Two proposals by a group of faculty to address some of the financial problems at the University of Minnesota have made their way through University Senate committees after being tabled at a March 25 Faculty Senate meeting.
The first proposal asks the Faculty Senate to conduct an extensive audit of the University’s expenditures and see how each expense aligns with the University’s mission.
The second proposal requests the administration to use a sliding scale for any future salary cuts. This means a higher cut for employees making more money and a cutoff point where certain employees would not see any cuts.
Both proposals were originally presented at a March 25 Faculty Senate meeting where the senate also approved a 1.15 percent salary cut for the next fiscal year. The proposals were debated but were eventually sent back to committees for discussion.
The Faculty Senate has the right to accept or reject a proposed pay cut, but a vote for a sliding scale pay cut system would not be binding. A vote asking for an audit would not be binding either.
“Obviously the administration can do what they wish, but I think it’s true that a strong Faculty Senate sentiment of what we want, while not binding, would be compelling,” said Michael Oakes, co-chairman of the Faculty Consultative Committee.
Both proposals were presented by members of a group called Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education but have wide support from faculty and staff across the University, communications professor and group member Gil Rodman said.
An evaluative audit
The proposal calling for an internal “audit” is meant to provide transparency of University spending.
“There are many areas where we see expenditures that don’t seem to be in accord with the mission of the University,” William Messing, a mathematics professor, said. “We want to make sure that before the administration makes cuts that directly affect the academic mission of the University, it has explored all other options.”
The University, like most businesses, is already audited every year, Eva von Dassow, a proponent of the proposal and a Classical and Near Eastern Studies professor, said.
However, the proposed audit would be more evaluative and would focus on the rationale for the spending rather than an issue such as accurate bookkeeping, she said.
The current proposal was altered slightly from the original so that, instead of asking for an external audit, the Faculty Senate would be responsible for the audit. The original proposal also asked that this audit be conducted before the president can declare financial stringency, but that provision has been removed.
Some faculty, including Oakes, expressed concerns at the March 25 meeting that such an evaluation would be expensive and time-consuming. However, the revised version makes the audit more plausible, he said, and would be beneficial for making future financial decisions.
The current proposal was presented to the Senate Committee on Finance and Planning on April 20 and will be discussed at a future Faculty Consultative Committee meeting, Oakes said.
Sliding scale pay cuts
The 1.15 percent pay decrease which the Faculty Senate approved March 25 is only effective through the 2010-11 academic year, but the budget issues at the University will likely extend far beyond that, Rodman said.
The proposal of a sliding scale of cuts would result in bigger pay cuts for employees making higher salaries and create a threshold where employees making less than a certain amount would not see any cut to their salaries.
“There’s this idea of shared sacrifice and shared pain, which I think most faculty support,” Karen-Sue Taussig, an anthropology professor, said. “The problem is that the lowest paid members of our institution are already struggling. Even a small cut is extremely painful for them.”
The proposal was approved unanimously by the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs on April 27 and will be discussed at the Faculty Senate meeting May 6, Kathryn Hanna, chairwoman of SCFA, said.
University President Bob Bruininks told faculty before the March 25 meeting that he would not support a progressive pay cut and expressed fears that such a system, which would likely lead to a higher salary cut for most faculty, would cause faculty to leave the University for other schools.
Many faculty expressed willingness to take bigger cuts if it meant protecting those employees making less and rejected Bruininks’ argument that faculty would leave for a higher paycheck.
“A lot of us could make a lot more money in the private sector,” Taussig said. “We work here not for the money but because we’re committed to an academic life of scholarship and teaching.”
Oakes said Bruininks is not planning to ask for any more pay cuts, but a new administration will be in place by fall 2011, and Taussig said the budget crisis looks like it will get worse before it gets better.
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