Some think private funding contradicts U’s responsibilities

Jens Krogstad

According to the University’s mission statement, the institution strives to provide outreach, learning and research to Minnesota.

Lately, however, it seems fund raising from private sources has become another goal – which some students and faculty think clashes with the University’s basic mission.

“The University is trying to deal with increasing pressure towards commercialization,” political science professor Ed Fogelman said. “How we deal with those pressures will determine to a large extent the future contributions of the University in the longer term.”

As a public land-grant university, the University received land and money from the federal government in exchange for greater responsibilities than other colleges.

Those responsibilities are keeping higher education accessible, ensuring diversity in the student body and contributing to the public, said Fogleman, who is also chairman of the University Council on Public Engagement.

Despite funding cuts, legislators said standards for the University will not go down.

“We have expectations in terms of the quality of the education, and the research that is done and the outreach through extension services,” said state Rep. Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring, chairman of the Higher Education Finance Committee.

Minnesota Student Association President Eric Dyer said he is concerned the University is sacrificing student interests.

“One of the problems with our budget is that there’s more of a focus towards a corporate model,” he said. “You have a lot of students that are highly subsidized and a lot of rich kids, but no middle class.”

Rachel Gammelgaard said she and her parents took out loans to pay for college because she didn’t get enough financial aid.

“My parents make just enough and save just enough to make it look like they have enough to pay for school,” she said. “But there’s four kids in my family and my sister is getting married, so it’s hard.”

Undergraduates are not the only ones suffering from budget cuts – graduate students and faculty are feeling increased pressure to pay for their research.

Inorganic chemistry graduate student Kari Mitchell said most of her research is funded by private grants from private companies, which limits her options.

“A lot of times what we’re interested in, (companies) don’t care that much about,” she said. “You have to make it apply to what they want.”

In fiscal year 2002, the University received $74.5 million in nongovernment research grants, approximately 17 percent of its total grant intake. The figure is up slightly from $61.5 million in 1997.

Now for some students, the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake seems nothing more than a romantic notion taught in undergraduate courses.

“Anything that expands the basic knowledge of science, but doesn’t have a practical application (doesn’t get done),” inorganic chemistry graduate student Kevin Erickson said.

Even though tuition increases, a diminished Extension Service and privately funded research seems to help the University’s fiscal crisis, Fogelman said it hurts the school in the long run.

“A commercialized public land-grant university is not serving its purpose and will make it harder to get funding,” he said. “But the pressures we’re under are very strong.”