Bruininks compares budgets, talks buildings

Bruininks said he prefers the Senate’s budget and hopes the University finds funding for the Bell and Northrop.

Monday afternoon, the Daily sat down with University President Bob Bruininks in his Morrill Hall office to discuss his thoughts on budget proposals of both the Senate and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, among other things. He also discussed the record number of applicants this year and how it could affect the UniversityâÄôs reputation. Bruininks addressed the uncertain future of the Bell Museum of Natural History, especially if it doesnâÄôt receive state funding this legislative session, and explained that Northrop Auditiorium âÄôs renovation will be delayed until next summer also due to a lack of funding.

The SenateâÄôs budget proposal cuts the UniversityâÄôs recurring appropriation by less than the governorâÄôs did, however the governor provides much more stimulus money in the next biennium. Which of these proposals is better for the University?

The Senate proposal is probably better in that it gives us a higher budget base going into 2012, but the governorâÄôs proposal gives us more operating capitol and more money in the next two years. I think the difficulty is you probably canâÄôt increase the UniversityâÄôs budget base very much in the out years, in this 2010 [to] 2013 period without some increase in revenues. ThatâÄôs where the big debate will be in trying to come to some agreement in the next month or so. The good news is the federal stimulus money allows us to do some things that are very important in the next two years and position us to be more successful as we transition into the year 2012. I donâÄôt expect students to see very much of a tuition increase, I mean an actual tuition increase in the next two years. I think there will be a very substantial buy-down of that increase âĦ We havenâÄôt figured out all the details yet, but the net impact will be to reduce your costs in the next two years. When the issues are settled in St. Paul, I hope they will be settled to provide the University with a substantial amount of federal stimulus money.

Sounds like a little bit more of a lean towards the more money up front âÄî the governorâÄôs proposal.

No one can predict what the economy will be like two years from now. So I want, obviously I want them to invest as much federal stimulus money as possible in the University of Minnesota. I also like what the Senate is trying to do to keep the UniversityâÄôs budget strong, and what the governor has tried to do in 2012 by increasing the UniversityâÄôs budget base. We still have to reduce our budget, reduce our costs and thatâÄôs what a lot of the discussion is about at the moment.

The University has broken its own application records for the sixth year in a row. How will the University address the issue of expanding access versus ensuring quality?

ItâÄôs very challenging in times like this when you have severe economic issues, but I think itâÄôs really good news to see this annual increase in applications. It suggests to me that people in Minnesota and around the world think the University of Minnesota campuses are excellent academic institutions and a very good buy. Now itâÄôs very important to know that the access [for] Minnesota residents has been maintained at a relatively constant rate even throughout this period of increasing applications. We have increased our enrollment in the last 15 years here at the University of Minnesota at the undergraduate level, and still better than 60 percent of the students who apply and are admitted here are Minnesota graduates. I expect the students who show up here in the fall will be the best prepared class in history.

If the Legislature and the governor decide not to fund the Bell Museum this year, what will the future of the project be?

ItâÄôs difficult to say what the future of the project will be at this point, but I will be deeply disappointed if we donâÄôt get the Bell approved. Over the past 15 years literally hundreds of people have worked very hard to raise about $10 million in private support. IâÄôm hoping weâÄôll fund this project. ItâÄôs ready to go âÄî all the plans are done. We can have the shovels in the ground July 1 and I hope people will come to an agreement in the conference committee [and] provide the funding we need for the Bell Museum so that we can proceed with its construction. If the Legislature and the governor do not approve this funding weâÄôll have to reconsider what our options are in the next yearâÄôs bonding bill or beyond, but it will make it difficult for the University because we have so many important academic needs and academic buildings that are in line right now and need substantial support to keep the University moving in the right direction.

On MPR [Monday], the governor was talking about the bonding bill and he was wondering: why the push for the Bell Museum now instead of waiting eight months?

I understand the governorâÄôs position. I heard him articulate it at the Minnesota Business Partnership recently. He wants a smaller bill than I think is the preference of the House and Senate. I understand his position, but this isnâÄôt about waiting another eight months for the Bell. He could have allowed it to be funded last year and instead exercised his line-item veto. I think he believes that itâÄôs a worthwhile project from everything that he has said to me personally, so I think that heâÄôll approve it this time. If it had little to do with our K-12 system, IâÄôd say letâÄôs wait. But if you want Minnesota to be competitive âÄî you want its education system to be competitive âÄî you have to invest in the science education of young people. ThatâÄôs what the Bell does and it does it superbly.

What factors led to the decision to delay NorthropâÄôs construction until next summer?

Well, mostly itâÄôs about money. We have a superb plan that has been developed over the last six years, but we donâÄôt have a fully developed financial plan to pay for it. So our goal is to do the preliminary work, the design work, that is necessary âĦ and to use our time and energy over this next year to determine whether we can raise the appropriate resources through private and public forms of support to make the restoration of Northrop Auditorium a reality. Northrop is one of the great icons in the state of Minnesota. When you think about the buildings in the state of Minnesota that are very, very special, you think about the State Capitol, you think about Northrop Auditorium. I think it would be an absolute travesty for the citizens of this state to allow Northrop Auditorium to decline and become essentially irrelevant in the next five to 10 years.