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Crisis dwarfs past cuts

BY EMILY BUSSE | OCTOBER 14, 2009 7:30 AM

Historical DI issues on past budget cuts
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The $24.7 million slash to the UI’s budget has put university officials and the state Board of Regents in “considerably the most difficult process we’ve been through before,” Regent Robert Downer said.

The UI has dealt with midyear slashes in the past, but officials and Daily Iowan archives show this year’s cuts are much deeper.

Downer had just joined the regents when they called for an 8.3 percent tuition increase in 2003, the last year with major midyear statewide cuts.

And this time around, cost-cutting is only going to be harder, he said.

“I think this is pretty clearly the biggest economic crisis the state has faced,” Downer said. “There are certainly things being talked about at this point that … I don’t think would have been dreamed of a few years ago.”

In response to Gov. Chet Culver’s chopping of the state’s budget by 10 percent across-the-board, Regent President David Miles mandated two areas of cost-cutting for the UI: a freeze on hiring and non-flood-related construction. Miles will ask the board to ratify the two directives at a today’s special regents’ meeting.

But Culver’s wave of massive budget cuts on Oct. 8 is not the first time UI officials have been surprised midyear.

In September 2001, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack sliced $21.9 million from the UI’s budget.

Former UI President Mary Sue Coleman told The Daily Iowan that month that she couldn’t “soften the blow” of the cuts.

“This is devastating,” she said in a Sept. 19 DI article. “This is the worst financial situation I’ve faced in my six years.”

Then dubbed the “toughest budget situation in school history,” the 2001 midyear cuts are still roughly $36 million less than this year’s reductions.

During that crisis, UI law Professor Jonathan Carlson chaired a committee of faculty and staff tasked to advise Coleman on how to deal with the cuts. Carlson said this year’s cuts are hardly comparable with those in 2001.

“The current situation we’re dealing with [is] such a more substantial cut on top of cuts that have already been made,” he said.

In response to those cuts, Coleman and UI officials enacted several cost-shaving options.

In October, they delayed construction of a West Side recreation center for one year and announced that 160 faculty and staff positions would be eliminated. By November, regents had approved a tuition hike of 18.5 percent — the “highest tuition increase in more than 20 years,” according to Daily Iowan archives.

Downer said part of the reason tuition increases were accepted was the public’s opinion on the amount students were paying for universities.

“Some people felt that the students were not paying a large enough portion of the cost of education,” Downer said. “The board bought into that for a period of time.”

By the end of 2001, he said, a period of stable revenue took a turn for the worse.

“There was another downturn, although nothing like what we’re going through now,” Downer said. “To some degree, the public universities bore the brunt of that.”

In 2003, Vilsack announced a 2.5 percent across-the-board state budget cut, driving the regents to increase tuition by 8.3 percent for resident undergraduate students.

Vilsack’s cuts in the 2003-04 academic year cost Iowa State University $8.3 million by February 2004, forcing the university to make some reorganization changes. In July 2005, officials merged the Colleges of Family and Consumer Sciences and Education into the College of Human Sciences as a way to save money.

That year, the UI trimmed $7.8 million from its funding.

“I wish I could say the quality of education has not been affected, but I think we are going in the wrong direction,” then-UI President David Skorton said in response to the cuts.

Now, faced with the largest midyear budget cut in the UI’s recent history, Downer said he had never expected a hit this big.

“The relatively easy reductions have already been made, so we’re going to be looking at [options] that are more substantial and that are not likely going to make anybody happy including the board,” he said.


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