Board of Regents plans coming year at retreat

Brad Unangst

ONAMIA, Minn. – During their August retreat Thursday at a golf course on Mille Lacs Lake, 10 of the 12 University Board of Regents members brainstormed for the upcoming academic year.

With interim University President Robert Bruininks, the board discussed its goals for the University in the midst of a decrease in state funding, an increase in student enrollment and lower-than-expected graduation rates.

Although the board did not make any policy changes, the session provided the framework for its upcoming meetings.

University leaders spent the day brainstorming ideas for six focus areas: academic priorities, Minnesota’s higher education needs, outreach, student profiles, accountability and University financing.

Members cited the internal investigation of Facilities Management and decisive action on athletics issues as examples of the University’s commitment to accountability.

The board also discussed the recent enrollment policy change, whereby all applicants will be subjected to individual review.

“Some (students) shouldn’t be (at the University),” said Regent Richard McNamara. “They should be working at McDonald’s or going to a trade school.”

Regents also discussed the University’s outreach program, which Regent Frank Berman called “one of the best-kept secrets.”

Board members said advancing the program’s role would not only satisfy part of the school’s community education mission but would also increase support for more state funding.

With a state deficit estimated at more than $2 billion, and the state Office of Finance asking the University to make a 10 percent reduction on its base budget, members said finding alternative financing sources will be a big issue in planning for the next biennial budget.

“We owe it to the University to start planning right now and force ourselves to play the ‘what if’ game,” Regent David Metzen said.

Improving relations at the State Capitol might also be important to the University’s goals, with a new governor and a number of new state legislators starting terms next session.

Regent Jean Keffeler said taking a look at the University’s lobbying effort is necessary.

“We need to step back and make sure we are properly staffed and have enough and right types of people (at the Legislature),” she said.

University officials said these challenges will be addressed during the search for the next president.

The University is hoping to name a new president by the year’s end.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]