By Kyeland Jackson —
Don’t hold your breath, but you may not have a higher tuition bill next year. U of L’s Board of Trustees finance committee, in a contentious meeting today, refused to grant a five percent tuition hike requested by administration in the 2016-2017 budget.
At issue was how to pay for a $12.5 million cut from the state. The committee refused to even vote on the budget, sending it back to President James Ramsey and his staff. The move is unprecedented, as was the public bickering between trustees.
“I’m very biased. I’m very much against any tuition increase,” Chairman Larry Benz said as the tuition rate increase was discussed.
Previous budget meetings have approved the document presented by the administration. This one was highlighted by trustees talking over each other, arguing and accusing Jason Tomlinson, CFO of the U of L Foundation, of not clearly answering questions.
Trustee Craig Greenberg questioned why $38 million loaned to the U of L Foundation in July 2015 was not considered to offset the tuition rate increase. “It seems to me that would be better spent on students and the university,” Greenberg said. He said the administration had become “masters of obfuscation” regarding financial dealings.
U of L and its foundation are currently undergoing a state audit of their finances.
On May 31, WDRB.com reported the $38 million loan to an arm of the foundation, which had never been presented to the board. Chairman Ron Butt told reports afterward that $38 million loan “was like taking money from your right pocket and putting it in your left pocket.” He said the university can demand to have it back any time, but he recommends against it.
Board chairman Robert Hughes, though not a member of the finance committee, asked Greenberg to stop talking like he was running for office. He later tweeted “Another sad day for the history of the UL Trustees at the Finance Committee level. No budget = totally dysfunctional.”
This appears to be the first time ever the board has not adopted a budget at its June finance committee meeting. Ramsey blasted a letter praising the budget struck down by trustees.
“The budget proposed today was able to offset rising costs, as well as the state’s $6.26 million budget cut to the university, without general fund cuts to unit budgets and with no university wide layoffs,” Ramsey said in the letter. “Creating an annual budget to present to our board takes many months of work and input by every unit in our institution. It was a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated employees.”
Ramsey referenced the “credit for credit” program and financial aid budget increases, structured to offset the five percent tuition hike. While the initiatives would compensate costs for some, they require financial or academic requirements to qualify for.
By law the trustees must adopt a budget by July 1, the start of the fiscal year. It is unclear when a new budget will be proposed, or if the full board will consider it at its June 21 meeting. Also at issue are the two vacancies still to be filled by Bevin, who told the Cardinal May 4 he would be releasing names “after Derby.”