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Culver wields big budget cleaver

BY NICK PEDLEY | OCTOBER 09, 2009 7:20 AM

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Gov. Chet Culver’s sweeping budget cuts forced UI officials into emergency meetings on Thursday.
State Board of Regents President David Miles asked all regent institutions to freeze general-education-funded hiring and construction projects except for flood-recovery work at the UI.

Some officials have hinted at midyear tuition hikes and faculty layoffs.

The systemwide freeze is in response to an additional round of budget reductions by Culver, who trimmed the regent’s budget by nearly $60 million for fiscal 2010.

In total, Culver cut nearly $600 million from the state budget. UI officials estimated the university could be forced to trim around $20 million from its budget.

UI Faculty Senate President David Drake said the midyear cut is “deeply concerning” to the university community.

“That number is significantly higher than any of our past expectations,” he said. “We’re talking about millions and millions of dollars.”

This week’s cuts come after Culver chopped an initial $400 million from the fiscal 2010 budget in January. Those reductions hacked around $62 million from the regents and roughly $26 million from the UI.

UI spokesman Tom Moore deferred comment to the regents. Numerous calls to UI President Sally Mason were not returned, and she did not answer her door on Thursday evening. Calls to other UI officials, including Provost Wallace Loh, were also not returned.

Drake, who was not at the emergency meetings, said the cuts could include layoffs, a midyear tuition hike, or more furloughs.

“Right now, everything is pure speculation,” he said. “We’re still trying to determine the magnitude of the cuts. We don’t know if they’ll give directives or anything like that. We just don’t know.”

Mark Warner, director of the UI Office of Financial Aid, said the UI hasn’t had a midyear tuition increase in his 36 years at the university.

There are issues with a hike though — like re-evaluating students’ financial-aid requests and how much of tuition goes to scholarships, he said.

UI senior Kelyn Jessen said it “seems odd” that officials could increase tuition mid-year.

“College is already ridiculously expensive so [a tuition increase] would not be good,” she said. “This is my last semester but if it wasn’t … I’d probably have to get a second job.”

Regent Robert Downer, an Iowa City resident, said the board will explore what “drastic action” they should take.

“This is a significant challenge, and it’s unlike any we’ve ever faced on the state level,” he said.

Downer said he’s only experienced a midyear cut once while serving as a regent. In 2003, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack ordered a 3 percent across-the-board budget cut.

“It felt like someone hit me in the face,” Downer said of the 2003 cut. “But it really pales in comparison with the current situation.”

Drake said he was unsure if the regent-mandated hiring freeze would affect the UI’s administrative searches. Officials have been looking to hire a chief diversity officer and a vice president for Strategic Services Communications. Several other top positions have interim leaders.

In addition to a freeze on hiring, Marian Wilson Kimber, a UI associate professor of music and the local chapter president of the American Association of University Professors said she's concerned the UI could cut some teaching positions.

Culver indicated that employees statewide could face layoffs at the press conference on Thursday.
Drake said he was concerned about university employees’ job security. He will ensure UI faculty are represented in future meetings about budget cuts, he said.

Thursday’s budget cuts came the day after officials at the Revenue Estimating Conference said the state’s tax revenue would come up approximately $414 million short for fiscal 2010. But Culver decided to cut 10 percent — or nearly $600 million — to give the state a cushion if revenue numbers continue to fall. If funds are left over at the end of year, the money will carry over into the fiscal 2011 budget.

The regents will hold a special telephone meeting on Oct. 14 to discuss the new cuts and other possible areas for reduction. Regent-institution leaders will then develop specific ways to cut their budgets for the board’s Oct. 29 meeting in Cedar Falls.

State legislators said the budget cuts will certainly affect the state’s operation, but they remained hopeful.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said Iowa’s budget crisis is one of the 10 worst nationwide.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Culver’s decision was likely a difficult one, but one that “had to be done.”

“It will be painful process, and it’s going to take a lot of work from all of us in the House and Senate,” he said.

Drake said university officials want to iterate that they’re keeping “the students’ best interest at heart.”

“When there are pretty serious cuts, it’s hard to manage. When you’re in the middle of a fiscal year and told to give back millions, it’s quite painful.”

DI reporters Michelle Boryca and Sam Lane contributed to this report.


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