President Kaler's May 2014 Report to the Board of Regents

Friday, May 9, 2014

Good morning, Chair Beeson. The 2013-2014 academic year is coming to a close.

As always, this period of time turns remarkably busy and extraordinarily gratifying, mostly because it is the season when more than 15,000 well-prepared students from all of our campuses of the University of Minnesota move into Minnesota’s work force, degrees in hand, bringing great energy and extraordinary knowledge to the state’s economy and culture. And I congratulate them all.

Last week, I began my series of commencement events, addressing the nearly 700 masters and Ph.D. graduates from our five Arts, Science and Engineering colleges in the Twin Cities. I was delighted to have Regent Devine join me there as I recalled that it was 32 years ago this month that I received my Ph.D. from the U, beginning the path that has, thankfully, led me here. And, for the record, Regent Devine, displaying his deep commitment to graduate education, shook everybody’s hand! Next week, along with Regent Johnson, I’ll have the honor of speaking to our baccalaureate grads in the Twin Cities College of Science and Engineering. And then, the next day, I’ll join Regent Simmons at the University of Minnesota Rochester commencement, and I bet she shakes everyone’ hand, too.

No matter how many times I witness it, there are few moments more satisfying or emotional, really, than when a student is recognized for earning his or her degree, and a small, isolated cheer of "Way to go!!" is heard from the audience of a parent, spouse or aunt or uncle, celebrating their student’s success.

Campus highlights

Let me offer some other highlights of what’s happened since last we met in late March. As we learned yesterday when we honored so many of our exceptional faculty, staff and students, top scholars on our Morris campus received two major national recognitions.

Natalie Hoidal, a junior at Morris was named a 2014 Udall Scholar. And another Morris junior, Jordan Wente, received a 2014 Harry S. Truman Scholarship. Congratulations to Natalie and Jordan, and to our Morris leadership and faculty for continuing to attract and produce national leaders and scholars.

In Crookston, for the second year in a row, the UMC team competing at the annual North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture convention brought home the sweepstakes in the four-year college division. Six of our students finished in first place in a wide range of categories dedicated to the teaching of agriculture, which only the U does here in the state. In the area of student services, UMD hit a home run. The Supportive Services Program Tutoring Center was recognized as the outstanding program of the year at the national conference of the Association for the Tutoring Profession. This school year, more than 200 qualified, trained tutors provided tutoring to students in 112 courses, delivering 10,000 hours of free service to UMD students, and were critical component to academic success and enhancing graduation rates.

Meanwhile, on the Twin Cities campus, we are proud of Twin Cities English Professor John Watkins, who has been named a Guggenheim Fellow. A Distinguished McKnight University Professor, John is an expert on the political culture of the medieval and early modern eras, and the world of Elizabeth the First and Shakespeare.

John is the seventh College of Liberal Arts professor to receive a Guggenheim fellowship in the past 10 years, which is an outstanding record for CLA.

Also, last month, 1,200 medical device academic and industry leaders converged on the Twin Cities campus for the 13th annual Design of Medical Devices Conference, which is the world’s largest medical devices conference.

Campus safety

On another matter, campus safety remains a priority. As you know, we have invested in, and worked hard on, upgrades, improvements, police overtime, and other activities. This spring, incidents on and near campus have not been as numerous. However, we must and will remain vigilant and continue our focused public safety efforts. We care deeply about the safety of our students living near or far off campus. When next we meet in June, the new light rail Green Line will be on the verge of traveling through our Twin Cities campus. Our University Services and University Relations departments, along with other units on campus, have been working hard to prepare for this exciting, moving new addition to our landscape, making the campus community aware of the benefits and the importance of being aware of 98-ton trains coming down the track.


Let me turn briefly to where we stand in the Legislature. I think you all read all the same newspapers I do. For now, there’s still much uncertainty as we race towards the May 19 deadline. Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee forwarded a bill that fully funds three of our six requests: Tate, Crookston’s Wellness Center and the Laboratory Improvement Fund. It added $1.5 million for UMD’s Chemistry and Material Sciences Building, but only $45 million in HEAPR funds. In the House, the bonding bill was amended in committee, decreasing proposed funding for two University projects: the Laboratory Improvement Fund and the UMD science building. And we’d only get $30 million in HEAPR funding. Both bonding bills are expected to be on the House and Senate floors next week, even as legislative leaders are attempting to forge some sort of agreement. As for our supplemental appropriations for UMD, terrestrial invasive species and a few other items, that conference committee is meeting and there’s still no agreement. Our Government Relations team, led by Jason Rohloff, is doing an outstanding job day and night, and I thank them.

Strategic planning

Let me turn to Strategic Planning. Under the leadership of Provost Hanson, five strategic planning issues teams have begun meeting since our last Board meeting. More than 500 students, faculty, and staff either nominated themselves or others for these teams, a tremendous outpouring of interest. The teams address different issues: the research side of our Grand Challenges efforts and the curricular side; one devoted to our theme of rejecting complacency; one committed to creating a culture of engagement with our; and one addressing our need to recruit and retain field shaping researchers and teachers.

They’ve all begun to identify what’s needed to implement their goals. I’m told these have been substantive, complex, and, of course, lively discussions. They expect their work to be completed by August 1st, and I have no doubt they will present to us both reforms and game-changing transformations. I thank the members of the issue teams, I look forward to receiving their recommendations, and to bringing a fuller report to you in the fall.


Turning to athletics…and some very good news. It was announced this week that our Gopher athletic teams rank among the nation’s best on the NCAA’s meaningful Academic Progress Rates, or APR. The APR provides a real-time look at a team’s academic success each semester. Twelve Gopher teams-five men’s and seven women’s-were honored by the NCAA for scoring in the top 10 percent in their sport. This is another strong indicator of Gopher athletics’ academic commitment. And it made us the nation’s fourth-highest-ranked Football Bowl Subdivision program with the percentage of teams in the top 10% of APR…behind only Northwestern, Notre Dame and Duke. Pretty good company. Congratulations to Athletics Director Teague, to Lynn Holleran, director of our McNamara Academic Center, to our coaches, and, mostly, to our very hard working student-athletes.

Making history

This month also saw the spectacular opening of our new Physics and Nanotechnology Building on the Twin Cities campus, and, of course, of Northrop, from the gala on April 4 to last weekend’s return of the Minnesota Orchestra replaying its original 1929 Northrop concert. I know many of you were in attendance. I can’t help reflect on the power and impact of our new Northrop and how it has instantly delivered on its promise. Over the course of a couple of days, Northrop brought thousands of people to our campus who otherwise might not have visited. Last weekend, it helped to unite-and even help to heal-the entire community around our state’s world-class orchestra at a time when such unity has been needed. The two concerts offered a tremendous opportunity for our choral groups and marching band member students to show their talents and perform at the highest levels. And I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a better version of "The Rouser." It felt like we were helping to make history, and we’re improving the community’s culture in a dramatic way .

In closing, I’d like to wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to Regents Brod, Cohen, Lucas, Simmons, and to all the faculty, staff and students who are mothers, too. Make sure everyone’s especially nice to you on Sunday.

With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude this report, and, as always, I thank you for your support.