Bruininks takes his case to the Capitol

The U’s president emphasized the school’s positive economic impact on the state.

Evelina Smirnitskaya

Though University of Minnesota President Bob BruininksâÄô presentation to the Senate Higher Education Committee at the State Capitol on Wednesday afternoon was meant as a general overview of the University, the discussion focused on specific matters, like incoming-President Eric KalerâÄôs salary and the faculty-to-student ratio at the Rochester campus.

The Legislature is tasked with solving MinnesotaâÄôs $6.2 billion budget deficit, meaning state-funded agencies like the University are looking at significant budget cuts during the next two-year budget cycle.

Republican legislative leadership introduced a bill Tuesday that would keep University funding at its current levels, a move that would act as an $89.2 million cut to the school, given the projected state budget in 2012-13.

Bruininks said his presentation to the new Minnesota Senate Higher Education Committee was primarily a chance to “present [the UniversityâÄôs] case to the Legislature” to encourage state financial support.

Throughout the meeting, Bruininks stressed the UniversityâÄôs economic importance to the state.

“For every dollar you invest in us, we return, indirectly, four dollars of economic activity,” Bruininks said.

The committee membersâÄô questions, however, focused on specific parts of the presentation rather than the broad view Bruininks provided.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, inquired about the UniversityâÄôs Rochester campus subsidies, which has only 143 full-time enrolled students and 70 staff members.

Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, asked about KalerâÄôs $610,000 annual salary, “a significantly higher [paying] rate” than BruininksâÄô $455,000.

Bruininks replied to all inquiries with the message of the vitality the University brings to the state.

“In many ways, the UniversityâÄôs budget âĦ is one of the most complex in the state of Minnesota,” he said.

Thomas Trehus, the political director at the Minnesota Student Association, attended the meeting along with other students to show support.

Trehus said he thought BruininksâÄô answers and message reflected the “basic priorities of the students.” But Trehus also thought the committeeâÄôs questions were “pretty on target.”

As the people responsible “to deliver [the UniversityâÄôs] fate,” he said, the committee has the “right to know everything.”

Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, directly addressed the UniversityâÄôs financial policy.

He asked what the University would do should the Republican proposal pass.

Bruininks replied that the University would continue doing “everything possible” to lessen the tuition burden on students. He said University administrators have and would continue to pay more attention to spending.

“We are cost hawks,” he said.

Bruininks persistently returned to the message of the UniversityâÄôs benefits for Minnesota, economically and culturally.

“I would urge you to be thinking about the things you need to do to preserve the strength of higher education,” he told the committee.

Following the meeting at the Capitol, Bruininks spoke at the McNamara Alumni Center on campus, relaying a similar message to a group of more than 500 alumni, faculty and students.

Thursday, heâÄôll meet with the Minnesota House Committee of Higher Education Policy and Finance. He expects the discussion to be much the same.

Bruininks said the University will do everything possible to find a solution to the projected loss in funding. He said he does not expect the cuts to lead to overbearing tuition increase.

Rather, Bruininks said heâÄôs more worried about the “end game,” as this proposal is only part of a series of proposals Republicans have said theyâÄôll introduce to fix the stateâÄôs budget problems.