Bruininks urges alumni to lobby legislature on U’s behalf

State budget shortfall puts U on defensive in maintaining funding levels

by Paul Sand

University President Robert Bruininks urged alumni, faculty and administrators Tuesday to contact state lawmakers and remind them of the University’s value.

Bruininks’ speech was part of the University’s legislative briefing, an annual gathering of alumni to acquaint them with the University’s legislative requests.

“We need your help,” he said. “We need you to speak to (legislators) about the critical importance of investing in education for the future.”

Given the state’s budget woes – an estimated $4.2 billion deficit for fiscal years 2004-05 – the event played an important role in the University’s legislative agenda to secure state funding.

In November, the University’s Board of Regents approved a request for $96 million in increased state funding in the 2004-05 fiscal years. While any funding increases seem doubtful, University officials say they hope to protect their current level of state funding, approximately $600 million a year, without having to absorb more cuts.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced last week a $25 million reduction in state funds to help balance Minnesota’s current $356 million deficit. That reduction is expected to result in across-the-board institutional budget cuts at the University.

While Bruininks acknowledged the state’s grim financial status, he reminded the crowd of more than 350 that the University has survived and thrived during difficult financial times.

“We have some very big challenges upon us, but I think we’re up to this challenge,” he said.

Bruininks asked the supporters to tell legislators the University is important both locally and nationally.

He suggested alumni be assertive when writing letters, making phone calls and meeting legislators.

“Put a face on it,” he said, imploring alumni to share their individual stories.

Talking about the student experience and the University as part of the state’s economy – two of former President Mark Yudof’s institutional goals – were also suggestions Bruininks offered.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, one of the dozen legislators in attendance, said he is concerned with the loss of funding for the University and specifically how it affects jobs in the area he represents – the Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods.

The event centered on the University’s Legislative Network, a grassroots organization started by the University of Minnesota Alumni Association in 1986. The purpose of the network, said Executive Director Margaret Carlson, is for alumni to organize their efforts, understand the University’s state funding requests and contact their state representatives.

Carlson said the organization is especially important with such a large state budget deficit.

“It would be a big mistake to say ‘the state is in a difficult financial crisis’ and turn our backs on the University,” she said.

Paul Sand welcomes comments at [email protected]