Dear Faculty, Staff and Students:
On February 9, 2009, Governor Phil Bredesen presented the “State of the State Address.” I was privileged to be invited to sit with Senator Jim Kyle from the Shelby County Delegation and to hear the speech first hand. A copy of the Governor’s speech is available at http://www.tennesseeanytime.org/governor/viewArticleContent.do?id=1338&page=0. I wore black in honor of the students’ protest about cuts to higher education and visited offices and spoke on the chamber floor with both majority and minority leaders, Senate and House Education chairs, members of the budget committee, and members of the Shelby County Delegation. Mr. Kevin Roper, Executive Assistant for Government Relations, facilitated those visits. We also met several University of Memphis interns and former interns who are now employed in the offices of the State Legislature.
While it is customary during the “State of the State Address” for the Governor to present the budget for the State of Tennessee, including the Higher Education budget, he decided to delay the presentation until the end of March. We are pleased with this news because his original plan was to cut an additional $900 million from the budget for next fiscal year, which would have been on top of the $500 million already cut from this year’s budget. We are hopeful that the federal stimulus bill will be passed and some relief given to higher education and all of state government. Quoting the Governor regarding the federal stimulus bill, “it is clear that we will have a substantial amount of money to help soften the blow of this economy on state government.”
We are hopeful that initiatives in the federal stimulus package will include substantive assistance for students and funding to help offset some of the rising costs of higher education. However, while we are watching and analyzing the bill closely, we must await passage and we must then see what the Governor will choose to do with funds coming to the State of Tennessee.
Governor Bredesen takes stewardship of the public’s funds very seriously, and we appreciate his balanced budget and fiscal management approaches. Given that he will not present a budget until the end of March and that we do not know what the higher education budget will be, we at the University of Memphis must also continue on our fiscally responsible and vigilant path.
For students, we do not know what your tuition will be for the next academic year. After the Governor presents his budget in late March, the General Assembly must adopt the budget, probably in May, and tuition will then be set by the Tennessee Board of Regents in June. In the meantime, after we receive more information on the Governor’s budget, we will be given concrete guidance from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Tennessee Board of Regents regarding the acceptable parameters for tuition. I will review any tuition recommendations from the University of Memphis with President Abby Hagan of the Student Government Association. In some preliminary discussions among colleges and universities, I have recommended that removing the tuition cap should be phased in over a three to five year period and that there be discounts for hours taken over 12. Concern from part-time students about their costs also remains a part of the discussions. However, I must point out that these decisions will not be made until the June board meeting of the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Faculty and staff, please accept my appreciation during these economic hard times that we are keeping our programs strong and delivering them in a timely fashion for students to graduate on-time. Another priority is that we will share responsibilities and work together to replace the work load of those who took the voluntary buyout so that we may keep remaining employees at the University of Memphis. Your extra efforts are greatly appreciated for recommending cost savings and revenue generation ideas, for staying focused on students, and for helping us recruit, retain and serve our students well.