A Message from President Stan L. Albrecht, the Fourth in a Series
Tuesday, Apr. 12, 2011
As we approach Commencement and the conclusion of another academic year, I would like to share the fourth (and final for this year) message to our university community. This communication will address our budget picture as we prepare for the next fiscal year and review briefly other challenges that come to us out of the recently completed legislative session. I will conclude with some important good news for our university faculty and staff.
Over the past few weeks we have been meeting with each of the colleges, as well as with our staff associations, Extension, our Regional Campuses, Athletics, the Library, and our Utah State University-College of Eastern Utah colleagues to summarize this year’s legislative session and to review its primary impact on our university.
As we have noted in those presentations, the session certainly included some positive outcomes for USU, including the passage and initial funding for our new Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, bond funding for a new Business Building and a building in Tooele, funds to support the start-up of the Utah Collaborative Arrhythmia Program with the University of Utah, and some one-time monies for programs in music, the Caine Lyric Theatre, and the financial literacy program in Extension.
The session also left us with some important challenges. To address a structural deficit in the state’s budget caused by using one-time funds to cover on-going commitments, the legislature began the session with a 7 percent cut to all state entities, including higher education. The final budget bill restored 5 percent of that cut, leaving us with a 2 percent, or approximately $3 million reduction to our budget and $400,000 to the USU-CEU budget. We are now working with Chancellor Peterson, vice presidents, deans, department heads, and faculty and staff leadership on strategies for implementing these cuts. In the context of what is happening to other universities across the country, this is a very modest number for us. Yet, added to other cuts we have taken over the last few years, its impact will be cumulative and not without consequence. The good news on this front is that our state’s economy now seems to be on the way toward recovery and, while that process may be slower than we would hope, the economic future appears to be brighter.
As reported in our meetings, a 5 percent Tier One tuition increase will provide funds to our campuses to address projected increases in health premium costs, to fund promotion and tenure increases, and to address some important equity, retention, and exceptional merit cases among our faculty and staff. Provost Coward, Vice President Cowley, and our vice presidents and deans are working now on strategies for distributing those funds, as are Chancellor Peterson and the administrative team at USU-CEU.
Tier Two tuition funds will be used on the Logan campus this year primarily to retire — finally — the budget recycling we have had to do over the last several years in order to address the deficit caused by enrollment downturns related to HB331 in 2001. The final retirement of this debt means we will all have more funds available next year for program development and other discretionary purposes in our departments, colleges, and other campus units. On the USU-CEU campus, Tier Two tuition funds will be used to contribute to the required budget cut of $400,000.
Two other actions taken by the legislature have important implications for our future. First, SB97 created a new mechanism for allocating funds to higher education as these become available. This new mission-based funding initiative is designed to implement the recommendations of a USHE task force by providing a way for new appropriations to come to institutions based both on enrollment growth and strategic initiatives identified by Regent priorities and college and university presidents. For us, this means that there will be greater recognition for performance in such areas as research and graduate education, while still recognizing our community college mission around the state. We believe this is a very positive step on the part of the legislature, and we will be spending time over the summer helping to identify the various metrics that will be employed as the bill is implemented.
Second, HB485 would have prohibited USHE institutions from offering tenure-track positions or new tenure after July 1, 2011. While this bill was defeated in committee, we believe it will come back in some form in the next session. Accordingly, the provost has initiated conversations with the Faculty Senate that will lead to the development of a more pro-active response to the concerns behind this legislation. We will be talking more about this over the summer and as we begin a new academic year in the fall.
Finally, I conclude with some good news for all of our faculty and staff. As noted above, an anticipated increase in health premium costs on the Logan campus will be covered centrally, rather than passed along to members of the university community. In addition, we are pleased to announce that over the next three weeks, we will distribute a check to all university benefit-eligible employees in the amount of $600. We are able to do this because over the current fiscal year, USU’s self-insured health plan has experienced lower than expected claims. We believe that these lower claims reflect conscious choices about personal health and wellness and the use of our university health plan. These positive choices have created an opportunity for the university to extend this one-time wellness dividend. The same distribution will be made to our USU-CEU colleagues using some one-time monies available at that campus.
Prior to the end of this month, we will run a special payroll to provide this one-time dividend payment to all active benefit-eligible employees who have been enrolled in our health care plans since July 1, 2010. Please keep in mind that appropriate payroll taxes will be deducted per IRS guidelines.
We hope the wellness dividend, combined with central coverage of the increase in health insurance premiums, will be helpful for everyone, particularly in a year when across-the-board salary increases have not been funded by the state legislature.
Again, let me thank each one of you for the important contributions you make every day to the quality that is Utah State University. It continues to be a great honor for me to work with you. Best wishes for a successful conclusion to the academic year, and a productive summer.
Stan L. Albrecht, President