Bruininks talks cuts, Capitol and golf coach

The University president advocated to keep tuition hikes in the single digits.

As students settle in after the first week of classes, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks has been working to make the most of his last few months in office.

The Minnesota Daily sat down with Bruininks this week to talk about his efforts at the state Capitol and his goals for the rest of the semester.

You recently made the case for the University to the state Legislature. What reception did you get from legislators, and how supportive do you think they will be in meeting the UniversityâÄôs funding request?

I think the testimony in the House and the Senate went quite well. We received very high marks for our message from Republicans and Democrats on the higher education committees, so I think the reception was good.

People seem to understand the value and the importance of the University of Minnesota and, I think, appreciated the information we provided and the candor that we brought to the discussions.

The question is what that means in the next several months with respect to the UniversityâÄôs budget and the investments we need to make to keep the University moving forward.

I think itâÄôs going to be very challenging this year because there are very different points of view between the two parties with respect to public investment, taxes and the strategies for resolving the challenge of the budget deficit.

I think itâÄôs going to be difficult for them to compose their differences early in this session. I think itâÄôs going to take some time, but IâÄôm hopeful that in the end that we can get some help for the University.

At least I hope in the end we donâÄôt lose significant support from the state of Minnesota at a time when I think we are making progress in every aspect of our mission.

WeâÄôre going to be on pins and needles right up until the end of the Legislative session, and I donâÄôt think we will know what the outcome will be until very late in the game.

 

What about the UniversityâÄôs capital budget request for new building projects?

I think thereâÄôs actually somewhat more optimism that weâÄôll get a reasonable capital bill. The governor will propose a very substantial bill, the House and Senate will probably want a smaller bill, but I think thereâÄôs a good chance that both parties want to do everything possible to put some money into strengthening the stateâÄôs infrastructure, and this is the very best time to do so.

Our top priority in the capital bill is to bring the Physics and Nanotechnology Building to fruition. ThatâÄôs job one, priority No. 1.

We also have some other important priorities in the bill. We asked for something called Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement money. That allows us to fix things like elevators and roofs and other things that really need repair and need renewal.

Then weâÄôve asked to restore funding for the American Indian Education Building in Duluth and the Itasca Educational Center in northern Minnesota for the College of Biological Sciences.

I think we have a reasonable chance of getting most of our capital bill funded because thereâÄôs a real strong interest in jumpstarting or at least increasing economic activity in our state and putting people back to work.

 

What effect would the proposed state funding cuts have on tuition?

WeâÄôve modeled several alternative scenarios from a relatively modest cut to more severe cuts, and weâÄôve been trying to plan thoughtfully so that weâÄôre ready for every possible contingency.

If we get a severe cut at the University of Minnesota, it will likely have an impact on employee
compensation. It will be very difficult if we get a severe cut in my judgment to give wage and salary increases in this next year.

We will probably have to take a serious look at the rising fringe benefit costs at the University with respect to health care in particular.

With regards to tuition, itâÄôs our hope we can continue on the path of keeping burden on students and families at a reasonable level.

We need to keep the University of Minnesota financially accessible and affordable for our students, so we are trying very hard to keep the tuition increase at a reasonable level. And IâÄôve said publicly that weâÄôre going to do everything possible to keep it in the single digits.

I would hope that the state would help us moderate those pressures.

When we approach a difficult budget scenario of the kind I anticipate, I have given instructions that at least two-thirds of the solution should come from setting tougher priorities, reducing our costs, reducing our budget, deferring long-term investments and only one-third [from] tuition and other forms of revenue increase.

 

Obviously the Legislature and budget are going to take up a lot of your time; what other projects or goals do you hope to wrap up before you leave office in June?

ThereâÄôs quite a few, and the list seems to grow every day as the time is getting shorter.

I want to spend a good deal of my time in the remaining months making a strong public case for the future of the University of Minnesota.

I want to work thoughtfully with the University community in addressing these economic challenges that weâÄôve talked about.

I want to finish some initiatives that are very important. I believe we need to restore Northrop Auditorium, to find a way to do that and make it a center once again of academic and cultural life on the Twin Cities campus.

WeâÄôve worked really hard to raise private money, money from the state of Minnesota, and IâÄôm now discussing this issue with the University community and the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents.

It will be a vibrant academic center for the honors college, several interdisciplinary research and education institutes here at the University.

I want to spend a good deal of time working on the transition to a new president. IâÄôm going to be at the disposal of President-designate [Eric] Kaler as he makes his transition to the University of Minnesota.

I want this to be the best transition in the UniversityâÄôs history, and I want to do everything possible with the very talented executive team we have to make sure that he gets everything he needs in this transition and is in a really strong position to lead this great University going forward.

 

The UniversityâÄôs athletics department has been sued by former golf coach Katie Brenny. What sort of internal investigation is being conducted, and how do you think the incident reflects on the athletics department?

I was saddened to see this development. I canâÄôt comment on the case at hand specifically, but I can assure you thereâÄôs been a very strong internal assessment, and weâÄôll try and learn from this experience and do everything we can to make sure similar circumstances donâÄôt occur in the future.

I donâÄôt have an opinion on the facts right now because itâÄôs still very much in discussion and negotiation, but it always saddens me when things donâÄôt work out. IâÄôm very hopeful that weâÄôll resolve this difference and move forward and learn from it.

 

The shooter at the center of the recent tragedy in Tucson, [Ariz.], had had mental health issues that were identified at his former college. Has the University looked into any of its policies in the wake of this incident? More generally, what role should colleges play in helping students with mental health issues?

I think this is a profoundly important question for all of us. What happened in Arizona was very sad and very regrettable.

This campus has really had a strong ongoing review of mental health services. We happen to have, in my judgment, one of the strongest disability services and student health services that you will find at a campus of our size and complexity.

I just think that we have to constantly make sure we address the serious issues that are of concern to our students, faculty and staff. I think we do that, but itâÄôs our obligation to constantly assess how adequate programs and systems of support are for everyone.

We did do some additional review as a result of the Arizona incident, but I can assure you that this has been a constant, ongoing concern.