Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bruininks: New Covenant?

Legislature: No Sale ...

Legislative reaction to President Bruininks' call for an educational renaissance and a new covenant with the legislature has been swift and negative.

This is unsurprising to anyone watching interactions between the legislature and the Morrill Hall Gang in the recent past.

Perhaps adhering to an older implied covenant - that of acting as an actual land grant university - would have led to a more favorable response?

Now we are reduced to Oliver Twist's plea: "Please, sir, may I have more?

To do something like this before checking with legislative leaders about whether there was any reasonable possibility of a new covenant was foolish. Another great PR move. Once again we are left standing at the altar appearing to be greedy and feeling somehow superior to many other perhaps more worthy targets of state largess. (Little children, the indigent, the elderly, and the sick...)

Renaissance, indeed!

Given the Morrill Hall Gang's track record at the legislature, none of this should come as a surprise.

From MPR:

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks challenged state policy makers Monday to put higher education at the top of their priority list. Bruininks is calling for the state to increase support for the University of Minnesota and all of education, but some state lawmakers say that's a hard sell in these tough times.

To keep the university strong, Bruininks wants a commitment from lawmakers to provide stable and increasing funding in the future. He says after years of declining support, it's time for a "higher education renaissance."

"It's very important in times of fiscal stringency of the type we're experiencing now, to have a serious discussion about priorities, and to have a serious discussion about what we can do better to leverage the public investment we have now," he said.

Bruininks said he wants the state to enter what he calls a "covenant" with the university. Essentially, the university would promise to meet certain goals for graduation and tuition rates, in exchange for solid and dependable levels of funding.

State Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs a higher education committee at the state Capitol, likes the idea ... in principle.

"I'll sign the covenant, I'm happy to do it," she said. "But I've got 200 colleagues, I've got a bad economy, I've got other pressing needs that need to be addressed."

Pappas said most lawmakers want to support the university, but they can't spend money they don't have. They're currently dealing with a $1.2 billion deficit, while a $5.4 billion budget shortfall looms in the next two-year budget cycle.

State Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, who sits on Pappas' higher education committee, finds it's hard to promise a stable level of funding for the university, when the state itself doesn't have the same guarantee.

"The state revenues go up and down. All of the areas that we also fund go up and down with the tides, and I don't know if we can guarantee one area of our budget a stable funding source," Robling said.

If the state agrees to provide dependable support for higher education in the future, then colleges need to make some changes of their own, Bruininks said. He said they need to be more accountable for the money they receive, they need to do more with the funding they get and do a better job of graduating students.

"I don't think you should have new funding without reform at the same time. I think you need both," he said.

In his address, Bruininks also said it is time for the state to take a look at how it funds two higher education systems, the University of Minnesota and the 54-campus, statewide Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Bruininks said colleges that once complemented each other now compete for students and dwindling state resources.

In a statement, MnSCU officials say they're ready to discuss how higher education institutions can better serve Minnesota. They also say the state needs what they specialize in, graduates with two-year and four-year degrees, to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
Perhaps the state does not need one of the top three public research universities on the planet?

Or perhaps Minnesota simply can't afford it?

Time for some honesty and new priorities, Mr. President?

No comments: