Yudof approaches state

Coralie Carlson

In a sharp contrast to past years, state legislators didn’t flinch as University officials asked for the astronomical sum of $1.2 billion Tuesday morning.
University President Mark Yudof presented the bulk of the University’s budget request for the next two years to the Senate higher education committee, which will decide how much of the request the Senate wants to fund.
The state is the largest revenue source for the University, which asked for an 18 percent increase since the last budget request.
But Yudof maintains that much of the request is an attempt to play catch-up from funding shortages in the past. For example, the University lost about 300 professors in the early 1990s; now school officials are asking for funding to hire 100 new faculty members.
University officials also want to increase faculty salaries. Shortages from the state Legislature earlier in the decade instigated faculty pay freezes.
In 1991, the University didn’t get an increase in funding at all.
“We didn’t get our request and we were cut by $21 million,” said Liz Eull, an associate in the Office of Budget and Finance.
Since then the Legislature has steadily increased the University’s budget. Last year, University officials received 81 percent of their request.
The recession in the early 1990s accounts for most of the cutback, said Donna Peterson, director of the Office of State Relations. The state just didn’t have as much money to dole out, she said, and other state colleges and universities were hit just as hard.
On top of poor economic times, many legislators didn’t have confidence in the University, she said. High-profile scandals of mismanaged funds damaged the University’s credibility in the eyes of the Legislature.
For the last decade, the University has been wrung through the court system for a case of mismanaged funds in the Medical School under Dr. John Najarian. Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, said some legislators are still wary of the Medical School because of the scandal. Leppik chairs the higher education committee in the House.
And in 1988, then-University President Ken Keller resigned amid controversy about mismanaged funds for renovations on Eastcliff, the governor’s mansion.
Leppik said legislators recognize higher education was hit hard in the last 10 years.
Even though the state funded the University abundantly during the last two years, they still haven’t caught up, she said.
“There’s a very strong desire to bring the University back up to its former glory,” she said, referring to the 1980s.
Yudof said one of the biggest challenges to the University this year is to show the Legislature how the administration responsibly handles its money and puts some of its own cash towards the initiatives it asks the state to help with.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, said University officials finally understood what kind of programs the Legislature wants to fund: ones that assist the state through agriculture and business, focus on digital technology and cellular and molecular biology.
He also said the University is collaborating more with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, its rival school system, which legislators like to see.
“That’s why you have a better, kind of cooperative spirit,” Stumpf said.