University officials have worked the last two months convincing legislators in the House and Senate’s higher education committees that the University needs a funding hike.
The 21 legislators are responsible for creating the funding bills that will give the University its total biennial funding later in the session. University representatives have been trying to sell the legislators on the idea that U2000’s initiatives are improving conditions at the University.
However, some legislators say University officials have not explained what U2000 is or what it means to the University and to the state.
Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, who is serving on the senate committee for the first time, said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak has used the phrase “U2000” several times during meetings, but has not defined it.
“U2000 is fairly elusive,” Kleis said. “There wasn’t a lot of discussion about it. I still have some questions about it.”
Among the members of the House committee, three legislators are freshmen. Two of them said they were not sure what U2000 is or how it is relevant to the budget.
“As a new person, I have not read the U2000 reports,” said Rep. Betty Folliard, DFL-Hopkins. “I’ve only been listening to the meetings.”
But Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, who is not a newcomer to the committee, said U2000 is not a point of focus for the higher education committees.
“It hasn’t been talked about much this year,” Leppik said. “This year we’ve really been focused on the regent selection and the budget. The blueprint has been in the background.” Leppik called U2000 “skeletal,” and said the decisions made this year about higher education funding will be much more important than the U2000 plan for the future of the University.
Rep. John Tuma, R-Northfield, suggested U2000, which was implemented in 1994, is outdated because there will soon be a new University president.
“U2000 was (Nils) Hasselmo’s idea,” Tuma said. “It’s a changing of the guard.”
But Richard Pfutzenreuter, from the University’s office of budget and finance, said he had not noticed any decline in the discussion of U2000 since the selection of University President-elect Mark Yudof.
The senior legislators of both higher education committees, who have had exposure to U2000 discussions in the past, have a good idea of some of the concepts of the plan.
“It is a partnership,” said Sen. Sam Solon, DFL-Duluth. “It is the University becoming more high-tech, getting more technology.”
“U2000 is Hasselmo’s innovative program for delivering higher education,” said Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, called U2000 a “proposal to improve performance and technology.”
One thing committee members say that they are certain of is the importance of the University’s outreach efforts — one of the six initiatives defined by U2000 — to the entire state.
Rep. Ruth Johnson, DFL-St. Peter, said the University affects all of rural Minnesota through its outreach programs. She said the University’s experimental stations throughout the state are vital for agricultural research.
“We rely on the University for the best of knowing about agriculture and teaching new things about agriculture,” Johnson said.
Solon said the work done on the three outstate University campuses, like Duluth’s program for rural health care, is vital to northern Minnesota. Solon added that the smaller campuses serve their purposes in the state, and must not be overlooked for adding to the quality of life of Minnesotans.
“The University is a powerful institution,” said Rep. Joe Opatz, DFL-St. Cloud. “It is the engine that drives the whole state.”
Stumpf said people in the Twin Cities do not see all the work the University does for outstate Minnesota.
“We totally underestimate the importance of the University,” Stumpf said. “I think that is part of why the University is underfunded.”
Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, said University extension services help all of Minnesota.
“Extension services means a transfer of that information into the hands of businesses across the state,” Carlson said. “It improves our lives.”