Bruininks discusses budget

Elizabeth Cook

.The biennial budget proposal is requesting $123.4 million from the state. How much do you really expect to get?

We obviously are going to the Legislature with a request that represents the University’s true needs and I’m very hopeful that we’ll get most, if not all, of the request.

The University truly needs this level of support to maintain its quality and the quality of service we provide our students and the quality of the University overall.

Ö I’m very optimistic that we’re going to get a substantial amount of this request and I’m going to argue that it should be completely funded.

Let’s just say: if the state doesn’t agree to fund the full amount requested, what can the University do to make it up?

There’s basically three things that we can do and we’ve obviously done before.

The first is that we can reduce budgets of the University of Minnesota.

The problem with reducing the University’s budget at the present time is that the University is now coming off a four-year period in which it sustained the largest reduction in modern history in its state resources.

The second thing we can do is to increase prices for students and families. That is, we can increase tuition by some amount.

Two years ago, when we asked the state for financial support and we didn’t receive everything we asked for, we actually increased tuition about one-and-a-half percent more than we had planned.

I think it’s fair to say that we need to do more to restrain the growth or the increase in tuition costs. We need to keep higher education accessible and affordable for our students.

And the third option we have is we can defer important investments.

But this is a time when the University really needs to invest to improve its competitiveness and to actually put itself in a position to better serve our students, the general public and the state of Minnesota.

And you can try to grow revenues, but it’s very difficult to grow revenues in a budget-cutting period.

The budget proposal said that $23 million could come from reallocations within the University. Is this feasible and can you give some specifics on how that will be done?

Well, this is not easy work to do, but basically this would mainly be done by reducing costs in certain areas.

For example, energy use, more efficient operations of the University of Minnesota and in some cases we would reallocate academic budgets.

I do believe it’s important if we want to be credible with the general public for the University to constantly be about the business of trying to use its own resources more efficiently and more productively.

So, it is a challenge for us and it won’t be easy, but I think we can do it over a two-year period.

Now, you just said in some of the cases it would be reallocation within academics?

Yes, some of it might be reallocation in the sense that you have turnover of faculty in certain fields and you decide to reallocate some of the money saved when someone leaves or resigns to new areas of investment.

How specifically will the reallocations affect University students and faculty?

I don’t believe the reallocations that we’re talking about will have any negative impact on students and it would be our goal to ensure that, if anything, the quality of service and support and the quality of education and experience provided our students on all the University of Minnesota campuses would improve during this two-year period.

And how would it affect faculty?

I don’t think reallocation will have any substantial impact on faculty except that in a few minor places, and this happens every year at the University of Minnesota.

Deans and department chairs may decide to take some of their resources and emphasize new areas of academic investment.

Why haven’t these reallocations already been put into play at the University?

It is something you do every year. The only thing that changes from year to year is the amount of reallocation that occurs.

Let me give you an example. About 10 years ago in the Academic Health Center, it required about twice the amount of space in our laboratories to support an investigator than it does today. So during this 10-year period we found ways to use less space to support more people.

Also in the budget proposal, $69.6 million will go toward faculty increases and $18.7 million will go for merit-based pay. What is the future of the University if faculty isn’t given raises?

It will be much more difficult to recruit new people and it will be much more difficult to retain some of our most productive people who work throughout the University of Minnesota system.

That is a big issue, particularly in the next five to 10 years. We estimate that the U may replace as many as a third of its faculty and staff employees in the next seven to 10 years, so it’s vitally important with that level of turnover that the University compete for the very best people around the United States and the world.

To give you a simple example, every year we work hard to retain 60 to 75 faculty members across the University of Minnesota who are given competitive offers from other colleges and universities around the world.

We win most of these competitions, but we lose some of them because our compensation rates are simply not as competitive in these national and international markets as they should be.

Does the University have any plans to raise the academic standards for athletes?

We definitely have plans to raise academic standards and success rates of students overall and for student athletes.

If you take the approximately 700 student athletes who compete on the 25 teams of the University of Minnesota, their retention and graduation rates are actually better than the student body on the (Twin Cities) campus. Not by much, but by some small amount.

In some sports, namely men’s football, men’s basketball, we need to raise those rates and we need to raise them substantially over the next few years.

We’ve already undertaken some very major reforms.

We’ve hired new people in the academic advisement office, the faculty leaders of the University of Minnesota on the Twin Cities campus are working to improve academic support and we’ve actually increased the budget of this office by 20 percent this past year.

I expect to receive a report, a very detailed report, from a task force that’s been working on these issues Ö of student progress for our athletes over a 14-month period and I expect to receive the report in the next month and the recommendations will be far-reaching and I think they will make a very positive difference on these trends that I think must be improved.

What does the University plan to do with the $900,000 received from the Bush Foundation for development and research in renewable resources, ecology health and the environment besides the new minor offered in sustainability?

First, the University Board of Regents adopted a policy on sustainability practice.

Second the U, through its own business practices and construction practices, is living up to this policy and trying to improve the extent to which we’re good stewards to the resources we have.

Thirdly, we’re undertaking some very important academic initiatives: a new academic minor, the integration of two separate majors for undergraduate majors related to the environment, the development of a new institute, an interdisciplinary statewide institute on the environment.

We are investing in research stations around the state, mainly Cedar Creek, Itasca, the wilderness research foundation which is a new entity with a strong partnership with the University outside of Ely.

What efforts has the University made in the past month to decrease crime?

We’re continuing to work with police, public safety officials, with the county and the city.

We’re continuing to increase our investment in the hiring of new officers; that’ll be done sometime in the next few weeks.

We’ve made some major investments on building security, lighting and other areas that we know have a substantial impact on creating a safer environment.

I’ve met with the Minnesota Student Association to talk about these issues and with other student groups to urge them to be a productive part of resolving these issues.

So it is a continuing priority of the University of Minnesota and it will be addressed seriously on an ongoing basis through new resources, new strategies and new relationships.