Benson shares university's progress, challenges in town hall meeting

CU playing offense and defense in funding battles
By Staff

University of Colorado faces substantial challenges, primarily related to funding, but is making progress on several fronts through a combination of offensive and defensive measures, CU President Bruce Benson told students, faculty and staff today at a town hall meeting on the Boulder campus.

Benson said he is proud of the way the university community has continued to provide a quality education despite funding declines that have stretched resources thin and left employees with less take-home pay.

Town hall meetings continue

The schedule for President Bruce D. Benson's upcoming town hall meetings:

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
10-11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 29, University Center Theater, Room 302

University of Colorado Denver
3:30- 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 2, Lawrence Street Center, 1380 Lawrence St., Second Floor Terrace Room

Anschutz Medical Campus
3:30-5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3, Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building, Shore Family Forum

"Our people are our greatest asset," he said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of the work you do."

Some 220 people attended the forum at Old Main. It is the first of four; one will be held on each campus. (UCCS – Oct. 29; UCD – Nov. 2; AMC – Nov. 3)

Benson said the university could face more budget cuts from the state, with CU's share of state funding potentially plummeting to $80 million from its current $158 million base ($209 million, when including stimulus funds, which dry up this year). The university will have a better idea of its state funding next month, when the governor submits a draft of the 2011-12 budget.

Responding to a question about whether CU would consider alternative forms of compensation such as dependent tuition for employees, Benson said the university needs to find ways to retain people during times of financial stress, when raises are not an option.

"I don't want to start losing our quality faculty because we can't reward them, and we're already seeing it happen," Benson said.

He pointed to a pilot employee dependent tuition program on the Colorado Springs campus as one way the university can compensate employees outside of salary. The pilot is being assessed and results will be available soon, he said.

Benson said offensive measures the university has taken include passing Senate Bill 3 in the last legislative session, which gives higher education more flexibility in recruiting international students, making real estate transactions, state fiscal rules, procurement and tuition setting. He also pointed to administrative efficiencies such as reducing the number of university policies from more than 200 to fewer than 100. He highlighted one particular change that emerged from the Task Force on Efficiency, a system-wide effort whose recommendations included raising the threshold required for Official Function Forms from $100 to $500, which saves processing of 8,000 forms annually.

Benson said the university is in the quiet phase of a comprehensive fundraising campaign, which will be launched publicly next year. The university is also establishing an advocacy program to engage external audiences in legislative, fundraising and educational initiatives.

The university will also examine its program offerings and teaching loads, he said. When asked faculty's role in the effort, he said "There will be serious faculty involvement on every campus."

Some of the defensive measures the university is involved with include close involvement with the state's Higher Education Strategic Plan, being led by a panel appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter. Benson pointed out one of "hundreds" of recommendations in the plan which would have harmed CU, raising the university's index score for incoming freshman. He said the proposal, which was rescinded, would have cost CU some $16 million annually.

He also said the administration and campuses continue to work with the Board of Regents to provide context around budget discussions. Last week, a board resolution to cap tuition increases was defeated 5-4. It is incumbent upon the administration to give the board good information about the intertwined pieces of CU's budget, he said.

"We have a lot of education to do," Benson said.