With budgets to approve, student concerns to address and a presidential search to initiate, there’s nothing conclusive about the last week of classes for the University of Minnesota administration and Board of Regents.
Next week, the board will hear the preliminary framework for the 2011 capital improvement budget, a list of construction and renovation projects in need of the board’s stamp of approval. They won’t approve the funding until June.
The May meeting will also host a spring report from the student representatives to the board and the first official discussions regarding the search for a successor to University President Bob Bruininks, whose term expires in 2011.
In June, the last month of the fiscal year, the board will hear and make decisions on the 2011 operating budget. A public forum will be offered before the board votes, but board chairman Clyde Allen said significant changes have not been made to the president’s proposal in his experience.
Approving the budget
The 2011 budget measures discussed all semester have to receive the final approval of the Board of Regents.
Regents will not see the full proposal until their June meeting.
This year’s state appropriations were cut by $36.2 million, in addition to last year’s $75.3 million cut to the University’s 2011 base level appropriation. The University’s total allotment is at its 2006 level, $591.1 million, the minimum amount allowed to receive federal stimulus dollars.
In addition to the state cuts, increased compensation to employees and additional funding to student aid has required the University to cut departmental budgets by 2.75 percent, freeing $44 million. A 7.5 percent tuition increase for undergraduate students will yield about $47 million.
Before the board’s final approval, the public will have an opportunity to give input through a forum.
Last year, Students for a Democratic Society stood before the regents to argue against the constant increase in tuition.
SDS member Tracy Molm said the board didn’t even discuss forum participants’ comments before passing the president’s version of the budget.
“I know it’s not a waste of my time, but that’s how they made me feel,” Molm said.
Allen said that in his experience, regents haven’t made major changes to the president’s past budget proposals because they have been involved in the ongoing discussion throughout the year.
“It would be not a wise president who didn’t listen to the questions and some of the suggestions and fold them into the final proposal,” Allen said. “We do approve of what comes to us at the end, but that’s the product of a long discussion.”
$426M for infrastructure
The board will hear the preliminary budget for 2011’s planned campus construction and renovation projects at its May 14 meeting. In June, it will choose to whether to approve the budget.
Brian Swanson, a budget officer in the University’s Office of Budget and Finance, said the preliminary amount of about $426 million includes projects that have all their funding and completed design.
The bulk of the budget — $196 million — is set aside for the next two biomedical facilities projects, Swanson said. $58 million will fund the University Recreation Center addition.
The budget also contains the roughly $90 million given by the state this year. Of the sum, $56 million will be used for general renovations. Folwell Hall renovations, planning for a new physics and nanotechnology building and systemwide laboratory renovations also received funding.
The remainder of the capital budget will be used for repairs to existing buildings.
The regents have already seen the plans for these projects, and the final approval is usually the last stop in the process, Swanson said.
Student rep report
At their final meeting as this year’s student representatives to the Board of Regents, the students representing each of the University’s campuses will present a report before the board.
The report will be given during the May 14 board meeting.
Jennifer McCabe, the student representative chairwoman from Duluth, said the spring report will center on maximizing student engagement at the University and recommending solutions to student safety concerns.
McCabe said representatives would like to see more student inclusion in major committees, especially during the operating and capital project budget planning processes. If campus student associations offered training to prepare students to serve on such committees, they’d be more likely to contribute.
The representatives also think student workers have been overlooked. Finding ways to create a better sense of belonging could improve student retainment, McCabe said.
As for safety, which was a topic in the student representatives’ fall report to the board, McCabe said the Twin Cities campus could use more lighting on main streets. Continuing to improve the neighborhood alliance program to develop a better sense of community would help encourage students to call police when they see suspicious activity, she said.
The report also explores ways to use campus escorts to the program’s full potential. McCabe said students are deterred from calling escorts to walk them home because they fear disciplinary action when they’re intoxicated.
-Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter.