Regents discuss public safety and a proposed free tuition program for families making less than $50,000

The board also provided feedback to administrators on the systemwide strategic plan, and discussed budget shortfalls at their virtual meetings on Thursday and Friday.

Abbey Machtig and Sonja Kleven

The Board of Regents discussed proposed strategies for the University of Minnesota Police Department to combat a recent increase in crime in a virtual meeting held Friday.

The board also revisited President Joan Gabel’s systemwide strategic plan, reviewing new proposed goals such as a free tuition program for students with families making less than $50,000, among others. The board hopes to approve these measures at their next meetings on Feb. 11 and 12.

Public safety update

Incidents of robbery, auto theft and reports of individuals fleeing from the police have all increased since 2018, with most of these incidents taking place off campus or along campus borders, according to a presentation by UMPD Chief Matt Clark.

The University is also anticipating a report by external consultant Cedric Alexander on his full safety review of the University in the near future, which has taken place over the last several months.

“The broader definition [of safety] is something that we’re working on and does take time because of the representation and representative voices we want to hear in developing any program that would address safety,” Gabel said at the meeting.

With these rising crime rates, Clark also reported that the Twin Cities campus has the highest rate of crime in the areas surrounding campus proportionate to the number of police officers among all the Big Ten schools.

Due to a budget shortfall of approximately $300,000, UMPD has not been able to hire additional officers, Clark said.

The board and Clark discussed potential strategies for decreasing crime on and around campus including an increased focus on the campus perimeter, expanding the blue light alert system and introducing a safety app with a virtual escort system.

Clark also asked the board to consider providing additional funding to equip police officers with body cameras, an update that would cost approximately $120,000 each year.

“I just want to be specific with members of the board that our officers are asking for [body cameras],” Clark said at the meeting. “They want that, and I think that speaks volumes about what they want to do when they’re out there protecting the public.”

UMPD has been requesting funding for body cameras since 2017, as they have become a standard piece of equipment among police officers, Clark said. Funding for body cameras has been omitted from the University’s budget in recent years, despite a trial of the technology in 2017.

“I was kind of surprised to know that we’re not equipped with body cams. … They’re an expectation, somewhat, these days,” Regent Mike Kenyanya said at the meeting.

This request comes amid student pushes for reform and more oversight of UMPD following the police killing of George Floyd. Some students have also advocated for the disarming of UMPD.

Continued strategic planning

Administrators and regents continued to discuss Gabel’s systemwide strategic plan, which was first approved by the board in June.

Currently, administration is developing a progress report in order to meet the goals outlined in the strategic plan, which may include transitioning to test-optional applications. Other goals include increasing graduation and retention rates and research funding.

One goal introduced a metric to create a “tuition free program for Minnesota families with adjusted gross incomes at $50,000 or less by 2021,” according to docket materials.

Regent Tom Anderson said that many students from families making less than $50,000 a year already receive significant support and scholarships that cover a considerable amount of their tuition.

Regent Darrin Rosha voiced concerns about the potential for this proposed goal to increase tuition for some students and the need to continue to lower student debt.

“If it’s a function of raising tuition on some students to reduce it for others, I don’t know if that’s a great policy, it may create some divisions,” Rosha said at the meeting.

The board will continue discussions about the topic at their February meeting.