Bruininks lays it out for the House

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks is testifying at the state Capitol again today, making the university’s case in a time of budget cuts. This time he’s in front of the House of Representatives’ committee on higher education.

I’m covering the hearing just in case he says anything new. So far he’s hitting the usual themes. Some points he has made:

  • The university is critical to a vibrant economy and tech dominance. “It has taken 50-60 years to build this kind of world leadership, but it can slip in an instant. … Business will move. … It can happen overnight.”
  • Cutting often hits newer fields first (such as certain sciences), and leaves the university behind the cutting edge. It’s a costly struggle to catch up. That happened to the U in the bio-sciences field, he said.
  • Simply commercializing research is not the way to generate regular revenue. It’s too unpredictable.
  • The U offers a “tremendous rate of return.” (Bruininks in the past has mentioned a ratio of something like $4.50 in gains for every $1 invested in the U, but after he discussed it with a committee member, it doesn’t sound like a direct, formula-like connection.)
  • Anonymous

    I see nothing new here, do you, Alex?

    For some concrete suggestions about how the interaction of the legislature and the U administration could be bettered, please see my post on the Strib Community Voices blog:

    Research and Educational Expenses at the University of Minnesota: Time to Put All the Cards on the Table?

    Link: http://bit.ly/ehbZyd

    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.