Bruininks retains option of closing a U campus

Lee Billings

Clarifying a statement he made about possible campus closures in a newspaper report last month, University President Robert Bruininks said Tuesday there are currently no plans to eliminate any campuses, but there are no guarantees for what might happen six months or 12 months from now.

“I cannot foreclose any possibility,” Bruininks said, adding that it would be “dishonest” to say otherwise.

In a Feb. 24 Star Tribune article, Bruininks said “everything has to be on the table” when dealing with the current round of budget cuts – including programs, departments and even campuses.

Besides the Twin Cities campuses, the University has three campuses in greater Minnesota: Crookston, Duluth and Morris. The University also has a branch campus in Rochester, where it collaborates with Rochester Community and Technical College and Winona State University.

Bruininks’ comments confused and surprised many faculty and staff at some of those campuses.

“I don’t think it’s under consideration,” said Don Sargeant, chancellor of the Crookston campus. “There’s a zero percent chance, seriously.”

Tap Payne, a theatre arts professor at the Morris campus, said he does not believe Bruininks is intent on closing the Morris campus after its recent capital improvements.

“What would we do with the $27 million science building we just built? It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

University employees at the three campuses were also quick to outline each branch’s achievements and contributions to the University as a whole.

Paul Anderson, a recently retired biochemistry professor at the Duluth campus, said the campus provides vital research, educational opportunities and services to the citizens of northeast Minnesota.

“We have a couple of exceedingly important professional schools – engineering and the School of Medicine – which provide an integral role in education in our state,” he said.

Duluth campus officials said the mushrooming number of first-year students is another indicator of the University’s success.

“We’ve had increasing numbers of applications in the last three years,” said Karl Johnson, associate registrar at the Duluth campus. “We’ve had somewhere from three times the number of applicants than we’ve had room for in admissions.”

Sargeant said each campus in greater Minnesota is “uniquely different and plays a different role as a part of the University.”

“(Crookston is) known for the use of technology in teaching and learning,” Sargeant said. “You need a campus like this that’s a good demonstration site that can help students graduate prepared for the world today and tomorrow.”

John Schwaller, vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the Morris campus, said there was “no economy” in closing the campus, citing its numerous contributions to the University.

Schwaller said Morris leads all University campuses in student credit loads, graduation and retention rates, and diversity.

“I’m extremely confident that when people look at the data on Morris, they will see we are a credit and an honor to the University of Minnesota,” he said.

Schwaller also said closing coordinate campuses would not be a “reasonable way to address a budget shortfall.

“Closing a campus is – as those here in Minnesota who know from the times when the Waseca campus was closed – an extremely difficult process to work through,” he said. “The savings are not as simple as looking at the budget of the campus and merely subtracting that from what would be the bottom line of the larger institution.”

The University Board of Regents voted 10-2 in 1992 to close the Waseca campus. Founded in 1971, the Waseca campus served nearly 20,000 students before it closed.

University officials expected Waseca’s closure to yield over $6 million for the University, which was in the midst of a budget crisis.

Sargeant, who said he was a veteran of numerous “budget reduction exercises,” said in his 33 years at the University, he’s never seen a more serious situation than what the institution currently faces.

Lee Billings welcomes comments at [email protected]