Office for Equity and Diversity cuts costs

An analysis of OED programs found ways to use limited resources more efficiently.

by Taryn Wobbema

Aligned with the University of MinnesotaâÄôs long-term financial strategy to cut costs by narrowing its focus, the Office for Equity and Diversity sifted through all its programs and found nearly $1 million it could cut and invest elsewhere. In his 2010 State of the University address, President Bob Bruininks praised the OED for the steps it took last July to identify and cut 10 percent of its activities, either permanently or temporarily, and invest in programs that better serve the officeâÄôs purposes. âÄúWe try to focus our services and our work on the needs of colleges and units,âÄù OED Associate Vice President Kristin Lockhart said. Bruininks said OED is a great example of creative solutions being used to alleviate narrowing budgets and focus on âÄúmore pressing and more important priorities.âÄù In his March 25 address, Bruininks wrote that implementing this practice across the University system would free up about $150 million. âÄúWe must set a high bar and then stretch to reach it,âÄù he wrote. The OED is made up of five units that work with different groups of people on campus to ensure all people are treated equitably. Lockhart said the goal associated with reallocating 10 percent of the officeâÄôs budget was to âÄúnot spend less, but spend more efficiently and effectively.âÄù The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence trimmed a prospective student program from its list of commitments. The program, in place for five years, welcomed new students and their parents to the University. Director Patrick Troup said the program was difficult to remove but was ultimately too expensive. Troup said MCAE also cut back on the number of workshops it offered that centered on test anxiety and stress, for example, because they were also offered through another University support unit. MCAE also removed an annual Halloween event that brought families from the community to campus. âÄúWe were doing a lot of different things,âÄù Troup said. âÄú[The staff realized] we were overextending ourselves to a degree.âÄù While some cuts were more obvious, like the Halloween event, Troup said others required detailed analyses of which activities prove most useful to the University. With the money saved from the eliminated activities, the unit has begun investing more in collaborations with different University academic units, including a transfer student acclimation program with the College of Biological Sciences. Troup said the decisions regarding which programs to cut were difficult, and some staff struggled to let go of activities theyâÄôd spent years developing. He estimated MCAE found $15,000 to shift in its reprioritization of activities. WomenâÄôs Center Director Peg Lonnquist said that with a staff of eight, her department was uneasy about cutting too much. âÄúThere are so many wonderful things we need to do, but with a small staff we need to focus,âÄù Lonnquist said. âÄúWe wish we had five or 10 more staff.âÄù To focus on the activities that would impact the campus in the long term, the WomenâÄôs Center cut its brown bag lunches and its Reel Women film series. But without small events like these, Lonnquist said the center will sacrifice its visibility. Long-term programs will be more focused on individual groups rather than the larger community as a whole. The Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, as well as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally Programs Office and Disability Services, also shifted 10 percent of their resources away from short-term programs and those that duplicated activities performed in other departments. Many of the changes focused on catering to University academic and support units most in need of assistance. This 10-percent reallocation came on top of the 5.5-percent cut each University department took for fiscal year 2010 and the 2.75 percent called for in the 2011 budget. It was a difficult task, Troup said. The OED will continue to evaluate its activities with the hope it will rearrange another 10 percent of its budget for 2011 and further refine its offerings. University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said units within the University are always re-evaluating their activities, and the OEDâÄôs decision to pursue the 10-percent cut is timely given the current financial climate at the University. -Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter.