The University of Utah faces both a crisis of funding and a crisis of hope, President Chase N. Peterson told the U. Institutional Council Monday.
The funding crisis comes from inadequate state funding to higher education, particularly to faculty and staff salaries, for the last few years, while the crisis of hope follows because the faculty doesn't see a sharing of the state surplus with higher education after years of belt-tightening on campus, Peterson said.In discussing his goals for the U. this year, Peterson said one is increased support, specifically salaries, for faculty and staff.
In the lean budget years, the faculty and staff were "good soldiers," doing what needed to be done, including cannibalizing some programs at the expense of others, he said.
Last fall, the U. community worked diligently for the defeat of the tax initiatives, he said. "After that, we now have revenue (in state coffers) to reinvest in the state."
The U. president said history has now shown that last fall's campaign billboards reading "Prosperity follows tax cuts" were wrong. He said he'd like to see billboards reading "Prosperity follows investment."
The state needs to invest in its higher-education system by raising faculty and staff salaries. Traditionally, faculty and staff salaries were 4 to 5 percent below those of their peers across the nation. After three years of a salary famine, that has risen to 20 percent, Peterson said.
"That gap leads to instability. We simply cannot maintain the U. with that kind of gap," Peterson said.
He and other higher education leaders have met with legislative leaders and will meet again with legislators before January in hopes of persuading them to increase salaries. In the next three to five years, the salary gap needs to be closed, he said.
Peterson and the state's eight other college presidents have asked the State Board of Regents to recommend a 7 percent increase in faculty and staff salaries.
The president's other goals for the U. are to "pursue, extend and mature the undergraduate experience" and to improve internal and external relationships.
Last spring, the president called on the university, which had been absorbed with building up research and graduate programs in the 1970s and early 1980s, to turn its attention to undergraduate education and student life.
Peterson said a task force of 300 faculty members has come up with 18 recommendations on improving undergraduate experience. A final report will be sent to the University Senate in November.
Among the recommendations are increased revenue to open new sections in bottleneck courses; creation of an ombudsman to help students who run into red tape registering, paying fees, etc.; establishment of a faculty mentoring program for students, in addition to the regular student counseling program; and creation of ways to involve undergraduate education in research.
To help with relationships, the U. has reorganized departments within University Relations and has established a new community-relations position that will work with U. neighbors and the downtown community, Peterson said.
Raymond A. Haeckel has been appointed executive director of government, community and public relations, while Richard L. Reese has been named director of community relations.
"I hope we can be seen by our neighbors as a cultural benefit to them as well as a friend in solving problems," Peterson said.