Shelton Takes Questions on Budget, Benefits, Governance

Shelton Takes Questions on Budget, Benefits, Governance

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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President Robert N. Shelton will give his annual State of the University address at 12:30 p.m. next Thursday.
President Robert N. Shelton will give his annual State of the University address at 12:30 p.m. next Thursday.

In his second open forum with University of Arizona employees in two weeks, Shelton talked to appointed personnel on topics ranging from their role in shared governance to the University's preparation for anticipated budget cuts.

Last week, Shelton addressed classified staff concerns at the Staff Advisory Council's Town Hall meeting. On Tuesday, he answered questions from appointed personnel in a forum hosted by the Appointed Professionals Advisory Council.

Taking the stage in Gallagher Theater, Shelton explained his decision to implement differential, rather than across-the-board, budget cuts in campus units this year.

"We heard over and over again that we needed to make differential cuts – sharply differential cuts. Those are not easy decisions to make and I understand why some people are frustrated and irritated and angry over the decisions that we made, the differential decisions, but I have yet to talk to anybody that thinks differential cuts in the abstract are bad," he said.

State funding for the UA has been cut by about $100 million over the last two years. An additional cut of roughly $20 million in state funding is expected this year. That's the maximum reduction the University could sustain based on the U.S. Department of Education maintenance of effort requirements, placed on states accepting federal stimulus money for education. The requirements say University budgets cannot be cut below their fiscal year 2006 levels.

The UA received a one-time allotment of $60 million in federal stimulus money this year and expects to receive $30 million to $50 million next year, Shelton said. While that money will help the campus through a "transition period," the support will end in 2012, and by then the University must have determined ways to make permanent cuts, he stressed.

As budget cuts make pay increases difficult in many campus units, Shelton was asked if he's thought of alternative ways – such as breaks on parking rates or multiple-year contracts – to compensate UA employees. He invited suggestions.

"If there are, sort of, ‘make my life easier' kind of actions we can take I would love to hear them. Send me an e-mail or slip a piece of paper under my door," he said.

"I know that in some cases nothing substitutes for cash, but when people are here 24/7, it seems like if we can do anything to simplify their lives that would probably go a long way," he said.

Shelton later reminded the audience that even in the UA's restricted financial situation, raises are still left to supervisors' discretion.

Addressing concerns that a lack of raises could lead to the loss of talent on campus, Shelton encouraged supervisors to give merit-based raises where possible, rather than be overly concerned with across-the-board pay increases.

Shelton also was asked to discuss the details of a temporary policy exemption approved by the Arizona Board of Regents in the spring that would allow the three state universities, in response to severe budget constraints, to release administrators or appointed personnel from their contracts at any time, with 90 days' notice and approval by the president.

He said his office has not been asked to approve any 90-day terminations and ensured that any future requests would be considered on a case-by-case basis and would require his approval.

In a discussion of the role of appointed personnel in shared governance at the UA, Shelton encouraged those employees to become involved with committees to have their ideas or criticisms heard, particularly in stressful times.

"In the end, I think we all have to recognize just how complex this institution is and how diverse its missions are, and in order to even come close to succeeding, it takes all of this input," he said.

He later addressed concerns that supervisors are reluctant to allow employees to take time out of their day to participate in organizations like APAC.

Shelton said "it's absolutely essential" that employees be allowed to participate in groups that contribute to shared governance of the University and said he plans to draft a memo reminding supervisors of that. 

With many employees managing heavy workloads with fewer resources than they had in the past, Shelton said now is the time to look at how units can cut back on their activities. 

"We have to stop doing more with less," he said.

Shelton also talked about a bill signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer just hours before the UA's employee benefits open enrollment ended. The bill redefined a "dependent" to exclude domestic partners and their children, full-time students over the age of 23 and disabled dependents 19 and older.

Shelton called the decision "extraordinarily devastating" and said after numerous communications between the UA and various state offices, the timeline for implementing the definition remains unclear.

"We are pushing hard for an interpretation that says if you signed up, you have those benefits for this year," he said. "That will give us one year to work on either (a) change in the definition or figuring out some way to help and assist these individuals with benefits."

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