Some regents undecided about U’s plan for future

The regents will make a decision on the task force recommendations in June.

by Matt Graham

Still pondering the University’s plan for the future, several Board of Regents members said they are carefully weighing facts and opinions before they vote on the plan in June.

But with less than two weeks before they will decide whether to reshape several academic areas and possibly close colleges, some members said they remain undecided.

If the Board of Regents approves the University’s plan for the future, General College, the College of Natural Resources and the College of Human Ecology would be integrated into other schools.

As University President Bob Bruininks presented the controversial plan to the regents May 13, he said the plan will increase interdisciplinary research and help the University better-attract top academic talent.

Board of Regents chairman Dave Metzen told The Associated Press the plan could also save the University approximately $25 million during the next four years.

Regents said they have been hearing from people across the University as they prepare to make their decision.

“There has been no shortage of e-mails or letters,” Regent John Frobenius said. “The University is home to passionate people.”

Rather than focusing on one issue, Regent Clyde Allen said the overall theme of the plan is most important to him.

Regent Dallas Bohnsack said it is important to look at the entire proposal.

“I’m not connecting the dots from point ‘A’ to point ‘B,’ ” he said. “This is way bigger than that.”

Bohnsack said the University is not the only school carrying out such a plan right now – and it is important to try to remain competitive.

Despite the conflicts of opinion, Metzen said, “the most important part of the plan is that we have a plan.”

Some opponents have criticized Bruininks’ plan, saying it is not consistent with the state’s mission as a public land-grant institution. But Frobenius said the school owes it to the state to perform at a higher level.

“We wouldn’t be fulfilling our obligation to Minnesota and Minnesota residents if we did not set a high target for the performance of the University,” he said. “I don’t buy the word ‘elitist.’ “

Public, regents meet

A nearly split group of plan supporters and opponents stated their hopes and concerns about the recommendations at a public forum May 16 at McNamara Alumni Center.

Opponents said the emphasis on being an elite research establishment opposes the University’s role as a public land-grant institution.

“As a public land-grant university, we should think less about ‘excellence’ in general terms and focus instead on what we are equipped to do well,” said Naomi Scheman, philosophy and women’s studies chairwoman.

Scheman said the University must guarantee affordability and access to residents of the state.

Khong Xiong, General College Student Board president, said General College is important for allowing a broader variety of student access to higher education.

“(General College) is not comparable to any other school at the University,” he said.

But the plan’s supporters said it presents the state and the school with a great economic opportunity.

“The only time (the state) supported more public funding (for the University), we supported funding for the research function,” said Vance Opperman, Citizen’s League Task Force on Higher Education co-chairman.

Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs senior fellow Jay Kiedrowski said it is vital that the state has a top academic institution to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

But AFSCME Local 3800 President Phyllis Walker questioned whether the administration has the right to make such sweeping changes to the University’s historical mission.

“You do not have the authority to reverse what Minnesotans created more than 100 years ago,” Walker said.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to vote June 10.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.