University Provost Teresa Sullivan highlighted the budget challenges facing the University during the recession at the Senate Assembly meeting yesterday.

The talk was one of 25 presentations about the University’s budget, that Sullivan and Phil Hanlon, vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, gave to various groups of faculty members this semester in an effort to educate the University community about budget issues, according to the address.

“We want to make the budget more transparent and we want to invite the stakeholders to become more engaged in thinking about it,” Sullivan told the leading faculty governing body.

Sullivan acknowledged that the budget is not always an exciting topic, but that it’s important to talk about so the public knows where the University stands in these tough economic times.

“I know that not everybody is interested in learning about the budget,” she said. “I know that it makes some people’s eyes roll to the back of their head. But in the current situation, it’s much more important for the information to be out there.”

Since 2002, the University has reduced recurring general funding expenditures by about $135 million. The University plans to continue to use cost-reduction strategies that are currently in place to cut another $22 million in fiscal year 2010.

Sullivan said the University has an advantage in dealing with current budget challenges because the state of Michigan entered a period of economic difficulty before the rest of the country.

“We’ve been at it for a while, and we’ve had the chance to phase in changes over a few years, rather than having to make significant cuts in a single year,” Sullivan said.

Despite the University’s cost containment efforts, Sullivan said decisions made at the state capital will always impact the University.

“We have been, and will continue to be, affected by what happens in Lansing,” she said.

Sullivan noted that much attention has been given to the fact that state appropriations have been shrinking. Over the last 10 years, state funding to the University has decreased 10 percent.

“Looking at our overall budget — as research funds and other revenues had increased — it was inevitable that the state’s percentage of contribution to our budget would decline,” Sullivan said.

While state funding has decreased, Sullivan said that doesn’t mean that the state’s interest in higher education has fallen as well. She said state governments across the country are making difficult decisions regarding state budgets and that universities have the ability to alleviate some of that economic stress.

“Rather than focusing on what legislatures and governors are not doing for universities, I think we should emphasize what public universities are doing to help the states,” she said, citing stewardship of university resources, start-up companies helping economies to grow and educated students who enter the workforce and “energize the economy.”

After Sullivan spoke, assembly members questioned her about potential moves that could relieve some of the University’s budget problems.

Gina Poe, Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs member and associate professor of anesthesiology, asked if the University has considered accepting more undergraduate students to increase revenue for the University.

Though the University accepted roughly 200 more students in this year’s freshman class than in last year’s class, Sullivan responded that, in order to maintain small class sizes, the University doesn’t intend to increase the size of the student body.

“The truth is we could expand,” she said. “There are a lot more students who want to be at Michigan than we currently admit, but for quality reasons, I don’t think that’s the way to go.”

Another assembly member expressed concern that education at the University will become inaccessible for some students if tuition costs continue to rise to help balance the budget.

The cost of tuition increased 5.6 percent this year for in-state and out-of-state students.

Sullivan said the University is trying to hold down tuition costs as much as possible, but that financial aid is available for students who can’t meet costs.

She added that the University has been successful in obtaining financial aid funds from donors.

“Four years ago, the conventional wisdom was you couldn’t raise money from donors for financial aid, they wouldn’t give for that,” she said. “And we’ve proven that’s not true.”

The University has also pledged to meet the full financial need of any Michigan resident.

However, Sullivan said the government’s decision to eliminate the Michigan Promise Scholarship put a strain on that commitment because money set aside for financial aid was used to replace the lost Michigan Promise Scholarship funds for need-based students.

Sullivan said she appreciates the active engagement and cooperation of students, faculty and staff in tackling budget issues.

“The budget challenges before all of us are considerable,” she said. “As we address them we have to look forward, developing systems and plans that not only address our immediate problems, but also establish a strong foundation for the future.”

COPYRIGHTS FOR FACULTY SCHOLARLY ARTICLES

After Sullivan spoke, the assembly discussed a proposal that would give the University ownership of all copyrights of faculty scholarly articles. The University would then make the articles available in an open access repository on the Internet for members of the University community.

Currently, faculty members own the copyright to their written works.

However, Michael Thouless, chair of SACUA, said that publishers have historically taken advantage of copyright procedures. He cited instances where publishers have produced works in more formats than what was originally intended and have packaged articles with other works and then sell them for a different purpose than the author had in mind.

Thouless said the University cannot protect what it doesn’t own, which is why the faculty must collaborate on the issue.

“It’s us that own the copyright,” he said. “It’s up to us to protect it.”

Other universities — like Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Kansas University — have passed similar open access proposals.

According to Bob Fraser, SACUA member and assistant director of the Mardigian Library, there are now more than 40 universities in the United States where faculty members have worked with publishers to create policies that allow university communities to access scholarly articles.

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