Rappin’ with Robert

How has the start of the school year gone thus far? What new goals and challenges are on the table? Well, I think the school year has gone exceptionally well. We started something new this year with a Welcome Week program for freshmen, and I think it went quite well. We had a great convocation at Mariucci Arena. The year started also with the Republican National Convention in St. Paul and I know a number of students participated one way or another in educational venues we offered on campus. This will be, I think, a good year for the University but perhaps one with some challenge. This week IâÄôm taking to the Board of Regents our biennial budget request where we ask the state to provide an investment here at the University. That will be a challenge this year in the midst of this global or national recession. Could you talk a bit more about how Welcome Week changed the freshman move-in experience? Well, I noticed one thing âÄî it created traffic jams in the middle of the week. I think it created a lot of enthusiasm and a new sense of community here for freshmen coming onto campus for the first time. Welcome Week is really a part of something much bigger than a single week or event. Several years ago, we made a decision to really improve the first-year experience for students and we implemented a wide range of academic programs. We greatly increased small classes through the freshman seminar program. We increased research opportunities and made a major effort to increase scholarship support for students. All these efforts have been an attempt to really make the transition to the University of Minnesota more exciting and connected. Welcome Week may be the most visible of these efforts. We have such a gorgeous campus, whatâÄôs your favorite part of the University in the fall? My favorite part of the University in the fall is along the Mississippi River. I think there are very few places in the world that are as picturesque as the river bank in the fall. I like to walk along the river, bike along the river. The second area that I really like in the fall in the Twin Cities is the St. Paul campus. ThatâÄôs a really beautiful picturesque campus that too few students who live on the East Bank really enjoy. Have you spoken with coach Brewster about this yearâÄôs football season? What kind of expectations are there? Well, weâÄôre off to a much better start and IâÄôm delighted. I thought they played an outstanding game on Saturday against a team that was predicted to win by pretty close to a touchdown. I have talked to coach Brewster about the season and heâÄôs guardedly optimistic. He believes heâÄôs recruited some really good players and the players coming back have another year of experience. I know we will have a better season âĦ I think the team will win more games, but it clearly is a rebuilding process and we still have some distance to go. Do you expect the new stadium to help in the teamâÄôs development? I think the stadium is going to be a great gathering place for people in Minnesota. I felt the stadium should come back here to the University campus; I think thatâÄôs where it belongs. I think it will be inspiring to students. How will the University deal with the congestion on the Washington Avenue Bridge this year? ItâÄôs going to be very difficult. This developed very suddenly. We knew the bridge was under review and that special studies were taking place but we didnâÄôt know it would be a problem during this academic year. WeâÄôre asking our students, faculty and staff to pay attention to what the engineers have told us we need to do to use the bridge safely. I think weâÄôll get through it. ItâÄôs inconvenient because thousands of people cross it every year but IâÄôm hopeful that early in the spring weâÄôll have the bridge fully repaired and reinforced. How is the University working to resolve the issue of professors Jacko and SainfortâÄôs suspected double-dipping? I get briefed regularly. I donâÄôt think itâÄôs fair at this time to come to any conclusion as to what the facts are. The University of Minnesota Office of the General Counsel is really working to ascertain the facts and make sure that we treat everyone fairly in this situation. These professors were recruited because they are nationally regarded as being among the very best professors in their field, and the facts still have to be clarified. I think in the end weâÄôre going to come to a fair resolution for all the parties. Were you able to attend any RNC-related events, either on or off campus? I welcomed Washington Week here to the Mann Theater [Ted Mann Concert Hall] and participated in that particular event. I also worked with faculty and student leaders on campus to plan a number of educational venues that were held at the Humphrey Institute last week and raised $100,000 in private funding to support them. I was also on C-SPAN. I had a chance to do half-an-hour with questions from all over the country. Some of the questions were focused on our metropolitan area and what it was like to host the convention. Most of the focus was on issues facing higher education. That was Saturday morning fairly early when most students at the University of Minnesota were sleeping in. For me it was great fun. It was great to engage a national audience in some of the issues facing the University of Minnesota. How do you think the convention and related events were handled by the Twin Cities? I think for the most part the Twin Cities handled the events reasonably well. I donâÄôt know all the facts about the circumstances in downtown St. Paul. I was traveling around the community a good deal during that period of time. I think this community has always put a high value on free speech and freedom of expression. I know there was some tension around those particular issues but IâÄôm very hopeful that weâÄôll assess what actually happened here and try to learn from this experience. You referred to your upcoming budget request as a âÄúmodest and realistic statement of needs.âÄù What are some special considerations that came up when you were drafting this budget? We have crafted a very simple, but straightforward budget that we think is a fair statement of the UniversityâÄôs needs. Our first and top priority is to make sure that we can give some reasonable level of compensation to our faculty and staff. This is a faculty and staff that work very, very hard and achieve extraordinary things for our students and for the state of Minnesota. A second priority is to ask the state for some reasonable levels of what we call âÄúinvestment in our research enterprise.âÄù ThatâÄôs mainly focused on making sure we have the technology and equipment to keep the UniversityâÄôs research activities very competitive not just here in the state, but in the nation and in the world. The third is a request that we think is vitally important to keep the University affordable for students who come from largely middle-income backgrounds. We have proposed $8 million a year to fund a middle-income scholarship program âĦ and to use that money to go out and match private gifts. We can more than double the impact. WeâÄôre arguing that the University must do its part through tuition revenues, other revenues that come in to the University plus cost reductions and internal reallocations of our resources. We believe in times of economic stress weâÄôve got to tighten our belt and do our part.