State of the University address focuses on state funding

Kari Petrie

Interim University President Robert Bruininks highlighted issues surrounding state funding for University research and programs at yesterday’s State of the University Address at Mondale Hall.

“In the short-term, as far as the state’s economy goes, I believe this is the most challenging year we have faced in the past 15 to 20 years,” Bruininks said.

Bruininks spoke to an audience of approximately 150 faculty, students and staff about the “tough times” the University will face in upcoming years due to the slow economy. He stressed the importance of maintaining the University’s standard of education.

“This year, more than ever, we will have to make a case for the University and for higher education,” he said.

In a change from past proposals, Bruininks said the University “will propose a reasoned, 50-50 partnership with the state when it comes to financing our increased needs” at the Legislature next year.

This year’s funding proposal will be the lowest in 10 years due to the state’s economic challenges and will demonstrate the University’s “commitment to setting priorities and cost-savings,” Bruininks said.

Many students and staff in attendance applauded Bruininks’ plan.

“It’s a very aggressive and positive plan,” said Kirsten Johnson, the University Foundation’s regional development director. “(Bruininks) is anticipating the Legislature’s challenges. They seem to be saying, ‘Meet us half way.’ “

Bruininks said the University has already begun to cut nearly $400,000 in paper usage costs. Online financial aid applications and pay statements will help decrease expenses.

Dan Nelson, a political science junior, questioned whether the University should be looking at other fund-raising options.

“Tuition increases can’t get too big,” Nelson said. “There has to be another way.”

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said last month that any new tuition increase will not be in the double digits.

Bruininks said that in recent years as tuition has gone up, financial aid has primarily benefited undergraduates, and he wants to go beyond that.

“I remain skeptical of the high-tuition, high-aid model where the challenge of financing higher education is supposedly found in ‘letting the money follow the students,’ ” Bruininks said. “The strategy does not address the need to support research or graduate and professional study. These are important issues for the University.”

Bruininks also formally asked the Board of Regents to resubmit a proposal to the 2003 Legislature to fund six projects vetoed last spring by Gov. Jesse Ventura.

New education and research buildings – like the newly renovated Walter Library and the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building – and other construction projects were heralded as University successes by Bruininks.

He lauded the University for setting a research funding record of more than $500 million this year. And when Bruininks referenced a recent University of Florida study naming the University one of the top three public research universities nationwide, he was met with roaring applause.

Despite a warm reception, Bruininks did face tough questions from the audience.

Omar Jamal, the Somali Justice Advocacy Center executive director, voiced his concern over what he said was the interrogation and fingerprinting of Muslim students.

“Those students are among us – are very fearful,” Jamal said. “They pay tuition, they pay taxes. I wonder what the University has to say about this crisis.”

Bruininks responded by promising to share Jamal’s concerns with his colleagues, adding, “We are living in very difficult, intense times. (Racial profiling) is not acceptable in an academic community.”


Kari Petrie welcomes comments at [email protected]