The Rochester Higher Education Development Committee met at 7 a.m., but by 9 it sounded like a cocktail party. Community leaders gathered to hear U of M President Robert Bruininks announce his plan for a Rochester campus.
"Over the next nine months we plan to implement 10 new academic programs, that do not duplicate the programs of others who operate in this region. We plan to hire some new leadership people and core faculty to offer and deliver these programs in the community," he said.
Bruininks says the Board of Regents has indicated its full support for the move, and he intends to launch a full-scale national search for a chancellor. And the programs Bruininks describes include a master's degree program in health care administration, a bioinformatics master's and a Mayo collaboration on computational biology.
The U hasn't purchased or leased any buildings yet. Bruininks says this won't be a traditional campus with housing and a quad.
"It has to be grown in a different way," he said. "I'm envisioning much less emphasis on bricks and mortar and much more emphasis on really very adaptable strategies that allow you to move quickly and change directions more."
The Rochester Post Bulletin says the university is rumored to be considering retail space in Rochester's tiny Galleria Mall.
Bruininks jokes that the campus shouldn't be a field of dreams, dreams of the MIT on the prairie. But even though Rochester is an official part of the budget, the president isn't saying how much money the campus will get.
At minimum the Rochester Higher Ed Committee says the expansion will cost $16 million in the next three years.
DFL state Rep. Gene Pelowski isn't bothered by the lack of numbers. He is the lead DFL-er on the Higher Education Finance Committee. He says for the last two years he has been asking President Bruininks where Rochester was in his budget at all.
"And today, for the first time, we see that it is going to be in his budget and that there will be a program and they can quantify how much is going to be spent for those programs in Rochester," Pelowski said.
Pelowski has been a vocal critic of the Rochester campus, but he says now that the president has taken financial responsibility for the campus, he's not opposed. But he says "it means the university is going to have to publicly explain exactly the impact that this has on its other campuses and its programs. And that it has never done before."
During his speech, Bruininks strongly encouraged private contributions from the Rochester community.
A campus with no buildings and no designated, long-term funding echoes Bruininks' "field of dreams" quip. But Tom Parker says the plan makes some sense. Parker is a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a non-paritsan think-tank in Washington.
He says getting the economic and political momentum to open a new campus today is next to impossible. So Rochester is winning against steep odds. He says its plan to lean heavily on public-private sector partnerships is part of a national trend.
"Every state and neighbor-state system and then all the major privates are trying to do just that. The impetus toward university-private sector cooperation is huge," Parker said.
The Rochester Higher Education Committee plans to further partnerships with Mayo, IBM and Hormel. Parker also says a lack of buildings won't necessarily cost the campus any status.
"Increasingly there's a big segment of higher education that isn't bricks-and-mortar at all. It's Internet based, and store-front based," he said.
The project is still in its early stages. It needs to be approved by the Legislature. And officials from other campuses like Crookston and Morris will likely have something to say about sharing their pot of money.