Pres. talks Urban Agenda

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

by Elena Rozwadowski

.University President Bob Bruininks sat down for his monthly talk with the Minnesota Daily on Tuesday. He discussed tuition reciprocity with Wisconsin, the developing Urban Agenda, and regent candidates.

Did the University request that the state renegotiate the Wisconsin tuition reciprocity deal?

I sent a letter to the governor about three years ago asking that the reciprocity agreement be reviewed and renegotiated so that it would be more equitable for students from Minnesota and from Wisconsin.

To me, reciprocity means that you can attend a university in a reciprocity state Ö and pay the tuition that people in that state pay to go to that university Ö or you get to pay the higher of the two tuitions.

At one time, Wisconsin tuition was higher than Minnesota’s, but then it went the other way. But now, what happens is Minnesota students going to the Madison campus, for example, pay more than Wisconsin students Ö and Wisconsin students pay less. It makes no sense at all.

Wisconsin provides some money to the Minnesota treasury for the differences in cost, but it’s not the full cost Ö my simple point is that the students who attend universities under the reciprocity agreement ought to pay the tuition of the university that they’re attending.

We proposed Ö that we would phase this in over four years so that we would protect the students from Wisconsin who are now coming here to study.

Now the responsibility to renegotiate this agreement is with the state of Minnesota, and we’ll know probably in the next two to three months what the results will be.

The main thing I want the Wisconsin students to know is that we highly value the reciprocity agreement and we are not going to withdraw from it … if the tuition agreement were to change here, it would be phased in gradually, so it would not hurt students.

How will the change be phased in?

One strategy would be that we would increase the tuition for each freshman class over the next four years.

The second would be that we increase it by 25 percent over the next four years for all the students from Wisconsin Ö so people are looking at different options.

But it would be phased in over four years so that there would be less financial impact on students that are already here.

Would students, then, be grandfathered in to whatever tuition they are paying for the duration of their education?

That’s one option. I think there are two alternatives people are looking at. One would be to raise the freshman level tuition for each freshman class and then grandparent in the students who are already here to their current situation.

Who knows? These tuition rates are going to fluctuate in Wisconsin and Minnesota, so I expect them to narrow, actually, rather than increase, the gap Ö. We’re going to do everything we can to hold our tuition down. If we get a decent break from the state of Minnesota, we’ll definitely do that.

Do you know why the Wisconsin reciprocity deal was negotiated differently than others in the first place?

I don’t really know why it was done that way. At the time, I don’t think there was much difference, or the difference favored Wisconsin, and it changed over roughly a 10- to 12-year period to the situation we have now.

The state of Wisconsin says, “Well, we reimburse the state of Minnesota for this difference, so why don’t you just give the money to the University of Minnesota?” Well, they don’t reimburse it on a student-by-student basis. They give a certain amount based on a complicated formula.

Our current estimate is that it’s about $3 million less than the actual cost Ö I think that’s a convoluted way of doing business Ö we shouldn’t have to funnel the money through the state, and have 15 accountants cut checks. This is a very inefficient, costly way of doing business that doesn’t have the transparency that I think we ought to have.

This isn’t a big issue. It’s been blown up into a bigger-than-life issue, and what we want to say to people is that reciprocity has been a good policy for Wisconsin and Minnesota, and we have every intention of keeping it Ö we just have to straighten out the funding formula so it makes more sense.

Would it make a difference or have there ever been talks about Wisconsin giving the difference directly to the University?

Yes, there has been some discussion of that, but to me, that’s just a very indirect way of doing business and it’s pretty easy to forget that you owe the University that money or if times get tight, to simply say you don’t need as much money. There are lots of reasons why I think that’s bad.

When we admit a student, we work with that student and his or her family on financial aid. It ought to be a direct relationship without a lot of middle parties.

The Urban Agenda was a big part of the February regents meeting. What exactly is the Urban Agenda?

The Urban Agenda is a really important part, for us, of the mission and responsibilities of the University of Minnesota. We have the great fortune of being a major research and educational university in the middle of one of the most vibrant metropolitan areas in the country Ö.

We think part of the future of the University of Minnesota – the Twin Cities campus – ought to celebrate the urban character of this university and its connection to the vibrancy of this metropolitan area Ö. That would mean that we would make a real concerted effort to connect the academic interests and programs of the University of Minnesota to the issues and resources of the metropolitan area Ö.

So does this go beyond the proposed partnership with north Minneapolis?

Yes. With the north Minneapolis partnership Ö we really wanted to capture the essence of the University’s educational mission and public responsibilities in the metropolitan area, and then to talk about a collaborative relationship with a particular part of our community that I think has serious disparities in health, education, income, housing and other areas.

The Urban Agenda, though, should be considered metropolitan-wide Ö the issue and the reach is much broader than that. It should deal with aspects of the environment, transportation, infrastructure, education, health, housing – all the different things that make up the different issues of a metropolitan area Ö.

I’m convinced that by being more thoughtful and strategic and purposeful in our activities related to our metropolitan setting, we actually can grow resources for the University of Minnesota, too.

What kind of response have you received from the north Minneapolis community so far?

The response has been very good. The conversations have been very intensive. Some people have felt that this is not a particularly good idea, but generally I think the community tends to be generally supportive of the direction of these conversations.

What has the negative response been?

There was a small group that was actively opposed, and then I think we had a number of community meetings Ö.

But with any new idea, you’re going to have some people that need to know more about it, that are concerned about what the impact might be on the community Ö. I think we’ve gone about it in the right way. We’ve listened to people, we haven’t been arrogant or opinionated in our beliefs Ö.

There have been some people that have had some tough questions, and I think that’s fine. That’s part of the dialogue process.

What is your reaction to Gov. Pawlenty’s Regents recommendations?

I typically don’t comment on individual candidates. My belief is that I will work with whoever they send and whoever they appoint to represent the state on the University’s Board of Regents.

I believe we’ve had an exceptionally strong Board of Regents in my tenure and I would argue we’ve had an exceptionally strong Board of Regents for about 10 years that has been really focused on moving the University forward.

I’m hopeful that we’ll get a very strong slate of candidates so that we can continue to move the University forward in the direction that I think this state deserves.