President Kaler’s June 2014 Report to the Board of Regents

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thank you, Chair Beeson. If you didn’t notice, it is Friday the 13th. Despite that, today I feel very lucky.

For one, since last we met we concluded a successful legislative session. With this Board’s help, over the past three years our partnership with the Legislature and the Governor has been strengthened, and we have developed trust with legislative leaders.

I think you all know the details of the results this session, and I thank our Government Relations team and many others at the U for their tireless efforts.

I also thank the Governor, Legislature and, mostly important, the hundreds of members of our Legislative Action Network for their support. Secondly, today we are poised for you to approve a responsible and strategic budget that will freeze tuition once more for Minnesota resident undergraduates. That’s very important to our students, their families, and all of us as we strive to provide affordable and inclusive academic excellence across our five campuses.

Thirdly, after returning last weekend from donor visits on behalf of the University of Minnesota Foundation, I’m pleased to announce that we are set to post one of our very top fundraising years ever, even as the economy continues to recover. That comes on the heels of my appearance last week at the President’s Club Heritage Society annual dinner, where I announced that 2,000 of our most committed and generous friends have pledged to us more than $600 million in future gifts. Six hundred million dollars. … To aid our students, their families and our faculty in the years to come. That is a remarkably deep signal of affection for, and confidence in, this University.

Finally, add to that the 15,000 University graduates on our five campuses the past month, all prepared to move onto the state’s and nation’s workforce, and, yes, I’m feeling very lucky to be the President of the U.

Hard work

Of course, it’s hard work that makes for luck, and it’s hard work by many of our students, faculty, and staff that has gotten us here. For example…

Across the University, we have been working hard on sustainability issues, but our Morris campus has been our leader and a national leader. It was announced recently that Morris was awarded a Climate Leadership Award by Second Nature, a national nonprofit that works to create a healthy and sustainable society by transforming higher education. Only 20 campuses across the country were honored for their exceptional work, and Morris won the most votes among those institutions that award only bachelor’s degrees. Congratulations to the entire Morris community for its long-term and continuing commitment to teaching, researching, and living sustainability.

Speaking of which, I spent a whirlwind two-and-a-half days in Xi’An, China, late last month with our esteemed Mechanical Engineering Professor David Pui, and a collection of scientists and researchers from the U and a handful of some of Minnesota’s most innovative industry partners. We met with Chinese scientific and government leaders on the extremely critical issue of air pollution in China. We were the only university in the world invited by Chinese officials to discuss creative ideas Professor Pui has developed to address China’s PM 2.5 air quality crisis. It’s an example of the grand challenges we are confronting every day in our classrooms and labs, and a nice statement of the global reputation of our faculty and this University.

Our reputation is also attracting the nation’s top high school students. Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster reported to me earlier this week that we’re set to welcome 141 National Merit Scholars to the University this coming fall, more than last year, more than the University of California, Berkeley,—I’m just sayin’!—and far more than Texas or Wisconsin.

That’s very exciting, and a reflection of our commitment to academic excellence.

We also are working hard and responsibly to ensure our human subjects research is world class. Last week, we finalized a contract with nationally respected independent experts to logistically manage the process of examining our current policies, practices, and oversight of clinical research on human subjects. This is in response to a Faculty Senate resolution. We are all deeply committed to maintaining the highest standards in research practices involving human subjects so that our researchers can continue to pursue their life-changing work to benefit society.

Tobacco and Green Line

On another front, we have been working hard with faculty, staff, and students on a new smoke-free, tobacco-free policy, and it is set to begin on our Twin Cities campus on July 1. I want to be clear: It’s not our intention to become the cigarette police. Rather, our goal is to make this campus—and all of our campuses—eventually as healthy as possible, and through cessation classes and a smoke-free environment to aid those who are addicted to tobacco.

And, of course, we have worked very hard on the Green Line opening, which will come tomorrow, enhancing the accessibility and charm of our urban Twin Cities campus. Yes, that train is finally leaving our stations, and arriving, too! I’m grateful to all who have conducted themselves tirelessly for many years to bring us to this day. Now, we will continue to focus on safety; that must be top-of-mind as 98-ton trains continuously move through our campus. Our communications plan around safety has begun and will pick up steam considerably once all of our students, faculty, and staff return to campus in the fall.

Employee kudos

Finally, as the academic and fiscal year ends, we are in the process of thanking and honoring many deserving employees for their exceptional contributions and years of service. So, let me tell you about a phone call we received in my office a few weeks back that demonstrates the impact of Operational Excellence, employee engagement, good, old-fashioned customer relations, and pride in one’s work. Laura Wegscheid in my office received that call from a 1981 alum.

He told Laura the following things: That he was having trouble registering online for a political science class that he wanted to audit. That he spoke with someone named John Sill at our One Stop Student Services office on our St. Paul campus. That Mr. Sill went above and beyond to make several calls to department offices to help him navigate and resolve the issue. And that he was impressed by John’s professionalism and the wonderful service he provided to him. Here’s the kicker, I like this, the caller said that later this fall when he sends in his yearly donation to the University, he will increase it in honor of John Sill’s great service.

That, members of the Board, is not luck. That is one example of the hard work and exceptional service that thousands of our employees provide every day. And it underscores to me  the importance of ensuring that every interaction we each have with students, parents, alumni, and taxpayers has outcomes and reflects on the values of this University. We are lucky and I am grateful for such committed employees. John Sill is with us today, representing our extraordinary staff, and so that we can thank him for going above and beyond. John (see photo), please stand and be recognized.

By the way, John has to run off right now to Spicer, Minnesota—Regent Johnson knows where that is—to meet with the caterer and pastor of his forthcoming wedding. So, John, you can take the rest of the day off!

On that high note, I will conclude my report. I’m pleased now to distribute my accomplishments for the past academic and fiscal year.

As that happens, I wish us all a very pleasant and even uneventful rest of our Friday the 13th. Thank you.

Related Links

UMM receives Climate Leadership Award

The Green Line is here

Organization hired to manage review of human protections programs