Furor erupts over

by Stacy Jo

A simple set of strong words from the governor has some University administrators up in arms over a misunderstanding about the closing of General College.
“The governor requests that the University and the University Board of Regents reconsider whether to close General College.” That statement was included last week in Gov. Jesse Ventura’s written response to the University’s $1.2 billion budget request.
The recommendation goes on to say that the state needs to evaluate whether the college fits into the University’s mission.
But University officials say Ventura’s recommendation exaggerates the governor’s intentions.
Richard Pfutzenreuter, associate vice president for the Office of Budget and Finance, said Ventura wasn’t insinuating that the college should be closed: “That’s overstating what the governor wanted.”
“Nobody should be in a panic about it,” said Pfutzenreuter, who is also the former co-chairman of Ventura’s committee for biennial budget recommendations.
But several different stories about what the request means have been circulating among University administrators.
Pfutzenreuter said Ventura mentioned during state budget briefings he wanted to be kept abreast of progress the college has made since administrators suggested closing it in 1996.
“He wasn’t saying, ‘Go close the General College,'” said John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman.
General College offers courses to students who do not meet the enrollment standards for other University colleges. The 67-year-old college this year enrolled 1,406 students — up 6.3 percent from last year. It was almost shut down in 1996 because of criticism about the higher-than-average cost of educating the college’s students and the school’s delayed graduation rates.
The Board of Regents eventually voted nine to one to keep the school open.
This time around, regents were given copies of the governor’s critical response. After Ventura’s position was clarified, administrators tried to inform regents of the misrepresentation, but not everyone was kept up to speed.
Ventura’s response misled University President Mark Yudof to think the college’s budget had been cut, said Regent Tom Reagan.
In fact, the General College budget remains untouched.
“There’s just simply a ton of misinformation out there,” Pfutzenreuter said. “There was no cut, no money taken away, no discussion of it.”
However, the notion that Ventura might be negatively targeting the General College surprised some administrators.
“We’ve been through that battle,” said Reagan, who served as board chairman during the 1996 debate. “I would think that Governor Ventura would be sympathetic to our General College.”
He said the college has not experienced any drastic changes in the past few years; in light of this, a board decision today would likely mirror the previous decision.
Robert Bruininks, executive vice president and provost, said he doesn’t think the governor’s request will lead to a revived movement to close the school.
Even if it is, “it will not have any support from the University administration,” Bruininks said.
And while the governor has a level of control over how much money the University gets, any decisions regarding closure of the school ultimately rest with the board.
Reagan and other administrators said they support a harmless inquiry into the school’s status. In fact, most said they welcome it. After reviewing the school’s status, Ventura can conclude the General College is not a potential problem, they said.
Bruininks is working with David Taylor, dean of the General College, to prepare a summary of results from several recent studies of the college for the governor’s perusal.
“We think we have a very positive and strong story to tell,” Bruininks said.