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UMM looks for infrastructure funds in University of Minnesota capital request

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler

MORRIS, Minn. - The University of Minnesota's Legislative Briefing to supporters last week, in preparation for the 2012 legislative session, was light on details about the university's $169.5 million capitol request, instead focusing on the importance of storytelling in an age of new media.

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler told a crowd of 600 gathered in the Twin Cities with others, including University of Minnesota faculty and staff connected remotely, that the state of Minnesota has been "disinvesting" in the University, which threatens the "twin pillars of excellence and access" that Minnesota residents have come to expect from the U of M.

"We are a great investment," said Kaler. "Our return on investment is 13 to one. For every dollar that the state invests in us, we produce $13.20 of economic impact back into the state."

The University's capital request includes funding for four projects - $54 million for a heat and power plant on the Twin Cities campus, $4.1 million for the Itasca Biological Station, $14 million to improve Eddy Hall in the Twin Cities and $7.4 million for an American Indian Learning Resource Center in Duluth - as well as $90 million for general building upgrades and maintenance.

Although UMM does not have a project on the capital request, the campus will be impacted by the state's decision regarding the $90 million request for HEAPR (Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement) funds, which are used for "much needed repair of critical infrastructure," said UMM Vice Chancellor for Finance and Facilities Lowell Rasmussen.

UMM's list of 2011 HEAPR projects includes elevator upgrades in the Humanities Fine Arts building, Food Service building, and Behmler Hall; exterior wall repairs for the Regional Fitness Center and Student Center; and roof replacements on Blakely Hall, the Saddle Club Barn, Rodney A. Briggs Library and the Student Center, said Rasmussen.

In his public works bonding proposal released in January, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton only allocated $20 million in HEAPR funds, and only about $78.1 million for the U of M in total.

"At it's core, this is not a request about fixing steam plants or elevators or new windows or repairing sheetrock; it's about preserving one of Minnesota's most precious and valuable assets," said Kaler.

UMM's "Green Dorm" project is not part of this capitol request because it is funded through a different process. UMM Chancellor Jacquie Johnson said that plans for the new dorm are being developed and will be presented to the University of Minnesota regents in May for formal approval.

At the end of the briefing, Kaler urged those who support the University to share their stories on channels that are both familiar and unfamiliar, particularly emphasizing Twitter as a new way to share stories with the hashtag #UMNProud.

"As an engineer I know this: for every action in the twenty-first century, there are at least two things. There's a reaction and a tweet," said Kaler.

"The avenues for advocacy and the paths to persuasion are paved with new technologies and new techniques of storytelling," Kaler concluded. "Our stories add up to a winning formula for the University of Minnesota."

Eric Kaler's pitch for the U of M

In his first appearance before the Legislature, Kaler was given two minutes to make his pitch for the value of the University of Minnesota to the State of Minnesota:

"We are the state's only research university, driving discoveries, cures, new products and scientific breakthroughs. We generate $8.6 billion a year in state economic impact and 70,000 jobs state-wide. For every dollar the state invests in us, we drive a return of $13.20 into the state economy. Thirteen to one.

"We have the state's only vet, pharmacy and dental colleges, and we produce 85 percent of the physicians in the state of Minnesota.

"We are a force in greater Minnesota with our campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester, and we are a hub for the arts in the region and we produce great writers, dancers, musicians and actors.

"We have sports teams that win national titles, and athletes that are consistently named to Academic All Big Ten and the Academic All America squads.

"More than two thirds of our students are Minnesotans who become the state's talent supply chain of the future. We attract graduate students from around the world to work with our world-renowned researchers, and we import smart people to Minnesota.

"We have Extension faculty and educators in every county working with families, farmers and almost 150,000 4-Hers. We create start-up companies, generate patents and transfer technology to the marketplace, creating jobs.

"We're leading in the battle to close the K - 12 achievement gap in Minnesota, and we have half a million alumni around the world who have great influence."