Faculty asks Legislature to support U health programs

First-year University graduate student Tracy Matthies and 25 other graduate students could be the last class to graduate from the University’s occupational therapy program.

But Matthies said she hopes her showing of support at the State Capitol on Monday can help keep the program going.

Minnesota lawmakers heard testimonies from Frank Cerra, Academic Health Center senior vice president, and other faculty members, who stressed supporting funding for the University’s health professional programs.

Cerra reiterated the need for funds in research and educational partnerships between the University and the larger Minnesota community.

“We need to recruit, educate and train our students here (at the University) so that they stay here (to work),” Cerra said.

He said the state needs to provide full funding of the University’s biennial budget request, and it should also fund the University’s partnership with Mayo Clinic.

In September, occupational therapy students and faculty members learned no new students would be admitted to the program after this academic year.

Additionally, the medical technology program at the University is at risk of ending.

The program is the largest of its kind in the country.

“It came as a surprise Ö it’s shrinking resources,” said Patricia Schaber, a University occupational therapy professor.

“We just want to make sure that it won’t hurt the health of the people of Minnesota.”

Cerra’s mission for the Academic Health Center is to discover new treatments, cures and practices in care, he said.

Approximately 70 percent of health-care professionals in the state receive their degrees from the University, Cerra said.

The health professional programs include approximately 6,400 students in 62 degree programs.

As the competition among other medical programs increases nationwide, Cerra said, the University will need the support of the state to retain and attract top students and faculty members.

But to do that, Cerra said, the Academic Health Center needs space for research.

“We won’t have the capacity to train and educate more students” if the state doesn’t support the center, he said.

Approximately 15 graduate students and four occupational therapy faculty members also appeared at the meeting in support of funding.