President Kaler’s July 2013 Report to the Board of Regents

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It’s a pleasure to be here with you in your first official meeting as the new Chair of this Board. It’s also a real pleasure to be back home.

As you know, I returned Saturday from a trip to Hong Kong, mainland China, and Taiwan, and conducted business on behalf of our University, our students, our faculty, and our research enterprise.

During 11 days on the ground, in five different cities, we:

  • signed and formalized 10 memoranda of understanding with some of China’s most prestigious institutions of higher education and research, 
  • met with four outstanding and devoted alumni groups in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Taipei, meeting a grand total of more than 400 graduates in those cities, and
  • met with many incoming students at those events, but with more than 20 of them and their parents at a special new student orientation session in Beijing.

In coordination with the Minnesota Trade Office, we conducted a roundtable discussion with leaders of Minnesota businesses in Shanghai, learning how to better prepare our American students for the Chinese market, and our Chinese students for work in the United States.

I delivered two major addresses—one in Shanghai, one in Beijing—about the role of the American research university, our mission of innovation for the common good, and our commitment to curiosity and imagination.

I was accompanied for a few days by Dean Zaheer of the Carlson School—which has hundreds, if not thousands, of graduates in China—and Dean Delaney of our School of Nursing, who solidified a key partnership with a major nursing school in Taiwan.

A handful of other leading members of our faculty, also met with experts in their disciplines in some cities to establish working relationships and research projects.

Among our most significant relationship is the extensive agreement with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, or CAS, which is China’s leading organization for research.

Coincidentally, we personally experienced the sometimes unbearable air pollution that turns cities like Shanghai and Beijing into zones of grayness and intense humidity.

As it turns out, our own Mechanical Engineering Professor David Pui is the world’s leading expert on air pollutant particles and the standard known as PM 2.5. Professor Pui was honored this year by CAS with their highest honor, the Einstein Scholar designation. As part of our memo of understanding with CAS, we will engage in a two-year-long series of joint workshops between our scholars and scientists to seek solutions to air pollution.

That, Mr. Chair and members of the Board, is a very big and important project for us and them. A session has already been scheduled for next May in China to work together on ways to clean China’s air.

In addition to those exciting research partnerships, we have thousands of alumni across the China region who are professors, business leaders, physicians, lawyers, policy experts, scientists, teachers, architects, and engineers. They told us of how this University changed their lives.

And we saw evidence of philanthropy in both Taiwan and Hong Kong that we can build upon.

But let me tell you of a real highlight of the trip.

Imagine this: You’re 6,000 miles and 13 time zones away. Your early morning flight from Shanghai to Beijing is cancelled. You are delayed five hours, which is pretty common in China.

After landing, your baggage arrives late, and then you sit in a bus in Beijing’s unmoving traffic for another hour. You are, I can tell you from personal experience, a little bit annoyed.

But then, you get off the bus and walk into a room filled with maroon-and-gold banners and are greeted with applause and smiles.

There sit two dozen incoming students to the University, young people with dreams and visions of studying in the United States, and who have chosen to leave their homes an ocean away to study with us at the University of Minnesota because of our reputation, our faculty and all that we have to offer.With them are their parents, beaming and concerned, as all parents are of their precious children getting ready to go off to college.

To make matters even better, there are posters and stuffed versions of Goldy!

That gathering of incoming students, Mr. Chair and members of the Board, was extremely gratifying. As much as any formal meetings with leaders, that event underscored that we are a 21st century global university, that China’s best and brightest want to be our students, and that, sometimes, our reputation abroad is stronger than it is even here in Minnesota.In fact, while I was in China, the latest Shanghai Jiao Tong world university rankings were released.I am proud to report that their assessment—which is among the most respected in the world—placed us 29th in the world among all universities, and 9th among public universities in the United States.

That is pretty remarkable.

Mr. Chair, members of the Board, I know we are sometimes caught up in the seemingly endless conversation about how much we spend. But we must not—we can not—ignore the outcomes we produce and how strong and respected this institution is around the world, for our teaching, our faculty, our research and the broad and deep impact we have on this state and its peoples’ lives. We must celebrate when we can such important international recognition.

Rankings like those are deeply important to the Chinese in choosing partners.

And it is important for us to maintain our critical relationships. Our connection to China and Chinese students would not be possible were it not for three brave young men who were pioneers a century ago.

It was 1914 and Wen Huen Pan, Wen Ping Pan, and Yih Kum Kwong travelled from Shanghai to Minneapolis to become the first Chinese students to enroll at the University. They carried with them great courage and the building blocks for 100 years of our partnership with China,

  • a foundation that translates into 2,500 Chinese students on our campuses today, 
  • 500 scholars visiting from China last year, 
  • and more than 8,000 graduates from China over those decades.

Led by our Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, we will be celebrating systemwide that 100th anniversary and our broader relationship with China this entire upcoming academic year. I hope the Board will participate in that celebration.

Of course, celebrating is one thing, but getting a return on our investment on such an international engagement is another. We will aggressively follow-up with all of the dozens of meetings that we conducted.

I’m confident we’ve established strong partnerships and relationships that will mean more study, research and internship opportunities abroad for our students, Whether it’s studying in China or Turkey or Ecuador, we must ensure our Minnesota-born students are prepared for a world that is shaped by other nations.

In our classrooms on our campuses across the state, we must prepare them for global competency, and that requires thoughtful, strategic international investment, something I’m sure will be addressed in our upcoming work on a University strategic plan.

Before I close, I want to acknowledge the work of Dean McQuaid’s GPS Alliance office, the China Center, and our Beijing office for the preparation and execution of what was a complex and extremely busy 11 days.

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

Related Links

U of M China Center

U of M Confucius Institute

MinnPost: China trip enhances U reputation