An eye on the river

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August 2, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Robert Bruininks has one year remaining as president of the University of Minnesota. When he’s done with his tenure, he’ll be leaving the official presidential residency at Eastcliff and moving full time into his condo at the Carlyle with his wife Susan. He plans to spend more time writing, traveling and enjoying Downtown’s cultural offerings. Then he’ll return to teaching at the university’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and College of Education. He recently spoke with the Downtown Journal about his love of the city’s riverfront and plans for his final years as president.

DTJ: What are your thoughts on the state of Downtown?

Bruininks: I think the transformation of the Downtown riverfront is one of the best success stories in Minneapolis. I treasure the Downtown location for a number of reasons. Our condominium looks down on the Stone Arch Bridge and the St. Anthony Locks, and down river toward the university. I find the view out of my window toward the city, and down river toward the university to be nothing short of inspiring.

One of the things that is important to point out is that our home is in the middle of a national park — the Mississippi River National Park.

It is in the middle of some of the richest history of our region. It was the place where the university started, where the economy of our state grew with the flourmills and lumber mills. It was the center of commerce for the growth of Minneapolis. It is wonderful to be in an environment that is so steeped in history with historic ruins. It’s also a national treasure and a place of immense beauty.

Equally important for us is the proximity of Downtown living to other things we really care about. We’re patrons of the arts — we’re just a few blocks from the Guthrie Theater and from many other artistic venues.

What would make Downtown more vibrant?

I think we need to treasure our history — the cultural history of this region. This is the place where the Ojibwa and Dakota people formed their home centuries ago. It’s the place where we started the city and the economic development of our entire region. It’s the place where we started the great educational institutions that distinguish our state as a leader in the global economy.

I think we need to treasure and really support the beauty of the natural environment we have along the Mississippi River. I think we need to do everything possible to treasure and protect the riverfront. I’m very interested in the exciting conversations that are occurring in the Mill City area that has to do with protecting the Fuji Ya site and making it a more important public amenity. There are very important historic ruins there.

I want to find ways as a leader of the University of Minnesota to connect the citizens of our state and the people who live close to the river to university resources, most especially the St. Anthony Laboratories. The St. Anthony Lab is a worldclass laboratory that works on a range of important issues related to energy use, conservation and renewable energy.

What are your goals for your final year of your presidency?

I have a number of important goals. I certainly have the goal of doing everything possible to protect the university’s academic quality and financial future. Much of my work in this next year will be concerned with helping the university community weather the financial challenges we face in the existing environment.

Secondly, I want to advance some academic priorities that I think are vitally important — the strength of our academic programs, the improvement of undergraduate and graduate professional education. Along with that I want to complete some very important capital projects, like the new physics building, the Northrop Auditorium restoration, and I want to continue to work to keep higher education affordable for young people and working adults.

I am going to keep working with state, federal leaders and private donors to ensure that young people in the future have the same opportunity that I enjoyed in the 1960s to seek a college education with very modest means to help support me.

The job number one around here is to protect the academic quality, reputation and productivity of the university. The university is Minnesota’s most important asset in the global economy. My job is to work with the university community and the general public to appreciate the extraordinary contributions of the University of Minnesota to the future of our state, and do everything possible in this challenging environment to protect that future for all of us.