Yudof Raises the Stakes
By Patty Marsicano
February 13, 2001
The University of Minnesota is keeping the heat on state lawmakers to allocate more money for the school than what the governor proposes. Yesterday, U of M President Mark Yudof went before the Senate Higher Education Budget Division to press his point.
THIS IS, PERHAPS, MARK YUDOF'S biggest challenge since taking office in 1997. The state budget affects every area of university life and the gap between the governor's proposed budget and the university's is wide. Yudof is honing his skills as a politician. He's trying to persuade lawmakers to allocate much more state money for the U of M than what the governor wants. The university proposes $221.5 million dollars in additional funding for the next two years, when the governor has proposed $56 million more.
Competing with a school band playing just outside the hearing room, Sen. Linda Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park, asked about Gov. Ventura's comments that he thinks the university could find some more fat to cut.
"I don't agree with the budget, but I think he's saying, 'Gee, show us what you've done, what have you done to be more efficient or have savings?'" said Scheid.
"We've cut $33 million in administrative costs in four years. I put it into faculty positions or student services or pay raises for somebody," Yudof responded.
As an indication of the significance of the university's lobby effort, a bevy of high-level university officials has accompanied Yudof to each of his legislative appearances. They include Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfitzenreuter, budget officer Elizabeth Eull, and chief lobbyist Donna Peterson.
At each of his legislative presentations, Yudof has hammered home many of the same themes. He talked of the importance of pulling the medical school out of the red, expanding undergraduate education, meeting exploding health care premium increases, and raising faculty pay. But also at each hearing he's said something more pressing than before, something with an edge to it. This time, Yudof told the committee that the governor's budget might violate a state law that requires Minnesota to pay two-thirds of the university's instructional costs, so that no more than one-third comes from tuition.
"We have a statute that says you're supposed to be one-third, two-thirds. The Legislature and the government are out of compliance with the statute. About 50 percent of the instructional costs come from student tuition. I even consulted the general counsel. It's not one of my favorite things to do to contemplate suing state government and we're not going to do it," Yudof said.
But the mere suggestion of a lawsuit reflects the pressure the university wants to put on lawmakers to increase the level of state money flowing to the school. After testifying, Yudof said the law he cited probably was not enforceable, but he thought the statute at least indicated how the Legislature felt when it mandated a certain level of state funding for the university.
At one point, Sen. Richard Cohen, sounding impatient and agitated by the governor's budget proposal for the U, said he wanted to hear from someone from the governor's office who could sit side-by-side with the school to answer questions.
Executive Budget Officer Stewart McMullan, who works in the state Finance Department and helped forge the governor's budget, had come to the hearing just to monitor the proceedings. But he wound up testifying before the committee, taking a grilling from Sen. Cohen.
"Does the governor think we should not make an attempt at the University of Minnesota to maintain a quality faculty?" Cohen asked.
"I can't speak for the governor but I believe he would say it's important to maintain a quality faculty at the university and believes that the governor's recommendation is adequate to retain the quality faculty that we have right now," said McMullan.
"And how is that?" Cohen asked.
McMullan went on to say that the proposed money for the University of Minnesota is part of a broader financial approach by the governor.
"You know, it's been described as we weren't supportive of the university's request. The fact is we proposed a very lean budget that doesn't grow very fast in a lot of areas. And the budget that the governor recommends does support the University of Minnesota - $709 million in new spending, 14 percent of that goes to higher ed. There's just not a lot of new spending being proposed for a number of reasons," said McMullan.
The committee then heard from Dr. Frank Cerra, the Senior Vice President for the Academic Health Center, which includes the medical school. Cerra said that while the governor has proposed shoring up the medical school deficit, he's left no money to address the Health Center's other priorities, like training health care professionals.
Cerra said Minnesota has a shortage of 300 pharmacists, 3,000 nurses, 100 medical technologists, 250 dentists, and 300 doctors. He said training health care professionals is one of the core missions of the Academic Health Center.
After prompting by Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, Cerra explained why it's important to fund the Academic Health Center's other programs, in addition to erasing the medical school deficit.
"This will not deal with the proposal for increasing the production of nurses and doctors and dentists to meet a workforce shortage, it means that world class innovation is going to occur elsewhere, the new medical alley could be in Iowa or Wisconsin, the tuition of the medical school will go up in double digits and the school class size will go down double digits as well the size of faculty and staff. That is very clear and we will need to start that in July of 2001," Cerra said.
Cerra said the larger question is what do lawmakers want the medical school and University of Minnesota to be.
"Do you want us to educate the health professionals for the state? Do you want us to discover and deliver new treatments and cures? Do you want us to strengthen the vitality of the industries? Do you want us just to produce doctors? Or do you want the leading, cutting edge research? That's the decision we're waiting for. We are at that cusp and your decision will tell us what it is you want us to do," he said.
Some members of the committee and its counterpart in the house have publicly expressed disappointment with the governor's proposed budget for the University of Minnesota.
Republican State Senator Roy Terwilliger says lawmakers are prepared to pass a higher budget for the University than what Ventura has proposed.
"I believe that it's very realistic to expect this committee and the Senate to come out with a budget proposal that will be certainly in excess of where the governor's recommendations are at. How far in excess, I don't know," Terwilliger said.
Meanwhile, Yudof is scheduled to address this same committee again this week, and focus solely on the issue of whether the university has done all it can to cut fat out of its budget.
Patty Marsicano covers higher education for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.