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Final budget package includes funds for two new programs

by Richard Veilleux - May 15, 2006

State legislators on May 1 approved a budget that added more than $5 million to the 2006-07 appropriation for UConn’s Storrs-based programs and the Health Center above the amounts appropriated last year as part of the state’s biennial budget.

This leaves the University just shy of a current services budget for fiscal 2007.

The final budget package includes $4 million to fund two new University programs – a Center for Entrepreneurship and an initiative to bring eminent faculty to UConn – as part of a comprehensive state economic development program.

It also uses surplus dollars to provide a one-time $350,000 appropriation for the National Undersea Research Center at the Avery Point campus; and transfers $200,000 from the state Tobacco and Health Trust Fund to the Health Center to support the Health Professions Partnership Program Initiative.

In addition, the legislature repealed a provision enacted last year that would have reduced the appropriation to Storrs by $832,500, and to the Health Center by $312,500.

The legislature responded to the problems associated with the UConn 2000 program by enacting a bill that includes many of the recommendations of the governor’s commission that studied the problems and is consistent with the Board of Trustees’ response to those recommendations.

The University supported the bill as it worked its way through the legislative process.

“While this budget does not provide sufficient funding for us to fulfill all of our aspirations, it does allow us to meet our important needs,” University President Philip E. Austin said last week, after the legislature adjourned for the year.

“The additional funding appropriated through the economic development legislation is particularly significant. It will allow us to create a Center for Entrepreneurship and recruit eminent faculty in areas that will allow us to expand our contributions to the state’s economic viability.”

School of Business faculty and staff in the Center for Entrepreneurship will be charged with training the next generation of entrepreneurs through hands-on experiences that will help business in the state today.

The team will train faculty and student inventors in commercialization and business issues; expand the accelerator program in Hartford to provide innovative services to technology- based companies, using a model where students and faculty work with companies on real-time solutions to existing business problems; and establish an intellectual property law clinic through the School of Law.

Bruce Carlson, chief of staff at the Health Center, who led efforts to convince legislators of the importance of the two programs, said the entrepreneurial initiative also will allow the School of Business to develop a major and a minor in entrepreneurship.

The legislation to hire eminent faculty provides up to $2 million in state funding on a matching basis.

“We’re looking for more than just individual faculty,” Carlson says.

“We anticipate securing an entire laboratory: the faculty member, his or her research associates, and four or five post-docs. Our program needs to foster instant activity. It cannot wait several years for a team to get up and running."

Carlson says the state’s appropriation and the private sector match should be sufficient to hire two teams, each representing a field that is already strong academically at UConn and that also fits into the state’s unmet needs.

He said the fields may support industry clusters the state has created to nurture promising technologies.

Under the UConn 2000 bill, the University retains operational and financial management of the program, but new oversight and assurance provisions are established.

These include the creation of a seven-member construction management oversight committee, four members to be appointed jointly by the Governor and legislative leaders, and three to be University Trustees.  

The committee is responsible for reviewing and approving the procedures and policies under which the construction program operates.

At the completion of major projects, the committee will review the University’s project management and, every other year, assess the program’s overall performance.

The University is required to create a construction assurance office, led by a full-time director, who will be responsible for conducting the project and program performance reviews.

The director will report to the oversight committee and the UConn president.

The Trustees also must select independent auditors to conduct annual financial audits of UConn 2000.

Austin said overall, he was pleased with the results of the session.

“We understand the General Assembly’s need to assure ongoing accountability in our building program, and value its continuing support for the basic concepts of UConn 2000,” Austin said.

“We have already been implementing many of the safeguards now written into law.

“The state appropriation recognizes our needs,” he added, “and provides funding to allow us to increase our contributions to a positive economic future for Connecticut.”

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