Bruininks: “It’s not about ranking”

University President Bob Bruininks sat down with the Daily Monday in Morrill Hall, to talk about the University of Minnesota’s top three goal, the recent falsified research data controversy and the upcoming biennial budget proposal. In 2005, the University stated its goal of becoming one of the top public research Universities within a decade. With just over half of that left, are you still optimistic about that goal? Well, I think in many areas we will achieve that level of stature, but in some areas, we may fall somewhat short. The issue to me is not whether you achieve what people regard as a top three status, the issue to me is: are you working day in and day out to build the excellence of the University of Minnesota, so that over time you begin increasingly to represent the very best colleges and universities in the United States and around the world. To me itâÄôs about stature, itâÄôs not about status, itâÄôs not about ranking. We want to be known as one of the most productive, impactful universities in the entire world, and I think setting a very high aspirational goal is one of the ways that you rivet the attention of the University community and the citizens of the state on the qualities that are truly distinctive and important with respect to the long term future of the University. I make no apologies for setting high goals and I think what you will find, if you just canvass regular citizens in our state, they have some skepticism about whether that goal is achievable, but I donâÄôt think youâÄôd find too many people who think that setting the goal is a trivial exercise. They want us to be a much better place. They want to continue to be proud of the University of Minnesota. The University of Minnesota moved from 142nd to 87th on the QS Rankings of the top universities to receive your first degree from. What have we been doing differently that would move us up these rankings? The reason why these rankings are improving, and I hope get much better, is that the University is steadily improving. The quality of education that we provide students at all levels, undergraduate, graduate, professional, I think is better than any time in modern, at least modern history, and any time since at least 1970. So the quality of our programs is going up steadily and dramatically. Secondly, we are putting much more money into academic investments and direct support for students. WeâÄôve had the Promise for Tomorrow scholarship drive that has raised about $250 million in roughly four and a half years to provide direct support for student undergraduate scholarships and graduate and professional fellowships. It has been a campaign in which we have raised eight to ten times more money for scholarships and fellowships per year than we did in the previous letâÄôs say 20 to 25 years, because we made it a priority and told donors that if they made a sufficient gift, we would match the gifts. How does the revelation that some researchers here at the University falsified stem cell research data back in âÄô01 affect our reputation as a research University? I donâÄôt think it affects your reputation because the University did a very thorough investigation and documented that there was some errors, and whether they were deliberate or not, I canâÄôt tell you, but there are some obvious errors in research that was published in a peer review journal. I think itâÄôs really sad and regrettable. The nature of science is always correcting things when theyâÄôre wrong. ThatâÄôs why people are always trying to validate findings, cross-check findings, and so IâÄôm disappointed that this happened, but IâÄôm also proud of the people who went to work to unravel the truth and have taken action to try to correct what happened here. So out of every adversity, if you manage the issues well, if you manage the circumstances well, I think you can use them as an opportunity to learn and actually improve what goes on here. Which items are your highest priorities in your biennial budget proposal that youâÄôll be taking to the Board of Regents? The highest priority in this budget is to protect the jobs of the talented faculty and staff who work at the University, because without them the University canâÄôt be an outstanding contributor to MinnesotaâÄôs economy and quality of life. So the highest priority is to retain the jobs of people who work here and also to compensate the people at some, at a fair level for the high quality of their work, so that the biggest part of this budget request, roughly 70 to 75 percent is to compensate faculty and staff. The second priority is to increase scholarship support for undergraduate students, with a focus on middle income families. We are proposing to the legislature that they provide us $8 million a year in the next two years to establish a middle-income scholarship program, and weâÄôre committed to go out and see if we can find additional private support to match that amount. If we get this scholarship, nine thousand undergraduate students from the state of Minnesota would see no increase in their tuition next year. And the third thing in this budget is that we are asking for a modest amount of money to invest in the UniversityâÄôs research infrastructure with a particular focus on making sure we have the computing capacity to support the work of the Minnesota researchers, students and faculty, and other areas of support that we think are vitally important to really lay the foundation for the more than $620 million that we bring in here through competitive grants, contracts. So then, the fourth thing I would say is that we have proposed a tuition increase that is running slightly below inflation at the present time, 4 1/2 percent, and weâÄôre hoping that with state support, we can keep the tuition at that level. At 4 1/2 percent, the average student would pay about $400 of increased cost per year and a large number, over 15,000 students in Minnesota, would get scholarship and grant support that would substantially reduce their cost. How is the UniversityâÄôs budget being affected by the current state of the economy? It hasnâÄôt had a direct impact yet, but we expect that it could have an adverse impact if the economy doesnâÄôt improve, and if tax receipts to the state of Minnesota are below expectations, so if the budget gets worse, I mean if the economy gets worse, tax receipts are down, the University could receive reductions in its request, or even reductions in its primary base budget. We are committing ourselves, even with this budget we commit ourselves to reducing about $40 million worth of expenditure. So even with the best of circumstances, we have to reduce our costs and make things more efficient here at the University of Minnesota. Should we expect to see more cuts like the U pulling out of the North Minneapolis Child and Family Services Center? The University did not pull out of the commitment to build a child and family center; we simply questioned whether it was wise to spend $85 to $90 million on a building, a very expensive building without having a really strong business plan to fund the services. We are still very committed to working with the North Minneapolis community. I think we should step back, build a plan that we can support, with the kinds of moneys that are available, and then if things improve we can always revisit the idea of building a new building, but we didnâÄôt feel that we could afford the rent in that building and still conduct what senior Vice President Jones and others regarded as a high-quality service program. We would have been, to put it bluntly, building rich and program poor. Did you get a chance to watch the football team play Illinois this weekend? I did, I watched every down and every play and I thought it was an absolutely awesome game and a very exciting game for fans. I thought our players performed marvelously and they were obviously well-prepared and well-coached for a team that was scheduled to beat us by double digits, or they were at least predicted to beat us by double digits. I thought it was just a great outcome and very, very exciting IâÄôm sure you could have heard me at the end of the game across the metropolitan area. What do you think about the turnaround from being 1-11 to being 6-1? I know people were disappointed last year because we won one game and lost 11, but I thought what was really impressive last year is that we were mostly in every game, we were very competitive. So, I was disappointed last year, but I left the end of the season with a feeling of real optimism. I didnâÄôt think at this time that weâÄôd be 6-1, but I knew they would be definitely a positive record.