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UI administrators seek input for budget plans

BY ANNA LOTHSON | MARCH 6, 2009 7:22 AM

Even for Doug True, the UI senior vice president for Finance, budget crunching is no walk in the park.

“I’d like to think that by now, I’ve seen everything,” he said.

But he said he has never experienced a financial state as dire as what the university faces now.
The combination of the devastating summer floods, mixed with the projected 6.5 percent statewide budget cuts, could not have been coupled together at a worse time, True said.

And while dealing with budgets is a multilayered, complicated process, he hopes to keep the lines of communication open among the administration, departments, faculty, staff, and students.

Ultimately, regardless of the university’s decision, it will be up to the state Board of Regents to complete the budget decisions, which True said are typically done in two stages.

Traditionally, he said, the preliminary phase for the regents — the bulk of the process — will be laid out in June, then completed in August.

But before that, the Legislature approves a budget, after which the UI completes its budget.
“I don’t know if they will follow that pattern this year,” True said, noting once the Legislature completes the budget, the university will spend just a few weeks on its plan before presenting it to the regents.

The severity of the budget crunch this year could make the regents move quicker than normal, True said — but he had no indication of that so far.

In the meantime, he said, the administration’s role is to generate possible situations to department heads and committees — which then trickle down to faculty and staff — so discussion and feedback can develop before relaying back to the administration. After that, the university will present its budget to the regents by the beginning of April.

“The budget details are massive,” True said. “I mean massive.”

And if that process isn’t complex enough on its own, the UI’s new budget website has opened up a new wave of discussion from both the university community and the general public, UI spokesman Steve Parrott said.

Divided into three categories — energy, human resources, and operational expenses — the site provides an open and anonymous forum to submit money-saving options.

Though the administration knows contributors’ names, they are left anonymous when published on the website.

“That way, it turns into less like a blog” and more of an honest discussion, Parrott said.

Not only are budget scenarios transcending a new technological forum than in past years, six planning committees, along with faculty and staff, are all given an equal opportunity to voice their opinions to the administration — something UI officials are hoping will create the best possible scenario despite cutbacks.

“Once you have a general strategic mandate, then it’s up to us to convert that into some concrete action steps,” UI Provost Wallace Loh said, and all choices have a “ripple effect” across campus.
Parrott said people realize not all suggestions are feasible, but the sheer volume of responses on the website shows people are taking the issue seriously.

And as new scenarios emerge, Loh said, the level of detail being put into each situation is significantly and carefully evaluated.

“We’re not just pinning this out of thin air,” he said.


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