Groups dismiss tuition cap

by Bryce Haugen

The University undergraduate and graduate student governments rejected a position statement Tuesday that asked for University administration to cap next year’s tuition increases at 5.5 percent, regardless of state funding.

After lengthy discussion at a joint meeting, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly strongly rejected the statement, while the Minnesota Student Association narrowly voted it down. Members of both groups said the University should avoid further tuition increases by securing increased state funding, not through administrative cuts.

“If you think we can find enough money to maintain

high rankings by cutting

administrators’ salaries, you are living in a dream world,” Forum member Shaun Laden said.

Forum member Emily Serafy Cox said the position statement would do nothing to curb administrative waste.

“What are going to be cut are the lowest-paid members at the University,” she said. “We saw it last year.”

But Forum member Rick Orr said the statement would send an important message.

“We’d like to see them dig a little deeper on the administrative side,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, GAPSA and MSA approved a similar position statement that asked the governor and Legislature to approve the University’s biennium budget request. The statement said recent funding cuts have “essentially increased

a tax on higher education”

because tuition and fees

have increased more than 50 percent throughout the last four years.

MSA President Tom Zearley said the position statement has no binding power, but it does ensure the groups’ positions are known.

“Now, we have a uniform message,” he said.

University officials and some legislators said they value student input and take it into consideration.

In his annual budget proposal, Gov. Tim Pawlenty recommended giving the University $1.22 billion for the next two years. Though the proposal is $113 million higher than the governor’s last request, it is only 85 percent of what the University requested, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.

Pfutzenreuter said the University is happy with the governor’s budget but will consider tuition hikes greater than the proposed 5.5 percent increase if the Legislature doesn’t add to Pawlenty’s request. The other options are making deeper program cuts or “backing off on aspirations,” he said.

But, Pfutzenreuter said, “It’s a dangerous game to get into – saying what you’re going to do this early in the process.

“Our focus is making sure the state provides us with as much money as possible.”

House Higher Education Finance Committee Chairman Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said legislators will wait until the state releases its updated revenue estimates later this month before addressing University funding.

Nornes said he supports funding the University to the extent the state can fund its other obligations.

“The Legislature doesn’t set the tuition,” he said. “I’d urge students to put as much energy into the University itself, because ultimately, that’s where the final decisions will be made.”

In other business Tuesday, GAPSA and MSA passed a joint resolution condemning “the recent upsurge of hate crime on campus.” They also passed a joint position statement calling for more openness in the University’s strategic-positioning process.