Faculty voice mixed feelings over budget remedies

In a Thursday University Senate meeting, some faculty supported the furloughs while many asked for more information.

by Taryn Wobbema

Transparency and equity are the biggest issues surrounding the furloughs that could be imposed on all University of Minnesota employees next year. Just hours after nearly 200 protestors voiced their frustration over the UniversityâÄôs proposed remedy to budget constraints, President Bob Bruininks outlined the plan to faculty at a University Senate meeting. Bruininks said employees University-wide will have to share in the sacrifice called for by significant budget cuts from the state, including $155 million already taken out of the 2011 budget with a potential $36 million cut to be added. âÄúWhen the cuts are this pervasive, there isnâÄôt a single plan or solution,âÄù Bruininks said. He outlined a plan to mandate three unpaid days off for all University employees, with three additional required for executive administrators. Staff could voluntarily take up to ten furlough days. This is a new facet of the budget balancing plan the administration has said could take the form of personnel cuts and deferred investments. As part of a more long-term solution, Bruininks said the University is asking every department to evaluate which areas of their budget can be reduced or eliminated. Several of those who attended the meeting, faculty and staff alike, said they are willing to support the administrationâÄôs request for furloughs if it means fewer layoffs. âÄúI would vote for it,âÄù said Ben Munson , professor in the department of speech, language and hearing sciences. âÄúIâÄôm happy to share in the sacrifice.âÄù Munson said faculty need to realize that budget issues need to be addressed by everyone. âÄúThere are three camps of faculty in this University âÄî the ones that know itâÄôs not going away, the ones that think itâÄôs a ploy by the administration to cut things they donâÄôt like and the ones who’ve got their heads in the sand,âÄù he said. Faculty who were not willing to voice support for the furloughs questioned the transparency of the University in its budget process. They said they want to know the answers to the technical questions before they vote on the matter. Some of the questions included how an average pay increase of 2 percent for all staff would factor into the equation. Bruininks said the increase for non-bargaining units would be pushed back from July to January. The increase will go into effect in July for bargaining units. Every 11 years employees work an extra two weeks on the UniversityâÄôs bi-weekly pay cycle. How the University will fund this 27th pay period also remains a mystery. Vice President for Human Resources Carol Carrier said her department is putting together a Frequently Asked Questions page online, which will grow as more questions are submitted. The Faculty Senate is set to vote on the furloughs in a special meeting on March 25. – Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter