U President Bruininks makes opening legislative pitch to preserve funding and limit budget cuts

Robert Bruininks said the U will seriously consider pushing for repeal of legislation that prohibits alcohol sales at sporting arenas on campus.

MinnPost photo by James Nord
Robert Bruininks said the U will seriously consider pushing for repeal of legislation that prohibits alcohol sales at sporting arenas on campus.

A day after Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would continue about $200 million in higher-education cuts into the next budget cycle, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks made his pitch to the Senate Higher Education Committee touting the university’s “phenomenal role and impact” on the state.

He’ll deliver a similar presentation to the House Higher Education Committee today outlining the economic and educational benefits the U of M provides for the state economy.

In the Senate hearing, he emphasized the university’s cost-cutting measures and high international standing among research institutions.

“I know we have to be a part of the solution, but I’m arguing that higher education should be a priority for the state of Minnesota, particularly when it comes to a university like ours that is producing so much for Minnesota’s economy,” Bruininks said.

Extending the cuts — a one-time tool implemented by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty — would remove $90 million in budgeted state aid increases for the U of M in the 2012-2013 biennium. It was the first part of a Republican proposal to begin tackling Minnesota’s projected $6.2 billion deficit.

While higher-education folks are used to flat state aid, it’s the next round of budget reductions that worry U of M administrators.

“Who knows how much they’re going to cut us?” University of Minnesota CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said. “The next one is unknown.”

“I know that they’ve taken some [cuts] already,” Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said. “I can’t say that they’ll be off the table, but we will remember that.”

If the cuts stop with the continued unallotments, tuition increases would likely remain in the single digits, Bruininks said. But if an “absolute crisis” causes further budget reductions, tuition could jump by 10 percent or more.

“They’d have to hammer us really hard,” he said. “I hope they don’t do that.”

Bruininks answered inquiries about the role of state aid in the U of M’s income and in its financial aid services used to help low-income students.

Not all of the questioning was pleasant.

Robling, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, grilled Bruininks on administrative costs and university subsidies at the Rochester campus, which only supports about 140 full-time students.

Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, asked how the university would respond if the current spending cuts are extended.

When facing previous budget reductions, Bruininks said, U of M administrators relied on spending cuts to make up two-thirds of a shortfall and tuition increases for the last third, a practice they’ll continue this round.

A $1 million budget cut threatens about 15 jobs, he said.

In the past, spending cuts have come in the form of pay freezes and mandatory furlough days for employees, among other reductions.

“We’re ‘cost hawks,’ if you will, at the University of Minnesota,” Bruininks said.

Tuition and fees made up a quarter of the university’s budgeted revenues for fiscal year 2011 while state aid only accounted for 18 percent. Tuition has more than doubled over the past decade, according to Minnesota Office of Higher Education data.

Bruininks said the proposed cuts won’t spur any changes in the university’s legislative agenda, but he said the institution will seriously consider pushing for repeal of legislation that prohibits alcohol sales at sporting arenas on campus, including TCF Bank Stadium.

Currently, the university is losing out on $1.5 million to $2 million in yearly revenue because of the restrictions, which Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, championed last session.

The university, however, supports only selling alcohol in premium seating.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/20/2011 - 10:09 am.

    I’ve posted some suggestions for the President in the community voices blog on the Star-Tribune web-site:

    Research and Educational Expenses at the University of Minnesota: Time to Put All the Cards on the Table? (link: http://bit.ly/iccuZG )

    I’d like to suggest a simple general strategy for helping to clarify matters.

    First, establish the cost of education for one undergraduate for one year at U. Of course this will lead to debate about how the figure is calculated, but the result will be that some cards will have to finally be put on the table. Now if the educational cost is less than the tuition revenue and the state contribution, then tuition should not be increased more than the rate of inflation.

    Second, establish the unreimbursed costs of research. My educated guess is that it is approximately 30 percent of the amount of external grants – including overhead – and may in fact be more. Where does the money come from to pay for this deficit?

    Now even Republicans seem to buy the idea that research is a good thing. Their reasons for thinking so may not be mine, but we are in agreement on this point. So part of the justification for funding from the state legislature should be an explicit acknowledgment that research costs the institution money. Instead of going to the legislature and arguing that we are the greatest because we bring in so much external funding, we should admit that we need additional funds to support external grants and ask for it explicitly.

    What I am asking for here is transparency. And the response – from the University of Minnesota administration – is: “We are not trying to hide the ball.” “Everything in our budget is available to the public.”

    That’s not good enough. If public research universities expect to be taken seriously when asking for state support, they are going to have to do a much better job at linking the dollars that come in to the educational and research costs of the institution.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 01/20/2011 - 11:54 am.

    What never ceases to blow my mind about the Republicans in state government is that for believers in the power of the almighty market, they seem to have no concept of investment. If they’re unwilling to protect the social safety next because they’re downright cold-hearted, at least there’s a certain honesty in that. But investment in education is something that has paid off for this state for many years. It’s what can allow us to create new jobs that are actually desirable and can sustain the lifestyle we’re accustomed to rather than racing to the bottom with India to see who can produce plastic crap cheaper. Their disinterest in education (the “cold Alabama” model) only exposes what appears to be a combination of ideological rigidity of startling proportions and a general anti-intellectual bend.

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