Bruininks signs up for four more years

Bruininks must make his goals, and plans to reach them, clear.

If the University’s Board of Regents had chosen a president based on the applicants in 2002, University President Bob Bruininks might be spending more time behind the reins of his horse. Instead, he was unexpectedly placed behind the reins of a different animal. After signing a new contract Friday, he plans to stay there until 2008.

Though Bruininks never applied for his job, hindsight shows the regents’ choice was a wise one. Still, though he has guided the University well in difficult times, we would like to see more candor in his communication with the University community.

Some of the largest issues Bruininks has dealt with include tuition increases, the clerical workers’ strike, three deaths from a house fire and the debate over an on-campus football stadium.

Tuition has increased approximately 50 percent in the last three years. Bruininks has consistently said everyone has to “share the pain.” Unfortunately, when public university tuition increases at these rates, the higher-education options for lower-income families are drastically reduced. Bruininks has said administrators’ salaries cannot be reduced because the University must remain competitive. That same policy applies to students.

Bruininks often chooses to handle the state government with kid gloves. Because the University’s relationship with the state has been strained, a cautious approach might be necessary. Still, it is good to see him taking a proactive role in the recently enlivened legislative network.

The clerical workers’ strike last fall was a difficult time for the University. While Bruininks wanted to reach an agreement palatable to both sides, he rarely made this stance clear to the community, and the strike lasted longer than it should have.

On the other hand, when three University students died in a house fire last fall, Bruininks was a public and compassionate leader. It shouldn’t take a tragedy for students to find out the University’s president cares about them.

Bruininks clearly supports an on-campus football stadium but has been careful not to force it down the University’s throat. This is emblematic of Bruininks’ method of dealing with goals.

Under former University President Mark Yudof, the University grew at a rapid pace. That growth, while positive, could not be sustained. Bruininks’ greatest strength is he has continued to improve the University, but at a more realistic pace.

What Bruininks needs to do is make himself more visible to the University community. He has to make his goals and his plans to reach those goals known. During the next four years, hopefully, students will know who’s running this institution, where he’s taking them, and why. Giddy up.