Hardly a day passes when I'm not asked about the financial health of the School and the University. The uncertainty accompanying looming budget cuts seems to be on everyone's mind. President Robert Bruininks framed the budget climate in the starkest of terms: "The University currently faces a near-perfect storm--a severe economic recession with no evident policy solutions in sight, rising costs in several areas of the budget and growing resistance to tuition increases."
College of Liberal Arts dean James Parente delivered an equally frank assessment: "In recent years, we have enjoyed a considerably more favorable budget climate that enabled us to realize many of our priorities, and it is very hard now to confront the sobering reality--unprecedented for many of us in our professional lives--that forces us to re-examine and rethink the organization and operations of the College, and to reconsider broadly the nature of higher education in the future. Our economic and budgetary situation requires that we change, and we need to adapt creatively to this new environment to maintain our academic strength. As we begin the next biennium, we will likely be a smaller, more focused College, but we will continue to encourage creativity and intellectual growth, and support academic excellence in research and teaching within the requisite fiscal limits."
The governor's budget recommendation, released Feb. 15, 2010, included an additional $36 million cut for the current biennium on top of the $80 million cut last year. With this proposed new state cut, the University is facing a total budget shortfall of $132 million to meet fiscal year 2010-11 financial obligations. This situation isn't likely to improve given the sobering estimate from state economists that Minnesota's state budget deficit may approach $6 billion during the next two-year budget cycle.
During the past year, the School has lost five unfilled tenure-track faculty positions, reduced the number of new graduate students admitted to our academic M.A. and Ph.D. programs and suspended admission to our fledgling Professional M.A. in Health Journalism and Communication program. Our budget challenge for the coming academic year is to reduce instructional and operating expenses by another quarter of a million dollars.
In the face of these challenges, our faculty and staff are devising strategies to preserve and advance distinction in teaching, research and creative work, and service while confronting these unprecedented cuts to our instructional budget. We will not back away from our ongoing commitment to provide access to field-based learning opportunities, top industry professionals and state-of-the-art digital media labs in our curriculum. Nor are we prepared to reduce our commitment to provide faculty members and graduate students with the resources necessary to advance their programs of scholarship and research.
Our ability to sustain these commitments in the face of this budget crisis is possible only because of prudent management of endowment resources and alumni gifts. The Sevareid Library, for example, is funded entirely by gifts from alumni and friends. More and more, our endowments fund important initiatives, including professional development and outreach programs, faculty and student research support, nearly all of our scholarships, as well as our communication vehicles such as the Murphy Reporter and our Web site. In times like these, we come to more fully appreciate how much the vital activities you read about in this issue of the Murphy Reporter are supported by these permanent financial resources, made possible by generous gifts from alumni and friends of the SJMC.
We hope that the stories in this edition of the magazine will inspire you to continue to invest in the SJMC, our students and our programs. Despite the extraordinary challenges we face in the coming years, the School will continue to be a place that nurtures future generations of journalism and strategic communication professionals while supporting creativity and innovation.
Albert R. Tims, director