Bruininks talks light rail, UMore

President Bruininks said the Washington Avenue route is the “best of the alternatives we had available.”

by Andrew Cummins

>University President Bob Bruininks sat down with the Daily Monday in Morrill Hall for the first time this summer, to talk about the future of area businesses and the TCF Bank Stadium’s new Gopher Points system.

How much of a political move was the shift in light-rail preference that the Board of Regents voted on Friday?

I think there’s no question that we felt some real political pressure, because the University staked out a position that was basically a very independent position.

The main thing, here, to consider is: What’s the impact of the train on the transportation system of the University and the surrounding communities?

The (Northern Alignment) study did not come out as promising as we had hoped on ridership; everything else came out pretty well.

I became convinced that it would take, probably, two years or more to work out new agreements with the Met Council and the Federal Transit Administration .

Based on all of the analysis and all the work, including about 12 hours of negotiations that occurred about two to three days before the board acted on the resolution, I concluded that we could make it work and – in the interest of transit in the metropolitan area and in the interest of the University – I felt that it was the best of the alternatives we had available.

I felt it was time to change our position and for me to really stick my neck out and recommend to the board that we pass this resolution, last week.

It wasn’t our intention to be a source of controversy, but my job is to protect the long-term interests of the University – it’s not to make life easy for everybody else.

Next year’s budget was approved Friday at the regents meeting . What are your thoughts on the budget and how would you respond to its critics?

I think it’s a strong budget. It reduced the expected tuition rates for students, lightly. It makes the critically important investments that I think are necessary to keep the quality of the University where it deserves to be, and to provide the level of service that I think our students, faculty and staff need.

I think the result was better for the University than it could have been. But I am somewhat disappointed that we’re reducing budgets at a time when I think we should increase them, and I’m somewhat disappointed that we didn’t have the ability to drive down tuition more for students.

Hardly anyone will pay 7.5 percent (more), if you look at all the scholarship money we’ve raised in the last two years.

So, I believe, while the tuition increases were somewhat higher than inflation, that we’re really doing a good job of raising private money and providing other financial support to help students with the cost of education.

But I am worried about the future. The next two years, I think, will be rough for Minnesota’ s economy. I think it will be very difficult to get substantial new funding from the Legislature, but you can be certain that the University will try to do so.

The first public forum on UMore Park planning was held Monday . What do you hope the University gets out of these forums?

I’d like to see students very engaged in the discussions about the future of UMore Park . UMore Park is an extraordinary area.

My hope is that (students will) get engaged in the research that’ll go on at UMore Park and that, in the long term, the University will work with the community to develop a plan for that property that will support the growth that we know will inevitably occur in that particular area of the metropolitan community.

It’s going to be a 30- to 40-year development. I think there are some opportunities for the University to derive some resources, and I think that any kind of financial benefit – long term – that comes to the University should have a very direct impact on improving the quality of life and the opportunity for our students.

The University medical school got a ‘D’ for its relationships with drug and medical device companies as far as receiving outside gifts. What’s your reaction to that grade?

I don’t believe we deserve a “D” grade, but I do believe we need to take this issue very seriously. I know the medical school and the Academic Health Center have developed a very important protocol that outlines our ethical responsibilities – that defines what people need to do to adhere to University policies in the way of avoiding conflicts of interest. I expect that to be fully implemented, and I expect any grades that are given are in the positive range in the future.

I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well.

There’s been some backlash on the recently announced Gopher Points system for the new stadium. What are your feelings on the system?

We studied all the different programs around the country, and I think the one we have developed is more positive than any other I know of. I think our crediting system is more generous for people who give academic gifts than any other university that I know of in the country.

The practices that we’re talking about are followed throughout the Big Ten. We actually have been using them for quite some time, but people haven’t noticed it as much because the Metrodome is a bigger stadium than TCF Bank Stadium.

I know that there’ll be some implementation problems, here, but longevity and length of your commitment as a season-ticket holder is still the most highly valued part of the points system and in terms of your seat placement.