Research evolving regardless of U2000

by Bei Hu

As new research facilities emerge on campus, it remains uncertain how much of the development can be attributed to University President Nils Hasselmo’s U2000 plan.
Although the plan pledges to improve the research environment and increase investment in research infrastructure, it provides almost no University-wide mechanism for fulfilling this vision. New facilities and research dollars that have recently appeared on campus would likely have materialized had U2000 never been implemented.
“I would argue that U2000 does not have a capital projects agenda built into it,” said Robert Kvavik, University associate vice president for Academic Affairs.
Kvavik’s office puts together an annual statement that specifies what the University seeks to achieve through the U2000 plan each academic year.
Calling the plan an umbrella concept, Kvavik said, “U2000 does not direct us toward building any particular research facility per se.
“The dollar volume of sponsored research (at the University) would increase by 5 percent a year (under the plan),” said Kvavik. But he added, “it isn’t any more specific than that.”
Individual colleges and schools retain the discretion to propose new research facilities. Such construction and renovation is usually bankrolled by state and federal funding as well as private support.
The University garnered a record of nearly $94 million from the state last year for buildings and renovations, said Orlyn Miller, a senior planner at the University. But Miller said the increase in funding is probably created by the fact that construction projects are growing in size and cost.
He added that many major projects that are now coming to fruition took years of planning and might have originated prior to 1994, when the U2000 plan was approved.
However, several major research facilities that have come into being in the past few years are believed to at least validate the core spirit of U2000.
When the $16.4 million ecology building broke ground on the St. Paul campus in 1991, Hasselmo said, “the building is part of the infrastructure necessary to make the University a leader nationally.”
Similar language can be found in U2000 documents, which established as a major goal of the University the ability to “sustain and improve its position as one of the premier research universities in the country and the world.”
In some areas, the connection is even more visible.
The University Cancer Center received about $6 million from funding earmarked for the U2000 plan in the past two years. With the money, the center was able to recruit six new faculty members to head research at its newly completed cancer research building.
The building, located on East River Road and officially dedicated in March 1996, makes the Cancer Center more attractive to top-flight researchers, said John Kersey, director of the Cancer Center. One of U2000’s goals is to “recruit, retain, and reward world class researchers, scholars, and artists.”
Kersey said the new research building helped the center recruit professor Stephen Hecht from the American Health Foundation in New York. Hecht has brought in $2 million per year in grants from the National Institutes of Health. Nearly 60 Cancer Center researchers typically bring in a total of about $16 million a year, Kersey said.
The center will apply to become a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. The center will submit its application on June 1.
“If we are successful, it would allow us to access additional funds to support our research infrastructure,” said Coleen Southwell, director of public relations for the center. “And having the building definitely will improve our ability to successfully apply for that designation.”
Perhaps the most visible symbol of the University’s continued commitment to research is the $62.7 million Basic Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Building, which stands next to Coffman Memorial Union.
The facility is designed to advance research in the biomedical field, as well as foster cooperation between researchers from various sciences. The U2000 plan directs the University to “promote and strengthen selected interdisciplinary activities that have strong core-discipline departments as a base.”
But again, the facility would likely have been constructed anyway.
“University 2000 in the way it has been played out says that the University is going to continue to expand its research operations and to grow its research activities,” said Kvavik, but ” … we are always building new facilities. We would be building those whether U2000 was in place or not.”