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In budget testimony Austin cites progress,
urges support of initiatives
February 22, 1999

President Philip E. Austin on Wednesday (February 17) outlined for the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee a list of successes and expressed hope that legislators would continue to support the ideas that brought the University and its Health Center to this juncture.

"We have done what you asked us to do, and we are proud of our accomplishments. Much remains to be done, but we are already a University transformed. We believe that our track record over the last five years demonstrates that we are worthy of further investment and continued confidence," Austin said. "I ask for your continued support as we provide Connecticut's young people access to a public education of unparalled quality. The return on the investment is nothing less than Connecticut's future."

Unlike some previous years, UConn officials last week were not seeking the addition of tens of millions of dollars to the governor's current services budget proposal but, rather, about $8 million in Storrs and $10 million at the Health Center, over the course of the biennium, to continue funding strategic initiatives that Austin says have helped make UConn a school of choice.

The initiatives include the First Year Experience, enhanced undergraduate advising capabilities, improvements to the core curriculum, funding to institute a credit card payment program long sought by many students and their parents and adding permanent operating funds for multicultural affairs.

The initiatives also include funding for the Connecticut Information Technology Institute and the Stamford and Avery Point campuses, increased investment in information technology infrastructure, and continuing to invest in critical technologies programs and UConn's professional schools.

The cost of the strategic initiatives totals more than $16 million for the two-year budget at Storrs, and about $13 million at the Health Center but, in each case, many of the initiatives will be funded out of the University's operating budget, through reallocations and other efficiencies.

"When I speak of additional investment, I want to emphasize two points," said Austin. "The first is that our unfunded requests fit into the context of the strategic plans in place on the main and regional campuses and at the Health Center. Every investment we now make at the University is in strict adherence to our strategic plan and identified academic priorities.

"The second point is that the total costs of our proposed initiatives are met in significant measure through a reallocation of University funds. I invite your close scrutiny. We are saving money. We are reallocating money to critical, targeted and superior areas." Austin said the additional funds sought from the General Assembly "represent both a small additional investment and a reasonable partnership in terms of University commitment."

Health Center initiatives include a plan to recruit to the faculty four members of the National Academy of Science.

Gov. John G. Rowland's proposed biennial budget is 5.4 percent less than the University requested for Storrs and the regional campuses, and 11.3 percent less than the Health Center sought. Most of that underfunding is tied to the strategic initiatives.

Following his presentation, Austin fielded a wide range of questions, as well as requests for more information that will be addressed during subcommittee meetings later in the legislative session. He also responded to a question regarding the governor's recommendation that teaching loads be increased, saying professors at research universities have far more duties than those at other schools and colleges.

"This is an issue that is not peculiar to the state of Connecticut nor to the University of Connecticut. It has become a lightning rod issue," Austin said. But, he added, "the expectations of faculty at a research university transcend teaching. A significant part of what they do involves research and publishing (the results of that research)."

Austin added that teaching loads differ from department to department and even from semester to semester within departments, depending on other activity, and said those were decisions that must be made in Storrs.

"Tell us the direction you want us to take this University, and provide us with the funding you believe is appropriate, but let us take it from there and demonstrate we can produce a high quality product," he said. The question of teaching loads, Austin added, "is a serious political issue, but it doesn't lend itself to easy, simplistic answers."

Richard Veilleux