Bruininks: ‘We could have done better’

U admins express “regret” over communication of Grad School reconstruction.
March 09, 2009

In light of recent criticisms for lack of transparency in the decision to restructure the University of Minnesota’s Graduate School, administrators are now responding to the claims and expressing “regret,” while standing by their decision.
Recently, Senior Vice Provost Tom Sullivan and University President Bob Bruininks have expressed regret in e-mails sent to University faculty and staff, acquired by the Daily, in addition to meetings and speeches regarding how the reconstruction was communicated to the public.
After the State of the University Address Thursday, Bruininks responded to a question over accountability and transparency by directly addressing the criticism from the Graduate School reconstruction.
“I have indicated to people that I think we could have done better,” Bruininks said. “We could have engaged people more in conversation. When a lot of people tell you that you haven’t done a good job at rolling something out or discussing something I think we have to listen to them.”
Bruininks also addressed the issue in a budget update e-mail to faculty and staff on March 1, saying that he believed the decision “was a sound one.”
Three days later, Sullivan sent an e-mail to Graduate School faculty, staff and students that expressed regret over the decision, which was sped up in response to the state Legislature’s $151 million proposed cut to the University.
“If this sense of urgency appeared to compromise my commitment to consultation as we begin to chart a new course for the oversight and support of graduate education, I regret that misunderstanding ,” Sullivan wrote in the e-mail.
At a Feb. 26 Faculty Consultative Committee meeting, Sullivan also said “hindsight is very informative” and he has “learned much from the process,” according to the committee’s minutes, which outline the meeting’s proceedings.
University spokesman Daniel Wolter said the administration would like to use the issue as a “learning experience” on how they will approach similar issues in the future.
Law School Professor Carol Chomsky , a member of the Faculty Consultative Committee, and Mary Vavrus, the director of graduate studies in the communications department, said the recent remarks and e-mails from Sullivan and Bruininks are reassuring.
“It doesn’t change what happened, but at least it shows a certain amount of willingness to be flexible and willingness to be more open than I think [Sullivan] has been thus far and I think that’s great,” Vavrus said.
Some graduate students, however, say more than a letter and a few speeches are needed to mend the damage that was caused by the lack of transparency.
In response to Sullivan’s e-mail, Council of Graduate Students President Geoff Hart said “there was no misunderstanding.”
“It is quite clear the president and the provost want consultation, but only consultation on how the new plan will be implemented, with no consultation if the new plan has merit in the first place,” Hart said.
Hart questioned why the administration widely consults prior to nonacademic decisions, such as the decision to build the TCF Bank Stadium, while a decision that affects the University’s academic reputation had no consultation.
Graduate education will actually make the University the No. 3 research institution in the world, but the president and provost gave no such consultation on their new plan, Hart said.
“Their priorities are in the wrong places,” he said.
He suggested that the only real way to mend the damage is to put the decision of whether to dissolve the Graduate School at all back on the table, a request that was also made by 23 past and present University Regents professors last month. The request was turned down by the administration.

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