Bruininks talks capital request and student aid

President Bob Bruininks said he’s confident the regents will pass the capital request Friday.

by Taryn Wobbema

University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks opened his office to The Minnesota Daily on Tuesday to talk about the 2010 state capital request to be approved by the Board of Regents on Friday. He also took the chance to respond to recent statements that implied the University is not financially accessible to students. Vice Provost Jerry Rinehart wrote to the Daily last week to clarify that the students who disrupted Convocation will face consequences. Since we talked about that last time we were together, I wondered if you thought [punishing those students is] appropriate. I really didnâÄôt see JerryâÄôs comment. No one has discussed in any detail with me what the circumstances were with the students who disrupted Convocation, and I really donâÄôt know any of the circumstances. ThatâÄôs a matter for the student judicial process and leaders like Jerry Rinehart to resolve. IâÄôll just say I believe very strongly in the right to free speech and the right to dissent, but I think it carries with it some responsibility to also respect other members of the community. I didnâÄôt think it was a particularly appropriate setting. I frankly think that the arguments IâÄôve read about and heard are simply off the mark when it comes to the University. Every member of this community deserves respect âĦ The University does not act rashly under such circumstances and operates within clearly established policies. Do you think the Regents will approve the 2010 state capital request Friday? I think the Regents will approve the state capital request. ItâÄôs a very sound request that has been developed over the last six to eight years based on a detailed analysis of the UniversityâÄôs educational, research and other needs. It is a request that is very strongly in support of the UniversityâÄôs educational mission. WeâÄôre focusing on improving buildings and maintaining the UniversityâÄôs buildings and grounds in the areas that really have great benefit to students and also support the work of our faculty. Which projects will take the highest priority? WeâÄôve ranked the Folwell Hall renovation as the highest University priority. WeâÄôve also ranked a building on the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus, American Indian [Learning Resource] Center, as a very, very high priority. ItâÄôs a much smaller project but vitally important to the educational mission of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. And the third highest ranked priority is the new building for physics and nanotechnology. Supporting all the building projects is the largest request and that is to maintain, remodel and improve the basic buildings and the basic core infrastructure. We call it HEAPR, Higher Education Asset Preservation and [Replacement]. ItâÄôs one of those little understood acronyms, but basically it covers heating and cooling systems, roofs and sidewalks and safety issues. ItâÄôs the largest single part of our request but vitally important to maintain the roughly 28 million assignable square feet of space across the University of Minnesota. What expectations do you have on the LegislatureâÄôs end? I think the legislative session this time will be quite challenging. We still are in the midst of a recession with high rates of unemployment and decreased public tax receipts. I think people will be quite cautious in allocating state funding even for capital projects. I expect we will get a fair hearing, and I believe the support for the University will be relatively good. My own personal opinion is that in times of recession, the state government and the federal government ought to spend more money, not less money, on investing in the core infrastructure of our society. To me, it makes sense to invest in capital improvements, capital renewal, the core infrastructure of the University of Minnesota at a time of high unemployment, low interest rates and construction prices that are the most competitive weâÄôve seen in the last 20 years. So, this is precisely the time we should invest. It also is a time when people, given the nature of our economy at the moment, may be somewhat cautious. What could get weeded out of the request if the state doesnâÄôt offer enough money? If the state reduces the UniversityâÄôs request, I expect they will take some of the money out of the HEAPR fund. And they may actually drop one of the UniversityâÄôs building project requests. I hope that isnâÄôt the outcome of this session. I hope they support all of our building requests and a very high investment in the renewal projects that are necessary to maintain the quality of the buildings, the classrooms, the laboratories at the University of Minnesota âĦ WeâÄôve not asked for the moon; weâÄôve asked for projects that we think are critically important to advancing the education, research and public mission of the University. Why was the Bell Museum left off the list? I felt we needed to drop the Bell Museum in this session because it had been vetoed twice before by Gov. Pawlenty. And I felt we needed to take some time to examine if there are alternatives to help get the project funded. âĦ I also feel we have an obligation to try to complete this initiative because literally dozens of people gave the University approximately $10 million toward the funding of this project, but I didnâÄôt believe it was a project we could get funded in this upcoming session. Are you thinking of bringing it back once thereâÄôs a new governor in office? We clearly can put it on a future capital funding list. I think we need some time to revisit the planning of the building to determine if there are opportunities to incorporate other essential academic programs. And I want to explore whether there are some opportunities out there to secure additional private funding. But itâÄôs entirely likely that it could emerge as a high priority project in a future legislative session. Do you think it sends a bad message to push hard for the Bell Museum for two years and then take it off all together? I donâÄôt think it sends a bad message unless the University intends to neglect the project. WeâÄôre continuing to explore a range of options, including new ways to fund the project and alternative ways to position it so itâÄôs more attractive to legislators. It did receive bipartisan support in the House and Senate, but I didnâÄôt feel the level of support was strong enough to ensure and secure the governorâÄôs support. Quite frankly, I didnâÄôt want to risk losing badly-needed support for other University priorities if the project had any risk of being vetoed for a third time. Final question, as president of the University, is it pronounced âÄòwill-eâÄô hall or âÄòy-leeâÄô hall? I think itâÄôs âÄòy-leeâÄô hall. I think in London itâÄôs probably âÄòWill-eâÄô and here it would be âÄòY-lee.âÄô IâÄôll have to check on that. Bruininks requested a chance to make additional comments relating to student aid: The issue IâÄôd like to address is the statement that IâÄôve heard from people that the University is not doing its job in keeping higher education accessible and affordable. About six years ago, we started the Promise for Tomorrow scholarship initiative and have raised nearly $300 million of private support that has greatly expanded the level of support for students. The second thing we did is we rolled out a need-based scholarship strategy that provides full funding âÄî tuition and fees âÄî for any student that qualifies under the federal Pell program for financial grants and assistance. This is a free-ride scholarship for students that come from lower-income families in the state of Minnesota. Last year we rolled out a need-based scholarship that extends the reach of this initiative up to 125 percent of median family income in Minnesota. I think we have an extraordinary obligation to hold down the cost of education and to do everything we possibly can to reduce cost and expenditures to keep higher education accessible and affordable. But I think this debate, that I welcome, should be based on the facts and not based on what I consider to be misperceptions. But the main point of what IâÄôm saying is I think this campus can be deeply proud of what weâÄôve accomplished in the past few years.