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Comments Delivered by Michael Pfau to the Regents Budget Forum, May 9, 2014

Editor's Note: The following remarks were delivered by UEA President Michael Pfau at the May 9 meeting of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents in Minneapolis.

Chair Beeson, President Kaler, Members of the Board,

Thank you for the chance to share my thoughts about the proposed budget. 

My name is Michael Pfau, I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and President of the University Education Association – UMD’s faculty union.

Let me begin by thanking the President and the Board for the attention they have shown the Duluth campus in the last year.  President Kaler and his team braved a snowstorm in a 2WD vehicle to visit us, Vice President Pfutzenreuter (who I hesitate to call “Fitz” because that was also the nickname of the Edmund Fitzgerald) recently shared his “Finance 101” presentation, and just last week, several of you spent some quality time on our campus.

Let me emphasize that everyone in Duluth is profoundly grateful for the assistance that this budget brings to our campus.  But many of us are concerned that our unique and essential place within the system is at risk.

The Board has discussed the so-called coordinate campuses, but the relationship between these campuses and the system remains somewhat unclear. 

On one hand, we in Duluth recognize that we are not the equal of our flagship Twin Cities campus (except for those years when our Bulldog hockey teams trounce the Gophers). On the other hand, we are generally dissatisfied when we are told to consider ourselves as just one of 51 funding units throughout the system.  We do not see our campus as the equivalent, for instance, of the Twin Cities’ College of Liberal Arts.

In fact, UMD is alone among the out-state campuses in that we are a comprehensive university, providing our students depth within a wide range of programs from the fine arts to the sciences, along with breadth through our liberal education curriculum.  We provide a top notch educational experience to over 10,000 students annually. 

And we are unique within the system.  

Though not as research focused as our flagship campus, we too are driven to discover.  After the Twin Cities campus, UMD is unrivalled in the state as far as sponsored projects and research productivity.  The Regents who just visited our campus are well aware of the great things happening at UMD in the STEM disciplines, but we are also strong in the Humanities and Social Sciences.  We are research focused, and with a teaching load appropriate to that goal, we have successfully attracted a generation of talented young teacher-scholars.

Yet we are also undergraduate focused. This means that our students, from day one, receive the attention of faculty, not grad assistants.  And they benefit from a research focus that keeps course materials at the cutting edge.  And faculty often collaborate directly with undergraduate students in their research.

Given this unique niche, combining Research with Undergraduate Education, we are happy to see this year’s budget allocation as a step in the right direction.  But more budgetary attention is needed.  UMD too has become increasingly tuition-driven.  Our tuition is now just a few hundred dollars below that paid by Twin Cities students.  This puts us at a significant disadvantage, for we compete not with the Big 10, but with campuses like North Dakota State University, where tuition is many thousands of dollars lower.

In an environment where higher ed institutions are competing for a smaller pool of potential students, and UMD students are graduating with the highest debt in the state, we need to think about not just freezing our tuition at UMD, but reducing it.  Yet reducing tuition without alternative funding would gut the very programs that give our undergraduate students a truly unique experience.

In closing, I thank you for the system’s increased attention to our campus, but ask that this attention be sustained, and enhanced, as we work together to fulfill our land grant mission to the citizens of Minnesota.