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University faculty and staff are feeling their share of budget pain

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Robert Bruininks
University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

In remarks on Midday with Gary Eichten this week, House Speaker Kurt Zellers expressed concern that Minnesota families have had a 30 to 40 percent pay cut, while "you see a college professor get a 20 to 30 percent increase in pay." While Zellers did not mention a specific professor or institution, I believe it is essential that the public know the real story about faculty and staff compensation at the University of Minnesota. 

  For the past year or more, I have repeatedly stressed to the university community that our entire workforce must participate in solving the budget challenges posed by deep cuts in state funding. It has been our consistent practice to proactively manage our costs related to human resources while doing our very best to preserve employment. To that end:

  University faculty and staff have experienced wage and salary freezes in both fiscal years 2003 and 2010 (corresponding to previous deep state budget cuts).

In addition, for fiscal 2010, we implemented a temporary pay reduction of 1.15 percent for faculty and academic staff, 2.3 percent for senior administrators, and an equivalent three days of unpaid furlough for civil service and bargaining unit employees.

We implemented a hiring pause and strategic review of open positions to shrink our workforce through normal attrition and refocus our efforts around priority activities and emerging opportunities.

We have implemented a third Retirement Incentive Option program in order to reduce the university's work force through voluntary means.

  In addition to these efforts, I have testified publicly before the Legislature and have communicated with the university's Board of Regents, faculty and staff that we will take a number of actions to reduce compensation and fringe-benefit costs (subject to collective bargaining). At the June meeting of the Board of Regents, I will recommend a fiscal 2012 budget that includes:

  A wage and salary freeze (the third in the past decade).

Increased medical premiums and co-pays for employees.

Restructured administration of our health care benefits to reduce costs.

Higher retirement contributions from new faculty and academic staff.

I cannot speak for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and I will not speculate as to the target of the speaker's remarks or his intent. But in truth, faculty salaries at the University of Minnesota lag behind those at many of our peers. It is true that, as one of our nation's great research and land-grant institutions, we attract faculty from an extremely competitive global market, and we occasionally make additional investments to retain our "rainmakers." But it is simply not true that college professors are seeing double-digit pay increases while most Minnesotans are suffering in this economy.

  In difficult economic times, our outstanding faculty and staff have absorbed state budget reductions that have not only affected their work, but also have taken a significant toll on their household budgets. Yet every day they continue to deliver on our mission, recruiting and retaining more students, granting more degrees per year, generating historically high levels of sponsored research funding and private support, and returning more than $13 to Minnesota's economy for every $1 of state investment. 

Such productivity on the state's behalf should be rewarded, especially during lean times, when every job and every dollar matter.

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Robert H. Bruininks is president of the University of Minnesota. After nine years in office, he is stepping down this summer to return to teaching and research.