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

Friday, March 8, 2013

Thank you, Madam Chair.

First, please allow me to congratulate you and Regent Johnson on your re-election to this board. I’m very happy I will be able to work with you for the next six years.

And a very warm welcome to our newest board member—Regent Omari—I look forward to working with you in the coming days and years. Welcome also to Regent Lucas, who unfortunately, couldn’t be with us today.

Our two newest regents bring both experience with this board, and deep connections to the University and the broader community. Peggy is a very successful business leader in our community and Abdul is a doctoral student who also received his undergraduate degree at the University and has worked in central administrative offices as a graduate fellow.

The next week will be extremely important for the outcome of our legislative request. As I will detail for you later in our meeting, next Monday and Tuesday I will report to the House and Senate Higher Education committees, respectively, our response to the Senate’s request for details on our administrative structure. Also on Monday, we present our budget request to the House Higher Education committee for the first time. I invite you to attend both sessions as your presence at legislative hearings is very important.

I know many of you attended or watched from afar my State of the University address last week. Thank you for that. I was proud to declare that the State of the University is strong. And I spoke of where I’d like to see us go in the next 12 months.

Just to review…

First, I want to develop a new strategic plan to guide the next generation of decisions for our University. I expect the plan to guide priority setting and create greater alignment and accountability across the University system. I want it to be transparent and engaging to create a shared purpose, but I want to avoid being bogged down by excessive processes. It is not going to take us a year, and we’re not going to form a hundred committees. Over the next few months, I will work with my senior management team, governance and this Board to develop the planning process with a goal of launching in the fall.

Secondly, we must maintain our excellence in our graduate programs.

I came here as a graduate student and I am not about to be the president who lets our graduate programs slip away. We need strong, competitively funded programs to attract the best graduate students in the world to Minnesota. As you know, three years ago, we implemented a plan to change the way we manage our graduate programs. We gave the colleges resources, authority, and local control.

We’ve learned a lot over the past three years. Now, I think it’s time to take a look at what has worked—and perhaps has not worked—and to make recommendations for improvements. It’s time for what I’ve started to call “Graduate School 2.0.” We asked Provost Hanson and Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Henning Schroeder to develop recommendations to sharpen our focus on graduate education.

Thirdly—and moving onto the research front—I explained that when I talk with faculty I consistently hear that we make it difficult to do the kind of interdisciplinary work that defines the cutting edge in most fields, and that is critical to solving most of today’s problems. Whatever the barriers are to interdisciplinary research, they need to go away. So I have asked Provost Hanson and Vice President Herman to develop recommendations for facilitating more interdisciplinary teaching and interdisciplinary research.

Fourth, I spoke of the unnecessary administrative burdens we face—those that we impose on ourselves because we have a low tolerance for risk, or because we’re afraid a misdeed of two decades ago will reappear again. Of course, I expect and insist we will always meet our legal and regulatory obligations. But, at the same time, we must continue to recalibrate our risk tolerance.

That means we must look at our own internal policies and ask the question: Do they meet—or do they exceed—our legal or regulatory requirements? If they are excessively burdensome, going beyond what federal agencies or other entities require us to do, we should change them or at least make a conscious decision not to!

So, I asked each vice president and each policy owner to review their policies through this lens of risk recalibration. Until we reduce the burdens and drive substantial simplification, I’m not going to stop pushing on this issue.

Fifth, I discussed our plans to develop a comprehensive employee engagement strategy. I hear from employees that they want to be more fully engaged. They want a clearer career path. They want meaningful evaluations and career guidance. Employee engagement is a best practice used in many effective private-sector organizations.

Sixth, I announced I’m going to start holding office hours for students on all of our campuses. I love to meet with students, and I’m going to do that monthly, and I’ll be visiting Crookston, Duluth, and Morris in the coming months to conduct office hours there.

In other news…

Of course, the search for a new leader of our Academic Health Center and Medical School is under way.

So, I laid out an aggressive, well-rounded agenda for the next year, a busy year ahead of us, to be sure.

And it’s begun with great demand.

For our Twin Cities campus, we’ve received 42,301 applications, up nearly 5,000 from last year or 13.1 percent. The old record was 39,500 applications, so we smashed that high-water mark.

Applications are up for all of our statewide campuses, with Crookston up nearly 17 percent. On some other fronts, our national reputation is growing, with out-of-state applications up 38 percent. Applications from students of color are up 15 percent. And those from Greater Minnesota are up 11 percent. That is all great news, and an indication of how attractive we are to top students and their families.

As I will detail later this morning when I discuss our Operational Excellence work, we have done more in the past 18 months to study and reveal the costs of instructions and administration than—I believe—any university in the nation. We are currently undergoing further studies about our management structure and how it compares to our peers. Those studies are substantial, open, and reveal opportunities.

Yes, the State of this University is strong. We are excellent, but we must keep getting better.

I look forward to doing that with you.

Related Links

Progress Report to the Minnesota Legislature (15.6 MB PDF)

President Kaler’s March 8 Operation Excellence Presentation to the Regents

2013 State of the University Address