President Kaler's June 8, 2012, Report to the Board of Regents

Friday, June 8, 2012

As my first year as president of this great University comes to a close, we continue to work to tell our unique story as Minnesota’s only comprehensive research and land-grant university. And we are telling that story in new and, I think, compelling ways.

We are telling it to the citizens of this state, to our business community, and to our elected officials through traditional media, social media, and through dynamic images.

Before we meet again at our July Board meeting and retreat, we and the nation’s other land-grant universities will be celebrating a special anniversary. On July 2, 1862, at a time of deep darkness in this country, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, which created the land-grant universities. It was a monumental moment in American history and, certainly, higher education history. It established the unique role of the public research university, with an emphasis on access for qualified students; on our agricultural mission; on our commitment to the mechanical arts—or what we know now as engineering; and, ultimately, it set the stage for our pioneering, life-saving research enterprise.

Vice Presidents Jones and Hanson, I remind you, presented a thorough discussion of the Morrill Act at our March Board meeting. But, for a brief and engaging look at what it means to be a land-grant university, I’d like to share with you a new video that we have produced. It is being distributed widely on our University website and through various social media outlets. So, let’s roll that.


Looking ahead, we are already preparing for the important 2013 legislative session and our critical biennial budget request. Our Government Relations leader Jason Rohloff is readying his staff for a full summer and fall of relationship building with lawmakers and candidates. Three nights ago, I had an important and productive dinner meeting at Governor Dayton’s residence with key business and civic leaders to seek their input on where this University should be heading as we prepare for that budget request of 2013.

Let me turn to the comings and goings of our senior leadership. Even as we see Joel [Maturi], Kathy [O’Brien], and Chuck [Casey] leave our leadership team—and take with them more than six decades’ worth of combined service—we have new leaders to welcome, and more searches under way.

Pending your approval today, Dr. Leon Assael has been named as the new dean of our School of Dentistry. He joins us from the Oregon Health and Science University. Also, pending your approval, Dr. Fred Wood has been named as our new chancellor for the Crookston campus. Dr. Wood joins us from the University of California, Davis. Meanwhile, searches continue for our University Services vice president, our vice president for the Office of Equity and Diversity, and our vice president for research.

I do think the pace of change in senior leadership is worth noting. By the time the leaves change this fall, we will have seen 10 new leaders join my administration over my first year as president. It means a new day, fresh faces, and exciting energy, but it also means a loss of institutional memory.

Speaking of which, as you know, our dear friend and Regents Executive Director Ann Cieslak will be retiring next week. Ann, of course, staffed the search committee that hired me. Her wisdom, professionalism, commitment to this University, and her dedication to the Board is truly remarkable. I cannot thank her enough for her advice and guidance to ensure that my transition to president was smooth. We will honor Ann more formally and joyously later this year. I, together with you, will miss her good counsel.


I want to share some good news about our undergraduate honors program. I have been saying that I want this University to be mentioned in the same conversation with the nation’s top public universities. In a recent evaluation of undergraduate honors programs in the United States, a new ranking system places us third among all public universities with honors programs of more than 1,700 students, behind only Michigan and Arizona State. And we were picked as the best “new” honors program in the nation. I remind you our honors program, in its current version, is only three years old. I am delighted with this distinction.


On to other matters. I know later today that Regent Beeson will be presenting the report from the Special Committee on Executive Compensation. I want to thank him, and Regents Frobenius and Johnson for their advice, counsel, and hard work on this important matter.

And I want to reiterate clearly: As president I am committed to being a vigilant steward of this University’s resources. We are all working every day to ensure the public’s trust in what we do.

With that in mind, I also want to report that I continue to meet weekly with senior leaders on one of my top priorities: operational excellence. We will soon launch a useful and interactive website that will communicate all the progress we’ve made, that will track the progress still to be made, and that will allow stakeholders to provide input and feedback.

I am very excited about the path we are taking towards reducing costs and becoming more efficient and effective while working to change the University’s workplace culture.


On another matter that’s central to my vision for this University, I helped with our team launch of Ramp-Up to Readiness Monday. As our state’s only comprehensive public research University, we have an important role and great responsibility to help to close the achievement gap in this state. Ramp-Up to Readiness is a University-sponsored, school-wide guidance program that helps students in grades 6 through 12 obtain the ability to succeed at a technical college, a community college, or a four-year college or university. More than 40 middle and high schools have already joined the program.

We need our state’s young people to be ready for post-secondary admissions and for careers, and to create relationships with peers and adults who support academic success. In some ways, the future of this University and the future prosperity of this state depend very directly on the academic success of our youngest Minnesotans. We all can and should help to drive that success.


I also believe that our employees should gain a special educational benefit while working at a world-class university. As we all heard at the Board’s budget hearing last month—and as I have heard directly and repeatedly from our civil service and bargaining unit employees—the Regents Scholarship program is a much-valued benefit. I have been told repeatedly about the great hardship that cutbacks on the Regents Scholarship program posed for many of our employees. We’ve seen a reduction in the number of employees pursuing degrees because of the cutback in the benefit over the past three years.

That’s why I am announcing today my intention to return the Regents Scholarship subsidy to 100 percent of tuition for any University employee who is seeking his or her first college degree. I will work with you on the budget matters related to this.

The value of higher education is undisputed: Americans with four-year college degrees have an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent, or less than half of the national unemployment rate, and less than half of those holding only high school degrees. I hope you will join me in supporting this change. For those employees seeking a second degree or taking non-degree classes, we will maintain the subsidy at the current 75 percent level.


Let me turn now to our Academic Health Center. First, the Letters of Intent that you approved at our May meeting have been signed. We are now moving forward with definitive agreements on the new Ambulatory Care Center and on our new integrated relationship with Fairview and University of Minnesota Physicians (UMP).

As you know, there has been change in Fairview’s leadership. Mark Eustis is retiring. He is being replaced on an interim basis by Chuck Mooty, a great friend of the University, who, as he took over at Fairview, stepped down as chair of the University Foundation. We wish Chuck all the best in this endeavor.

I am confident that the new relationship that we, UMP, and Fairview are developing will give the University a greater influence on operational issues moving forward. Under new leadership, Fairview and we will embark on a new and productive chapter that will serve people in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota and our region.

Speaking of Fairview and the AHC, I want to close with some thoughts about our dear friend Carl Platou. We lost Carl to cancer last week. Months ago, Carl introduced me to Peter Agre.

Dr. Agre is a Nobel Prize winner, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a distinguished professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins. More importantly, Dr. Agre was born in Northfield, graduated from our neighboring Augsburg College, and is of Norwegian and Swedish descent. He is, then, by all measures, an eminently qualified Minnesotan!

Carl believed that Dr. Agre would be a great personal adviser to me as we navigate the future of the AHC. So, Dr. Agre has agreed to a more formal, though uncompensated, role at the University, acting as a “special counsel” to me for health sciences. It is a tribute to Carl that Dr. Agre will be advising the University Carl loved.

Carl Platou possessed a rare and contagious optimism. He was a giant in this state, and we will miss his guidance, his wisdom, and his special spirit.

With that, Madam Chair, I conclude my report, and advise you that my memo on my accomplishments of my first year will now be distributed.

Thank you.