U fights for more building funding

Megan Boldt

University officials encountered criticism from one state legislator this week about how the University uses its fund-raising and donation money.
Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, said Tuesday the University should use more of its donations from Campaign Minnesota, a $1.3 million fund-raising effort, to fund the construction of new buildings, alleviating some of the responsibility from the state government.
“Wouldn’t (donors) be more interested in funding a project like this?” Larson asked, in regard to the proposed art building.
He compared his proposal to how private colleges use donations.
Sandra Gardebring, vice president of University institutional relations, countered, saying most donors’ money is not intended for construction.
“Our experience has been it is not easy to raise money for buildings,” Gardebring said. “(Donors) are interested in the programmatic piece of the University.”
Larson also criticized University planning in its capital request four years ago. University officials pointed out that the University is under a new administration now.
Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, said legislators need to remember that the University is a public institution, not a private college.
“We need to look a little more globally at all these projects,” she said, adding that some areas of a university can raise money, while others cannot.

Testimony begins
Legislators’ criticism came as University lobbyists testified in front of the House and Senate’s higher education committees this week, informing legislators about the University’s 2000 Capital Request.
Gardebring said the talks have been positive so far.
“Our one-on-one conversations with legislators have gone really well,” Gardebring said. Most of their work with legislators has been done behind the scenes, she added.
“By the end of the legislative session, we will have talked to almost every legislator,” Gardebring said.
The University is facing staunch opposition from Gov. Jesse Ventura, who proposed funding only $54 million of the University’s $134.3 million request in January. Legislators will make their final decision in late April.
Gardebring said she hopes legislators increase the amount of bonds given to the University well beyond what the governor proposed.
“I think the pie will get bigger, so our slice of that pie will get bigger,” Gardebring said.

Biological initiatives
On the Twin Cities campus alone, there are three projects for which the University is asking $62.1 million in state funding.
Christine Maziar, vice president of research and Graduate School dean, said research universities are attracting attention because they spur economic development. The University can do that through new advances in digital technology, genomics, new media studies and molecular and cellular biology.
With new facilities, she said, the University can attract talent to Minnesota.
“Once we get them here to study, Minnesota gets under their skin and they don’t want to leave,” Maziar said.
Bob Elde, dean of biological sciences, said other states such as Wisconsin are making major investments in research centers at universities.

The art building
University art students and faculty members attended House and Senate higher education meetings to garner support for the proposed art building.
Steve Rosenstone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, called the current Art Building “deplorable” and “a hodgepodge of dysfunctional space.”
He said there are numerous irreparable health and safety concerns in the current building.
“During the cold winter months, students have to choose between staying warm and breathing noxious fumes,” Rosenstone said of the poor ventilation.
Many legislators seemed supportive of the proposed building.
“Deplorable hardly starts to describe (the Art Building),” said Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, chairwoman of the House higher education committee.
Leppik said she has toured the current building twice in the past four months and is surprised the building hasn’t been one of the University’s top priorities before.
Rosenstone said he has a fund-raising goal of $8 million for the Art Building.
“I can assure you I’ve given every ounce of energy to fund raising,” Rosenstone told legislators.

Other campuses
Ventura did not fund any projects on the Crookston, Morris or Duluth campuses in his proposal.
“Ventura looked kindly upon the Minneapolis campus, but not the coordinating campuses,” Gardebring said.
She said those campuses have strong legislative champions whom she thinks will get more money for the coordinating campuses.
Projects on these campuses total $31.2 million.

Megan Boldt covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.