University rallies for optimal state aid

Students and faculty gathered to show support for new budget requests.

Courtney Blanchard

The University is talking money this year at the Capitol, and several hundred students, faculty and alumni gathered last night at the McNamara Alumni Center to rally behind the University’s funding requests.

University President Bob Bruininks and several speakers explained why they think the University needs $123.4 million in state funding, along with $310 million for new biomedical sciences research facilities.

Bruininks addressed the crowd packed tightly around tables with the University’s “Driven to Discover” logo draped all over the room.

“It’s great to see so many enthusiastic boosters at the University of Minnesota this year,” he said.

Despite the state’s nearly $2 billion surplus, Bruininks said the University will have to work hard at the Legislature this year, though he did express relief that the stadium was off the radar.

“Though it may seem boring to you,” Bruininks told the crowd, he broke the budget into different areas of the University that appeal for state funding, including faculty salary, science and health funding and environmental research.

Funding requests

The biggest request for the state this year is $310 million for the University to spend over a 10-year period to fund

new biomedical sciences research facilities. In the past, the Senate passed the request but the House didn’t, Bruininks said.

In order to avoid the standard five years of bartering with the Legislature over funding, he said, the University will request the money all at once.

The new facilities will give the University a “comparative advantage” over other institutions and falls along the strategic planning initiative, Bruininks said.

Controversial with some lawmakers is the part of the request that will go toward raising salary for faculty. Steven Rosenstone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said every year Universities like Harvard, Princeton and the University of Michigan offer positions to faculty at the University of Minnesota.

He said the University needs the money in order to stay competitive and not lose faculty to other institutions.

Rosenstone said the University ranks 27th for salaries among the country’s top-30 research institutions.

“We can’t be the in the top three if we pay in the bottom four,” he said.

Tuition

The University will also try to get a handle on tuition growth, Bruininks said.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said in a phone interview that officials plan for tuition to go up by 4.5 percent for the 2007-08 school year if the University receives the full amount requested in state funds. Local media reported that tuition may increase as much as 9 percent if Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget is adopted, which suggests cutting state funding for the University in half.

Wolter said the University has yet to release how much tuition will increase if the full amount is declined, and right now it’s all just speculation.

“It’s fair to say that if we don’t get the full request, it’s possible that tuition would go up more than 4.5 percent,” Wolter said.

Student reaction

Rising tuition is one of the biggest concerns among students on campus, especially for geographic information science junior Travis Kivisto.

Kivisto works at the Harvard Market East in order to pay rent and utilities. Loans and money saved from summer jobs help him pay the University bill, he said.

Kivisto said tuition hikes make it difficult to budget for school, and he would be interested in getting involved in rallying behind the University, but time is an issue.

“Time would stop me. I usually work 20 hours a week,” he said. “Also, I don’t really know how to get involved.”

Graduate students Lindsey Hornickel and Stacy Culbert said they came to the event because it was required in a policy class for their master of public health degrees.

“I did my undergrad work here, and considering the tuition hikes, it’s interesting to see how I can make an influence,” Hornickel said.

Culbert agreed and said she’d like to stay involved, but with time constraints, it wouldn’t be a top priority.

Amy Reasoner, the grassroots manager for the University Legislative Network, said this year’s event drew the largest crowd ever.

Reasoner said because this year is a biennial budget year, what happens in the Legislature affects people across the University.

“Every year the program gets bigger and there’s more excitement,” she said.

After the University made its plea for funding, attendees separated into “breakout training sessions” to learn about lobbying the Legislature.