Bruininks discusses annual state request, research

Rappin’ with Robert – a Q&A with Bob Bruininks

by Elena Rozwadowski

University President Bob Bruininks sat down with The Minnesota Daily to talk about the future of the University.

Bruininks discussed his presentations at the upcoming Board of Regents meeting and Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recommendation for the University’s biannual budget request.

What will you present at the February Board of Regents meeting?

There will be one major work session that will deal with the University’s urban metropolitan strategy as part of the strategic planning.

A second very interesting discussion Ö will deal with the future of Northrop Auditorium. I commissioned a group to really look at Ö what we ought to do in Northrop, what kind of physical and mechanical restorations are needed to really restore the luster and the beauty and the functionality of that building.

It will be kind of a home and a hub for students. So, at one end of the mall you’ve got the student union Ö sort of an academic epicenter for students Ö at the other end Northrop would be a greater center of intellectual and cultural life for the University and the broader community.

What was the focus of the biannual budget request?

The budget request had two fundamental parts. One part we called “Sustaining the University.” Basically, it had to do with providing the core support the University needs to maintain the quality and the competitiveness of the University Ö the core compensation costs for our faculty, staff and students.

The second part of the (“Sustaining the University”) budget had to do with the quality of education. So we had roughly $26.4 million of new projects to improve writing across the curriculum, to start the honors college, to greatly increase research opportunities for students on campus Ö and a number of other investments that we think are vitally important to keep improving the quality of education for undergraduate and graduate and professional students.

A third part dealt with technology Ö and the University’s systems, like the University’s security system and the library system. Finally, every year Ö we invest in buildings.

To pay for that, we ask the state to participate, we attribute the tuition dollars to some of those costs Ö and then we also internally reallocate.

Then on the other side, which was the smaller part of the proposal, we laid out four broad areas for future investments Ö that were critically related to real opportunities to advance the University and also connect the University more strongly to Minnesota’s economy and quality of life Ö. We called this second area “Creating Minnesota’s Future” Ö. These are all things that cut across multiple fields, from psychology to neurology.

The governor’s recommendations were very positive about the broad research development areas Ö he fully funded all of those areas, and in my judgment under-funded the areas that have to do with the core interests of the University.

This is just round one Ö the legislature will give us a chance to present our total case all over again. We’re going to go for the full budget request.

The governor’s recommendation provides a fair amount of money to the University ($90.4 million of the $182.3 million request), but not as much as I think we need to really put the University in a strong position and in a position that will allow us to keep the projected tuition increase at 4.5 percent, which is probably $350 a year for the average undergraduate student.

I really feel strongly that we have to do everything possible to restrain the increase in tuition. Our students and families have been through a lot in the last few years with the state’s recession and the severe budget cuts to the University.

It’s very much a political and public process that we’re going into in the next couple of months Ö I think we’re starting with a strong enough base with (Pawlenty’s) recommendation that we should have a relatively more positive outcome this year in the Legislature than we’ve had in six years.

The “Long Gone Lake Wobegon?” report came out a few weeks ago, indicating the University is spending less on research and development than many of its peers. Is there a focus on research and development now?

The University of Minnesota is the state’s research university Ö most of it is here in the Twin Cities, but we have research centers across the state. So it’s vitally important that we remain competitive Ö that’s part of our distinctive brand and contribution to Minnesota.

The (Professor Philip) Pardey Report indicates that we haven’t made as much progress in increasing those numbers as some other places. But what needs to be recognized is we started from a high position and we’ve maintained that relatively high position through more than one decade Ö we’re in a very enviable position. Now the question is: how do you stay there?

I think what Professor Pardey was pointing out is in the past 25 years or so, and this is true, the proportional contribution of Minnesota – or how much the state spends on the University’s budget in relation to the per-capita income – that’s gone down.

What professor Pardey is essentially saying is that you have this downward slope in relative contribution. That’s what we’re talking about with this budget. If you don’t sustain the level of state support for the University of Minnesota you will, over time, erode the ability of the University to compete.

That’s a lot of what we’re talking about here, a very strong competitive advantage for Minnesota, and I argue that it’s also a wonderful competitive advantage for our students Ö they’re right on the cusp of new discoveries every day. And that makes for a different kind of education.