Bruininks talks to MSA Forum

by Bryce Haugen

University President Bob Bruininks promised Tuesday to include student leaders in future discussions.

“If you have comments and you send them my way, they don’t end up in some circular file,” Bruininks said in an address to the Minnesota Student Association Forum.

During Bruininks’ more-than-40-minute appearance, Forum members asked the administrator about a variety of issues, including tuition increases, the University’s strategic-planning process and administrative efficiency.

Bruininks last visited the Forum in December to encourage members to lobby at the State Capitol.

His visit represents the first time in recent memory a University president has addressed the Forum twice in the same year, MSA President Tom Zearley said. Zearley said the repeat visits indicate the growing impact MSA has on campus.

“A few years ago, (the president) didn’t come at all,” Zearley said.

Before fielding questions, Bruininks thanked the students who attended Lobby Day and urged Forum members to keep working.

He said student support is crucial to the University’s pending funding request.

Forum member Nathan Wanderman asked how the administration plans to trim costs, regardless of state funding.

Bruininks said the University always looks for ways to eliminate waste. Recently, they’ve sliced travel, telephone and laptop computer expenses, he said.

“We can’t depend on the Legislature for the entire future of the University,” he said. “We’ve got to do some of it ourselves.”

Some Forum members said they were concerned about the University’s strategic-positioning proposals, which will likely call for restructuring, merging and eliminating some programs when they are released next week.

Forum member Anthony Dew said he had heard rumors the General College is slated for closure. He asked Bruininks to comment.

Bruininks said he hasn’t seen the strategic-positioning task force’s recommendations, but the report might include changes that affect the General College.

“Any change we make will not reduce students’ access to the University of Minnesota,” he said.

Dew said the administration needs to look at the General College’s overall benefit, not just the numbers.

“It’s the channel a lot of (minorities) go through to get to college,” he said.

After Bruininks spoke, the Forum discussed a position statement calling for funding the University through higher taxes on high-income families and reducing the staff in the governor’s office.

Forum member Colin Schwensohn said the proposal, which is nonbinding, would send a needed message.

“A tuition increase is a higher tax Ö (the proposal) is a more progressive taxation,” he said.

Forum member Marty Andrade, a Minnesota Daily columnist, said the proposal is a “very clear example of partisanship.”

After several minutes of heated discussion, Kevin Wendt, the Forum speaker, promptly halted debate.

Patrick Delaney, the MSA chief of staff, said the position statement and another regarding President George W. Bush’s proposal to eliminate Perkins Loans violate lobbying rules for nonprofit organizations such as MSA.

At an emergency postmeeting discussion, Zearley appointed a task force to define appropriate lobbying activities.