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Higher Education committees hear UMN budget request

University officials presented their supplemental budget request to the House and Senate Higher Education committees, leaving some GOP members unsure on the size of the request.
Image by Alex Steil
University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel testifies in front of the Senate Higher Education Policy Committee Tuesday, Feb. 8. University officials testified later that day to the House committee to present the $936 budget request.

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and other administration officials presented a $936 billion budget proposal on Feb. 8 to the Minnesota House and Senate Higher Education committees, leaving GOP representatives feeling “concerned” about the size of the proposal.

Senators did not openly support any specific parts of the plans. They inquired about the intention behind the budget and asked why there was not more funding in certain areas, such as public safety. University officials said the budget is not only an investment in the institution but also in the communities they serve.

The University did not ask for anything outside of the initial budget approved in December. This is the first time that University officials presented the 2022 budget request to legislators.

Legislators question how funds will be spent

Republican Sen. Jason Rarick and Rep. Marion O’Neill both brought up Gabel’s new raise as a point of curiosity in future deliberations. O’Neill said she had a hard time with a “quite near a billion-dollar” ask from the state when Gabel would be making $1.2 million a year by 2026, in addition to the athletic director possibly receiving a raise. Since that meeting, University Board of Regents approved a contract extension for athletic director Mark Coyle on Friday, which includes annual salary increases.

“It is a competitive marketplace for talent at every level,” Gabel said at the Senate hearing. “We strive as an institution and as an employee of that institution to put our employees on average in the center of the market, and that’s something that we’re continuously doing.”

The proposal includes $185 million for public safety. Rarick asked specifically about the size of the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD) as well as the cooperation between the University and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) after the University “backed away” from MPD. He later asked about hiring and retention rates.

Gabel said that UMPD and MPD had a “partnership all along” concerning neighborhoods around campus, such as Marcy-Holmes.

“What was lost in a lot of the intensity [in spring of 2020] for our community was that we very specifically also said that MPD was our partner around patrols around shared investigations, and around the areas that are their jurisdiction,” Gabel said at the meeting. “And that’s never changed.”

She said that UMPD’s staffing has grown beyond historic levels by an extra three officers, meaning that there is more coverage per shift.

“It’s a matrixed set of decisions to work on safety, especially when it crosses in and out of your jurisdiction, but feels like one community and shared safety is our top priority,” Gabel said.

Nearly half of the University’s budget proposal is for physical infrastructure, with $400 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement building requests and a combined $73.6 million to remodel STEM buildings on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses. Sen. Michael Goggin asked if the University would include cost-saving ideas to keep intact structures instead of constructing new buildings.

Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations Myron Frans said its plan would be logistically dependent; he wants to strike “a balance” of keeping historic structures whenever possible, but being realistic if a new building is structurally inept and must be rebuilt.

The legal complexities between the legislature and the University are complicated by the constitutional autonomy the University has from the state.

“My understanding is that we have no authority over the U’s budget at all. We just give them the money and say, ‘Please do good stuff with it,’” Sen. Aric Putnam. Once the University has the money, he said, “We can’t tell you what to do with it.”

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