Bruininks talks campus safety, MSA and advice for graduates

Tiff Clements

.University President Bob Bruininks sat down with the Minnesota Daily on Tuesday, a day before the evacuations at the University, to discuss the tragedy at Virginia Tech, Minnesota Student Association elections, the future of the Central Corridor and graduation.

After what happened at Virginia Tech, do you have any thoughts for its students, faculty and administration?

I am devastated by this. I think there is no greater tragedy or loss that a university can experience than the loss of students, faculty or staff, especially when the loss is so tragic and senseless.

I woke up about every hour thinking about this last night, and most people that are part of this community didn’t sleep well because of what happened there and the feeling that it could happen other places as well.

Is there any way the University of Minnesota can prepare for a similar event?

We need to do everything we can to make sure this University is organized to prevent the occurrence of the loss of life but also to make sure we can respond to emergencies and tragedies quickly and well.

We feel that it is important to prepare to cover all of these unforeseen and tragic circumstances that can drastically affect the life of the University and take the lives of the people who work here.

We have regularly worked with the communities of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Ramsey and Hennepin Counties to make sure that our preparedness strategies are well-integrated and organized.

We have spent significant amounts of money in the last few years at the University heightening the security of the Twin Cities campus with new cameras and new security systems that control entry into sensitive places on campus. We’ve increased the number of police officers and greatly enhanced their training to deal with circumstances of the kind we’ve read about in the last few days.

I would urge everyone in our community to be a part of the solution. I like to think that we have to prepare well, make sure that we’re prepared to deal with emergencies when they arise, but I also think we need to prevent such occurrences in the future.

Voter turnout for campus-wide MSA elections has been low and declining in recent years. What can faculty and administrators do to encourage participation in student government?

I think there are a lot of things that we can do, and we need to probably do them better. One of the things we’ve tried to encourage people to do since I’ve been president is to encourage people to find opportunities for students to serve on working committees so they have a chance to serve elbow-to-elbow with faculty members.

There are many, many opportunities like this where I think people can get experience and then the prospect of running for office, or being part of student government or being a leader of one of our organizations is far less intimidating.

Maybe the voter turnout hasn’t been particularly strong in the last couple years, but whoever has shown up to vote has done a really good job of electing people. I thought the leadership of MSA this year was exceptional. I think we’ve been blessed with strong student government, and I hope that continues.

Why should students care about student government?

If anything in this country, we need people to be more engaged, not less engaged.

I think it’s really important for students to be engaged in the issues of the University campus. I think it’s a great opportunity to get great experience that pays off richly in your future life.

You have the opportunity to participate in shaping ideas, improving the University in all of its aspects.

At a personal level you have a chance to work on your own skills. The ability to work with other people is a part of being successful in any profession. I think this is a great opportunity to practice your leadership skills.

A recent letter to the editor published in the Daily criticized a $40 million estimate to build a tunnel through campus for the Central Corridor light-rail line. I hear you would like to respond.

I think many people don’t realize how important the light rail is to the future of transportation in this region. The central corridor line is a very important priority for the University of Minnesota.

What I am trying to urge people to do is withhold judgment as to how it will go past the University of Minnesota.

During this planning period I hope that the University would be a strong partner with the community, not jump to any premature conclusions about how this light-rail system ought to be built through the University campus. We need to do our due diligence and do our analysis.

Our regents have expressed some time ago that they prefer the train go underground as a matter of protecting the aesthetics of the campus and improving the efficiency of the train so it runs more on time and on schedule.

I would also argue we’d like this line to be sited in a way that would protect the neighboring businesses around us. I think we have a vibrant corridor of businesses along Washington Avenue that are really important to protect and are very much a part of this community. This is a big deal to the University.

Early cost estimates put the price of an underground tunnel as much higher than running tracks above ground. Will University students absorb any of these costs through the U-Pass system?

I think we need to build this in a way that does not unduly increase transportation costs for students.

At this stage, no one knows what this will exactly cost or what the alternatives will cost. If you have to run a train above ground, and it causes a relocation of businesses along Washington Avenue, what’s that going to cost? What’s it going to cost to the economy? What’s it going to cost to these businesses? What’s it going to cost to the campus community and the sense of community that we have, and how do you put a dollar sign on all of those issues?

At this stage in this process I don’t want to jump to a conclusion that I think would disadvantage the long-term development of the University simply because of cost estimates that have not been clearly defined or clearly determined.

This is the last Rappin’ with Robert of the semester, and the last time many outgoing University students might have the chance to read it. Do you have any wishes or advice to share with the class of 2007?

I hope as you graduate you’ll take with you the spirit of the University of Minnesota and keep connected to the University as you go forward and start your lives and careers.

Keeping that connection back to your alma mater is really important, and I think through the years you’re going to gain a lot through that connection.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, always do your best; this will surprise some people and astonish the rest. I think this idea of really making a commitment to what you think is important and to make a deep commitment to doing the very best you can possibly do in your career and community is really important.

I hope when people go out of here that they’ll be really successful in their chosen careers, that they’ll be very successful in their relationships in life, but that they’ll also take some time to smell the roses and to find some time to give something back.

We have very idealistic and committed students, and I don’t want you to lose your idealism for a moment, and I know you’re going to go out and be a credit to the University of Minnesota.