A Q&A with Bruininks

Ahnalese Rushmann

.Have you gotten a chance to attend a football game yet?

I saw Purdue, Ohio State and I believe I saw the Miami game.

Any thoughts so far on coach Tim Brewster?

I think he’s done an excellent job of recruiting assistant coaches and his team, so I think he has a first-rate team of coaches working with him.

But it takes time. They lost some players. They’re putting in some new complex systems, so I think he’s doing an outstanding job.

I think all of us are somewhat disappointed with the record, but I think we’re all feeling very good about how the team is playing, how hard they’re working, and I think the progress we see each and every week.

Are you excited for basketball season and to see what coach Tubby Smith can do?

I met coach Smith during the interview process and I connected right away with him and with his wife, Donna.

I’m excited about basketball because I’m a real basketball fan. I used to coach a little with young kids and actually played a little and so I’m looking forward to the season.

Again, this is a period of some rebuilding with new systems and new ideas. But it’s a very exciting time. He’s beginning to recruit some very good players.

A lot of people had the chance to criticize you during the AFSCME strike. Was that one of the hardest challenges you’ve faced as president? Are there positive things you learned?

A strike is a very disturbing event in a community and I probably know more about strikes and their impacts on families than most people that live and work at the University of Minnesota. I am a first-generation college student. My father is nearly 93 years old and he’s been a member of the United Auto Workers for more than 63 years. And last week Ö General Motors had a two-day strike about his health-care benefits.

So I have a deep appreciation for the challenges that our employees are facing, and it is one of the reasons what we put on the table, a proposal that I thought was really positive, clearly about 30 to 35 percent above our budget for total compensation.

We also made sure that we didn’t ask for any concessions on health Ö and in fact we actually lowered costs on health care for our employees this year.

The fact that roughly two-thirds of the people the first day of the strike went to work was an indication that many of our employees saw the University’s offer as a positive offer, and I think it was, and I think it still is.

For me, it was a particularly difficult experience. Not because perhaps people were making negative comments about me personally, but I know from firsthand experience, from watching my father and my family go through strikes, watching my own community in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area experience very deep strikes Ö that no one, absolutely no one, wins when you have a strike. Everyone loses. And I think that was the case here at the University of Minnesota.

The other thing I think is important to point out is that the University worked very hard to put essentially the same agreement on the table, or something close is the better way to put it, or comparable for our Teamsters. The vote was overwhelming; it wasn’t a squeaker. It was a very, very positive vote for essentially a comparable proposal.

I’m very pleased that our people are back at work.

Now that that issue is resolved, do you think there’s any lingering negativity?

There might be, but I think it’s my responsibility and the responsibility of the University community to reach out to our employees to see if we can heal whatever wounds are out there.

The state capital request is being reviewed by the Board of Regents next week. You’ve been vocal about a lot of the projects in the request, such as the demolition of the Science Classroom Building and the construction of a new science facility. How do you think those requests will fare with the state Legislature?

This is a very ambitious capital request. It focuses mostly on the education and support of our students. We have the Science Classroom and Student Services Building.

It will still be a center for teaching for a wide range of academic programs across the University but it will also, on the bridge head, connecting the East and the West Banks, be the center for intensive student services.

On this campus, too, we’ll have Folwell Hall, Bell Museum of Natural History, significant requests to remodel our basic buildings.

The other thing we hope to accomplish this time around is the passage of the biomedical sciences facilities program.

Will these building upgrades be minor changes or noticeable upgrades?

The classroom renovations will be very, very substantial.

A lot of it will go for technology upgrades, improvement of the physical space and lighting. People will be able to notice these improvements immediately.

When will we begin to see these facility changes?

Most of the buildings in this plan will start construction in the summer and fall of 2008, pending approval from the state Legislature and a signature by the governor.

The University’s contract with Coca-Cola is set to expire in June. How are the negotiations going?

I haven’t had a recent briefing, but I understand all the responses are in now, in relation to the request for proposals (RFP) and people are reviewing those. My understanding is that students are involved in the review process, and so I’m hopeful that we’ll see a set of recommendations and some proposals to consider sometime in the next few months.

Do you know what companies are involved in the bidding process?

The major companies, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi and others have bid, but I don’t know the full extent.

How does the stadium factor into the negotiating process?

I don’t think it has much to do with the RFP for food and beverage right now, but it will probably factor in toward sessions later on.

The private fundraising is ahead of schedule. I think the construction is on time and on budget.

We had a minor environmental issue that’s been totally corrected, was promptly corrected. In fact, that environmental issue that was reported in the paper was actually prompted by our agreement to do a special initiative related to storm water for the Metropolitan Council, it wasn’t even a stadium-related initiative.

On that subject, are there any other broader environmental goals you have for the University?

In 2003, I declared a major system-wide initiative on renewable energy and the environment.

One of the first things we did was get the University’s Board of Regents to pass a University-wide sustainability policy, which sets a very high bar and sets standards to meet across the University.

We were one of three universities to join the Chicago Climate Exchange for the purpose of trying to drive down carbon emissions throughout the whole University of Minnesota system.

We’re actually up a half-million dollars in carbon credits, the last time I checked.

You’ll find on the St. Paul campus that we have centered a lot of our research on renewable energy and it is considered by many experts around the country to be one of the finest centers of research anywhere in the United States.

We’re very proud of the work we’ve done, but quite frankly, we have some distance to go.

The Carlson School of Management recently announced it will be implementing an “international experience” requirement for future undergraduates. Will we be seeing more of this with other colleges in the future?

I’m very excited about the Carlson initiative because it’s very much keeping with the University to substantially internationalize the University of Minnesota.

Many of us are working on something called the Lincoln Commission initiative Ö that would provide a great increase in federal appropriations for student scholarships so that we can send students abroad with a little better financial support than is available at the present time.

Would this goal ideally be implemented by department or by college?

We have it as a University-wide expectation that we’ll move very aggressively to get at least half of our students to study abroad. I think it’d be great if our departments and colleges decide to be more aggressive than the University’s goal.

I’m deeply committed to working with Tom Sullivan, our provost, and the University of Minnesota Foundation to raise the money to make that possible.