Amendment to scratch Rochester campus fails

Amy Olson

A proposal to establish a branch campus of the University in Rochester narrowly escaped the cutting room floor Friday as legislators’ partisan interests intervened.
House Minority Leader Rep. Thomas Pugh, DFL-South St. Paul, introduced an amendment to remove the proposed campus’ funding from the omnibus higher education budget bill. The amendment failed 51 to 78.
The Rochester proposal would establish a non-residential branch campus of the University to provide upper division and graduate-level education. If the proposal garners Senate and gubernatorial approval, classes could begin at the new institution in fall 2000.
Proponents of the campus said studies demonstrate Rochester’s need for higher education. Rep. William Kuisle, R-Rochester, said Rochester residents could not do anything more to prove to Minnesotans that Rochester needs the campus.
Pugh and other DFLers argued that the proposed campus comes at a time when the need for more institutions of higher education is shrinking, while Republicans — including Rochester Rep. Dave Bishop — claimed that the campus is long overdue.
People have scrambled to find access to higher education in Rochester for years, said Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester. He said residents are impatient that the proposal has moved so slowly.
Bishop added that while Rochester can attract doctors and professionals to work in its health care and technology-driven economy, the spouses of those workers need access to higher education.
But even those who work in health care and high tech fields need continuing education to keep up their skills, Bishop said.
Minnesota has one of the highest number of college and university campuses per capita in the country, said Rep. Joe Opatz, DFL-St. Cloud. Opatz said that while it was probably a mistake to not establish a branch campus in Rochester during the 1960s and 1970s when higher education was expanding, representatives need to think about whether the need will exist 20 years in the future.
The issue has been carefully considered, said Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, higher education finance committee chairwoman.
She added that the bill contains provisions to make sure Winona State University and Minnesota State University-Mankato, are not hurt by the arrangement. Leppik said any changes would require agreement by both the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, reminded his colleagues that the University just closed a branch campus in Waseca in 1992. No one doubts Rochester’s need for higher education, Pelowski said. But statewide higher education needs are already being met, he added.