Moving ahead, an update and a preview

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

As the temperature drops, here's a quick review of recent events and a glimpse of what's on deck for us in the coming year.

I've continued to listen and learn, meeting regularly with students, faculty, staff, business, community and agricultural leaders, and legislators, among others.

I seem to always hear people's passion for the University and desire for us to pursue excellence.

But, not surprisingly, they also expect us to work tirelessly to improve our operations and reduce costs wherever possible to allow more resources to flow into academic, research, and public engagement priorities.

We're working on that—I've been meeting with an Operational Excellence Group since September—with the goal of delivering the first chapter of changes early in the New Year.

Last week, Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy unveiled a new intellectual property initiative called MN-IP that will enhance our ability to translate our groundbreaking discoveries into lifesaving and world-changing products, cures, or processes.

The new MN-IP program will also strengthen our partnership with the local and national business communities at a time of state and federal disinvestment in higher education.

I announced last month at our annual Equity and Diversity Breakfast that we have begun a search for a new vice president for equity and diversity. I decided to keep this position at the vice presidential level to underscore the significance of this issue to me, the University, and the communities with whom we engage.

I have been active, too, in discussing the alarming achievement gap in Minnesota's K-12 system between students of color and white students. I consider this an educational and civic emergency. Government and business leaders understand this, too, and the University can play a leadership role in seeking solutions.

We have hired a new special assistant for government relations, Jason Rohloff, and he will have his work cut out for him, as will all of us.

We are seeking $169.5 million in state support as part of our capital request during the 2012 legislative session, which is set to begin January 24.

Our request includes crucial infrastructural improvements on all of our campuses, and key construction projects on our Twin Cities and Duluth campuses and at our Itasca Biological Station and Labs. (The Board of Regents also last week approved plans for a new residence hall and classroom building at Crookston.)

In the coming months, we will need you—faculty, staff, students, and alumni—to raise your voices in support of the U. If you haven't already done so, please go to our Support The U website and join. Also, put February 1 on your calendar for our Legislative briefing.

I am spending much of my time fund-raising. I've visited with donors and prospects throughout the state, in California and New York, and have a trip to Arizona planned next month.

Raising scholarship funds across the University is my top priority. It is critical to our ability to enroll talented students from all economic backgrounds.

We recently announced a $17 million gift from Dow Chemical designed to encourage research in chemical and materials sciences.

Another pressing matter surrounds our Academic Health Center.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the Academic Health Center Review and the 83 pages of comments submitted to the AHC Review Steering Committee. The final report makes several meaningful recommendations.

But here is a troubling fact: over the past 15 years, there have been 10 reviews examining the AHC or plans to make changes. I know there is "review fatigue" within the AHC. But, after I fully review all of these previous reports, I may convene an external review.

The coming year marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created the land-grant university in the United States, and helped craft our long-standing mission of agricultural and "mechanical arts" education.

We are Minnesota's only land-grant university. But times have changed and with our global perspective and commitment to the urban communities around our campuses, we are driving the transformation of the land-grant model.

We will be discussing that evolution of the 21st-century land-grant university as 2012 unfolds. We will encourage your participation.

Finally, thank you for your warm welcome to Karen and me during our first six months back in Minnesota.

The work has been invigorating, the reception has been touching, and the weather has been quite refreshing.

Have a great holiday season, a healthy New Year, and I look forward to working with all of you—from the Twin Cities to Crookston, from Morris to Duluth and to Rochester—in the coming months to communicate and promote the vitality and impact of our great University of Minnesota.


Eric W. Kaler