Bruininks, student-leaders discuss issues over lunch

The University president responded to students’ concerns Thursday at Sanford.

Nina Petersen-Perlman

Between bites of University Dining Services meatloaf, steamed vegetables and a cookie, University President Bob Bruininks informally discussed issues with a handful of student-leaders Thursday in the Sanford Hall dining hall.

Discussion ranged from University policy to Bruininks’ summer plans and his personal history.

Chrissy Ascheman, an individualized studies fifth-year student and Sanford community adviser, said having the small group was nice because it made the conversation more “personable.”

“It was interesting to listen to him talk and hear about what he does on a daily basis,” Ascheman said.

Isaac Johnson, an environmental education sophomore, said talking to Bruininks makes the administration seem more human.

His college is one of those to be merged to form the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Sciences this summer as part of the University’s realignment plan, and he said the lunch gave him a better understanding of the reasoning behind the decision.

“When he started talking about my college, it put the pieces together for me so I could understand why he did it,” Johnson said.

Bruininks said he likes meeting informally with students to hear what they have to say.

“It lets me understand a little closer to the ground how the University community feels about issues,” he said. “I don’t do enough of this.”

Ascheman said that while she liked the personal feel, she wished more students could have been involved.

“It’d be nice to have him come and have a microphone so everyone in the room could hear and ask him questions,” Ascheman said.

Sanford Hall Director Katie Eichele said the students were excited for the meeting because not just anyone can say they had lunch with the president.

“When they have the opportunity to meet Bruininks, it’s exciting,” Eichele said. “The president always listens to students.”

Eichele told Bruininks that students were most concerned with the price and quality of their meal plans and Sanford’s lack of air conditioning.

She said the staff is looking forward to renegotiating the University’s Aramark contract, which is up for renewal in 2008.

Aramark is the University’s food service company. Some students said they have problems with it because of high prices and unfair labor treatment.

“We have to do this right and we’ve worked hard to bring all these contracts together,” Bruininks said. “We’re looking at better ways to do it.”

Bruininks told the students to pay attention to the different University bills in the state Legislature, especially the one that would transfer 2,800 acres of UMore Park into state care in turn for stadium money.

“You should be interested in this stadium bill,” Bruininks said. “I’ve been amazed at how difficult it’s been to get across to people how special transferring nearly 3,000 acres into a land trust is.”

Bruininks said he never planned to be president of the University; it is attributable more to serendipity than being driven to pursue the job, he said.

He closed by giving the students some life lessons.

“The biggest mistakes in my life have been concerned with getting distracted by the loudest noises and the most controversial noises, and not spending enough time focusing on the things we know will be important five years from now, 10 years from now,” Bruininks said.

“You’re putting out the immediate fire and you’re consumed by that and not looking over the hill to see the more important things to do.”