Bruininks’ inauguration

The theme for today’s inauguration of Robert Bruininks as the University’s 15th president is “Advancing Knowledge: A Partner for Public Good.” It’s an appropriate choice, as the University in coming months must convince the Legislature of its value to the health and vitality of the state.

The University is facing the largest budget cut in its 152-year history. As he began his term, Bruininks proposed the lowest operating budget request in a decade, hoping to deflect major cuts by the state. In return, however, Gov. Tim Pawlenty put the new president in a tougher situation by slashing funding. To avoid a backlash, Pawlenty then announced a 15 percent “absolute ceiling” on tuition increases, although the cap is not legally binding.

Bruininks has said among his top priorities is shielding students from another major tuition hike, but such an increase seems likely if Pawlenty’s proposal remains intact. To deal with the budget problems, Bruininks, who has spent nearly four decades at the University, maintains that everything is on the table. Some have talked about eliminating campuses and the General College as well as forming more business relationships with industries. It remains to be seen how adept Bruininks proves at seeking creative solutions that resolve multiple problems while keeping tuition hikes as small as possible.

Bruininks’ style is, in his own words, one of “quiet advocacy.” He has faced some criticism for not being more outwardly vocal, a characteristic of his predecessor. However, critics should keep in mind that much work is conducted behind the scenes.

At today’s Northrop Auditorium ceremony, Bruininks will highlight the University’s commitment to teaching and learning as well as the cutting-edge research fueling the state’s economy. He will also talk about the University’s role in enriching the cultural life in Minnesota. To maintain an excellent and accessible University, the University community must rally his message and pressure legislators. As the governor and legislators listen in the audience, they would do well to take that message to heart.