President Kaler's May 11, 2012, Report to the Board of Regents

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you all for your support and guidance during this first academic year of my presidency. And, if I may, a special welcome to my newest boss, Regent Devine.


When I started here in July, I set five broad goals: to listen and learn; to continue to improve to achieve excellence; to address the critical issue of access and affordability; to intensify our advocacy—in our communications and in our government relations—and to raise significant private philanthropy; and to improve operational efficiency by trimming administrative costs. Not that anyone's counting, but let me share with you how I've spent some of my time to date:

  • I hosted 14 faculty lunches, breaking bread with nearly 100 of our faculty members.
  • I made 21 department visits to meet with students, staff, and faculty, and I have really enjoyed them.
  • I attended another 50 faculty-related events, via governance or internal meetings, and that includes one-on-ones with faculty members.
  • I was involved in 21 University-wide staff sessions, with, among others, our P&A employees, Civil Service employees, and our bargaining units.
  • I attended nearly 60 events focused solely on students, from our military veterans to our Greek community, not to mention the hundreds of individual interactions I've had with students at those and other events.
  • I visited each of our statewide campuses at least once, and a half-dozen Extension offices and Research and Outreach Centers.
  • In my goal of reaching out to the state's business community, I attended or had important interactions on more than 60 occasions with CEOs and key business groups—such as the Minnesota Business Partnership. 
    If you did not see me at a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce, then I will conclude you did not eat breakfast or lunch recently in this state! My waistline confirms I spoke to and ate with eight Rotaries, 10 Chambers, and a bunch of other such important community organizations.
  • And, dear Regents, be it formal meetings such as this, in smaller gatherings, during one-on-one sessions, or in phone calls, I have met with all of you, some of you, or individually with you, 115 times since July. All of those encounters were, of course, very pleasant. And, as I said, who's counting?
  • For good measure, I milked a cow, jumped up and down when our Gopher women's hockey team won the NCAA title, testified seven times before legislative committees, and met the King and Queen of Norway.

So, Year One has been—to use a technical term—a blast. I am convinced and confident that this University is moving forward, and we're moving in the right direction. I thank you for your support.


Let me turn to advocacy. Over the course of the past 10 months, I have developed a strong working relationship with Governor Dayton. He is a great friend of the University. I met with 83 legislators, and have been personally introduced to many more. And I've reached out to thousands of alumni, business leaders, and citizens statewide to support our legislative agenda.

That work—and the good work of our Government and Community Relations team—delivered for us a solid piece of the state bonding bill, which passed earlier this week. Our Government and Community Relations Office and University leadership, including many of you on this Board, worked with legislators to increase HEAPR funding by $10 million, as well as provide funding for the first phase of the Twin Cities campus's Combined Heat and Power Plant. The University projects funded in the bill:

  • HEAPR—$50 million
  • Itasca Biological Station—$4.1 million
  • Combined Heat and Power Plant—$10 million
  • For a total of $64.1 million in state funding

Also, our friends and partners at the Hormel Institute in Austin and Mayo Clinic in Rochester received an additional $13.5 million. It wasn't all that our Capital Request sought, but it was far better than we expected earlier in the session. So I am pleased with the result and credit much of it to support from you here on this Board and our strong and growing advocacy network.

I would also like to thank the governor and his staff for their support of the U, and thank the legislators who worked tirelessly to invest in their state's only comprehensive research university.


Please allow me to update you on another key priority of mine, and that is Operational Excellence. I have met with our senior leaders weekly since September and in the first phase of a system-wide risk recalibration initiative, we identified 228 specific items that are worthy of examination. Some could drive substantial cost savings, although fuller analysis remains. Others won't add up to much monetary savings, but could make the work lives of staff more effective, entrepreneurial, and pleasant, and could improve our relationship with those outside the University who interact with us.

Here is a fun one. Until April 27, if you made a call to someone on our campus and if you received voicemail, rather than a real person, you would need to sit through a lengthy set of instructions on how to leave a message and how to send a fax, although I believe the last fax sent on campus occurred sometime during the Clinton administration.

So, thanks to the whizzes in our Office of Information Technology, we shortened up the automatic and frustrating voicemail instructions by 15 seconds.

Fact: We leave on this campus 5.3 million voicemails a year.

Fact: By reducing those instructions by 15 seconds, we will save ourselves 22,000 hours of muttering about how long those darn instructions were—twenty-two-thousand hours!

Together, as we move forward, Operational Excellence will mean more funding for academic priorities. Meanwhile, we are in the process of completing our examination of academic centers and institutes, with administrative centers next on our agenda.


Later this morning, I will be presenting my recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2013 operating budget (PDF).

I look forward to sharing with you a vision of how our investments reflect my goals for this University and, I hope, yours.

Let me update you a few other matters. Yesterday, I sought the approval of our Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee for the appointment of Norwood Teague as the new athletic director of Golden Gophers. I am convinced Mr. Teague will lead our athletics program into its next era of integrity, academic excellence, and victory. He will begin his duties on June 18.

Intercollegiate athletics are a very important component of the overall student and community experience we want on our campuses. Our brand is linked to many things, but public opinion research shows that after the healthcare services a citizen or her family receives from a U facility, athletics is the next point of connection for Minnesotans to us. But for those who we consider "opinion leaders," athletics is the strongest point of connection.

Our reputation—our brand—as an institution is, in some measure, linked to our success in athletics, on and off the field. I look forward to working with Norwood Teague, and hope you will get to know him well. He will be a great asset for our University.

Tonight, I will have the pleasure of speaking to the graduating seniors of our College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences at Mariucci Arena. Tomorrow I will head off to Morris, to celebrate the graduation of our seniors at the University of Minnesota Morris. I am looking forward to sharing those big events with our students and their families.

Meanwhile, as our leadership team takes shape, key searches continue. We are in the final stages of selecting a new chancellor for our Crookston campus, a new dean for our Dental School and our new vice president for equity and diversity. We are in the early stages of our search for a new vice president for research and for a new vice president for university services.


Sometimes as president, the news is not always good news. Sometimes, news reports and Tweets, or comments on websites are aggravating. But frequently, a president gets cheered up.

As I conclude my report, allow me to read excerpts from an email I recently received from senior Jay Harrison, a member of our coed cheer team, who will be graduating tonight from CFANS.

Here's what he wrote:

"Hi President Kaler,

"I am Jay Harrison and I have been on the coed cheer team.… I have a job lined up with Dakota Spirit, which is an all-star cheer gym in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, starting in June.

"I just wanted to say thank you through the ups and downs that have gone on in the last five years. Every little bit helps to know that the University was behind me as much as I loved being the spirit of this great University. I can say that I bleed maroon and gold, and I owe it to you and others. Thanks for the best five years of my life."

Madam Chair, members of the Board, that is why we are here. On that very cheerful note, I conclude my report.