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Board of Regents talk economy, budget


The March Board of Regents meeting took on a tone of seriousness

By Adam Overland

2009 New BOR Members 165
Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen swore in newly elected members of the University's Board of Regents on March 12. From left are John Frobenius, Patricia Simmons, Dietzen, Clyde Allen, and Richard Beeson.

March 18, 2009

The monthly Board of Regents meeting held March 12 and 13 took on a tone of seriousness as the consequences of the souring economy became tangible. State economist and U professor Tom Stinson presented the regents with a sobering economic outlook for the state in the coming years. "The simple truth is that we expect to collect less money in the 2010-11 biennium than in the 2008-09 biennium," said Stinson. "This is not going to be over with quickly."

Stinson said most analysts predict an extended slump followed by a slow recovery beginning most likely in the first quarter of 2010. It's predicted that nationally unemployment will go above 10 percent for an extended period, while Minnesota will likely lose 120,000 jobs over the next year. He said the job losses would be greater without the recently passed federal stimulus package, or American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), estimating that it will save 45,000 jobs in Minnesota. "That's the situation. It's certainly dire. And it's something we should all be concerned about," he said.

University budget challenge

University president Robert Bruininks and vice president and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter presented the board with a revised overview of the U's budget challenge, including the temporary bridge support provided by the ARRA. Pfutzenreuter emphasized that the relief to be found in the ARRA is nonrecurring and expires after 2011. "The money must be spent by June of 2011--the federal government wants this money spent and put back into the economy," he said. "The worst thing we could do is spend this money to cover recurring expenses, on a recurring basis--we set ourselves up for a huge cliff if we do that," said Pfutzenreuter. President Bruininks noted to the regents that the U is continuing its work to provide free tuition for low-income families and to increase assistance to students of modest means. The ARRA includes specific provisions that help ensure affordability for the vast majority of U students, he said, and the time is now to plan for recurring, need-based scholarship support for middle-income students in the future. The amount of the stimulus money that may be allotted to the U is still unclear.

Regents Scholarship

Vice President Carol Carrier proposed an amendment to Board of Regents policy that shifts the Regents Scholarship Program from being a fully University-funded program to one that allows for some level of cost sharing between the University and eligible employees. The proposed policy change is intended to reduce the nearly $9 million annual cost of the program, a cost that continues to increase approximately 10 percent every year.

One proposal described by Carrier would have eligible employees pay 25 percent of the cost of their tuition under the program, but the administration continues to model this and other ways to structure the program to determine the appropriate level of employee contribution. Carrier also described the expanded, and newly refundable, education tax credits that employees may use to help offset their share of the Regents Scholarship Program for undergraduate courses and degrees, including a Hope Tax Credit (now called the American Opportunity Tax Credit) of up to $2,500 a year for a total of four years. The regents are scheduled to take action in May on the proposed policy change.

Much more detail about the impacts of the federal stimulus bill on the U can be found in the March Federal Relations Report.

Newly elected regents

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen swore in newly elected members of the University's Board of Regents on March 12, including Clyde Allen, Richard Beeson, John Frobenius, and Patricia Simmons. Regents serve without pay for six-year terms.

Other board news

In other news, the regents approved an adjustment to the 2008-09 operating budget, to reflect a $20 million unallotment from the state.

The regents recognized the UMD Tweed Museum of Art on its bequest from the estate of Duluth resident and retired teacher, the late Marguerite Louise Gilmore. The Tweed Museum is the sole beneficiary of the $3.2 million gift from the Marguerite L. Gilmore Charitable Foundation. Chair of the board Patricia Simmons called the gift remarkable. "It's a really bright spot in these times," Simmons said. More information is available at the Tweed Museum of Art.

There will be no meeting of the board in April.

More information on the Board of Regents can be found at www.umn.edu/regents.