MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks wants his institution to focus on in its classrooms and research laboratories in the coming years.
Bruininks said the university is primed to break new ground in areas such as biotechnology, renewable energy, new drug treatments and brain study. But he said it cannot do so without a "significant deepening" of state and private-sector investment.
In his first State of the University address since becoming the university's permanent president, Bruininks said Thursday that the university will aim for excellence despite taking a two-year, $185 million cut in funding from this year's Legislature.
But his vision of the future couldn't escape his current budget problems, including the threat of a strike by union workers.
Protesters supporting unionized clerical workers quietly held up signs during his speech. They bore phrases such as "Repeal The Tuition Hikes," "Cut Corporate Welfare, Not Worker's Wages" and "Cut Bruininks $340,000 salary, not worker benefits."
But the mood turned more combative during a question-and-answer session when Bruininks defended his administration against criticism that it wasn't being fair to its workers.
"You can continue to beat me up -- I can take it," Bruininks said during his address at Coffman Memorial Union. "But what you really need to do is go out there and make the case with the general public" for increased higher education funding.
Unions say the university's latest contract offers effectively cut salaries to the school's lowest-paid workers. Results of strike votes by units representing 1,800 clerical workers and 1,300 food service workers, janitors, mechanics and other employees were scheduled to be announced Friday.
Bruininks also laid out priorities that the school is likely to ask the 2005 Legislature and private donors to help fund. They are:
--Biosciences and biotechnology, including work such as turning renewable raw materials such as corn and soybeans into biodegradable plastics and textiles.
--Environment and renewable energy, including research in areas such as hydrogen fuel cells, bioenergy, economics and ecosystems, and renewable energy projects.
--Converting basic medical research into treatments for disease, and investing in areas such as cancer research, neurosciences, heart disease, organ transplants and stem cell development.
--Studying how foods can make people healthier.
--Researching how the brain changes from childhood to old age, and how that information affects learning and developmental or mental disorders.
Bruininks said those priorities require top scholars and cutting-edge technology. While the university will reallocate money to help pay for that work, he said the state must invest too.
"We simply cannot get there by cutting the university's budget," he said.
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