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President Choi speaks out on budget crisis, says UM System expects $57 million in cuts

UM System president Dr. Mun Choi addressed the media Friday in his first press conference since he officially began his tenure.

Just hours before the conference, President Choi announced that he’s terminating the university’s executive performance incentive program.

“We owe it to the state’s taxpayers and our stakeholders to be transparent with respect to what we are trying to accomplish as we move the university forward,” Choi said in a statement.

The university had received backlash for the incentive program amid the current budget crisis. That financial crisis was a main point of discussion during the press conference.

Among the key points, Choi said the UM System expects $41 million in withholds for the 2017 fiscal year. He also said they expect $57 million in cuts to permanent funding.

Raising tuition is one easy way to generate additional revenue, but state law caps tuition hikes at public schools. Dr. Choi indicated he may ask the state for a waiver for all four campuses, saying the university’s tuition has been kept at an “artificially low value.”

“If we were to balance our budget to accommodate the cuts that we will experience from the state, we would have to have approximately a 15 to 17 percent increase in tuition. We will not do that….We’ll be so very mindful of affordability,” he said.

President Choi said they are looking at all possibilities to fix the budget shortfalls, including program cuts and possible layoffs.

“In order for us to grow programs of excellence, we have to be able to prune those programs that are no longer meeting the mission, or the goals, the high goals that we have for excellence,” he said, adding that it’s too early to say what programs may be eliminated.

Eighty percent of the system’s overall budget is in salaries and wages. Choi said every million dollars in reductions corresponds to about 13 full-time employees.

“While we will do whatever we can to ensure we treat all our staff members as humanely and compassionately as possible, I want to share with you that we are facing some significant challenges,” he said.

Choi said he’s been meeting with Gov. Eric Greitens as well as with all university stakeholders. He said they’ll be as transparent as possible throughout the budgeting process.

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