By Brad Jones, FACE THE STATE
An effort by two Republican and two Democratic CU Regents to cap next year’s in-state tuition hike to a maximum of 4 percent was rebuffed Wednesday by a 5-4 vote. The unlikely alliance between Democratic Regents Monisha Merchant and Joe Neguse, both elected in 2008, and the Board’s two most outspoken Republicans highlighted a divide between the University of Colorado’s governing board and its administration, which opposed the move.
Merchant, who represents the 7th congressional district, said her coalition was attempting to reclaim some control over tuition rates for Regents, who she says have delegated a good deal of control to the president’s office in recent years.
Regent Jim Geddes, a Republican representing the 6th CD, said the resolution was brought in response to “the perception that the University administration, and elements of our campuses are resistant to adopting options other than tuition increases to balance our budgets.” He suggested CU consider cost-cutting measures such as an across-the-board 2 percent wage reduction to help weather what may be an up to 50 percent reduction in state higher ed funding next year.
Geddes’ Democratic allies didn’t endorse that approach, at least not publicly. But their sponsorship of the measure signals the greenhorn half of the Regents’ 4-member minority may be willing to break ranks with fellow D’s Stephen Ludwig and Michael Carrigan on next year’s budget.
The university has typically set tuition rates in the summer after state lawmakers have finalized the public higher ed subsidy, though the resolution would have authorized a “deviation” from that policy.
Ludwig and Carrigan were joined by Republican board chair Kyle Hybl and fellow GOP Regents Tillie Bishop and Steve Bosley in killing the proposal. Term-limited Republican Regent Tom Lucero was a co-sponsor.
CU President Bruce Benson said talk of faculty and staff pay is a matter of “equity and fairness,” citing two years of flat pay and an increase to employees’ pension contribution level. Ludwig, who was elected to one of the board’s two at-large seats in 2006, said the increased retirement contribution, paired with inflation, amount to a pay decrease. CU employees are members of the state’s Public Employees Retirement Association and are exempt from Social Security tax.
The university’s faculty and staff councils, representing workers at the school’s three campuses, and the Inter-Campus Student Forum joined Benson in opposition.
The school recently submitted a “tuition flexibility plan” under a law passed this year giving public colleges more discretion on tuition increases. CU is seeking latitude to increase tuition up to 9.5 percent, though CU spokesperson Ken McConnellogue says that’s only an outside limit for now.