Building for the future

The University justifies building during hard economic times because tuition revenue is rarely applied to construction projects.

In the next week or so, generations of University of Minnesota students and alumni will celebrate the demolition of the Science Classroom Building to make way for the new Science Teaching and Student Services building, which was funded as part of the UniversityâÄôs capital request to the state of Minnesota last year. Generally, the process of tearing down a nondescript and outmoded academic building warrants little attention, but this particular building does not meet the needs of our students and is ridiculed by our graduates. It will be replaced by a signature facility that will not only transform how we teach science and serve students on the Twin Cities campus, but one that can stand proudly on the banks of the Mississippi, an architectural peer to the groundbreaking Weisman Art Museum . The University is home to many other striking and noteworthy buildings: the McNamara Alumni Center ; Northrop Memorial Auditorium; Walter Library on the historic Mall; Coffman Memorial Union ; and Folwell Hall . For more than a century, the state and its citizens have invested in the UniversityâÄôs campuses and infrastructure, providing classrooms, laboratories, lecture halls, clinics and community spaces in which students and the public discover new knowledge about the world âÄî and themselves. And as stewards of this great campus, we have a responsibility to maintain these facilities as required and invest in new facilities as warranted by the changing needs and technology of a world-class university. Especially in difficult economic times, I am often asked how the University can justify new construction or request additional funding for maintenance when budgets are tight and people are hurting. Many people link the construction of facilities like the TCF Bank Stadium with tuition increases and are outraged. In truth, tuition revenue is rarely applied to construction projects, and when it is used for construction, it primarily supports teaching facilities. Tuition does not fund the construction of TCF Bank Stadium. Sixty percent of the cost of stadium construction comes from private support and approved non-tuition revenue sources. The remaining 40 percent comes from the state of Minnesota, and in fact, the stadium fundraising campaign has raised nearly $45 million in additional scholarship and academic gifts for the University. The vast majority of new construction and maintenance projects on the campuses of the University of Minnesota are funded from outside the University, and much of that funding is already approved and in place. In addition, many of these projects are âÄúshovel-ready,âÄù creating real jobs for real people now âÄî and in the case of projects like the biomedical facilities expansion funded by the state last year, new opportunities for years to come. Like our new president and the leaders of our peer institutions, I firmly believe that investing in the nationâÄôs human capital infrastructure âÄî schools, colleges and universities âÄî is critical to stimulating economic growth, both in the short and long term. But we have an equally important responsibility to past and future generations of University of Minnesota students and alumni, faculty and staff, to leave our campuses and our state as good as or better than we found it. Robert Bruininks is the UniversityâÄôs president. Please send comments to [email protected]