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Looking Toward the LEGISLATURE

by J. Bernard Machen, President

It's that time again.

The 2001 legislative session is just around the corner. When the state legislature meets in January to discuss and fund the needs of the state of Utah, the University will bring to the attention of legislators its growing needs. Financing those needs, some of which I have outlined below, is a constant challenge, and it is critical that the legislature understand the importance of state support in order to maintain the services used by so many at the U.

I've been talking with members of Utah's legislature over the last couple of years about how higher education is funded. The current funding model emphasizes new, additional enrollment. However, regardless of enrollments, the costs of educating students rise every year. I advocate a model that attaches funding to all students, new and current. Additionally, I believe the model should include funding for non-personnel items and should give institutions more flexibility in using funding. My colleagues at Utah's other higher-education institutions are supportive of this new approach to funding, and our discussions with legislators have been positive.

During this year's legislative session, we will focus on four areas of great need: faculty and staff salary equity, libraries, the medical school, and technology infrastructure.

Salary equity: Last year, we were fortunate to receive compensation increases for faculty and staff—but it was only a fraction of the needed amount. Salaries for many University employees are still below comparable market salaries. It is increasingly difficult to recruit and retain eminent scholars in a financially competitive academic market. For certain types of employees, including computer and network specialists, the problem has become particularly acute. The University will join other institutions in requesting additional compensation in these below-market areas.

Libraries: Students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the entire state of Utah pass physically and electronically through the doors of our libraries. But year after year, library collections remain under serious pressure to meet rising subscription prices. Subscription cancellations totaled more than $350,000 last year. Finding support to maintain subscriptions, and for electronic resources, will be a priority. In addition, the core of the Marriott Library, the original building to which extensions have been made, must be remodeled—an $18 million capital project.

School of Medicine: Our medical school needs increased state support if it is to maintain the high quality of education it offers. Currently, state funds make up only about six percent of our medical school's budget. Of the 74 public medical schools nationwide, the U ranks 64th in state support. Of the 13 public medical schools in the West, the U ranks 11th in state funding. Last year, the medical school had to rely on money from University Hospital for day-to-day operation costs. In addition, the building in which the school is housed is considered a safety hazard and must be replaced.

Technology infrastructure: Much of the educational experience the U delivers is dependent on its ability to move information electronically. Registration, admissions, payroll, as well as many classroom functions are now accomplished primarily via electronic means. Our entire information infrastructure is incapable of fully meeting a wide variety of needs, from campus networks to Internet access in residence halls. We will bring to the legislature's attention the necessity of keeping pace with increasing demands for software, computers, servers, networks, and support staff.

The U will also be working with the Board of Regents and the legislature to address our capital facilities needs, including more than $200 million in deferred maintenance. And Gov. Leavitt recently proposed an initiative to double the number of engineering and computer science graduates by the year 2005. The University and the other state institutions are supportive of the governor's efforts, and we will work together to encourage the legislature to allocate the necessary funding for such growth.

As a member of our University community—and a voter—you can help our efforts to garner funding by supporting these areas. To keep apprised of the legislature's progress and the committee work of your senator and representative, check the legislature's Web site at www.le.state.ut.us. To find out how to get involved in existing alumni, faculty, and staff advocacy groups, call the Alumni Association at 801-581-6996 or the University's office of government relations at 801-587-7682 for information.

Our goal, as I told faculty, staff, and students in my State of the University address earlier this year, is to be the best public research institution between the Midwest and the West Coast. Through a strong partnership with the state, I believe we can meet that goal.

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Copyright 2001 by The University of Utah Alumni Association