Bruininks’ address reports on bonding bill and tuition

The sixth-annual State of the University address covered topics ranging from tuition to new buildings.

Ahnalese Rushmann

University President Bob Bruininks delivered his sixth-annual State of the University address to roughly 250 people Thursday afternoon at the Mayo Auditorium.

A focus on the University’s goal to become one of the top public research universities dominated the speech.

“If we expect investment and support,” Bruininks said, “we must continue to demonstrate that we are an asset to the state of Minnesota and its citizens.”

Continuing obstacles – like changing demographics, intense global competition and limited resources – mean the University can’t get lethargic, he said.

The president played off the famous tale of a Dutch boy who plugged a sea wall with his finger, saving his village from a flood.

“The tide is rising on all sides,” he said. “We can plug the holes we see and pray for the flood to retreat, or welcome the water and rise with it.”

‘U’ and the state

Bruininks thanked state officials for their support of the University’s biomedical research program.

On Tuesday, state senators approved a bonding bill which included funding for a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus, as well as a science teaching and student services building. The state House passed their similar version of the bill Thursday.

Bruininks didn’t discuss the Folwell Hall renovations that were left out of the bills.

Regent Steven Hunter said he thought Bruininks handled the subject well and without speculation, considering the House action and the speech occurred simultaneously.

Hunter said he was also glad the president outlined some of the University faculty’s achievements, saying their accomplishments aren’t publicized as much as they should be.

University police Chief Greg Hestness said he appreciated mention of the University’s Northside Partnership – the University’s education and business initiative program in north Minneapolis.

“That’s exactly what that community needs,” he said.

Talking tuition

Bruininks acknowledged tuition affordability as a continuing challenge for the University. Although scholarship support for low-income students has increased in recent years, there should be more focus on students between extreme income brackets, he said.

“Middle-income families bear the brunt of any increase in tuition and fees,” he said. “We must strive to create a consistent and substantial level of scholarship and grant support for all middle-income Minnesota students.”

Two-thirds of University first-years statewide are Minnesota-born and raised, he said, adding that the University continues to enroll roughly 10 percent of the state’s graduating seniors.

The crowd reacts

Brett Bennett, a neuroscience and biochemistry senior, said he came to the speech to hear what Bruininks had to say about the University’s strategic positioning plan.

He said he was convinced of the progress the president said has been achieved.

Bennett, one of roughly 10 students at the event, said low student turnout could result from some students’ busy schedules – but some just don’t care, he said.

Bennett said he saw a lot of advertising for the speech.

During the question-and-answer session that followed the address, Bruininks was asked how he liked being the University’s president.

Bruininks said it’s been one of the best jobs he’s ever had, but it’s one he can’t do forever.

The University benefits from creativity and fresh ideas that come with turnover, he said.

The president also took the moment to show some humor.

“About two days ago I was going to put the job on eBay,” he said.