Hasselmo jets to build U support

by Brian Bakst

University President Nils Hasselmo and President Bill Clinton spent their day Tuesday on similar campaign trails.
Each man spoke about the strides taken during his term and promoted an agenda for the future. Hasselmo took a four-city Minnesota tour, Clinton made a two-city stop on his nationwide campaign tour.
Hasselmo used his tour to plug the University’s $580-million-per-year budget request before it goes to the state Legislature. Tuesday’s stops in Marshall, Mankato, Rochester and Willmar marked the second leg of Hasselmo’s nine-city, two-day tour intended to build support for the University’s request for increased funding in its budget request.
Two University alumni and two University relations representatives accompanied Hasselmo in an eight-seat commuter plane as he toured the state.
“This is about accountability being rule number one,” Hasselmo said. “You have to be in touch with communities.”
Hasselmo told alumni, politicians and reporters at each stop that increased state support is crucial for the well-being of the University, as well as for the state as a whole. Without it, he said, the University may not be able to go forward with its ambitious agenda for the future, which includes many state outreach programs.
The proposed 19 percent increase over the state’s current appropriation represents only two-thirds of 1 percent of the state’s overall budget, Hasselmo said. But legislators present at various stops said even that small of an increase is a significant amount for the University to request.
“Two-thirds of a percent of the budget is still an awful lot of money,” said State Rep. Tom Van Engen, R-Spicer, adding that the state must also address immediate needs such as crime and health care.
State Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, R-Rochester, who called the request a big stretch, said education is usually considered a long-term investment. “For government, it’s always hard to focus on the future,” she said.
Kiscaden said the University would improve its chance of receiving more money by teaming up with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system when the two go to the Legislature to request funding. “It weakens the case if each system comes alone,” she said.
A theme Hasselmo stressed in each city was the University’s increasing partnerships with the MnSCU.
Hasselmo tailored his speeches in each city to speak of the University’s involvement in each respective area. For example, in Rochester Hasselmo told a crowd of 30 that he is excited about the expansion of University Center Rochester.
The University and MnSCU have been considering joining forces to develop a four-year college in Rochester. “I can assure you, the University wants to play a vital role,” Hasselmo said.
Crowd members at each stop asked Hasselmo to address issues important to their communities. Agriculture was the prominent issue in Willmar, Marshall and Mankato.
In Marshall, Lyon County Commissioner Mark Goodenow told Hasselmo he was concerned the University’s resources weren’t reaching southwest Minnesota. Goodenow said he sensed a pulling back by the University, referring to cutbacks in extension services.
But Hasselmo said the University’s collaboration with Southwest State University to organize an agriculture conference next spring signifies the University’s dedication to providing outstate agriculture services.
Goodenow said he was also worried about a one-way transfer of knowledge, in which local students go to the University but don’t return to their communities. “I don’t know if we get our share of your grads on the other side,” Goodenow said.
But Goodenow said he understood budget constraints may affect areas where the University can invest its resources.
Willmar Mayor Les Heitke said he was thankful for Hasselmo’s visit and the University’s overall contributions to his community. Heitke said the University has helped Willmar adjust to growth of cultural diversity in the city by teaching citizens to be understanding.
Heitke said the University is generally well-regarded and well-supported in Willmar and western Minnesota.
The tour marked the second time since Hasselmo assumed the presidency in 1988 that he has taken a plane tour of the state. Hasselmo also estimates he has made 56 single-community visits in outstate Minnesota during that period.
Hasselmo, a veteran of stormy times at the University, was also unfazed by turbulence caused by poor weather. On the flight between Mankato and Rochester, hearing no objections, Hasselmo said, “I guess it’s time to take my afternoon nap.”