Students back the bonding bill at Support the U Day

Students from all five University campuses flocked to the Capitol on Thursday to push for state funding.

Students talk to senator Kari Dziedzic about the University's bonding bill at Support the U Day at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Students talk to senator Kari Dziedzic about the University’s bonding bill at Support the U Day at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.

Blair Emerson

More than a 150 students from the University of Minnesota campuses flooded the state Capitol on Thursday to advocate for the school’s 2014 capital request.

Many of the students were in the sciences, there to support the University’s requests for money to build and renovate science buildings and laboratories, including a $56.7 million renovation of the Tate Laboratory of Physics.

“We need to have the facilities to complement the students and the faculty that utilize those facilities,” biology freshman Mitchell Fuller said.

Students met with more than 50 legislators to share how the proposed projects could affect their future educations if they receive state funding.

“[Legislators] need to understand that you need to learn and do your research in 21st-century facilities,” University President Eric Kaler said in a speech Thursday at Coffman Union.

Students filled a room at the Capitol to listen to legislators talk about the capital request projects and the continuation of a tuition freeze for undergraduate students.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, wore a red sweater — the same one he wore at the 2013 Support the U Day — to “symbolize historic cuts to higher education over the last eight years.”

Pelowski told students in a speech Thursday that he wants to continue the tuition freeze for resident undergraduates and pursue other means of lowering tuition.

“This is the last time I’m wearing a red sweater,” he said.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding proposal recommended that the University receive just over half of its $232 million bonding request, but Pelowski said he hopes that the final bonding bill provides greater funding for outstate campuses.

Some state leaders expressed concerns earlier this session that the University’s Duluth campus may not receive its fair share of funding, which has led some, including Pelowski, to ask the University to re-evaluate where it appropriates money.

Pelowski said it will be important for students to encourage lawmakers to vote for full funding of the University’s request.

“We need nine Republican votes,” he said. “If we don’t get nine Republican votes, there is no bonding bill, there is no repair [and] there are no new buildings.”

Many students showed their support for the capital request projects that will fund research lab improvements.

Beau Miller, a senior studying biochemistry and genetics, cell biology and development, attended Support the U Day to vouch for the University’s bonding requests to build and renovate labs.

He said improving lab conditions will hopefully bring more students to the College of Biological Sciences and increase undergraduate student research.

Outstate campuses have their say

Some students from the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus said Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funding will be especially important to their campus this year.

“Walking through the halls every day in certain buildings, you can definitely tell … we’re in need of [renovations],” said Hannah Keil, the Duluth campus’s student representative to the Board of Regents.

The University requested $100 million in HEAPR funds, which would renovate campuses system-wide, but both the governor and the House recommended only $40 million.

Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, used to be a professor at the Duluth campus and said lab renovations for that institution are vital.

“We have two buildings there that haven’t been touched in 50-plus years,” he said. “[They] need some upgrading.”

Eric Gandrud, a German and international relations senior at the University’s Morris campus, said that although Morris made a smaller request, he hopes legislators will allocate some money to renovate the campus’s buildings.

“Morris is horribly handicapped-inaccessible,” he said.

Crookston students also supported the $10 million request to remodel the campus’s Wellness Center, which was recommended full funding by the governor and the House.

“I’m happy that the University had put [the Wellness Center] on its list,” Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, told students in a small-group meeting Thursday.

Many students attended the Support the U Day to advocate for both the University’s capital request and the importance of investing in higher education.

“It’s important for our leaders to invest in our futures so that we will have the ability to bring the skills and knowledge that we learned to every corner of the state,” said Kimberly Newton, Duluth’s student body president.