Board of Regents Report: A welcome to three new Regents and many other things

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thank you, Chair Beeson. First, please accept my congratulations, Chair Beeson and Regent Simmons, on your re-elections to this Board. I am delighted to be the beneficiary of your continued leadership, along — of course — with your 10 colleagues.

Today, I’d like to offer a special warm welcome to our three newly-elected Regents. Regent Anderson, Regent Hsu, Regent Rosha . . . in diverse and dramatic ways you bring unique experiences to the Board, along with your hearts and souls after years of service to the University, your communities, and the nation.  

Actually, Regent Anderson’s heart tells a most compelling story. It’s one that symbolizes the power of this University and the loyalty this great institution can engender. In October 1963, five-year-year-old Tom Anderson from Alexandria underwent heart surgery performed by our pioneering surgeon, Dr. Walt Lillehei. The good folks of Alexandria donated 30 pints of blood to ensure little Tom’s survival. All went well, and about a dozen years later, Tom Anderson became a student here. Now, 52 years after his surgery, he’s a regent of the University that helped to save his life, and he brings to us not only his experiences as a business leader, but a loyalty like few others.

Regent Hsu’s personal history with the University dates back even before Regent Anderson’s surgery. In 1948, his father — “C.T.” Hsu — emigrated from China to begin his graduate work here at the University, an example of our century long tradition of welcoming top-flight Chinese students. Regent Hsu’s father received his masters and Ph.D. here in aerospace engineering before establishing a distinguished academic career at Iowa State. Regent Hsu, an alum, met his wife here, and has made a special commitment to an important constituency on campus — our Greek community.

And then there’s Regent Rosha, who is rejoining the Regents following a 20-year hiatus after his first go-round came as a student regent. Your commitment to the U is obvious, but it is your commitment to the nation that I’d like to note. As the son of a career Air Force enlisted man, I know the stress that military service puts on a family. Regent Rosha’s year of active duty in Iraq and your continued work as a Lieutenant Colonel and judge with the Minnesota Army National Guard, exemplify the best of what a University alum can achieve, and, surely, prepares you for all that will come across your desk as a Regent. Plus, you’re in a country music band — my favorite music — and, as Hank Snow would say, “That’s enough for me.”

Members of the Board, I very much look forward to working with you — this new team of Regents — in the months and years to come, and I will, as always, seek your guidance as — together — we face grand challenges and celebrate many victories.

Let me turn briefly to the recent reports on Human Subjects Research. The Office of the Legislative Auditor last week released a report on the 11-year-old Dan Markingson case. We were called to testify before the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. Many of you attended, Regent Simmons testified, and I am very grateful for your support. You will be addressing this matter in a few moments, but I must reiterate our deepest sympathy to Dan Markingson’s mother, Mrs. Weiss, and apologize to her for his death while under our care. As we care for patients and their families, and as we advance knowledge about human health, we must hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards. I deeply regret that we have not always lived up to Minnesotans’ expectations.

While we didn’t agree with all of Mr. Nobles’ conclusions, we can’t change the past, but we can, with vigilance, dedication and integrity, move forward, ensuring that the research we conduct occurs in the safest and most ethical way possible. With the recommendations of the Legislative Auditor and the external review panel in hand, I’m confident we will work tirelessly to restore confidence in our researchers and care providers, and the university. And I know, with your oversight, we can hold ourselves accountable, and we will with great urgency.

On other matters …

The University is again a leader in supplying committed students and alumni to the Peace Corps, our nation’s preeminent international service organization. Among all large universities in the nation, we supply the 5th most students — 63 — and we rank third for graduate students or graduate alums — 14 — serving in the Peace Corps. On another note that raises our global profile and reputation, the Times of London world rankings were recently released, and we pretty well. We were identified as 7th in life sciences among all U.S. public universities, 8th in health-related disciplines, and in the top 11 in physical sciences, and engineering and technology among all U.S. publics. The Times rankings are the only one of all the various rankings that judge research universities across all core missions – teaching, research, tech transfer, and what they call international outlook.                                   

With about seven weeks remaining in the legislative session, let me turn to where we stand with our request, and express some concern. Many of us gathered informally with lawmakers yesterday and we have much work to do at the Capitol. We are very grateful for Governor Dayton’s commitment to partner with us on our two key priorities: a tuition freeze and investing in the Medical School. The Senate budget targets are expected later today. But the House budget targets announced earlier this week would account for less than half of what the Governor has committed, and would significantly affect our ability to keep a lid on tuition, let alone make other long-term investments in the future of the state’s only research University. This disparity between the House’s and the Governor’s proposals concerns me, and I urge this Board and all of our faculty, students and staff to advocate vigorously for the University’s request to their legislators in the weeks to come.         

On one matter, there is great unanimity: Our pride in the Gopher women’s ice hockey team, which last Saturday became the 2015 NCAA Division I champions. Congratulations to Coach Brad Frost, his staff and all of the student-athletes who represent our University so well. They got us standing and cheering, but also added an item to my very long to-do list: get the women’s hockey championships on real television next year!!

Now, tonight, we all face a most difficult evening: our Gopher men’s hockey team and our UMD Bulldogs will meet in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament. Regent McMillan and Chancellor Black I want you to know, I’m rooting for ‘em both. 

By the way, the Big Ten Academic All-Conference teams for the winter seasons were announced, and again Gophers athletes did very well, accounting for 11 percent of all the honors across all sports in a league with, now, 14 members. I do want to shout out to swimmer Jessica Plant who, as a senior, carried a perfect 4.0 while majoring in Classical Civilization, which explores the art, literature, religion, and social and political history of ancient Greece and Rome. She also recently explored the NCAA championships again, finishing up a stellar career in the pool, too.

Finally, while Chair Beeson and the Board office keep you informed, I want to particularly alert you to upcoming events that might interest you. First, next Thursday, I will deliver the 2015 State of the University speech at Coffman Theater at 3:30 p.m. On April 27, Canada’s Governor-General David Johnston, who is the Queen’s representative to Ottawa and a leading constitutional officer, will visit our campus, along with the presidents of many Midwestern universities from the U.S. and Canada. This higher ed summit will explore how top-flight universities on both sides of the border can partner in areas of innovation, agribusiness, and environmental matters, among others. We’re excited to host such an event that is regional and international at the same time.

This spring, I will be visiting three of our four system campuses, and meeting with faculty and staff, and conducting student office hours. I’ll soon be in Rochester, Duluth and Morris, and Chancellor Wood knows I visited Crookston in the fall.

Finally, on May 4, we will present a very special University-based program. The five living Presidents emeriti of the University and I will gather to discuss the history and future of the U. This will be a rare opportunity to celebrate the contributions of my five predecessors, and receive some of their wisdom. I’m looking forward to that.

Mr. Chair, that concludes my report.