University must maintain mission

Research or outreach cuts are not an option in the face of a quality vs. affordability dilemma.

by President Bob Bruininks

Rushworth Kidder once suggested that the toughest choices pit one good against another. Choosing which of our outstanding programs, centers or initiatives to support or which academic fields will provide the best return on the publicâÄôs investment is no small task, especially when peopleâÄôs futures are at stake. It is critical that we avoid false choices, in which problems are presented as black or white and either decision diminishes the University of Minnesota. Such is the dilemma we face when we pit quality against affordability. We need both in order to be a leading public university; if we price ourselves out of the market in an effort to be world-class we will cease to be public in any meaningful sense, and if we fail to invest in quality we will slide quickly into mediocrity. Similarly, the idea that we should cut research and outreach and instead focus on education in order to save money is a false choice. Our research and outreach missions are not only closely connected to each other and to the economic well-being of the state but also provide unique experiences that students cannot get anywhere else. In addition, these two aspects of our mission garner significant funding outside of the regular state appropriation, and in many cases, the faculty who teach or provide research experiences for our students are funded in part by these additional sources of support. Despite declining state investment, the University has focused on improving all aspects of its mission. Our application, retention, graduation and student satisfaction rates are all on the rise, underscoring the success of our ongoing efforts to improve teaching, learning and student services. The growth of our sponsored research enterprise continues to outpace many of our peers. Faculty and staff have submitted more than 870 research proposals in order to take advantage of new research funding available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, totaling a potential $694 million beyond our usual funding levels. Meanwhile, academic profiles of our coordinate campuses continue to improve, and University of Minnesota Extension is regarded as a national model of efficiency and effectiveness. We have accomplished all of these things while steadily increasing our investment in student scholarship and grant support. This year we expanded our need-based scholarship programs to include guaranteed aid both for Pell-eligible Minnesota students as well as Minnesota students whose families make up to $100,000 per year. This fall, more than 30,000 of our students are recipients of the newly named University of Minnesota Promise Scholarship. ThatâÄôs more than 70 percent of undergraduate students system-wide who receive a guaranteed tuition discount based solely on financial need. Minnesota has numerous colleges and universities that focus primarily on teaching and leave research and outreach to us, yet more than 50,000 students choose to enroll here each year. So, as we seek to focus our mission in order to set priorities and control costs, it is important that we not change our mission. We are the only institution in the state to do what we do: develop new knowledge, share that knowledge in our classrooms and apply it to real-world problems in every corner of the state, across the nation and around the world. We must not abandon our roots or surrender our future to address a challenging present. Robert H. Bruininks is president of the University of Minnesota.Please send comments to [email protected]