President Kaler’s February 2014 Report to Board of Regents

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Chair. As you know, every year this Board and I develop a clear vision and a firm set of priorities for the course of this University. They guide us on where we want to see this University move, and on how we will take it there. I produce an annual workplan for you as a road map to achieving our goals. And, very importantly—taking an even longer view—our ongoing Strategic Planning process will boldly drive us to a new level of excellence for years to come.
My report to you today—in just a small way—confirms we are aggressively fulfilling our priorities, successfully living up to our vision, and that this year’s Workplan is being actively tackled and efficiently executed. Let me provide a few examples.

The White House

A top priority is making our University more accessible, affordable and diverse. Last month, we established Retaining All Our Students, a new initiative focused on improving the first-year retention rate of low-income University students—that’s about 5,000 students we’ll touch over their four years on campus. The retention rate for that cohort is now 87 percent, which is good, but not as strong as our overall retention rate for first year students.

Our program is unique and is comprised of four components:

  • First, it includes a financial literacy program specifically designed to meet the needs of low-income students and their families.
  • It provides incentives for low-income students to participate in our President’s Emerging Scholars’ Summer Seminar program. We know that if students can stay connected to education over the summer months, that they are more likely to re-enroll in the fall of their second year.
  • Third, we’ll build better tracking tools for advisers to monitor the academic progress and enhance these students’ advising during their critical first year.
  • And, finally, it connects low-income students with peer tutors to help them stay on track academically.

As I’ve frequently said, no one graduates in four years if they drop out after the first one. This program is one more effort on our part to pave the road to an exceptional education for young people from families with limited means. And we drew the attention of First Lady Michelle Obama. She specifically mentioned the U at the recent White House summit I attended on expanding higher education opportunity. Watch video clip.

We are being noticed for our innovations in promoting accessibility and affordability.

CBS-CFANS merger

Here’s another example of advancing our priorities. Operational Excellence is one of them, of course. Op-Ex doesn’t only entail reducing administrative costs and making our work processes less cumbersome. It also means listening to a wide range of stakeholders, being forthright and honest about our intentions, and then making wise, timely and responsible decisions based on the evidence and following a full and fair discussion.

That’s what happened last week when a broad-based task force, charged by Provost Hanson, recommended against merging our College of Biological Sciences, and our College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. When we embarked on this exploration, we told faculty, staff and students—and, importantly, our friends in the agriculture community—that a merger was not a done deal. Some people were skeptical.

In the end, the Task Force listened to many voices, made judgments and produced recommendations that will keep the colleges separate. But the Task Force anticipates more inter-college partnerships, more integration of the two colleges’ resources, some shared teaching, long-term research collaborations and cooperatives, and other synergies.

I thank the Task Force for its work, Provost Hanson for her leadership, and I am proud of the process. It exhibited a certain amount of institutional courage and risk, but it reflected well on our commitment to collaboration and outreach.


Another priority—and one that has become more pressing recently—is campus safety. We’ve always worked to make our campuses safe places to study, work and live, but over the past five months, as you well know, we’ve faced challenges on our Twin Cities campus. Amid those challenges, we have made swift and strategic decisions, while also strengthening relationships with the City of Minneapolis and other law enforcement and public safety partners.

I know you will be acting later today on more than $4 million in reallocated investments to enhance campus safety.

That will support our collaborative, multi-pronged public safety program, and I am thankful for the hard and continuous work of Vice President Wheelock and Chief Hestness, among others. Our student leaders have also been remarkable and vigorous partners and advocates on this issue.

Points of pride

Thankfully, public safety is not the only story we have to tell or We’ve been successful in telling our story about our value, that is, the ratio of our excellence to our cost. Two weeks ago, the University was named one of USA Today’s and Princeton Review’s “best value” colleges in the nation.

That ranking is based on our excellent academics, generous financial aid, and total cost of attendance.

We’ve been successful in telling our story about how we prepare the talent force for the state and nation. recently ranked us in the nation’s top 25 universities for producing the most Fortune 500 CEOs. That’s just one measure of how we prepare students for the workforce and one indication of the success of our alumni.

We’ve also successfully told our story of innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and the impact of our system campuses. Take the recent article on Forbes magazine’s web site praising UM Rochester, our newest campus. In it, the writer states: “UMR shows that the old-fashioned professor-facing-students-in-a-classroom model can be reworked so that it gives serious students a true education at reasonable cost.” He continued: “UMR seems built for survival in the fast-arriving future where educational programs and institutions sink or swim based on their ability to teach students who want an education and not just a degree.”

That’s real music to my ears. Congratulations to UMR and Chancellor Lehmkuhle.

Meanwhile, at UMD, there was exciting news that advances our commitment as a University to partner with our surrounding communities. The Duluth department store, Maurices, has announced its intention to donate its historic headquarters building to broaden UMD’s presence in downtown Duluth. That transfer will happen in about 18 months and will come to this Board for action. It’s been one of Chancellor Black’s priorities to bring UMD more into the Duluth community, and this is a great example of how we all can work with our adjacent neighborhoods and cities.


Another priority is elevating our relationship with our alumni.

Three weeks ago, I confronted the challenge of escaping our polar vortex for the wilds of Naples, Florida, and, in so doing, met with about 200 University alums. That’s where the UMAA and the University of Minnesota Foundation partnered on our annual Minne-College. This year’s was particularly successful. Six of our top scholars joined me in sessions on some of our most compelling research—another key priority for us as the state’s only comprehensive research university. The Minne-College is a great team effort—another one is set for later this month in Arizona—and I thank UMF and UMAA leadership for organizing the Minne-College events.


One of our most important priorities—which is now taking center stage—is our partnership with the State of Minnesota.

I have been meeting regularly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle explaining the Capital Request you approved several months ago. We are discussing the need to ensure that our facilities across the system are state-of-the-art. Governor Dayton has recommended support for a little more than half of our request. It’s a great start and we appreciate his unwavering support for the University, but we need to move him and the Legislature to more fully fund our request.

As you know, two nights ago, many of you, along with about 400 of our most committed advocates, attended our Legislative Briefing and came away inspired to communicate with their legislators and the governor. We asked that large group of activists to begin communicating clearly to their elected officials about our real needs: for systemwide renovations through HEAPR, for new labs and renovated buildings on our Twin Cities campus, for a very much needed new Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials building at UMD, and a new wellness center at UMC. So, that legislative priority, at this moment and over the next three months, will be very dynamic.


And, finally, our greatest priority is the success of our students, faculty, staff and our alumni, in and out of the classroom. Last week, Professor Ned Mohan, of our electrical and computer engineering department, was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering. I welcome him as a fellow member of NAE. This is in keeping with my goal to see more of our faculty elected to their disciplines’ top academies and organizations.

I’ve continued to hold student office hours, and continue to learn about the concerns, joys, and opinions of our students. But this is a particularly global moment to celebrate our students and some former student-athletes. Earlier this week, we learned we’d jumped into the national Top Ten rankings of research universities supplying volunteers to the Peace Corps. We leaped up 10 spots among all American universities for this important and, even, patriotic, work.

And speaking of the global stage, even as we speak, 25 current and former Gopher or UMD Bulldog athletes are representing the United States and seven other nations at the Sochi Winter Olympics in men’s and women’s ice hockey and curling. Read story.

Closer to home, our current students in the Gophers Spirit Squad won two national titles last month for the fifth straight year and they’ve been selected to represent the United States at the International Cheer Union world championships in April.

That’s all something to jump up and down—and cheer—about.

So, the evidence is clear and convincing: From Rochester to Sochi, this University’s story of success, of efficiency, of transparency, of strong decision-making and of excellence is on display and is being widely told and heard.

We can all be very proud of that.


In closing, I am giving to you today an update on my 2013-14 Workplan. I’m pleased with how we’ve methodically and strategically tackled and met my goals, from the Strategic Planning process, to our successful Employee Engagement efforts, to the hiring of our new College of Liberal Arts dean on the Twin Cities campus and our new Medical School Dean and Health Sciences Vice President, to enhanced outreach to alumni and donors.

I may be color blind, but I hope you’re not. The green check indicates all that we’ve achieved so far. The yellow shaded circles are those initiatives in progress. And the red boxes are items we simply have not started yet this year. But there are months to go before this work year ends. We could not have achieved as much as we have this year—and will continue to achieve—without your support and the outstanding work of my senior leadership team and many others on all of our campuses. And I thank you.

With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my report.

President's Workplan (PDF)