Regents hear proposed budget feedback

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Despite Sunday’s state budget agreement, which means tuition won’t increase by 9.5 percent at the University, the issue remained a hot topic at Wednesday’s Board of Regents public forum.

The forum served as an opportunity for the public to voice their opinions about University President Bob Bruininks’ proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2009 – which was presented to the regents earlier this month .

While multiple faculty, students and staff members endorsed Bruininks’ proposed budget, lingering questions about tuition were raised.

The projected 7.5 percent increase in tuition received criticism from faculty and students who felt the increase is going against the University’s mission to serve the state of Minnesota.

University administrators need to refocus their priorities around the access and affordability of the University, William Gleason, associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology , said.

Citing former University President Yudof’s inauguration speech, Gleason said the University is too focused on its research goals rather than relieving students of financial burdens and barriers to education.

“There is little evidence that the University is on an upwards trajectory,” he said.

However, the financial support available for students and the quality of education has increased with the increase in tuition, geography and urban studies professor Judith Martin said.

Tuition was also discussed in relation to graduate students, as Gail Dubrow, dean and vice provost of the Graduate School , noted the lesser importance of tuition for graduate students compared to undergraduates.

The availability of fellowships matters more for graduate students than the cost of tuition, Dubrow said.

Some of Bruininks’ proposed budget cuts may hinder the availability of fellowships, and the University must continue to offer fellowships to graduate students in order to attract the best students, she said.

With fellowships in hand, those interested in attending the University for graduate school may actually do so.

“Many more top applicants will be able to exercise their preferences (in schools),” she said.

Tuition and fellowships weren’t the only items from the proposed budget addressed, as faculty noted the importance of research investment.

The University needs to continue its efforts to pour resources into research investments, physics professor Dan Dahlberg said.

A relatively new research program regarding nanotechnology is facing problems already, and future cuts might lead to a reduction in research output down the road, Dahlberg said.

“We do not want to march in time or go backwards,” he said.

Dahlberg was joined by other faculty in voicing the opinion that research is the cornerstone of the University.

The regents will consider comments from the forum in their decision making process, Regent Chairwoman Patricia Simmons said.

The regents will vote on the operating budget at their June 13 meeting.

Read next Wednesday’s Daily for an in-depth look at the University budget.