University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks sat down with The Minnesota Daily this week to talk about the effect of different legislation currently under consideration at the state Capitol.
One week after the State of the University address was delivered on the office of the oresident’s Web site, Bruininks announced he will host a forum to answer any questions from the University community. The forum for the Twin Cities campus will take place at 1:30 p.m., April 22 in Coffman Union Theater.
What are your thoughts on the proposed legislation that would allow the Metropolitan Council to use eminent domain to condemn University land it needs to build the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line?
The University position is we strongly oppose that legislation on constitutional grounds. We also oppose it because people are seeking to take land through eminent domain in relationship to a capital construction project where we don’t have any agreement yet on how it will operate on the University’s campus. That wouldn’t happen with a private organization or a business or a private home or a nonprofit agency, and it shouldn’t happen in respect to the interests of the University. This is not a very acceptable way for us to resolve our issues and our concerns.
We are now in mediation — court-ordered mediation — that we strongly support and have supported for more than six months. We’re hopeful that we’ll make sufficient progress so that easement [a compromise between the two parties that would allow construction to begin before an agreement is made] will not be an issue in the near future.
What would you do if this bill passed?
If the bill did pass and we did not have an agreement that addressed the University’s long-term concerns and an agreement that would govern the actual construction under the easement, we would definitely oppose it. My hope is that we don’t get to that point. We’re two important public agencies trying to work through some very difficult issues. I have some guarded optimism we can find the right kind of path that will protect the University’s interest.
The Senate is considering a bill that would allow the University to sell alcohol in TCF Bank Stadium in premium seating areas. What are your thoughts?
That was our original proposal. We are not in any way promoting a change in legislation. There’s no official University position. But if the bill passes, we will take it up with the Board of Regents to see if we should modify our position. But the bill that passed the Senate [Finance Committee], it is consistent with the original plan for the stadium going back several years. It’s consistent with the decision passed by the board in December 2008. We would definitely take a new look at it, and there would be some possibility we’d take it back to the board for reconsideration. But we’d have to look at the bill and make sure it’s consistent with the board’s current resolution and the board’s position on selling alcohol in the stadium.
The current policy says that if the University wants to sell alcohol, it would have to agree to make it available in all parts of the stadium. The University loses $1 million to $2 million each year after discounting tickets for the lack of alcohol sales. Would you ever reconsider the position in order to bring in that extra revenue?
I don’t think the financial pressures we are under will cause us to change our policy on the stadium. It is a real issue. We estimate the loss to intercollegiate athletics is in the range of about $1 million to $1.5 million a year. That is not from the sale of alcohol. That is from the value of the suites. Without the opportunity to do social entertaining under very strict controls, you just automatically have to charge less for the suites. That’s where the real loss in revenue occurs.
We’ll just have to see what happens. If the Legislature decides to change this, we’ll take a look at the legislation to see if we need to revisit the issue.
Is now a good time to build a new baseball stadium?
The current Siebert Field is in terrible condition. It’s in terrible condition for the players and the fans. It’s been talked about for at least 10 years. We think we have the possibility of raising private funds from friends of Gophers baseball.
If that happens, we’ll proceed to at least start the first phase of construction — to remodel the stands, remodel the bathroom facilities and fix the field. That’s the basic approach. The second thing that will happen when the field is redesigned is it will be in a condition that will allow us to use it some for intramural sports; at one time we had 20 intramural sports baseball teams here. Also, to be far more active in running youth programs for the entire state and metropolitan area. It’s not only about having Gophers baseball games. It’s about making this stadium accessible to the entire University community and, most importantly, to connect the University with youth baseball around the state.
It all depends on our ability to raise the private funds to make it possible. We can’t cross-subsidize it with internal University academic money.
Do you think there’s any truth the rumors that Tubby Smith is looking elsewhere for a job?
I don’t think so. I saw him yesterday and he seemed happy with his job here and with his recent success in signing a big time player [Maurice Walker]. I think Tubby is really happy here, and I fully expect he’ll be back as our basketball coach. The way I think about it, it’s a good thing people think so highly of him that his name surfaces in this way every year. It shows we hired a superb coach people admire from around the country.
What do you think about the changes that will be made to the TXT-U program?
Along with the students, I’m very concerned about the safety of our campus. We’ve taken several actions, hiring more police officers at a time we’re cutting every other budget [and] putting a lot of money into technology … We need to do much more. People are beginning to work more effectively with Hennepin and Ramsey County prosecutors’ offices and the police departments of these major jurisdictions. This is a serious issue and we need to take it very, very seriously — work with the students, work with the neighborhoods, make sure that we do everything possible to prevent violence before it has an opportunity to occur.
I think the texting of alerts is an important part of a much more comprehensive strategy … I think it’s a good tool for us to keep our community safer, and it really helps students stay safe. At the same time, I hope students take every opportunity to pay attention to their own safety. That’s the best way to prevent these occurrences. We have to do more to make our neighborhoods around the University safer. We’re clearly committed to doing that.
-Taryn Wobbema is a senior staff reporter.
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