Regents review ugly cuts

The Board also appointed a committee to search for Bruininks’ replacement.

Regents review ugly cuts

Luke Feuerherm

University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks received varied reviews Monday for the University’s proposed budget, which includes increasing tuition, cutting courses and laying off faculty.
At a public hearing Monday, some students, employees and professors commended the president and the Board of Regents for making tough decisions to balance the budget, while others, mostly clerical workers, verbally scolded him for placing the budget’s burden on low-wage employees.
“If anyone walks away with the idea that we’ve done this painlessly, I want to assure them they’re absolutely wrong,” Bruininks said.
Mandatory furlough days were a main source of contention between the clerical workers and the president.
The clerical workers’ union said that in a survey it conducted, enough employees said they would be willing to take optional furlough days such that mandatory furloughs would be unnecessary.
Bruininks said that plan would not generate enough money and that the rest of the University community agreed three mandatory furlough days must be taken and all employees who can afford to take up to ten days off should. Bruininks said he plans to take the full ten days off.
“I’ve never seen a financial situation as bad as the current one,” said University Center for Urban and Regional Affairs staff member Will Craig. “I think the University is taking the right steps to address this under the leadership of President Bruininks.”
The furloughs are one example of proposed steps the University will take to solve its $152 million budget shortfall.
The budget gap was widened this year when the Legislature allocated $32.3 million less in state funding to the University in fiscal year 2011 than it did in 2010.
Fiscal year 2011 is the second in a row that the University received more revenue from tuition than state funding, a trend Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer and treasurer, said he believes will continue.
On top of state funding cuts, the University also faced a budget issue that occurs once every 11 years: the 27th pay period.
It occurs because the 365 days in a year are broken down into 52 weeks and an extra day.
The University pays salaried employees every two weeks, 26 times a year, and rolls over the extra day and everything runs smoothly.
When rolled over, however, the extra days are compiled and an additional pay period is added on fiscal ‘leap years.’
This event will cost the University $46 million in fiscal year 2011, Pfutzenreuter said.
To balance this one-time cost, the University is delaying compensation to staff, while reducing resources and instituting the
mandatory furlough.
With these plans on the horizon, the board also took time this weekend to hear from administrators about the effects funding cuts for fiscal year 2010 have already had.
The College of Liberal Arts has seen the most dramatic cuts. It has eliminated 52 faculty positions and 145 classroom sections already.
“The impacts and consequences of these cuts have definitely been felt across the board,” Provost Tom Sullivan said. “None of us are pleased with having to make them but it has been strategic.”
When asked about the cuts to CLA, Bruininks said they may seem more severe, but only because it is the University’s largest college.
The School of Dentistry, for example, has cut about 50 positions as well.
Meanwhile, tuition rates continue to rise. In-state students will see an increase of 4.4 percent.
This year, the rise in tuition was prevented from hitting 7.2 percent by stimulus money that will not be available in fiscal year 2012, which means budget issues stand to get worse in coming years, Pfutzenreuter said.
The board will meet again June 22 to vote to approve the budget.
Search for the next president
Last week, the Board of Regents also moved forward in the search to find a new president.
After much discussion, the Board of Regents appointed 12 members to the Presidential Search Advisory Committee on Thursday.
Over the next few months, the committee will be responsible for narrowing the national field of candidates down to a select few, from which the board will likely select a replacement for Bruininks.
The list of search committee members was highly scrutinized.
Regent Dean Johnson said University professors were given too much weight on the committee, which is composed of seven University employees, six of whom are professors.
“I don’t want to be difficult or obstinate about this,” Johnson said. “When we put together lists of search committees we have to ask what the end result is going to look like … In order to do that we need to have balance, and a number of things on this list strike me as unbalanced.”
In addition to University employees, the committee includes two attorneys, one graduate student and one retired judge. It will be chaired by Regent Patricia Simmons.
While Johnson was the only regent to vote against the list, others raised concerns about constituencies left off the list.
Regent David Larson said the board erroneously omitted Minnesota business interests from the list. However, knowledge that committee chair Simmons had already met with nine local chief executive officers and has other meetings scheduled assuaged several regents.
Similar complaints arose over representation of agriculture, minorities and other interests.
Eventually the board approved the list because it said the committee was intelligent enough to strictly follow the guiding principles, or “charges,” of the process, which state that members shall “act in the University’s best interest as defined by the board and not on behalf of any specific constituency or candidate.”
The board also noted that the committee does not ultimately have the say as to who the next president will be. Members pointed to the appointment of Bruininks as an example of a “failed search.”
Bruininks was considered only after the board rejected the initial candidates that the search committee presented.
Because discussion of the candidates consumed nearly the entire hour and 15 minutes of its Thursday afternoon meeting, the board did not have enough time to fully discuss the charges and the characteristics the next president should have, which was finalized Monday.
“You know, we are often accused of having too many unanimous votes and no real controversy,” said board chair Clyde Allen. “And I kind of think it’s neat that on probably the most important discussion, the most important duty that we have, that we had good discussion with a lot of differing ideas on it.”