Has MnSCU become the state's central institution of public learning?
The Senate bonding bill passed last week contained $111 million for the University of Minnesota system and $297 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU). But the House awarded the University $34 million less while it offered MnSCU an additional $46.5 million. The two systems receive comparable general state funding, but on Monday Gov. Pawlenty proposed a $36 million cut to the University and only a $10 million cut to MnSCU.
Is the University being defunded in favor of MnSCU? If not, why the enormous budget discrepancies?
University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter cited legislative politics: "It's always been difficult for the University, because MnSCU has a project in every part of the state, but we don't." He added, "The discrepancy in the House: I've never seen such a low bill before, and we don't understand what message Rep. Hausman is sending to us."
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, holds the powerful position of chair of the house capital investment finance division. "Because of the economy, many people are returning to school, and the accessible system is MnSCU," she explained.
"Enrollments are up significantly."
Asked if MnSCU has replaced the University as Minnesota's central institution of public higher education, Hausman said, "I don't think so ... The University is still the one and only premier research institution." Unlike the Senate, the House didn't provide any resources for a new physics and nanotechnology building.
So what do legislators say the University has done wrong?
Hausman said, "I think the University is carrying out its academic mission in quite an appropriate way. If you're asking, 'Is there any relationship building that needs to take place?' that's another question."
So, we asked that too. But Hausman had little to offer: "I don't know how to approach it ... That's a tough one."
She did caution the University not to read too far into the bonding budget this year, "This, I think, is an economic aberration."
Let's hope so, otherwise "MnSCU-mah!" may not be far off.
I think Mr. Pfutzenreuter knows very well what kind of message the legislature is trying to send the Morrill Hall gang. Can you say tuition increases? Can you say light rail?
Recall this infamous exchange between Mr. Pfutzenreuter and a prominent state legislator over tuition increases:
"They're going to lose a lot of friends at the Capitol if they jack up that tuition," he [Tom Rukavina] said. "They're pricing themselves out of work if they keep going up 7.5 percent."
Despite Rukavina's intent to keep tuition low, Pfutzenreuter stands by the fact that the Legislature can't decide how the University spends its money.
And in response to Pfutzenreuter:
"Tell him to sue me," Rukavina said. "It's in the bill, tell him to sue me."