University of Minnesota campuses debate existence of funding imbalance

Getting its fair share? (Bobak Ha’Eri via Wikimedia Commons)

As the University of Minnesota – Duluth faces $12 million in budget cuts over the next five years, questions have been growing over how the University of Minnesota system distributes funding among its campuses.

During a town forum by Gov. Mark Dayton in Duluth last month, several audience members told Dayton their campus wasn’t getting its fair share of state money in comparison with the Twin Cities campus.

Amid expressions of concern from the governor, DFL state Rep. Mary Murphy Hermantown and Duluth Mayor Don Ness, President Eric Kaler visited the campus on Monday to explain why he feels the allocation is fair.

But some on the Duluth campus aren’t satisfied with his response.
“Every faculty member with whom I have spoken did not feel appreciably better after your visit than they did before it,” wrote UMD history professor Scott Laderman in an open later to Kaler. “While I appreciate your assurance that you will be working with our local administrators to help the campus move toward long-term stability, the vagueness of your assurance left many of us uneasy.”

Over the past several weeks, critics of the U have produced varying numbers on how much they feel the Duluth campus is being short-changed.

Twin Cities campus officials have said those figures are wrong because they aren’t fair comparisons.

That has drawn criticism from Laderman, who says Twin Cities officials haven’t explained what the correct numbers are and why they prove that the funding distribution is fair.

“It is frustrating to hear ‘your figures are wrong’ while being denied the provision of allegedly more accurate figures,” he wrote.

In an interview with MPR News, the U’s chief financial officer, Richard Pfutzenreuter, did give a quick figure showing the funding difference. He said UMD’s share of state appropriations declined by 42 percent from 2009 to 2013 because of the recession — compared to a 26 percent drop for the Twin Cities campus.

In essence, he said the system gave Duluth less because it had more programs that could make up the difference through an increase in tuition

In contrast, he said, that was not an option at many of the Twin Cities programs. Areas such as veterinary medicine, dentistry and the medical school already have high tuition, and the University Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station are services that don’t charge tuition at all.

Lincoln Kallson, director of financial research, said those are areas “where tuition increases are not a viable alternative.”

Pfutzenreuter also said some allocations to the Twin Cities campus also pay for systemwide activities.

In any case, he said, “the Duluth campus does not have fewer resources” because of the shift in tuition. “It has more.”

But UMD ecology professor Richard Schimpf, says the reliance on tuition — from 40 percent of revenue in 1998 to 77 percent last year, according to the Duluth News Tribune — has made the campus more sensitive to the ups and downs of enrollment.

And enrollment is down more than 400 students — or 3.6 percent — since 2009, and campus officials say it’s one cause of the budget cuts.