DULUTH – The University of Minnesota Duluth will cut more than $5 million from its budget next year, a move that could cost 50 jobs and that faculty members fear will hit them hardest.
“When most of your budget comes from tuition and your enrollment has dropped, and the state isn’t appropriating more money to the university system, that’s clearly a problem,” said Stephen Keto, UMD vice chancellor for finance and operations. “Why don’t we rip the Band-Aid off and get this thing over with.”
Chancellor Lendley Black told faculty and staff members in an e-mail this month that the administration will share specific plans for the $5.2 million in reductions by mid-November, but faculty members are already worried about cuts targeting them.
“When I lobbied the Legislature last spring, I explained that there was not an ounce of fat left and that the next round of cuts would be amputations of healthy limbs,” UMD professor and faculty union legislative liaison Laure Charleux wrote in an e-mail to Gov. Tim Walz’s staff.
Charleux said the cuts “will result in the termination of probably at least 5% and perhaps as much as 10% of the UMD faculty.”
Keto said in an interview Friday those estimates are purely speculative because departments won’t have their plans ready until next month.
Since enrollment started to decline in 2012 after more than a decade of growth, UMD has run a deficit in its operations and maintenance budget. It has made smaller cuts to address it over the years. The budget imbalance fell from $9.4 million in 2014 to a projected $4.2 million this year, but progress has stalled.
In a budget allocation letter that University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and finance chief Brian Burnett sent UMD this fall, they wrote that it would be “very difficult to solve a challenge of this magnitude” by chipping away at budget reductions.
Even with the additional $3 million the university system sent to UMD this year to pay down the deficit, which it calls a “structural imbalance,” there is expected to be a $5.2 million deficit.
“Our goal remains to solve this imbalance in the shortest time possible, which will require additional difficult decisions at the institutional and campus levels over the next three years,” Gabel and Burnett wrote. “While your structural imbalance requires a continued and significant attention to expenditure reductions, you should know that we are communicating a similar message to all units.”
Faculty members and students have argued for years that the university system shortchanges the Duluth campus in how it allocates funds, noting that it gets half of the per-student funding that the Twin Cities campus does.
Former University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler had wanted to address some of that issue in his proposed budget, but the Legislature approved just half of his funding increase request this year — $43.5 million over two years — and the Board of Regents approved a 2% tuition increase for the Twin Cities campus and a 1.5% increase for Duluth.
The new money didn’t keep up with cost increases, which Keto said was due largely to systemwide salary and benefit increases, and UMD enrollment dropped this fall to 10,858, down from 11,040 last year. It peaked at 11,806 in 2011.
UMD’s total budget this year is about $274 million, and the discretionary operations and maintenance budget is $162 million of that.
The budget cut represents close to 4% of the operating budget, the majority of which covers academics. There won’t be across-the-board reductions, Keto said, and administrators are trying to “save the most money with the least impact on programs.”
Scott Laderman, president of the UMD faculty union, estimated that based on salaries and benefits, at least 50 staff and faculty members could lose their jobs — but it is too early to know for certain.
“It’s a huge number, no matter what it’s going to be, and it is real painful,” he said.
The university is the fourth-largest employer in Duluth, last year accounting for more than 1,600 jobs, according to city data.
UMD spokeswoman Lynne Williams said the cuts will ready the university for a new reality of both the number and financial means of people applying to colleges declining.
“There is a massive demographic shift that is happening around 2025,” she said. “We are all fighting for less students and have increased costs.”
Williams said there is another way to balance the budget — more state support.
“We need the public to say, ‘This is an investment I want my state to make.’ ”