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January 17, 2003

Steinke: Link our efforts to Iowans, every day

Gary Steinke
Gary Steinke and other university leaders took time last summer to try to erase misperceptions among state legislators about higher education funding. Photo by Bob Elbert.

by Debra Gibson
Don't expect an increase in the university's operating budget for FY04, and be happy if faculty and staff salary increases are at least partially funded with state dollars.

That is Gary Steinke's recommendation for what he anticipates will come out of the Iowa Legislature's 2003 session, which opened Jan. 13.

"Actually, that would be a pretty good outcome for Iowa State, based on the Legislature's decisions the past two years," said Steinke, assistant to the president and director of governmental relations.

1997 funding levels
In the past three years, the university has endured $50 million in budget cuts, "putting us today at 1997 appropriation levels," Steinke said during a recent interview.

"We will struggle for a long time to get back those $50 million in deappropriations. And when others say these were cuts to spending increases Iowa State had asked for, that's absolutely not the case. Our spending levels for FY03 are less than our spending levels dating back to FY99. We have taken real cuts to our operating budget."

As the Legislature returns to a $400 million deficit, proposed appropriations most likely won't keep pace with legislators' recent promises to fund state employee salaries, K-12 education initiatives and human services programs.

"And we haven't even started talking about higher education yet," Steinke pointed out. "We've seen tuition increase by almost 40 percent the past two years, and we're serving record enrollments. How long will this trend continue and how much more can our students and their parents be asked to pay for?"

Even so, Steinke expressed optimism at Iowa State's ability to manage these funding shortfalls.

"We'll handle it because President Geoffroy is innovative, smart and a good strategic thinker," he said. "He has managed our cuts well -- so well that it's difficult to show the Legislature any pain. But it's there, and it shows up in larger classes, less research and morale problems."

While Steinke said he believes these appropriation deficiencies are the result of declining state revenues, and not because lawmakers want regents institutions to become more self-sufficient, he questioned the wisdom of some funding decisions.

ISU support for economic development
"In my opinion, the last place you make cuts in a declining economy is to those organizations that educate our state's professionals, our innovative thinkers, our entrepreneurs," he said.

Steinke pointed to ISU's research park as an example of the university's major contribution to the state's economic development initiatives.

"Iowa State is second in the nation in R&D100 (research and develop-ment) awards, and when you factor out universities with medical schools, we're No. 1 in technology licenses and options, No. 1 in licenses and options generating income, and No. 4 in patents," he said.

"And yet, Iowa State ranks 44th in the nation in total research spending. In spite of it all, we're doing a great job. But I have to wonder: If we had more money, how much more could we be doing?"

To bring home that point, last summer Geoffroy, Steinke and members of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, visited with legislators across the state.

"We provided educational materials and cleared up many funding misconceptions," Steinke said. "It's important that everyone realize that moneys raised by the ISU Foundation can't be used in our operating budget. Likewise, even though we're 13th in the nation in receiving Congressionally directed funds, those funds are earmarked and cannot be transferred to other places in the budget."

The group also addressed perceptions that the university isn't contributing enough to economic development initiatives.

"ISU in particular has been instrumental in starting businesses that have spun off good-paying, high-tech jobs," Steinke countered. "More companies than have left have stayed, which is good for Iowa. We're also poised, through our biotech expertise, to become a national leader in this area, a real centerpiece for biotech. We're leveraging state dollars to the maximum extent possible, and our alumni accomplishments convince us we have a solid track record in this area."

Salaries are sticking point
While university employees most likely are hoping for significant salary increases for FY04, Steinke cited this very topic as one that has rankled state legislators.

"The reality is that we compete on a national level for faculty, which means we're competing with salaries common in New York and California," he explained. "It becomes difficult to explain to a legislator why we pay faculty $85,000 to $90,000 when the average annual salary for an Iowan is $25,000. We try to explain that it's no accident that these faculty then attract wonderful grants to the university, and researchers like Ed Yeung and many others at ISU earn more R&D awards than anyone in the country."

Steinke said he realizes salary issues are quite different from the perspective of university employees. About 75 percent of Iowa State's budget is devoted to salaries and benefits, he said, and from 1995 to 1998, salary increases for faculty and staff were fully funded. The past three years, though, those increases were underfunded by the Legislature, from 30 to 50 percent each year.

"The university has to take money from other areas to fund salary increases," Steinke said, "which becomes a real drain on programs and facilities. Our highest priority every year is for the Legislature to fully fund salary increases. While I do think this coming year might be a little better, 'fully funded' isn't in the cards."

How to help
How can university employees assist Steinke in his efforts to secure increased funding for Iowa State?

"We all need to communicate clearly and understandably what it is we do here," he said. "We all need to be proud of the work we do here and talk about it as much as possible. Our faculty and staff are doing world-class work, but because we're Iowans, we don't brag. We have important successes we need to talk about. We need to make our research accomplishments understandable, and then go to the Legislature and explain why it's important to Iowans.

"Help us connect everything we do here to Iowans. Every day. That would sure help."

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