Bruininks’ final address looks forward

University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks delivered his final State of the University address and stressed the importance of high aspirations.

by Conor Shine

In his final State of the University address, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks looked back on the successes of his 8-plus years as president.

Since Bruininks took office in 2002, four-year undergraduate graduation rates have nearly doubled, retention rates have increased, a record amount of money has been raised for student financial aid and several new signature buildings have been brought to campus âÄì including TCF Bank Stadium and the Science Teaching and Student Services building, he said.

But Bruininks kept one eye on the future throughout the speech, and emphasized the need to dream big and set high goals.

“We must remind ourselves, and the people of Minnesota, that we are driven by that same hope âÄì by our aspirations to be something greater than we are today,” he said.  “We should take great pride in our efforts to set high expectations and seek that bright horizon each and every day.”

Bruininks addressed a crowd of about 250, made up mostly of faculty and staff, Wednesday afternoon at Coffman Memorial Theater.  Another 280 watched online, and the 40 minute speech was followed by a short question and answer session.

Susan Noakes, a professor in the Department of French and Italian, pressed Bruininks on where liberal arts fit into the future of the University after the subject was left out of his speech.

Liberal arts are âÄúfundamentalâÄù to the mission of the University, Bruininks said, but the definition of liberal arts is changing, and there needs to be discussion about how to best deliver those ideals in the 21st century.

Bruininks also took the opportunity to promote the impact of the University across state, citing its research activities, agricultural extension offices and the billions of dollars the school generates for the economy.

Bruininks also sent a message to state lawmakers, warning about the dangers of more potential cuts to the UniversityâÄôs funding after a decade of declining support.

“We are approaching a tipping point at which disinvesting in the University will diminish academic quality and productivity,” he said. 

Many of the talking points and statistics from WednesdayâÄôs speech had already been shared at other meetings and presentations.

Student senator Luke Nichols said he wasnâÄôt surprised by anything in the speech, but he was glad Bruininks emphasized the UniversityâÄôs unique importance in the state.

“ItâÄôs a given,” the environmental science junior said, “but itâÄôs something that needs to be asserted.”

This was the eighth and final State of the University address for Bruininks, who will be stepping down to return to the faculty on June 30.

Bruininks said he has few regrets from his time as president, and is proud of how the University has seized new opportunities and responded effectively to the tough fiscal situations itâÄôs been dealt.

“People ask âÄòIs this sort of a bittersweet moment?âÄô” he said.  “Well, no itâÄôs just a really sweet moment. IâÄôve had the opportunity to serve a cause that I care about, a cause that I love.  IâÄôm leaving feeling pretty goodâĦabout the accomplishments weâÄôve made.”