Bruininks talks to Editorial Board, addresses readers’ questions

Lisa Zehner

Minnesota Daily Editorial Board meets with University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks. Location: Morrill Hall, Bruinink’s office. In attendance: Bob Bruininks, Dan Wolter (U News Director), Jim Thorp (Assistant to the President), Vadim Lavrusik (Editor in Chief of the Daily), Justin Horwath (Opinions Editor), Emma Carew (Editorial Board Member), Spencer Leuning (Editorial Board Member). Absent board members: Chris Benson and John Brown. Time: 11:15 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. Daily (Question from reader Russell Ericson): I would like to know exactly what Dr. Bruininks’ past increases in tuition have provided undergraduate students in terms of quality of their education. Does Dr. Bruininks think that the increase in the cost of a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota, as opposed to a degree from another university, has reflected an increase in its value in the job market? Bruininks: Well, that’s more than one question. I think the recognized value of a University of Minnesota degree has steadily increased in my tenure here at the Unviersity, that goes back 40 years. But I think it has particularly improved in at least the public perception of our degrees on the Twin Cities campus in the last ten [years]. I think that it has done so for a number of reasons. More and more students are selecting the University of Minnesota as their destination or their university of choice. And so, the increased the recognition of the quality of the University of Minnesota and quality of education people received is a direct reflection of that increase interested. As people become more interested they are becoming smarter consumers and they wanna know ‘what do i get for my investment if I come to the University of Minnesota?’ Susan and I hold receptions every year after graduation. There isn’t a single reception I’ve had in the last several years that hasn’t produced multiple comments from parents and grand parents about the quality of education their son or daughter has received, and often from alumni who will tell me and volunteer that the quality of education, the quality of service, the quality of support is better than they received when they graduated in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. So I have no doubt based on statistical indicators, based on students satisfaction, based on the measures we have in place that the quality of education today is much higher than it was when I started here at the University of Minnesota in 1968. That teaching is more highly recognized and valued by the University of Minnesota. We have permanent salary increases for people who win our teaching awards. And teaching and the quality of teaching and service and advisement to students is recognized in salary and compensation decisions. It is recognized regulary with respect to the criteria for promotion and tenure. So the thing I can say is, quite honestly, the quality of that degree has improved. The recognition, the public recognition of its quality has improved. The measures of satisfaction have improved from students during this 10 to 20 year period. The other thing I would say is that we have used tuition dollars and state support. We have taken those dollars and invested those to improve the quality of education for students. Scholarship support has doubled for students on this campus in the last five years because we have made it a very, very high priority. Number of students getting such awards has double, the size of each award has doubled. This is the only place in the country that has close to 5,000 students on a tuition free scholarship, that is students who are pell eligible. Last year, we had a middle-class scholarship that brought down the cost of education. But the point I really, really want to make that we have made very decided investments in improving the technology support that students get, honors programs at the University of Minnesota, increased financial support for research opportunities on campus, increased financial support for study abroad. So these investments have directly gone in improving investments in faculty and support systems in buildings that are all a part of making this a high quality education for students. Daily follow-up question: You had menioned the quality of teaching and the emphasis on teaching, tying in the top three goal with that, do you think that a focus on research takes the emphasis from general undergraduate education? Bruininks: That’s a good question. I don’t think it does. I think it actually enhances the focus on undergraduate education. What’s distinctive about the University of Minnesota, compared to many other universities in our society, is that we were chartered initially as a research and land grant university, if you look at the early history of the University. In the last, basically, 160 years this University has evolved into, you know, one of the most recognized and productive research universities in the country. That’s part of its signature. That we discover knowledge, we create knowledge, we find new ways to apply what we learn to improve society. At the same time, we have a three-part mission. By being a research university, and recognizing your special responsibilities in that area, it doesn’t follow that you deemphasize other parts of your mission. And I would argue, in my own particular case, that the other parts of our mission that deal with education and the public responsibilities, the public mission, would be very, very high personal priorities for me. And they are very much baked into the cultural values of the University of Minnesota. You would have to go a very long distance to find a university anywhere in the world that cares as much about its education and its public mission as the University of Minnesota. And so I don’t think it detracts at all from those other parts of the mission. It recognizes what’s distinctive about the University of Minnesota, and it puts on us the extraordinary obligation to integrate all parts of our mission. … The focus on research simply recognizes the historic character of the University of Minnesota, the heritage of the University of Minnesota…

Additional questions addressing how the University contributes to the state economy and well being, University’s financial health, private fundraising and its impact on state support:

Question: How does the University contribute to making our state better? Whether it’s through creating scholars, creating workers or creating business leaders for Minnesota; what do you think our role is?
Question: A couple of days ago you had sent out an email to faculty and staff reassuring them about the financial health of the University and one of the things that you had mentioned was looking for opportunities to consolidate administrative offices and academic units; reform major cost centers; and reinvest in mission-critical academic priorities. Can you give us some specifics?
Question: What’s the role of private support as it has been increasing in the past years?
Daily follow-up question: Does that undermine your argument before the legislature?