Bruininks to rally alumni for lobbying

by Stephanie Kudrle

University alumni from across the state will descend on the McNamara alumni center tonight to be called to arms for their alma mater.

The University Alumni Association’s annual legislative briefing will feature a speech by University President Bob Bruininks about the importance of gaining more funding from the Legislature for capital bonding projects.

He will summarize Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s bonding proposal and encourage alumni to start lobbying for the University.

Bruininks said one of his main priorities this spring will be working to ensure the University receives more funding than is currently on the table.

Under the governor’s proposal, the University would receive $76.6 million of the $155.5 million requested for capital bonding.

Despite his disappointment with the governor’s plan, Bruininks said he has a good relationship with Pawlenty.

“The relationship is solid,” he said. “I believe he cares quite strongly about this university.”

Bruininks said 70 percent of the capital bonding request would go toward restoring, renewing and modernizing old buildings.

The University has about 800 buildings, and Bruininks said 25 percent of buildings on campus are at least 70 years old.

The requested money is mainly for “taking care of what we have,” he said.

“I’m going to really try to get (the alumni) fired up,” Bruininks said. “We have to do everything we can possibly do.”

Margaret Carlson, executive director of the Alumni Association, said she was also disappointed with the governor’s bonding proposal.

She hopes tonight’s briefing will inspire alumni and students to start an active campaign to bring more funding to the University.

“You can dwell on disappointment or say it’s time for action,” Carlson said. “Alumni need to stand up and be counted.”

Carlson said there are about 380,000 living University alumni, and 70 percent of them reside in Minnesota.

“Rallying the troops is a lot easier here because our alumni are not too scattered,” Carlson said.

She also said alumni need to send a message to the Legislature that investing in a research institution such as the University is using money wisely.

“When you look at all the things developed by the University that have transformed the world, there is payback every day,” she said.

Bruininks said if the governor’s version of the bonding bill passes, projects will be deferred until the University brings its request to the Legislature in 2006.

Unfortunately, Bruininks said, if the state continues to cut funding, a lot of the burden will fall on students’ pocketbooks.

According to a plan approved by the Board of Regents last spring, tuition will likely increase at least 13 percent next year.

But Carlson said students should know the bonding proposal is for buildings only and will not directly affect tuition.

Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, will also speak at the event and participate in a discussion about the proposal.

Mike Dean, coordinator for the Alumni Association’s Legislative Network, said he invited Michel to speak because of his strong support for the University.

“He knows about what influences the Legislature,” Dean said. “And he’s very knowledgeable about the University.”