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May 16, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — A few weeks ago, an administration task force outlined a plan for making the U one of the top three public research universities in the world.
Those who testified at the Regents' meeting in favor the plan said it will help the university compete for high quality faculty, staff, and students in the 21st century.
But critics, like university graduate Susanne Fischer, questions the very premise of the U's latest ambitions.
"The president's stated goal to become one of the top three public research universities in the world, is really not appropriate," she said. "The University of Minnesota is a land grant university -- the people's university -- and should aspire to achieve appropriate balance among its three functions of research, teaching, and outreach to the people."
The first phase of the strategic plan calls for closing three colleges by July 2006, including the College of Natural Resources, the College of Human Ecology, and the General College.
Most plan opponents testified against closing the General College, a gateway to the university for students who are promising, but lack adequate preparation. Many General College students come from the Twin Cities metro area. The College serves a large number of student athletes and it admits the largest number of students-of-color at the university.
Bruininks' plan would integrate General College into the College of Education.
Those who oppose the move, like Women's Studies professor Naomi Scheman, said there's no guarantee the university will replace the diversity the General College now provides. She told the Regents the U must not focus solely on students who have good grades and high test scores.
"We, especially those of us who are white and middle class, need students who are not younger versions of ourselves. We need students who can challenge us to think differently, and to listen to and learn from those who have been marginalized, silenced or misrepresented by the academic world," Scheman said.
Most of those who testified were professors and staff members. Only a handful of students spoke, none in favor of the plan.
Supporters include Kate Rubin, president of the Minnesota High Tech Association. She says a stronger university would help the state's economy at a time of rising global competition.
"We need a strong research institution to attract the best and brightest faculty who will then attract the best and brightest students, who will create the next medical device company, or go on to work for the 3Ms, Cargills of the world, or any of Minnesota's 7,000 technology companies," she said.
The plan also drew support from some faculty members, including ecology professor David Tilman. He favors a provision to expand the honors program, saying it would attract the more high achieving students he'd like to see at the university. He urged the Regents to approve the strategic plan now and not wait.
"The changes before you are but the first step. If we can't take this first step, I fear we'll never be able to take any subsequent steps," Tilman said.
Many who spoke against closing the General College urged the Regents to postpone voting on the plan until November. They said the extra time would allow more community members to have a say in the public institution's future.
But Regents Chair David Metzen says there's no reason to wait.
"If we met all the demands, we'd probably spend the next three years with public hearings. And this was a cross-representation, and the president has spoken to literally thousands of people around the university as a result of this, and that's the process that we use, and I think it was a good one," he said.
Metzen says the regents will vote the strategic plan up or down at their next meeting on June 10.