U needs budget clarity

University administration must not hide behind financial complexity.

The University of MinnesotaâÄôs budget is in trouble. Unfortunately, this simple fact has become a political football rather than the starting point of a frank discussion. Though it is no secret, the details have become murky as competing interests jostle at the line of scrimmage. The UniversityâÄôs budget has shrunk, and difficult choices will have to be made. Excluding sponsored research, the UniversityâÄôs budget is down by almost $60 million since 2008, with tuition increases being far outpaced by cuts from the state. For next year, the budget hole grows to $132 million due to a combination of more state cuts, a calendar-mandated extra pay period and rising costs; scheduled tuition increases will net 35 percent of that while the remainder will have to come from internal cuts. Effectively and equitably filling that $80 million hole will require the cooperation and buy-in from all of this UniversityâÄôs disparate stakeholders âÄî students, faculty, staff and administrators. Actually doing this has been deeply hampered by the complexity inherent in a $3 billion budget and by the University leadershipâÄôs unwillingness to clarify, quantify or explain it. The massive financial system requires 380 pages of account descriptions, and even a consolidated annual report weighs in at 86 pages. Rather than provide more succinct, accessible spending breakdowns, administration has chosen technocratic obfuscation. It is time for a University budget summit to bring the community together to publicly explain, hear, defend and to solicit input. Individual meetings between college deans, union representatives, faculty or student groups prevent a wider analysis that can more holistically build a better budget.