UI emphasizes quality as cuts loom

BY ANNA LOTHSON | APRIL 02, 2009 7:42 AM

With Tuesday’s projected state budget cuts shaving more from education, UI officials are working to keep up with the ever-changing budget proposals.

And while the Iowa Legislature is inching nearer to completing the numbers, UI Senior Vice President of Finance Doug True said officials are working with numerous scenarios at one time.

“[The proposals are] the only benchmark we have until it’s over with,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the joint education appropriations subcommittee approved an 8 percent across-the-board cut and a roughly 12 percent total cut for the state Board of Regents — both up from Gov. Chet Culver’s originally mandated 6.5 percent.

The state could face nearly $911 million in education cuts. The UI is predicted to receive around 12 percent less for its fiscal 2010 budget.

UI officials are waiting on the back burner; they can’t complete their budget until the state’s is approved. True said officials are reviewing a broad array of possibilities so administrators can make quick steps in completing the university’s budget plan.

“No one knows how [the numbers] are going to land,” he said. “It would be great if there was only one [option], but it’s never that way.”

Amid the challenges of sifting through changes, he said, the UI has a very engaged constituent group to aid the process.

“It’s extremely valuable,” True said, and it has allowed officials to move at a quick pace.

While they work to crunch numbers and pin down more plans, UI President Sally Mason said she is urging decision-makers not to lose sight of what she calls the UI’s most precious asset — the people.

“In order to be able to provide the kind of education that you expect and deserve, we’ve got to have the best faculty and staff here at the university to do that,” she said, “And trying our best to keep all that together during these difficult and trying times is going to be a challenge, but we’re going to do everything we can to meet it too.”

And despite all the talk of cutbacks, financial aid could still be saved from the fiscal knife.

“Nothing is absolute,” True said, noting financial aid will remain a high priority.

While the state’s budget could potentially lessen funding for aid programs, UI Provost Wallace Loh said access to higher education will be protected.

In fact, financial aid will most likely increase — which could make other areas take a harder hit, he said.

“It’s a moving target, so it changes from time to time,” he said.

“It’s just guesses,” without final numbers, Loh said, and working to help students, faculty, and staff remains crucial during each process.

“People come first,” he said. “But it’s a shared sacrifice, we help each other out.”

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