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Our View: Lawmakers may get earful from UMD

Duluth's legislative representatives are again making themselves publicly available so constituents can grill them, hear from them, and more actively participate in state government.

Public town halls and other similar events are great opportunities citizens can strive not to miss. Elected officials can be commended for scheduling them.

This opportunity — with Rep. Jen Schultz, Rep. and Majority Whip-elect Liz Olson, and Sen. Erik Simonson, all of Duluth — is a legislative breakfast with students and others from the University of Minnesota Duluth. It's scheduled for 8 a.m. today at Glensheen.

And it comes on the heels of a letter sent this week requesting $11 million more for UMD over the next two years because, "We do not believe that our hardworking UMD students are worth less than students elsewhere in the system."

The request for an allocation increase to UMD from the University of Minnesota system was made by University Education Association-Duluth President Scott Laderman and UMD Faculty Senate Chairwoman Rebecca de Souza. It was sent to University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and five senior administrators who help decide how the system budget is allocated.

UMD students receive less per capita from the university system than students at the other four University of Minnesota campuses, Laderman and de Souza argue in the letter, which was provided to the News Tribune.

"The system allocation for a UMD student, for example, is approximately one-third that of a Morris student and one-half that of a Twin Cities student," they wrote. "An increase in UMD's system allocation is long overdue."

In addition, instructors at UMD are "paid far less than their peers," Laderman and de Souza wrote. "Approximately 87 percent of the market median, according to Board of Regents data." The two decried what they called "glaring inequities" and an "historical inequity" in system funding for UMD compared to the other University of Minnesota campuses.

And that's with UMD being the second-largest research university in the state and the only University of Minnesota campus outside the Twin Cities to offer graduate programs.

With a "recurring budget deficit ... UMD has cut more than $4 million from its recurring (operations and maintenance) budget since 2014. It cannot cut any more," Laderman and de Souza wrote. "It is no exaggeration to say that UMD's modest request is essential to its survival as a regional comprehensive university. Your denial of it would be devastating. Approximately 60 full-time-equivalent academic positions will have to be eliminated. This means that dozens of faculty will lose their jobs, joining the dozens of former UMD employees who have already been let go. Many of our academic programs will take an enormous hit. This is especially so for those disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and other fields that make possible the broad liberal arts education that, as a University community, we so deeply cherish. Our students — current and future Minnesota taxpayers — will ultimately suffer."

Duluth's legislative representatives certainly can go to bat for UMD — assuming they agree there are inequities in funding amongst University of Minnesota campuses. This morning's legislative breakfast is an opportunity for university officials to make their case.

And it's a chance at an audience with their elected officials for other constituents, one they can strive not to miss.