U of M officials plan for funding cuts, ending programs

The Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

The University of Minnesota is planning for a future where tough budgets are the norm.

On Thursday, university officials unveiled a strategy that's intended to help the school deal with declining funding.

The wide ranging effort suggests some programs be cut or combined, while others be strengthened. The result will most likely mean a smaller University of Minnesota in the future that focuses more attention on fewer academic offerings.

About18 months ago Provost Tom Sullivan asked departments across the university to evaluate the work they do.

Because of shrinking state support and rising costs, Sullivan wanted to know what type of programs the school should continue to offer, but also, what it should consider dropping.

"It gives us an opportunity to really look very carefully at where are we strong and have high quality, where do we have comparative advantage and what must we just give up because we can't afford to do it," he said.

The results were put into a report and offered up to the university's Board of Regents.

The report suggests investing more resources in programs that have the potential for growth, especially in the fields of science and technology.

It also recommends offering fewer classes to cuts costs, hiring fewer faculty as older workers retire, and cutting or combining programs with declining enrollment.

At the university's Crookston campus, a bachelor of science degree in agriculture education is one that's likely to end.

Crookston Chancellor Charles Casey said killing an academic program isn't easy.

"But the reality is we've graduated 26 or 27 people in the last 10 years," he said. "We get down to one, two, three or four students in a class. That's very tough to continue."

Casey says his campus plans to shift resources to programs that are growing in interest among students, such as accounting and criminal justice.

Paul Strain, a student representative to the Board of Regents, thinks most students understand the reasons behind the talk of ending under-performing academic programs.

"If we can admit that we're not doing something well I think we should be big enough to understand that we should reevaluate and reassess what we're doing," he said.

The system-wide plan to deal with declining funding is mostly a collection of suggestions at this point.

Deans at the university have the final say on what programs will end, and which ones will get a boost.

Al Levine, dean of the university's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, said he's been able to deal with funding cuts by limiting hiring, so far. But in the future, he knows he and other deans at will need to make tough decisions on which programs to end.

"Which is a hard to place to be because everyone has there interest and people are very annoyed if suddenly you stop teaching in a certain area," he said.

As University of Minnesota begins cutting or combining programs to deal with shrinking budgets, college officials say a smaller university at least in terms of programs and employees, will emerge. But they hope a smaller university will be a stronger one.

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