Bruininks talks crime, stadium

Heather L. Mueller

.With double the number of assaults this year compared to last, what would you say to students who fear that walking in groups on well-lit streets isn’t enough to ward off robberies or assaults?

This issue has come up rather suddenly, but I think it’s a very serious issue for the University of Minnesota and our students.

I have taken up this issue with Vice President (Kathy) O’Brien and Chief (Greg) Hestnessvof the UMPD and they are meeting regularly with the Minneapolis police force to strengthen the coordination of our efforts on behalf of our students and on behalf of creating a much safer environment in and around the University of Minnesota.

Secondly, we are going to Ö steadily increase the size of our own police force and our own security; we’re improving lighting in important areas on campus.

I think the other thing I would say is that I think we live in a relatively safe environment and what’s alarming is to see these rates go up.

We need to meet with the neighborhoods relatively soon and the neighborhood leaders to see what we can do collectively.

We understand we have to work hard to increase the safety and the comfort level of our staff and students. You can’t study well and you can’t learn well if you’re not in a healthy and safe environment. I want to indicate we have a pretty aggressive action agenda, including thinking about how the University can be more engaged and developed.

I want to add I think it’s very important that students use good judgment, and when they do travel late at night they do seek safe ways to travel.

Is the University’s administration monitoring the progress of the assault investigations?

Yes, we are. The Office of General Counsel, the University police department works collaboratively with the Hennepin County Prosecutors office (and other agencies).

You said there are already plans to add more police officers on campus, but where is the funding going to come from if state funds only cover about 25 percent and the rest is covered by student fees and grants?

It will come from a variety of sources, including the state. We’re just going to budget it. I made the decision more than six months ago that we should accelerate the process and there’s been a plan to hire a certain number of police officers or add a certain number of police officers over a three-year period and I asked them to at least try to get it done in two.

Is that because of the stadium?

It is partly because of that but partly because I think that we need to be stronger – we need to have a stronger presence in our police department. They not only protect your safety, they protect mine.

They woke me up at 3:30 in the morning because someone had penetrated the security at Eastcliff (the president’s home). I think we need to have a higher level of support than we have at the present time.

When can students expect to see talks and discussions turn into action?

I think the actions are taking place now but one of the things I will do is I will talk to Vice President O’Brien. We have the right people around the table: students, faculty and staff and people from the neighborhoods.

I don’t want to rush to judgment and panic people, but I think it is important we maintain the safety of our own neighborhood and our own environment. When I meet with student leaders, I expect that will be on their mind.

So, I don’t have a whole lot of specifics. I think there are some specific actions we are taking now that have to do with increasing the safety of the environment, adding police officers and strengthening the integration of our efforts with the Minneapolis and St. Paul police forces.

Where are we in terms of raising the $50 million needed in private funds to build the stadium?

I think we’re making a lot of progress. We had to raise about $50 million plus and I think it may even be higher than that, beyond the TCF Bank contribution, and we’re making very good progress.

I think we’re probably about halfway in terms of making individual donations and what we think are going to be gifts from foundations and corporations.

Our plan is to raise as much as we can through private gifts and sizable donations between now and next May. So this is going to be approximately a year-and-a-half or two-year process, maybe even somewhat longer, but I’d have to say right now I am very optimistic that we will succeed particularly based upon the response we’ve received to date.

I heard Best Buy gave something around $3 million?

Well, we’re still negotiating but there’s been a major challenge grant somewhere in that range and other businesses are stepping up and the response from individuals has been very, very strong.

If we’re looking to corporations and private donors for support and funding, can we expect to see more brands being placed around the stadium?

There is a set of academic principles that we have followed from the very, very beginning.

First of all, that the academic mission of the University is the most important. So every time we ask for a dollar related to the stadium we are trying to raise money at the same time for student scholarships in particular and other academic needs in general.

The second thing we said is we’re not going to let the stadium look like a NASCAR track with all kinds of labels and signs all over the place, and so there has been a commitment to have no more than sort of 11 Ö anchor sponsors in the stadium.

There could be more sponsors but, you know, visible recognitions will be limited to about 11 major sponsors, so there’s bteen a real deliberate attempt to keep the collegiate feel of the stadium, to keep it very tasteful, very aesthetic, and very comfortable for the people who will come and watch games or use the stadium for other purposes.

So, we don’t want it to look like a bowl with a lot of billboards.

The interesting thing that we’re finding is that many of the businesses in Minnesota are not so interested in getting advertising benefits in the stadium or in relationship to athletics; they are more interested in giving a gift to the University of Minnesota, partly for the stadium and partly for our academic needs.

Why does the University need a rebranding campaign? Are we trying to encourage Minnesotans to support our research initiatives?

Well that’s clearly a part of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to increase public understanding and support of the University of Minnesota; that is one of the primary goals.

It’s very important even for the students who decide to apply to the University of Minnesota to have some understanding of what’s distinct about the campuses of the University of Minnesota and how are they different from other colleges and universities in our state and across the nation.

So, this is about informing the public of why the University is critically important to the future of Minnesota and our world and to give people a better understanding of the path-breaking work and exciting education that occurs on the campuses of the University of Minnesota.

This isn’t just marketing in some pure sense; we’re not trying to sell something here, we’re really trying to inform the public about the rich activities and contributions of the University of Minnesota to the state, to our quality of life, our civic culture.

There’s another very important part of this that I think people should recognize, that is any organization that I know of that’s worth anything at all should regularly recognize and celebrate why it’s very special and important.

So a part of Driven to Discover is to celebrate the culture for us, that is the faculty, staff, students of the University, the alumni of the University, the friends of the University, to really participate in celebrating what makes this a very, very distinctive university and a very important part of the state.