Board of Regents Report: Four years, four weeks, looking forward

Friday, June 12, 2015

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and let me offer my congratulations to Regent Johnson for his election to be our next Chair. And congratulations, too, to Regent McMillan on his election as vice chair. I look forward to working with both of you in the months to come.

I’d like to thank the eight student representatives to the Board. As a former student rep, I have a special place in my heart for you and the work you’ve contributed, and really appreciate the attention you’ve brought to such issues as sustainability and financial literacy. Thank you, Hannah, for your leadership of the group. We all look forward to working with next year's group and are excited to note that Callie will be continuing her service representing the Twin Cities campus and MSA.

Four years of accomplishments                                          

Let me turn now to where we stand today at this meeting, which marks the end of the 2014-2015 academic year and also the completion of my first four years on the job.

Looking back over those four years, with the help and guidance of this Board, we have achieved much …

We have fought to keep this University affordable to students from all economic backgrounds, including our historic two-year tuition freeze and the reallocation of administrative costs to the tune of more than $56 million en route to a $90 million goal.

We have changed the way we move intellectual property to the marketplace. We have merged our foundations to make philanthropic giving more efficient, and that is paying off with what’s expected — what I know will be — be a record year in giving. We have created M Health, reconfigured our partnership with Fairview, and are poised to open our new ambulatory care center.

We have experienced record applications to our Twin Cities campus, and the quality of our students has risen to among the nation’s best. We have consolidated our efforts to help this state close the educational achievement and opportunities gaps. We’ve worked with our faculty to create a bold Twin Cities campus Strategic Plan that is now being implemented. We’ve seen our campus communities strengthened with the opening of new residence halls on our Crookston, Morris and Twin Cities campuses. And our combined endowment has grown almost $800 million in the past four years to $3.3 billion.

And, according to my calendar, during these first four years, I have spoken more than 500 times to groups of donors, students, staff, campus visitors from across the world, chambers of commerce, health care, business, agricultural, arts, faith, medical device, legislative, and community leaders from our Twin Cities neighbors at the African Development Center to our friends at the Marshall, Minnesota, Rotary. All told, that high-touch outreach has put the University in front of tens of thousands of people. And, our Twin Cities four-year graduation rate has topped 60 percent and our five-year rate is at 75 percent. And much, much more.

The past four weeks

Putting aside those four years of work, let’s just focus on the past four weeks since we last met. In this past month alone, the powerful role we play in this state has been made crystal clear and our success stories have been told locally and nationally.

Right now, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is installing an exhibit called “Places of Invention,” and Minnesota and the University’s launch of the nation’s medical device industry a half century ago will be featured when the exhibit opens on July first. We’re one of just six technology hot spots — along with, for example, Silicon Valley — on display for Smithsonian visitors to see for the next five years. That spirit of innovation continues with our researchers, and the past month proved that.

It was reported that our physicians and researchers have begun to use one of the world’s first 3D bioprinters to produce living tissue to help transplant patients and burn victims, among others.

We’re a key partner on cutting edge smart phone technology to better help the state’s DNR manage fisheries, and we’re leading the efforts by the federal government to save the monarch butterfly from extinction. We’ve been absolutely at the front lines of battling the Avian flu epidemic that’s hit hard our agricultural community hard.

A fascinating merger of music and climatology has gone viral as one of our students has taken global temperature data and translated it into music for a string quartet, a partnership of our Institute on the Environment and Twin Cities College of Liberal Arts. It is a great example of interdisciplinary understanding and student-driven creativity and initiative.

And our Gopher athletics teams have scored remarkably well in the classroom. This past month, 14 Gopher teams were honored with NCAA Academic Progress Report Public Recognition Awards, which means they scored in the top ten percent in the nation, a true snapshot of how our athletes are doing. Of all 65 Football Bowl Series programs, our teams’ academic performance scored higher than any other public university, and behind only Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke and Northwestern.

Finally, in about an hour, the Legislature is set to convene its special session. We're hopeful that by the end of the day the state will invest more than $26 million to partner with us on two critically important veterinary laboratories that will have deep impact for Greater Minnesota, and will upgrade antiquated facilities that have been used by our scientists around the clock to battle avian flu. In addition, the state environmental and agricultural bill — which remains a bit in doubt — would invest $13 million in ag research, a way we have historically demonstrated the power of our land-grant mission to the people of the state of Greater Minnesota.


And, of course, since our last Board meeting, there were  commencement ceremonies systemwide where we saw the future leaders of this state experience their special rites of passage, be it as a college graduate or with an advanced or professional degree. I know many of you attended these inspirational events and I was at three that reflected the diverse role our University plays: giving hope to those who seek to better themselves and society, offering insights to some of the state’s grand challenges, and producing the human capital that fuels our state and nation.

Take the Twin Cities’ College of Education and Human Development’s commencement. A young woman who moved from Cameroon at age 15 less than a decade ago knowing very little English was selected as the  student speaker and spoke eloquently of the impact of her education here. That was the same day that a 74-year-old College and Pro Football Hall of Famer named Bobby Bell walked across the stage to get his diploma 56 years after first entering the University — we own the 56-year graduation rate this year.  

To complete this circle, just this week, incoming students for the Class of 2019 have begun orientation on our Twin Cities campus. Yes, 2019 … the end of the second decade of the century. All in all, it was a very good month since last we meet.                                                   

Moving forward

As we turn the page on this academic year and look toward the next, I’m looking to my priorities and our opportunities. I want us to leverage our solid, long-term relationships with the Governor and legislative leaders so they fully understand the deep and wide impact we have across the state, so they embrace the unique nature of our research enterprise, and so they care, as we do, about the financial struggles of our students and their families.

We have the opportunity to be a national leader on human subjects research, and this year, with the help of a distinguished Implementation Team, we will begin to get there, with the highest ethical standards as our guide.

There’s great energy and change on our Grand Challenges agenda as we oversee and drive the Twin Cities Strategic Plan.

At every turn, we must take opportunities to see our Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester campuses thrive. Across our system, we must make it a priority to continue to work to create more welcoming, diverse and equitable campuses.

I aim to strengthen our partnership with our remarkable faculty and staff, and our extraordinary students to continue to make this a great place to work, to learn and to live.

On the philanthropy front, a major campaign is set to launch, and we have ambitious plans to move this University forward, and to aid our students, faculty and research enterprise. And, as we have done so well in the past years, we have the opportunity to advance Operational Excellence, moving administrative costs to our core missions, and continuing to make this a great place to work.

In closing, Chair Beeson, this is the final meeting where I’ll have this opportunity to thank you for your leadership during the past year. Thank you for your support and guidance as you led this Board with a firm and caring hand. I truly appreciated it. With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my report.