Young?s speech praises U

By By Chris Mumford

By Chris Mumford

U President Michael Young praised the U’s achievements8212;despite its budget cuts8212;to refute the argument that everything at the U is doom and gloom.
Almost 20 campus building projects totalling nearly 3 million square feet have been completed in the past five years. The ROTC standard pistol team won the national championship. And the U was listed as the third most wired college in the country.
These achievements were among the many Young cited in his State of the U address Monday in the Skaggs Biology Building. Young’s exhaustive list covered everything between the obvious progress on building projects8212;there are still 16 in progress in addition to those already completed8212;to the relatively obscure, such as the ROTC’s triumph and the chess club becoming co-winners of the 2009 Chess College of the Year Award.
The litany of achievements was intended in part to provide a counterpoint to pervasive reports of budget cuts and tuition increases hanging over the U like a dark cloud. Young wanted to emphasize the progress that has been made despite those challenges.
This year, for example, fundraising for Capital Campaign projects outpaced last year’s efforts, adding to a total of more than $650 million, which Young said is well ahead of pace en route to the goal of $1.2 billion. In addition, he said a large portion of those funds came from some 40,000 first-time donors since the fundraising effort began.
On the academic end, Young said more than 10 percent of undergrads now qualify for the honors program, though he did not provide a comparison from previous years. There’s also been a significant boost to scholarship funds, he said.
“We can say over the past five years we have gone from something like $700,000 of financial aid available to now something like closer to $2 million,” Young said.
He said the administration had been increasing efforts to make study abroad and internship programs more affordable, challenging the widely held assumption that those programs are reserved only for rich students.
And in a measure of the U’s impact beyond campus, Young said 200,000 hours were spent during the past year on community service projects organized by the Bennion Community Service Center.
“By almost every metric, we see our students more competitive and more engaged,” he said.
Budget cuts were mentioned briefly, as Young said “soft cuts,” or cuts that come from the U’s various colleges and departments rather than imposed top-down by the senior administration, offset the $20 million reduction in funding to the U.
“We worry a great deal about the effect on everyone, in addition to the institution,” Young said. Although he can’t predict the future, he said he hopes to weather future budget cuts without having to further increase tuition. Next year, the U faces an 18 percent budget cut, as opposed to this year’s 9 percent.
He pointed to the options at Gov. Gary Herbert’s disposal to raise revenue, such as taxes on tobacco and coal extraction, as providing some hope that future cuts won’t be as deep as many fear.
Although explosive enrollment has students and faculty alike concerned about the impact on class sizes and availability, Young said he doesn’t consider the U to be in “growth mode,” like Salt Lake Community College or Utah Valley University. He said he is comfortable with the size of the student body, even though it is larger now than at any other time in the school’s history.
One challenge Young did acknowledge in his address was getting students engaged in campus activities. To that end, he pointed to the intramural fields and Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative buildings that will replace the old golf course.
“We’ve got the old guys with black socks off the course, and we’re trying to get thousands of students on the course to have the kinds of programs to get people here early to keep them interacting with us and interacting with each other,” he said.
Young joked at a Board of Trustees meeting that he has to drag people to his State of the U addresses. He said at the meeting that he was considering changing his plans about the address’ venue, and said Monday it was the address’ format he was questioning, not whether it would happen.