The following editorial was published Tuesday in the Duluth News-Tribune.
Minnesota's traditional commitment to higher education has broken down among Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislative leaders, and never was there in Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura.
For the 2003 session, Minnesota needs new leadership to revitalize the state's commitment to research, teaching and outreach in our flagship institution of public higher education.
But the university, too, must do its part in making the case for higher education to the people of Minnesota and elected officials.
Interim President Robert Bruininks' "State of the University" address Oct. 3 is a step in that direction.
He observed that the university is in a "time of transition, both in university leadership and in the state budget climate." He knows that neither the state nor the university can afford to be complacent. "Truly, to mark time is to lose ground in higher education today."
The issue is this: Where higher education in Minnesota was 15.5 percent of the general fund budget 15 years ago, it has declined to 12 percent today. In the last legislative session, Ventura proposed, and the Minnesota Legislature approved, a miserly higher education budget that has meant double-digit tuition increases for students and reductions in proposed investments to meet teaching and research needs of the future. And that was at a time of surpluses, when governor and legislators were handing out sales tax rebates.
Now we're in a new era of economic downturn and budget deficits. Yet we cannot afford to stand still in investing in our people and in the research that will produce the innovations of the future.
For the 2003-04 session, Bruininks is recommending the university's lowest biennial budget proposal in 10 years -- to "respect the state's economic challenges, and reaffirm our internal commitment to setting priorities and cost-savings."
But he's also planning to resubmit to the Legislature important capital projects vetoed by Ventura in the 2002 session. The university had to chop out millions in hoped-for new investments in the medical school; in computer and biological sciences; in agriculture, natural resources and rural vitality; in libraries and technology.
Minnesotans should support this agenda.
... Bruininks also wants to ensure that overly simple funding fads don't undercut the comprehensive mission of the university. In this regard, he's skeptical of proposals to "let the money follow the students" -- because they address only one part of the university's mission, providing financial aid to undergraduates.
Such proposals do not address the need to support research or graduate and professional study. ...
As Bruininks recognizes, we have to do both: Set tuition and financial aid to ensure that individuals who graduate from high school can afford to go to college -- and provide money for crucial research and graduate programs.
Traditionally, Minnesota governors and legislative leaders across party lines have recognized the value of having a topflight public higher education institution that meets the need for basic research to make new discoveries, teaching to educate each new generation and a broad land-grant mission of outreach and applied research to benefit communities.
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