Bruininks’ address is mostly reasonable

Interim University President Robert Bruininks presented the annual State of the University Address yesterday, using the speech to illustrate the period of transition the University is enduring. Considering the University is experiencing challenges to its budget because of the state deficit, and that the president’s tenure is only temporary, Bruinink’s assessment of the recent past and the University’s future priorities is quite reasonable.

Bruininks was fair in congratulating the University on its recent accomplishments, some of which he has contributed to. Total enrollment in the University-wide system is a “decades-high” 62,000 students. The freshman class is the most academically prepared ever. New programs have increased the University’s contributions to the state in general; as a new pharmacy program in Duluth will lessen the state’s pharmacist shortage, a master of education program at Duluth has issued 28 degrees to American Indians, the University’s Rochester campus, has reached an agreement with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities for its local facilities and the Morris campus has recently been named the fourth best public liberal arts college in the nation.

The budget issues the University will endure this year are formidable, and Bruininks was straightforward about how they will affect the school. Because the University’s budget request from the state Legislature is expected to be the lowest in 10 years, it will be important to be selective with the school’s priorities. Fortunately, Bruininks said these priorities will favor those programs “on the cusp of prominence.”

An important priority is that future sources for funding do not come from tuition increases, but the reduction of inefficient spending. On this topic, Bruininks was less clear, although he does agree with this general sentiment. However, at one point during his address, he said he is “skeptical of the high-tuition, high-aid model” of financing higher education. As the speech progressed, though, he said the University is committed to “using internal reallocation and tuition increases to invest in the community.” The University’s budget concerns are obvious and likely to continue for the next few years, as is the need to keep tuition rates reasonable.

Despite the current difficulties, and the budget challenges the University is now starting to confront, Bruininks illustrated he is willing to make reasonable compromises. While the state of Minnesota currently contributes $600 million annually to the University – one-third of the total budget – it is important that students are respected as the last resource for institutional funding. Although Bruininks’ speech was accurate, informative and even entertaining, this point could have been made more clearly.