Regents approve building renovations on campus

Naomi Scott

The Board of Regents gave the go-ahead at its May meeting for major renovations to three campus buildings but encountered opposition from one regent concerning housing summer campers in the residence halls.

Besides approving major changes that are intended to help with facility operations, the board talked about the lowest tuition increase in years, next year’s budget and the perpetual importance of high graduation rates.

Summer camp concerns

Regent Frank Berman voiced concern about the actions of Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson, who each summer hosts private wrestling camps at different locations around the country, including the University.

In 2001, The Minnesota Daily reported that the University was investigating a complaint that Robinson forced his campers to write anti-Title IX letters to elected officials. Later that year, Robinson was reprimanded for using University resources to distribute information protesting the act that encourages gender equality in sports, the Daily reported.

Berman, citing an April St. Paul Pioneer Press article about Robinson, said the wrestling coach doesn’t understand that his comments can be seen as representing the University.

“When (Robinson) opens his mouth, he’s talking for the University and when he’s running his program, he’s running it partly for the University,” Berman said.

Berman said he hopes to “send a message” to Robinson by voting against the coach’s use of the residence halls. Because Berman was the only regent to vote against the measure, the board gave Robinson approval to use the space this summer.

Facility face-lifts

Less controversial was the approval for construction of a new Equine Center on the St. Paul campus.

College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Jeffrey Klausner said the number of horses treated annually at the current center has increased from 500 in 1980 to nearly 3,000 today.

Besides being larger, the new facility will include much-improved diagnostic areas, a community gathering space and a better-designed horse trailer drop-off location.

Other campus buildings won’t be replaced but will receive major face-lifts. The regents approved renovations to the Mayo Auditorium and two classrooms below the auditorium.

University officials said they hope the renovations will save the auditorium, which Academic Health Center Senior Vice President Frank Cerra called “basically unusable” and “poorly functional,” because modern audio-visual equipment cannot be used there.

Also to receive a makeover is Kolthoff Hall, which currently is inadequate because of “significant environmental-health issues” and “old equipment that doesn’t meet today’s standards,” said Michael Perkins, vice president of capital planning and project management.

The building’s mechanical system is unable to provide sufficient ventilation to laboratories in Kolthoff that use toxic chemicals. This is limiting research activities in the building, he said.

Although the Kolthoff and Mayo projects were approved by the regents, Regent John Frobenius said he wondered whether a proposed above-ground light rail track constructed along Washington Avenue Southeast could be disruptive to buildings located on or near the street, including Kolthoff and Mayo. Frobenius said it would be “irresponsible” to have to move these buildings if they were damaged by an above-ground light rail system.

But Vice President for University Services Kathleen O’Brien said it is “very improbable” that the University would have to move these buildings if an above-ground light rail track is approved.

Tuition triumphs and graduation woes

In addition to facility improvement, the regents talked about tuition increases for the 2006-2007 academic year. The University is proposing a 6.3 percent tuition increase across all University campuses, which is down from the 7.5 percent increase for the 2005-2006 school year. The regents are to vote on the proposed tuition hike at their June meeting.

Undergraduate graduation rates continue to be an area of focus, said E. Thomas Sullivan, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

Sullivan said additional student support and more effective undergraduate advising need to be implemented.

Money talk

In addition to their monthly meeting, the regents had their annual budget public forum Tuesday in the McNamara Alumni Center boardroom.

The regents listened to concerns and suggestions from University community members about the proposed University fiscal 2007 budget, which they are to vote on at their June meeting.

Both Candace Lund, former president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3937 and Morris Kleiner, chairman of the Senate Faculty Affairs Committee, stressed the importance of offering tuition benefits to dependents of University employees.

The regents also heard from incoming Graduate and Professional Student Association President Dmitry Zhdanov, who applauded the University about its recent stadium success at the Legislature, calling the future stadium “a great cultural centerpiece.”

Zhdanov said another way to foster a sense of community on campus is to construct graduate and professional student housing.