President Kaler's February 2013 Report to the Board of Regents

Friday, February 8, 2013

Thank you, Madam Chair.

We all know how active we’ve been since we last met as a group two months ago. We’ve been advocating—together—for the University and trying to put many facts into context. We’ve continually put our biennial budget request into context for legislative committees. We’ve put our administrative structure, the complexity of our organization and, certainly, our role as the state’s only comprehensive research university all into a context that business leaders, students, families, elected officials, taxpayers—and, yes, even our friends in the media—can understand.

Then, two nights ago, Governor Dayton put everything in context, everything into perspective.

I was sitting in the gallery during his State of the State speech in the Capitol’s House chamber when the Governor revealed some research he had personally undertaken. It was, frankly, breathtaking.

Speaking of funding for higher education in the state of Minnesota, he pointed out that he and the legislature had cut the University and our friends at MnSCU by 12 percent in 2011. Of course, we knew that, and had all felt that.

But, then, he went on. He explained that last week he searched the Department of Management and Budget’s (MMB) computerized archives. He looked for a previous biennium when the state of Minnesota spent less money, in real dollars, to support higher education than in the current one.

He could not find one. So he asked the MMB staff to dig into their pre-digitized paper archives, and here’s what the governor learned.

The last time the state of Minnesota spent less to support higher education, in real dollars, than we are spending in fiscal year 2012–13…was in 1980–81.

That was my third year as a graduate student here at the U, three decades ago. A long time ago.

Yes, according to the governor, in every biennium since 1980–81, real state spending for all of postsecondary education has been higher than it is today. He added that compared to the 49 other states—in expenditures for higher education per $1,000 of personal income—Minnesota ranks 32nd. That’s some context for why tuition has increased!

And no wonder student debt on our campuses since 2008 has increased by nearly 20 percent. No wonder, previous University leaders and this Board have:

  • merged and closed colleges,
  • instituted and approved early retirement plans,
  • shifted health premiums to employees,
  • frozen salaries and imposed furloughs,
  • left hundreds of faculty positions unfilled, and
  • eliminated many positions in the last several years.

No wonder we have aggressively tackled efficiencies and sought a culture change under our Operational Excellence work, saving millions on closed administrative offices, technology changes, and energy conservation while seeking new ways to do our work.

Madam Chair, the history that Governor Dayton revealed on Tuesday night puts wind behind our backs, adds momentum —and credible context—to our biennial budget proposal to the legislature.

Powerful story

We have a powerful story to tell, and we told it Tuesday at the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. That’s where we formally presented our biennial budget request.

We told it with the words of a concerned CEO, Chris Policinski of Land O’Lakes, Inc.; with the impressive explanations of our MnDRIVE scholars; and with the youthful sincerity of our students.

Regents Cohen, Johnson, Beeson, Devine, and Simmons were among those there, and you saw it, you heard it, you felt the energy. I thank you and all of you for your support.

Amid all the noise and sometimes controversy that surrounds any large institution these days, we must put things in context—against history, against other states, and against the burdens on our students and their families.

When we do, the story of our value to the state of Minnesota is a real winner. We told it yesterday at Support the U Day, when we joined hundreds of students from all of our campuses at the Capitol to rally for our budget request.

It was a first that this Board suspended its meetings to hop on a bus and advocate. Thank you for that.

Of course, last month many of you joined me, along with more than 400 other supporters, at our annual Legislative Briefing in Memorial Hall five floors below. It was a great success, and we Tweeted up a storm.

In a modern performance metric I must admit is new to me, we actually trended on Twitter that night, as hundreds of attendees Tweeted their “Support the U” messages to their legislators, and those Tweets were then re-Tweeted by others.

Believe it or not, for a while regionally, we were the subject of more Tweets than Adrian Peterson, Prince or, even Downton Abbey!

Those mentions of the U on social media are significant for our reputation.

A recent analysis by a social media firm has ranked us in the Top Ten of public universities with the most Internet clout. We must leverage that for advocacy, and for our global brand. Tweeting is the new megaphone, and we need to shout our accomplishments far and wide, as I do regularly at @PrezKaler.

Spans and layers analysis

Let me turn to a major project we’re tackling now. Some of you discussed it yesterday in the Faculty and Staff Affairs Committee. That is the request from the governor and legislature that we detail our administrative structure by March 15.

I do want to emphasize its importance to me, to you, to the success of our biennial request, and to the operational excellence of the University in the years to come.

Here’s where that stands: We are working to bring in an external expert to assess and benchmark the University’s spans and layers of management and administrative functions in Finance, Information Technology, Human Resources, and Purchasing.

This work will give the University additional data, tools, and estimates for future cost savings and recommendations to ensure our structure, administration, and operations are effective, efficient, and among the best in the nation in higher education.

We have contracted with Sibson Consulting, a national strategic human resource consulting firm based in New York, to collect, analyze, and benchmark data about spans and layers of management control across the organization and to develop recommendations to improve management and reduce costs. In short, the analysis will answer the question: “Does the University have the appropriate number of organizational levels and do managers at various levels oversee the proper number of people?”

This goes to the core of my commitment to Operational Excellence and making this as efficient a university as is possible. We must drive administrative costs down—as I have said many times—so that we get to our core goals—to a nation-leading level of excellence in all we do in classrooms, in laboratories, and in research centers across the state, and at as an affordable price as possible.

Those of us around this table all know that we’ve been working on this together for the past 19 months. And I am confident that the report we provide to the legislature and the governor on March 15 will be one filled with progress and efficiency.

Summer usage and Greek updates

I want to update you on two other very important items. During my State of the University speech last year, I urged an examination of what I like to call the "Three Period Plan," or better utilization of our facilities and academic programs in the summer. A small committee has been meeting since then to discuss this initiative.

It was determined that—although a full summer calendar was not needed at this time—there are strategic places where the University can enhance the summer curriculum on our Twin Cities campus. Today, I am pleased to announce the following components of initial stages of our three-period strategy.

First, we’re launching a pilot program in the College of Design for two new undergraduate degree programs in graphic design and retail merchandising. The college will add a three-semester option, while still maintaining the more traditional four-year program.

Second, we will move to make certain that every single category in the Liberal Education Curriculum has one offering in the summer to enhance degree completion. I want to note particularly that we will work to make certain that these courses are offered online. That will ensure that students can continue to make progress on their degrees no matter where they are living during the summer months.

Third, starting in the summer of 2014, we will work to better standardize the undergraduate summer curriculum to one seven-week term, running from early June to late July. For your information, in 2012 for our May and summer terms, we had 69 different start dates and 59 different end dates for our courses. Standardization of the term, I’m convinced, will enhance planning for those students wanting to take more than one class while still allowing for summer employment, study abroad, and other activities. So, we’ve made progress on that goal.

On another front I am pleased to report the Greek Task Force Report has been completed. For more than 135 years, the Greek system has been an important part of the University community, playing a critical role in the development of thousands of successful alumni. We are in the leadership development business here at the U, and the Greek community has been a leader among leaders. With this Task Force, we sought to find a way to ensure the continuation of that flow of leaders, and to ensure a healthy and sustainable Greek community. And I’m confident we’ve done that.

Faculty and student achievements

Finally, let me quickly turn to our many recent achievements. The list is long, but I get a special kick out of celebrating all the marvelous accomplishments of our faculty and students.

First, take a pause to comprehend the potential long-term impact of the discoveries by our Masonic Cancer Center researcher Reuben Harris and his lab colleagues from the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics. As front page stories have reported, Professor Harris and his colleagues have discovered an enzyme that could cause the majority of breast cancers, and possibly other cancers.

That discovery could lead to cures and to prevention. It is a milestone in cancer research, and a spectacular step in this University’s role as a leader in the health sciences, and women’s health, in particular. Congratulations to Dr. Harris.

When someone asks, “So, what does a research university really do?” tell them about this remarkable breakthrough.

I also want to congratulate more than 130 faculty members for winning our 2013 Imagine Fund Annual Awards, administered by the provost’s office. At a time when funding for arts, humanities, and design research often pales compared to that for the sciences and engineering, the Imagine Fund confirms our internal support for the arts, humanities, and design.

With the help of the McKnight Arts and Humanities Program, we provide about $650,000 to allow faculty to pursue small, but significant, projects—to host an important seminar, travel abroad to conduct research, stage a performance, or try out innovative techniques in a design. Professors from our Duluth, Morris, and Twin Cities campuses were honored, which is an indication of the depth, breadth, and vitality of our liberal arts and design disciplines systemwide. It’s a great program, and I applaud the winners.

One more piece of really good news: Yesterday, Steve Crouch, dean of our Twin Cities College of Science and Engineering, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering—among the highest professional distinctions for an engineer. We’re proud of Steve, and I welcome him into the NAE club.

Our students continue to amaze us with a wide diversity of accomplishments. I spoke earlier about the buzz we as a University create in social media.

On our Crookston campus, we actually have some buzz royalty. University of Minnesota Crookston freshman Emily Campbell was named the 2013 American Honey Princess at the North American Beekeeping Conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania, last month.

At UMD, there’s been a dramatic development. Senior Caity Shea Violette is headed to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in April to compete in the National Irene Ryan Acting Competition, where she will perform in her own 10-minute play. UMD’s theater department regularly produces national level performers.

Finally, Madam Chair and members of the Board, we’ve had some exciting victories recently. The Gopher women’s hockey team is on a historic winning streak, now at 36 games, and is heading towards defense of its national title. Our Twin Cities campus dance team won national titles earlier this month in pom and jazz at the National Championships, their fourth in a row. That news actually gotme jumping up and down.

So we’ve invited members of the teams here today. I’d like them to please rise so we can turn the tables and cheer for them! Congratulations.

Finally, Madam Chair, there is another honoree we were expecting. But I’m afraid we can’t wait any longer as we have a full agenda. This national champ, if I may say so, has a tendency to be an independent thinker and a bit unpredictable. I’m afraid we might have to skip this acknowledgement for another day…because…

Wait! Ladies and gentlemen, the 2013 National Champion Mascot: GOLDY!!!

With that Madam Chair, I happily conclude my report, with great thanks for all of the guidance this Board provides, all of the support you offer, and all of the good humor we enjoy.