Bruininks holds open forum

Faculty, staff and students had one hour Thursday to question the president.

Taryn Wobbema

Clarifying previous statements, defending recent decisions and asking for collaboration, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks fielded questions before an audience of about 40 people Thursday. The crowdâÄôs critical statements and questions were met with equally passionate answers that had Bruininks leaning forward in his chair in Coffman Memorial UnionâÄôs theater and talking about finding common ground. Questions, both spoken and written, ranged from University cost-cutting measures to campus safety. âÄúIt seems to me that open conversation spiced with passion and some controversy is indicative of a healthy institution,âÄù said Karen Himle, vice president for University Relations and the forumâÄôs mediator. Faculty asked the president how he could ensure that the University wasnâÄôt âÄúrecklesslyâÄù spending money on non-academic activities like athletics. This led into questions of how the University evaluates programs to determine which can be eliminated in the near future. Bruininks responded with a challenge to University faculty and staff to involve themselves in the task of cutting the âÄúbloatâÄù from the UniversityâÄôs budget. He said he has given each academic and support unit the responsibility to find ways to âÄúdo more with less.âÄù He expressed little interest in seeing top administration impose those cuts on the program level. âÄúCertainly itâÄôs preferable âĦ for academic units to examine their own missions to decide what we may be able to eliminate rather than having the administration do it from the top down,âÄù professor Eva von Dassow said. âÄúBut after years of cuts, youâÄôre essentially asking us which of our body parts we can amputate.âÄù She, on behalf of a number of faculty, said they would like to see the central administration experience cuts first. âÄúI donâÄôt have a problem looking at central administration,âÄù Bruininks said. Everyone at the University seems to have a common desire to see frivolous spending cut out, he said, but the means of achieving such cuts differ. âÄúI welcome the debate,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôm going to be around here for 14 months, and until the last day IâÄôm going to be working on these issues.âÄù Saving jobs and saving money will be top priorities, he added. Diane Odash, a College of Liberal Arts teaching specialist, asked Bruininks to address comments he made at a March 25 Faculty Senate meeting. She said the remarks made it appear that he favored higher-paid staff over the rest, which justified a flat 1.15 percent pay cut instead of a scale cut. Bruininks denied that interpretation. âÄúIf you knew anything about me, youâÄôd know that was very far off the mark,âÄù he said. Questions were also raised about safety on campus and the effectiveness of student involvement in University governance. Bruininks said recent attacks on University students were âÄúdramaticâÄù and âÄúdisturbing,âÄù but noted that crime rates are actually decreasing. Still, he said safety remains a high priority and the continued partnership with surrounding neighborhoods is a step in the right direction. He also addressed Minnesota Student Association âÄôs desire to see student participation similar to that at the University of Wisconsin. In that system, a legislative policy called shared governance places students in some non-standing university committees, ensuring they have input in major decisions. Bruininks said he believes students have an active voice on campus and would support improvements, though he thinks the University can handle that on its own rather than doing it through legislation. – Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter