Bruininks pledges commitment, answers concerns

Bryce Haugen

University President Bob Bruininks pledged his “deep commitment” to graduate and professional students Wednesday.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Bruininks said at the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly’s monthly meeting. “It’s been my entire life.”

Graduate student leaders sent Bruininks prewritten questions about the University’s strategic-positioning process, program closures and graduate employee salaries. At the meeting, Bruininks addressed those concerns and answered additional questions from the assembly.

He said he hears a lot about graduate student issues because his son, kinesiology teaching assistant Brett Bruininks, “is a strong advocate for (the assembly’s) point of view.”

The University will continue to focus on increasing scholarships and fellowships for graduate students and will expand financial assistance for professional students, Bob Bruininks said.

“Every call I make, I pitch scholarships first and stadiums second,” he said.

Bob Bruininks said graduate students could see lower tuition increases through fighting for University funding at the Capitol.

“We really need some help, and your voices really do matter when you go to St. Paul,” he said. “There’s really a lot at stake.”

Bob Bruininks also promised to keep administrative costs as low as possible.

Some assembly members said they were concerned about the openness of the strategic-positioning and program-restructuring processes. They said student leaders should be involved in making decisions.

Karen Buhr, GAPSA executive vice president, said she learned about a list of programs slated for closure and merger in a Star Tribune article March 16, not from administration. Many students felt blindsided, she said.

“To have first read about it in the paper is a real slap in the face,” Buhr said before the meeting.

“We knew from three or four sources the list existed, but every time we asked for it, we were told it wasn’t finalized.”

Epidemiology doctoral student Meghan Warren asked Bob Bruininks about the Medical School’s recent decision that suspended admissions to the program of occupational therapy and was made without student input.

“The concern is that these admissions suspensions Ö are a way to circumvent the system,” she said.

Bob Bruininks said the people affected by the recommendations, including student leaders, will lead the implementation of all proposed changes.

But he said he was prepared to make tough, sometimes controversial, decisions.

The process is about more than money, Bob Bruininks said.

“Mostly, it’s about quality and moving this institution forward,” he said.

After the meeting, Keith Cunnien, a Council of Graduate Students representative to GAPSA, said he was pleased the president came to the meeting. But some questions linger, Cunnien said.

“It’s the same old rhetoric he’s been using every time he speaks,” Cunnien said. “I don’t know if I left feeling any more comfortable with the decision process and the inclusion of graduate students.”