At Capitol, Bruininks tallies U woes, pointing to tuition hike

Emily Johns

Mniversity President Robert Bruininks told legislators Tuesday that Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s current budget proposal would force the University to raise tuition and sacrifice academic quality. “Our students will pay a lot more, there’s just no question about it,” Bruininks told the Senate’s Higher Education Budget Division. The governor recommended in his budget plan last month that the University freeze faculty and staff salaries and benefits and hold tuition increases to no more than 15 percent. “We will try very hard to live with the governor’s recommendation. We’ve got a fighting chance if this budget situation doesn’t get any worse,” Bruininks said. “If it gets worse, all bets are off.” He said the governor’s plan to take $30 million from the University’s budget and transfer it to the Minnesota State Grant Program would by itself cause a 7 percent undergraduate tuition increase. Bruininks said the University does not expect to get through the budget shortfall without making sacrifices, but it is important to keep the school advancing even in tough financial times. “The ‘U’ of ‘M’ does not come here asking for a free pass – but we can’t fool ourselves. We will not be doing all the things we do now,” he said. “If you mark time in education today, you are accepting mediocrity,” Bruininks said. The University of Florida recently released rankings naming the University the third-best public U.S. research institution, Bruininks said. “This is real progress,” Bruininks said. “I think it’s a direct outgrowth of the confidence (the state) has had in the ‘U’ of ‘M.’ ” Bruininks said the University’s September budget request to the state was the lowest in 10 years. He said the University has always been frugal compared to other postsecondary institutions and that it has worked hard to deal with budget cuts. Bruininks also said a freeze on employee salaries and benefits would harm the University’s quality. “Long-term salary and wage freezes are absolutely devastating to a research university that operates nationally and internationally,” he said. Every year, Bruininks said, the University fights to keep 50 to 75 good faculty members who are getting other offers – approximately half of those offers are from private schools. He said the University can compete with those offers, but salary freezes will inhibit the University’s ability to retain good faculty. “I do not want to see the ‘U’ of ‘M’ – a premiere institution – become a minor-league participant,” Bruininks said. Committee chairwoman Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said she was sorry the committee has to consider higher education budget cuts. Bruininks expressed guarded optimism that the University would be able to deal with the cuts. “How are we going to approach these issues? With fear and trembling, and a little bit of hope,” he said. “… We need to keep the University of Minnesota strong.” Emily Johns covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]