Bruininks discusses views on University-based stem cell research

The president spoke about the direction of the program in light of Bush’s veto.

by Yelena Kibasova

With the summer session near its end and the new school year creeping up, University President Bob Bruininks expressed his thoughts to the Daily on student concerns, recent legislation and the environment.

How do you feel about (President George W.) Bush’s veto of stem cell research and how may this affect the ‘U’?

I actually do not support the veto, obviously. I believe it puts Ö University-based research at a very strong competitive disadvantage. I believe we can conduct stem cell research with strong commitment Ö to the highest ethical standards. We have very strong protocols in place to govern stem cell research now. I do believe along with leading scientists and international scientists (that) this is a very promising area of research and discovery and one that can lead to some very promising benefits to promote and improve human health.

We continue to conduct, within the law, within the federal regulations, stem cell research here at the University of Minnesota. We have a very strong adult stem cell research program that is not covered at all by the veto. And the embryonic stem cell research that we do is not funded by public money, state or federal. This is governed by very strict protocols similar to those that are used in universities across the country.

What is your reaction to concerns that TCF Bank will monopolize the University now that it has stadium naming rights?

I don’t think there’s any foundation at all whatsoever to these arguments. First of all, TCF has a naming agreement and an athletic sponsorship similar to literarily dozens of athletic sponsorships.

The difference is this is a larger one. But all of the banking relationships it has with the University of Minnesota have been arrived at through open competitive bids in which TCF, independent of the stadium naming, competed against other banks for the University card and the related businesses. That competitive bid didn’t deny other banking interests in the community a relationship in the University. We have a very strong relationship to Wells Fargo for many of our banking operations, with US Bank and other banks.

The agreement provides virtually no control over University decision-making, University education and University research. It is strictly an agreement to name the stadium in return for some advertising privileges that are similar to what we have for hockey, basketball and football at the present time.

Now, the good news about the TCF Bank agreement is that the parts of our relationship that were bid through a competitive public Ö are bringing actually more resources to the University than the stadium naming agreement. By my decision and the decision of the University, all of those resources over the next 25 years are being dedicated to student support and supporting student activities and TCF has nothing to say about what we use that money for.

It’s completely independent, it was bid through a competitive process and the idea that the naming agreement is an access and influence over decisions at the University, over the academic values and priorities of the University, is just plain nonsense.

With an increasing national concentration on energy efficiency, how is the University working to be environmentally friendly?

We think we’re one of the strongest places in the country when it comes to promoting alternative sources of energy and renewable energy.

When I became president, I declared that the area of renewable energy and the environment would be one of my eight top interdisciplinary research and educational priorities.

In a special institute called the Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment, we have one of the strongest research programs in the United States with very, very strong state funding and University funding, so that’s one thing.

Secondly, the University Board of Regents, at the suggestion of the administration and the engagement of faculty, staff and students, created a sustainability policy Ö that has a set of values and principles that govern our activities and helps us prioritize with respect to building codes, the use of energy and related matters.

Thirdly, as a part of the priority on renewable energy, we’ve had extraordinary attention placed on how the University uses energy and how it conserves energy, and we have tried to connect our academic interests with our use of energy as a major organization in our state.

We’re experimenting with new things. For example, we have a major investment in wind energy. At the Morris site Ö we’re putting in a biomass heating facility that will heat most of the Morris campus. We like to think we’re not just a leader in the United States, but we’re actually, in higher education, Ö a world leader in this area.

We really need to pay attention to this. If we want out policies to be independent, we want to be good stewards of this earth and our environment, we have to pay attention to these issues, we have to do something about it. I believe that the universities ought to be leading the way.

The reciprocity agreement between Wisconsin and Minnesota was extended at the beginning of this month. How does this agreement affect the University?

The reciprocity agreement has served the University well in terms of encouraging students from North and South Dakota and Wisconsin and Manitoba to attend the University of Minnesota and these are great students and they’ve been a great part of academic community.

I have a problem with the current reciprocity agreement and I drew this concern to the attention of Gov. (Tim) Pawlenty and his administration about two years ago.

And that is, Wisconsin students, unlike students from North and South Dakota, pay Wisconsin tuition rates rather than Minnesota tuition rates. That enables a Wisconsin student to attend the campuses of University of Minnesota at Duluth, Morris and the Twin Cities at less cost than a Minnesota resident.

So I have raised this issue and the state has assured me that they’re going to take that into consideration but to my knowledge, in the new agreement, they have not addressed the concern that I raised two years ago.

It costs the University of Minnesota about $6 million in tuition revenue every year and it is, I think, just plain unfair to expect Minnesota students to pay more than Wisconsin students for the same class. We have to address this issue and we have to correct it either through University policy or state policy in the next few years.

How will students have to adjust to the three new schools when they come back this fall?

I think the people have worked very, very hard during the last year to make the transition for students very seamless. I don’t think students will see much difference because we did not change the departmental structure of these colleges that are coming together in a new way. Students still will major in the areas like social work or major in areas that have to do with the environment or agriculture and food systems, so I don’t think there will be much of an adjustment.

We’ve really worked to integrate the student systems from the old colleges that are being integrated into the new collegiate frameworks. So I think the transition for students will be relatively seamless and quite straightforward.

I do see some real advantages for students long term. To give you an example Ö we have two undergraduate environmental science programs and the students frequently said to me, ‘Why do we have two? Why can’t I take courses in the other program?’ I think this gives the students, the faculty and the staff an opportunity to think very creatively about how the curriculum should be structured.

Another example is the new College of Design is talking about developing a new undergraduate major on product design, one of the growing fields in Minnesota and around the world. So I think for student the new colleges are going to offer expanded academic opportunities, a higher level of service and support in terms of advisement and career services and I don’t think they’re going to see any disruption in their academic programs.