Dean tours stateto support U’s budget request

Melanie Evans

Bob Elde, College of Biological Sciences dean, took a slight detour Tuesday in Hibbing, Minn., for a glimpse of Bob Dylan’s boyhood home.
Despite the slight diversion, Elde wasn’t distracted from the purpose for his visit up north: to persuade area legislators and community leaders to support the University’s $290 million budget request.
State lawmakers will begin considering the proposal when they return to session Jan. 20.
Elde and a handful of top University health officials kicked off a two-week statewide tour Tuesday with visits to two northern Minnesota cities. They met with local press members, health care professionals and area legislators.
The 12-hour tour began with an editorial meeting in Hibbing at the Daily Tribune and culminated with a reception at the Kitchi Gammi Club in Duluth. Elde, and deans from the Academic Health Center, who also visited the Duluth News Tribune and Hibbing’s The Androy hotel, fielded a series of question-and-answer sessions throughout the day.
Rick Ziegler, interim director of the University of Minnesota Medical School, said that making a personal appearance gave the Twin Cities representatives increased credibility.
“The communication aspect is tremendously important,” he said.
A believer in “eyeball to eyeball” communication, Frank Cerra, senior vice president for the Academic Health Center, will lead the statewide tour, which ends Jan. 21 in St. Paul.
The University delegation addressed their outstate colleagues and emphasized the University’s impact on rural medical communities.
In turn, Cerra asserted that the distance education and outreach programs currently in place would benefit from the state’s investment.
He pointed out that the state’s current budget surplus and enthusiastic leadership has placed the University medical programs in an excellent position to make key investments.
“The opportunity is now. Once it goes it will be difficult to recapture. It’s the right time,” Cerra said.
Investments made 15 years ago resulted in a statewide network of quality health care, an economic engine that fuels the state, Cerra told audiences Tuesday.
“Now it is time to build the bio-medical alley of tomorrow,” Cerra added.
The University group received a warm reception from local medical professionals as they highlighted the medical school program’s specific funding requests.
But they also faced skeptical state lawmakers during the tour.
The funding request — which includes $70 million for a Molecular and Cellular Biology Institute on the Twin Cities campus — faces stiff competition from a number of other state infrastructure projects, said Rep. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.
However, arguing that the University may not need all of the money immediately, Tomassoni said the Legislature would not allow the University to fall behind.
On hand for the second meeting of the day in Duluth, Sen. Sam Solon, DFL-Duluth, endorsed the budget request, but stopped short of writing the University a blank check.
A member of the Senate’s higher education budget committee, Solon said the University’s share of state money will become clearer after all competing requests have been considered.
The group received strong support from UMD Chancellor Katheryn Martin, whose own capital request totals $25.8 million.
She agreed with Cerra that time is crucial for funding the University’s requests.
Waiting to do so could cause the University to slip behind competitors, she said.
“(A delay in funding would) put us far enough behind that one has to wonder if catching up is possible,” Martin said.