7.1 million will expand the pharmacy training in the University of Minnesota-Duluth, dental training in Fergus Falls and Hibbing, and nursing and medical training in Rochester.
The proposal also includes $15 million for undergraduate education — $7.1 million for freshman seminars, writing-intensive learning, and interdisciplinary minors; $3 million for student advising; $1.4 million for undergraduate research opportunities; and $3.5 million for study-abroad opportunities.
Student Representative Irene Wen Y Kao said the investments in freshman seminars and advising are important to the students because it provides them with a better sense of a University community.
Yudof said he will face a challenge trying to get approval of the budget proposal from the state Legislature this year.
He said it will be especially difficult to get the Legislature to pay for the health-care costs and to get approval of the raise to bring the University to a more competitive level of faculty salaries.
In the past, the Legislature has refused to grant funding for significant pay increases. Additionally, Yudof faced opposition from Gov. Jesse Ventura during the last legislative session. Ventura proposed funding only half of the University’s final cut.
“I think I’ll face quite a few challenges, but I’m hoping to have a lot of help from the students, the faculty, the Board of Regents and friends of the University across the state,” he said.

Patrick Hayes covers administration and the Board of Regents and welcomes comments at [email protected]