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Tuition ‘surcharge’ and layoffs options for cutting

BY EMILY BUSSE | OCTOBER 15, 2009 7:20 AM

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UI students could see a “modest boost in tuition” for the spring semester, the state Board of Regents said in a special meeting Wednesday.

Regent President David Miles proposed the idea — essentially a one-time fee for students — as one of several cost-cutting options to help trim roughly $60 million from regent schools.

Miles also suggested leaders from the regent institutions explore temporary or permanent layoffs and temporary salary reductions. UI President Sally Mason — who will be joined by the leaders from the other regents’ public universities armed with reduction plans — will present a proposal for slicing $24.7 million from the university’s budget at the regents’ Oct. 29 meeting in Cedar Falls.

“It is genuine hardship,” Miles said. “These are the people’s institutions, and we must do everything we can to protect them and make certain they serve Iowans, but it takes resources to do so.”

The regents unanimously approved a hiring freeze, which Miles said will stay in place until the regents approve plans to reduce spending from each institution. He withdrew a proposed moratorium on new construction projects.



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‘Shot-in-the-arm one-time stimulus’

Any extra fee on tuition would be minimal, Miles said. He has tasked university presidents to determine whether to recommend the surcharge.

“Iowa families face difficult circumstances of their own,” he said during the meeting. “Any surcharge we consider would be modest.”

But the surcharge — what Regent Rose Vasquez dubs a “shot-in-the-arm one-time stimulus” — may not be an effective cost-cutter, she said.

“I’m not sure how practical it is,” she said. “I think it’s a radical idea that was thrown out because we need to demonstrate that we’re not just automatically dismissing ideas.”

Miles was unsure if a tuition surcharge would affect financial aid.

Greta Johnson, the board’s only student regent, said during the meeting she wasn’t in favor of a spring surcharge because of the short notice for students. But students should keep an open mind about the possibility, she said.

“I’d tell students to look at the bigger picture,” she said. “It’s hard when they’re paying thousands of dollars, but we can’t necessarily look at it one-minded.”

UI Student Government President Mike Currie said any tuition decision will serve as the students’ contribution to budget cuts.

“This is definitely a universitywide sacrifice,” he said. “The real issue is to make sure we are making a sacrifice, but no more and no less than anybody else.”

Hiring freeze could be short-lived

The regents also said layoffs, furloughs, and a hiring freeze remain as cost-cutting options.

Though only positions paid by the general fund are susceptible to layoffs, Miles asked institution leaders to spread the burden equally across departments.

“I urge the pain of the actions required be shared across all employee groups,” he said, and permanent layoffs should be a last option. “It’s at the bottom of my list because I don’t want people to lose their jobs.”

Because he thinks the hiring freeze could be short-lived, it shouldn’t significantly affect searches for administrative positions at the UI.

“If we were very far along in the search, and the president of the university called in and said, ‘This is a really important position we need to fill,’ exceptions could be possible on a case-by-case basis,” Miles said.

But it’s not a hiring freeze that concerns Faculty Senate President David Drake — it’s the potential for permanent layoffs.

“Our greatest asset is the people. We’ll do everything we can to protect jobs,” he said. “But it will hurt. I’m not trying to say [the cuts] won’t hurt. The pain will be felt across campus.”


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