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Most of the mistakes occurred before Black became chancellor, though he says he’s hesitant to assign blame. By the time UMD officials added everything up last year, the shortfall came to $11.9 million.
Timing bred suspicion
The news was especially unnerving, said Pfau, the faculty union president, because it broke at the same time the state Legislature was increasing funds for the entire U system for the first time in years. “People were saying, ‘We’re getting more state money. How is this happening?’ ”
One set of numbers particularly rankled. University records showed that, since 2009, Duluth’s share of state funds dropped 42 percent, compared to a 23 percent drop on the Twin Cities campus.
Last summer, Pfau wrote a letter calling on U President Eric Kaler to “rectify this injustice.” In February, Duluth Mayor Don Ness voiced his dismay on Facebook: “The facts are simply embarrassing when you look at the massive disparities,” he wrote. “UMD students are being punished by the Twin Cities bias — this has got to change.”
University officials, meanwhile, said the critics were comparing apples to oranges. “They were not unfairly treated,” said Vice President Richard Pfutzenreuter, the U’s chief financial officer, who made several trips to Duluth to address the budget crisis. He noted that the Twin Cities’ budget includes departments that serve all campuses, and houses some of the university’s most expensive programs, such as the medical school.
But in the wake of the outcry, Kaler has proposed a $4.2 million increase for the Duluth campus next year to help ease its budget problems.
In the meantime, Duluth officials say they’ve pared their projected deficit by more than half, to $5.5 million, through program cuts, voluntary buyouts and other changes.
“I have to give full credit to our chancellor” for involving the entire campus in the process, said Pfau. “I do feel much more optimistic, because $5.5 million is much better than the alternative.” At the same time, he said, many faculty members are worried that the next round will cut deeper into academic programs.
Black, the chancellor, vows that “we’re not just going to cut our way out of this problem.” He said he’s also looking for ideas for programs to attract new students, and more income. “The conversation is not just what you are going to get rid of, but what can we add in that plays to our strengths?”
In the meantime, he’s set a goal of three years to solve the budget problem.
“It’s been challenging,” he said, but “we’re in a much better place than we were.”
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384