Bruininks talks summer decisions, new stadium

Bruininks: Stadium construction worth it, but U will not pursue alcohol issue at the Capitol.

by Taryn Wobbema

University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks sat down with the Minnesota Daily during the first week of classes to talk about triumphs over the summer and challenges looming over the coming year. How was your summer? My summer was great but I had a couple of little hiccups. On MotherâÄôs Day I was performing with my young horse at the Coliseum at the Fairgrounds and he decided to do something I didnâÄôt think was the right thing to do, but he was stronger than I was and he took me into a wall and I broke my ankle âĦ It curtailed some of my normal outdoor activities that I like to do. But I had a chance to travel a little bit and recover. It was a great summer with some festivities related to the opening of the TCF Bank Stadium âĦ And [we] had a chance to deal with a lot of the challenges facing the University. One of the things I feel good about is our employees are really stepping up and helping us take leadership to preserve the long-term strength of the University of Minnesota. We also made some very important strides in protecting students from cost increases by applying about 60 cents of every dollar under the federal stimulus bill to driving down the cost of tuition over the next two years. Student tuition will not exceed 3 percent this year and not exceed 4.5 percent next year. We also were successful in implementing a middle income need-based scholarship program for Minnesota students. And that, in addition to the federal stimulus money for middle income students and low income students, actually froze their tuition. You mentioned some of the decisions that were made over the summer. Were there any other decisions with the Board of Regents? ThereâÄôs a capital investment bill every two years âĦ That work was done over the summer months to inventory and assess all the capital issues we have across the state of Minnesota and the capital bonding bill will go before the board in September. We obviously kept working hard to raise new outside money for the University of Minnesota, especially for student scholarships, and we continued to make real progress despite the economic circumstances in defining ways to interest people in investing in the UniversityâÄôs future. That, too, is one of the things we did a lot of work on this summer. And that report will go to the board in September. This is also a period in which the faculty and staff did extraordinary things in submitting hundreds of new grant proposals to the federal government. They have received more than $60 million in additional funding under the federal stimulus bill and so far the University of Minnesota totals, I believe, exceed that of other institutions in the Big Ten. That close to $70 million will mean new student employment on campus, the ability to fix laboratories and research spaces and to fund very, very important research. They submitted in April nearly 1,000 new grant proposals; that number was about 600 more than they usually submit. Which of the challenges you met over the summer do you foresee remaining throughout the year? The big challenge we have going forward is the challenge of a global recession that has hit Minnesota along with all other states. So we are continuing to face the prospect of a squeeze on our budget. I think that will be a continuing challenge to âĦ make sure we do everything possible to maintain the quality of the University of Minnesota across the state âÄî the quality of our research, the quality of education we provide our students and the connection of the academic work for the University to the public good âÄî those are the priorities we need to try to preserve. Some of the workers over the summer who see their jobs being threatened say that is exactly what weâÄôre sacrificing, the quality of the University. What do you say to that? What I would say is that we have gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain the jobs of people here at the University of Minnesota. WeâÄôve tried to maximize the reduction in our employees through âĦ a creative retirement program that 450 of our employees decided was a good idea for them; we made a decision not to fill as many positions as we normally do. And the net effect of those two decisions protected probably close to 700 jobs here. The second thing weâÄôve done is dedicated a significant portion of the federal stimulus money to bringing people back who had temporary layoff notices, particularly in facilities management and we have used it to protect the employment of people who work at the University of Minnesota. I agree with our employees when they say you canâÄôt have a quality University without talented and dedicated people. That was one of the reasons I felt it was better to take a wage and salary freeze than it was to layoff hundreds of people. TCF Bank Stadium is finally open. Was it worth the time and cost it took to build it? I think it is definitely worth the cost and worth the investment we made. There are very important facts readers need to understand. When we made the statement that we thought Gopher football should return to the campus where we believe it rightfully belongs, we made some commitments that were very important. We committed to raise 60 percent of the cost and we succeeded in doing so. We committed ourselves to raise private funding, nearly $90 million, and we completed that task. We also committed ourselves to raising private money on behalf of the stadium in a way that would increase academic gifts. The University of Minnesota Alumni Association made the first gift to the stadium and I said I wouldnâÄôt accept it unless it came with an academic gift for student scholarships. So a $1 million scholarship program was set up along with a $1 million gift to the stadium. Toward the end of this campaign, weâÄôve raised approximately $70 million in academic support through the stadium effort and nearly $90 million for the stadium itself. I would like people to understand this is about more than football âĦ This will be a very active center of academic life here at the University of Minnesota. We said we would do this, we said we would accomplish bringing Gopher football back to the campus and we said weâÄôd do it in keeping with our academic mission and values. âĦ We met all the goals and aspirations we had when we started this quest about six years ago. Do you think the alcohol policy will go back to the Capitol? Is there any potential for that? I donâÄôt know, I can tell you at this point I have no appetite to make beer and wine part of the academic priorities of the University of Minnesota. We proposed a plan four years ago that was in keeping with 95 percent with colleges and universities nationwide. I still think it was a reasonable idea and a good plan. The Legislature decided to go in another direction. I felt and the academic community felt that given the choice of serving alcohol everywhere on game day or serving it not at all, that we would take the no alcohol option. That is a far better option to me than serving it throughout the stadium. I donâÄôt see the University making this a big issue in subsequent legislative sessions. At Convocation this year you encountered some people a little upset about your salary, what did you think about that? Well first of all, I think they didnâÄôt get the [salary] number right. So IâÄôm waiting for that check âĦ I didnâÄôt see the people, I just heard them. My general feeling is that itâÄôs very, very important for the University of Minnesota to go the extra mile and beyond to protect academic freedom and free speech. But itâÄôs also important in the exercise of oneâÄôs free speech to recognize that there are other people in the room that also have some rights. I felt that the demonstration at that time and place was misplaced âĦ My understanding is that the people who undertook the demonstration actually broke into the building. I think thatâÄôs being investigated. Someone else will have to decide whether that is an important issue. Professors are gearing up for H1N1 to hit the campus. Are you worried about it at all? I think everyone has to be concerned about the H1N1 virus but the people who have worked on this, I think, have an extraordinary plan in place. We have taken every possible precaution. The University of Minnesota has one of the finest schools of public health, medical schools in the country, the student health is unparalleled. âĦ The symptoms seem to be less virulent than people expected. ThatâÄôs obviously good news. We have an obligation to be extraordinarily cautious.