Regents approve new construction

The project has attracted criticism due to its $200 million price tag.

by Ashley Bray

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents approved a $200 million plan for the construction of a new building in the University’s Biomedical Discovery District on Thursday, amid controversy over the project’s cost.
The plan, proposed in March, is the next step toward breaking ground on the Cancer/Cardiovascular Research Facility, with construction slated to begin in August 2011 and end in June 2013.
Completion of the facility will “help position the University as one of the top three public research universities in the country and position Minnesota as a world-leading state for biomedical research,” according to a report by the Board of Regents Facilities Committee.
But not everyone is supportive of the project.
The Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education, a group of University faculty members that claims the administration dominates rather than serves the University, has been vocal in its discontent over the board’s decision to build the facility.
In an open letter to the regents, the group said taking on new building projects, especially the Cancer/Cardiovascular facility, will “saddle the University with increased debt and ancillary costs that will hobble the institution in future years, thus posing significant risk to its quality and stature.”
On Monday at a public forum to address the budget crisis, FRPE member and associate professor of Classical & Near Eastern Studies Eva von Dassow expressed concern about the project, noting that a biomedical facility is valuable, but now — in the midst of a financial crisis — is not the right time.
“The College of Liberal Arts, which has already lost dozens of faculty positions, stands to lose dozens more, while the construction of a new biomedical facility is to include the addition of 40 new faculty,” von Dassow said. “CLA is a significant revenue generator … This cash cow will be milked yet harder now — but at the price of the quality the administration advertises and to the detriment of the University’s educational mission.”
University President Bob Bruininks defended the project Monday after the public forum.
“I stand behind these investments, I think they’re vitally important,” Bruininks said. “At the same time we’re making these investments, we’re taking out of circulation obsolete buildings, obsolete laboratories, decommissioning space that is no longer relevant and driving down the operating costs of the University.”
The facility will house state-of-the-art equipment and labs and will provide doctors and researchers with critical tools and resources to find cures and treatments for cancer and heart disease, according to the report.
Regent chairman Clyde Allen said FRPE’s criticism is narrow in view.
“I think some of the criticism may come about from the changing emphasis on disciplines,” Allen said. “But our world is changing and we need to keep up.”
Over a five-year period, 40 new faculty members will be hired to work in the Cancer/Cardiovascular Facility and the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, according to the plan. The same number of existing faculty members will be relocated to the new facilities.  
The plan to add 40 new faculty members to the district upon completion also troubles the FRPE, which posted on its blog that in light of recent cutbacks, spending the additional money will be detrimental to students’ education.
“These cutbacks have already resulted in reduced teaching support, increased class size, layoffs, furloughs and temporary pay cuts,” the letter said. “Students have already endured both a decline in the quality of their education and repeated tuition increases.”

-James Nord and Luke Feuerherm contributed to this report.