Capital request vital for the state’s future

On Jan. 31, editors and publishers at the annual convention of the Minnesota Newspaper Association (MNA) — people representing every corner of the state and every part of the political spectrum — spoke with one voice. The group unanimously endorsed the University of Minnesota’s 1998 capital bonding request to the state Legislature.
As president of the University, I am extremely gratified by this endorsement because I know it did not come lightly. We are, after all, asking for a great deal of money — $249 million, to be exact. It is the largest single bonding request in the University’s history. Why do you suppose these editors and publishers so strongly supported it?
I believe it’s a recognition that, as one recent editorial noted, the University is arguably the most important institution in the state, and the time is ripe for a major investment in it.
OK, there’s also something in it for them. Revitalizing the University’s journalism and communications programs is one of the five key initiatives I am proposing to fund with the plan. Many MNA members are graduates of the School of Journalism and have a personal as well as professional interest in its future. All MNA members know that if Minnesota is to be a player in the changing field of communications, the School of Journalism must play a leading role.
Minnesota is one of America’s most vibrant communications markets. It boasts more than 500 newspapers and magazines, nearly a thousand broadcast and cable companies, more than 700 advertising and public relations firms and a $250 million film and video industry. That’s more than 55,000 jobs, not including communicators who work for corporations, educational institutions and public entities.
To prepare our students for such jobs, the University needs to be at the cutting edge of this fast-growing and fast-changing field. The “new media” initiative includes funds to refurbish aging classrooms with state-of-the-art equipment for “technology-enhanced instruction,” including distance learning. It establishes an Institute for New Media Studies to promote advances in burgeoning fields such as Web page design. In short, it aims to put us back into the top 10 among the nation’s journalism and mass media programs.
The other four initiatives are equally critical to Minnesota’s future. Here’s a quick rundown:
Agricultural Research and Outreach: Minnesota is the second largest agribusiness state, thanks in part to crops developed at the University and exported around the globe. This initiative ensures that we continue our tradition of breakthroughs in crop development, animal disease prevention, environmental protection and outreach to farmers.
Design: We can all tell the difference between a good can opener and a bad can opener: It’s in the design. Everything — from the desk in your office, to the car that takes you home, to the cul-de-sac that is home — had to be designed by someone. Design is big business, and the University has several nationally recognized design programs. Unfortunately, the faculty and students in many of these world-class programs toil away in second-class buildings. The Architecture Building on the Twin Cities campus, for example, squeezes 700 students into a space designed for 300. Our plans call for an addition to that building, plus the creation of a design-related outreach center to put our expertise where the citizens can use it.
Digital Technology: Maybe you’ve seen the car commercial on TV: Before they built the car for real, they “built” it on the computer and hurled all sorts of computerized scenarios at it, from weather to road conditions. All of this was done with digital technology. Minnesota once dominated the digital technology industry with companies like Control Data and Univac. This initiative aims to reclaim Minnesota’s leadership by creating a Digital Technology Center — a forward-looking center of digital publishing, computer visualization and electronic commerce — located within the historic walls of Walter Library.
Molecular and Cellular Biology: OK, I’m a recovering lawyer, but I’ll try to explain what the scientists have explained to me. Two of Minnesota’s largest industries — agriculture and health care — depend on their future on the study of tiny cells and molecules. If a farmer wants a new strain of wild rice that grows in colder weather, scientists might manipulate the DNA and, if it works, market it in six months. If this farmer gets sick and needs a replacement artery, it may not be long before we’ll be manipulating DNA and growing it, custom-made in a lab, with little chance of rejection.
Very different applications, but it’s the same basic science. That’s why I’m proposing a new Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology, where biologists from many fields can work together on breakthroughs that will lead to a better quality of life and more jobs for Minnesota’s already extraordinarily strong agribusiness and medical device industries.
These are the main highlights of the University’s legislative request, but there is much more. A major effort is under way to preserve our historic campus buildings (it’s not necessary to denigrate the past to embrace the future). There are plans to build one of America’s most technologically advanced libraries on the Duluth campus, a major addition to the science and math center on the Morris campus and a new headquarters for the highly praised Early Childhood Development Center in Crookston.
All of these projects aim to serve the people of Minnesota wherever they reside. This is what the University of Minnesota is all about; it’s what the University has always been about. I am grateful to the MNA for its support, and I hope I have your support, too.

Mark Yudof is the president of the University of Minnesota.