Bruininks talks about hot-button issues

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University President Bob Bruininks discussed with the Daily what he thinks about topics including the proposed on-campus stadium, the Biomedical Sciences Research Facilities Authority and a proposed bill to get teachers to speak clear English.

One of the University’s strategic positioning goals is to become a more international university. How do you think that will be affected by the proposed bill to ensure that people teaching students speak clear English?

I haven’t read the bill directly, but I don’t think it will have any impact on the University’s international agenda or the way we operate our academic programs here on any of the campuses of the University.

Many years ago, the University developed a special program to help our teaching assistants from other countries who were studying at the University of Minnesota.

They must meet certain standards with regards to English language competency when they’re going to be actively involved in instruction, and they go through a pretty careful apprentice experience before they go in the classroom.

If the bill that precludes corporate sponsors and student fees from funding the stadium is passed, do you think the stadium still has a chance of surviving?

I think it makes it more difficult to get approval for the stadium from both houses. The problem is it requires the state to commit nearly double the level of annual support for the stadium than is required by the University’s proposal.

I think that prospect contains several difficulties for the University. First, I believe that it runs the risk of compromising future academic interest of the University of Minnesota in terms of academic support and support for our capital needs; that is, buildings, classrooms and so forth.

Secondly, I believe that there is little or no support for increasing the level of state commitment, or substantially increasing it, in the House.

If we do not get the stadium passed this year, I think it will be very difficult for us to sustain this initiative and bring the stadium back to the campus, where I believe it belongs.

With another obstacle like this thrown in the way of getting the stadium back on campus, what is the next step if the bill doesn’t pass?

If we don’t succeed in this legislative session, the cost will go up another $30 million, making it very difficult for us to raise the necessary money to get the job done.

I believe we can find a middle ground and I believe that we can find a way to get support for the stadium project, but if it doesn’t pass we’ll just have to reassess our situation here and see if there’s any way we can continue the project. But it will be infinitely more difficult.

What about the millions of dollars worth of land the University has purchased at the proposed stadium site?

That’s a good investment, and it’s an investment that’s very much in the long-term interest of the University of Minnesota.

This investment is going to be good for the long-term future of the University regardless of whether the stadium is built in that location.

What other avenues of funding are being researched if that bill does in fact pass?

It will be very difficult. We are trying to raise $150 million from nonstate sources. That is a very tall order.

Without state support it will be very difficult to complete this project within a budget I think is reasonable in the next several years.

I don’t know what the solution is, quite frankly. I do not believe you can raise another $100 million in private support, and I clearly, along with the University’s Board of Regents, would not recommend that we put that burden on students.

Do you think the money that’s already come from private donors is at the expense of students? Do you think the money would have gone to scholarships otherwise?

No, I actually think quite the opposite has occurred here. I think because of the interest in the stadium, we have been able to position the academic needs of the University with every single donor that has shown an interest in the stadium.

If the dollar amount needed from private sources needed to be increased substantially, I’d have less confidence about our ability to do the stadium project in a way that would protect the academic interests of the University.

I don’t believe you can raise $250 million without putting some academic interests at risk, but I do believe you can raise $150 million in a way that complements the academic needs of the University.

Do you think adding an extra $330 million for the Biomedical Sciences Research Facilities Authority is putting an undue pressure on the other initiatives the University is requesting funds for as well?

No, I actually think that is exactly in the center of the University’s long-term priorities.

The University of Minnesota must be a national and global leader in research and application related to human health. That is one of the signature aspects of this University of Minnesota, and it’s critically important, not only to the University, but to the state’s thriving economy in the whole area of biomedical sciences.

So the biomedical sciences authority should greatly enhance the ability of the University to meet all of its academic needs to construct and support the necessary buildings and laboratories in the biomedical sciences and to ensure that we made orderly progress in supporting the rest of the University’s needs to improve classrooms and working environments for all of the faculty, staff and students who work and study at the University of Minnesota.

With all this emphasis being put on medical research and research that will eventually bring the University money, does that cast a shadow on research in the liberal arts that doesn’t draw that many dollars?

The University must ensure that it maintains a balanced commitment to all the academic areas that are important to the University of Minnesota and to higher education in general.

We will have to make some decisions; not everything is of equal importance, but I would not want to be in a University that only put its money and based its future on science and technology.

I think you put your finger on something that will continue to be a struggle for the University of Minnesota and other universities, which is: How do you balance the rising cost of investing in biomedical sciences and biosciences with the need to maintain a balanced commitment to the full range of academic programs that make the University a great place to learn and work?

Are you going to be ensuring that students have any say in what will happen to Northrop?

Absolutely. I think students are going to be appointed to the Northrop committee, and I’d love students to be very deeply engaged in the Northrop project. After all, I expect that much of what will happen in Northrop in the long-term future will center on the needs of our students.

Do you think the administration relies on the Minnesota Student Association too much to get its student input for any given initiative?

I don’t know how to answer that. I think one of the great attributes of the University of Minnesota is: I think we have more student organizations and groups than nearly any other campus in the Big Ten.

To me that’s a great strength of the University of Minnesota, and I would like to think it’s my responsibility and the responsibility of other leaders in the University to connect with a broad range of student groups and interests on campus, including the Minnesota Student Association.

Do you think you deserved your raise from the Board of Regents?

I’d prefer that other people make that judgment. I want to try to earn their trust each and every day. I want to earn the trust of the Board and the University community every day. How people evaluate my performance I plan to leave up to them.

You don’t have any of your own thoughts on your performance?

I’m quite proud of my performance, and I’m particularly proud of the people who work with me. As I look back on the last four years, we’re a University that has weathered the worst financial crisis in the University’s history.

We came out of that with a vision for the future and substantial commitment to make the University even more excellent in the future than it is today.

I think, taking all of this into account, this has been a period of enormous challenge, opportunity and achievement in the life of the University. I’m deeply proud of what we’ve done in the last four years, and I’m looking forward to accomplishing even more in the next several.

Any last thoughts?

I think we have a very challenging legislative session in which we’ve identified some very challenging priorities for the future of the University.

At this point, I am very pleased with the position of the University of Minnesota and the state capital request and reasonably optimistic we’re going to get a good result when the Legislature adjourns and the governor signs the bill.

We have a great agenda; we’ve positioned it well, now we just have to work very hard in the next two months to see if we can bring these achievements home for the benefit of the University and the state.

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