Regents discuss proposed operating budget

A work group also approved renovations for Siebert Field.

Emma Nelson

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents held its May meetings Thursday and Friday to discuss the proposed 2013 operating budget.

The proposed budget drew students and faculty to testify at the public forum. The board will vote on the final budget in June, among other items, including renovations to Siebert Field, which a work group approved Thursday morning.

In President Eric Kaler’s proposed budget, tuition would increase 4 percent for graduate students and 3.5 percent for undergraduates, the lowest undergraduate tuition hike in a little more than a decade.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said tuition was proposed to increase by 5 percent but was eventually negotiated down. The increase will generate $24 million toward the University’s budget resources – a total amount of more than $59 million.

At the Friday public forum, reactions to the budget proposal varied. Faculty and student testimonials were generally favorable, while those from staff – all members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union 3800 [AFSCME] – were more negative.

Tom Fisher, Dean of the University’s College of Design, said he believed he spoke for all of the University’s deans by strongly supporting the operating budget.

Student testimonials came from Taylor Williams, the recently elected Minnesota Student Association President, and Emily Combs, a third-year Ph.D. student. Williams lauded the board for suggesting the lowest undergraduate tuition increase in 12 years, but also urged an expansion of the U Promise scholarship and aid for students who do not qualify for need-based financial aid.

Combs said many graduate students accumulate debt despite working for the University as teaching and research assistants.

Nearly half of the testimonials came from members of AFSCME Local 3800, who testified on struggles experienced by clerical workers at the University in the wake of recent layoffs, pay freezes, furloughs and hiring pauses.

Many called for the full restoration of the Regent’s Scholarship. Before being cut by 25 percent in 2009, the scholarship covered the entire cost of tuition for staff pursuing higher education at the University.

Rick Castillo, treasurer of AFSCME Local 3800 and a University staff member, said because of cuts to the scholarship he struggled to pay for his MBA in the Carlson School of Management.

Katrina McGill, a clerical worker in the University’s Medical School, said that because of cuts to her take-home pay, she now works two part-time jobs in addition to her full-time job at the University. She called cuts to the University’s work force “appalling,” and said that though she has taken on extra duties following layoffs, she has yet to see the compensation promised by her contract.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves…I can only hope you feel as violated as we do,” McGill said, addressing the board.

A work group approved the renovation of Siebert Field Thursday morning after regents showered head coach John Anderson with praise, who has led the Gophers baseball team for 31 years and has more wins under his belt than any other college baseball coach in history.

The team played its final game at Siebert Field last week with dozens of alumni in attendance. The entire board will vote on the renovation at its June meeting.