It could be another tough legislative session for the University of Minnesota, if president Robert Bruininks' time with the Senate's higher education committee Wednesday is any indication.
He began by emphasizing the effects of the state's investment in the U:
"For every dollar you invest in us we return, directly, $4.50 of economic activity back to the state of Minnesota."
He covered improvements in undergraduate education, graduation rates and research grants. But senators -- many of them new to the committee -- had topics they wanted to see covered, too. Here are two questions (and summarized answers) from Senator Claire Robling:
How many of those [first-year students] graduated from Minnesota high schools? (About 65 percent, which has stayed steady.)
How many administrators do we have in Rochester for 140 students? (About 20, although there are closer to 550 students "touched" by the campus, many of whom use the Rochester campus to take "satellite" courses provided by other campuses.)
Another senator questioned whether professors ought to be teaching more classes. "We have regularly asked them to take on additional loads," Bruininks said. "We've frozen their salaries, we've reduced their benefits."
He went on to tout cuts the university has made. "We're cost hawks, if you will."
The last questioner, Sen. Jeremy Miller, told Bruininks that he's gotten questions and anger from his constituents "back home" about the $610,00 salary of the new president, Eric Kaler. He called that "a significantly higher rate."
Bruininks corrected him: Bruininks makes the same amount, when you consider retirement pay. Such a question is fair game, though, he said. Then he said this:
"Let me just say that the new president... is roughly at the mid-point in the Big Ten. And do I believe that in today's world, we shouldn't be paying outrageous salaries to people in leadership positions, particularly public leadership positions.
But we also need to be competitive if we're going to get really good people -- and then trust those people with running, in my judgment, the most complex organization in this entire state. You look at the flow of money, if you look at the different types of responsibility. It is a very, very complex organization.
I know it's difficult in these times to understand some of the compensation levels. I think we need to keep an eye on them, to be honest with you. I'm more concerned about the rising cost of hiring certain coaches than I am about the import of your question...
I think we oughta have some healthy debate about these issues. But I also think that even if you cut that back to what your constituents think to be the right level, it wouldn't even begin to solve any kind of budgetary problems at the University of Minnesota."