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

Friday, May 10, 2013

Thank you, Madam Chair, and members of the Board.

Good morning. Today is the last day of classes on our Duluth, Rochester and Twin Cities campuses, with finals set to begin Monday. In Crookston, finals wrap up today.

The 50th commencement in the history of our Morris campus will be celebrated tomorrow. And the very first members of our U of M Rochester graduating class will receive their diplomas next Saturday, May 18. I extend my congratulations to the students and their families, and also to Chancellor Lehmkuhle, the architect of that success story.

Meanwhile, the Legislative session—which will affect, among other things, our hoped-for tuition freeze and MnDRIVE research initiative—must, by law, conclude on May 20, just 10 days from now.

And the experts in our Soil, Water and Climate Department assure me—truly assure me!—that the snow season is over.

So, we’re coming to some significant finish lines for the 2012-13 academic year, and I thank you for your support during these past 12 rigorous months.

Before we run through the tape—somewhat exhausted—let me detail for you all the moving about I’ve been doing over the past two months since last we met as a Board.

I began student office hours, as I pledged to do in my State of the University address in February, and, so far, I’ve met with students on our Twin Cities campus three times, and in Crookston and Morris. They’ve come in asking about the transparency of our budget process, and about tuition, about our mental health resources, and plans to start a food co-op on campus. One young man—Connor McCarthy—during his first meeting with me asked me to help him with a short video for a job interview he was about to have for a summer account management internship. I was happy to do that.

Two weeks later, at my next office hours sessions, he came back to tell me he’d gotten his job with an advertising agency in New York. Now, that’s fun!

My Crookston student meetings took place as we celebrated Chancellor Wood’s inauguration, and I thank many of you for joining me there. And I met with students at Morris when Karen and I attended the exceptional 35th annual Morris Jazz Festival, and I thank Chancellor Johnson for being such a gracious host.    

Over the past eight weeks, I have, among other things:

  • Visited members of our Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., while I was there for the annual presidential meeting of the Association of American Universities.
  • Met via conference call with all Big Ten presidents to approve new conference alignment and scheduling matters.
  • And, by the way, I will be meeting with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany later today as he visits the Twin Cities.
  • I spoke to the world’s largest medical device conference on our Twin Cities campus, the campus where the pacemaker was first used and where an industry that now has 29,000 employees in this state was born.
  • I continued my work on helping to close the achievement gap with Generation Next, which I co-chair, and by speaking to and bragging about all the early childhood education work we do at the University at an important Caring For Kids Initiative gathering in Wayzata.
  • I interviewed candidates for the critical position of Vice Provost for Student Affairs.
  • Unable to kick my chemical engineering identity, I hosted the regional meeting of the National Academy of Engineering, during which we showed off this University’s roster of experts on a wide range of topics.
  • On the global front, I signed an agreement for us to extend our partnership with the Tokyo Technological Institute, one of Japan’s top institutions of higher education.
  • Among other groups, I met with and spoke to members of the Minnesota Business Partnership to strengthen our relationship with them, and to a large gathering of the Metro North Chamber of Commerce, detailing how the University of Minnesota helps supply the top-flight talent force for a wide range of statewide industries.
  • Last Friday, I spoke to our Medical School graduates about all the challenges and wonderful public service they face. And I’m headed to UMD and to our Twin Cities College of Liberal Arts commencements next week. As recruiter-in-chief, I met with young members of the Future Farmers of America, urging them all to come and attend the U. To say that this University’s impact is broad and deep, and that we touch just about every Minnesotan and every community in the state is, clearly, no overstatement.

Meanwhile, yesterday we recognized students and faculty for many fellowships, awards and honors.

To me, four especially stand out this academic year: Chemical engineering and materials science professor Renata Wentzcovitch was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Ecologist Sarah Hobbie, a professor in the College of Biological Sciences, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Bruce Blazar in our Medical School was elected to the Institute of Medicine. Dean Steve Crouch of CSE was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. That makes us one of only four universities in the entire nation to have faculty selected to all four academic honor societies this past academic year.

Stanford, Chicago, UCLA and Minnesota. Only two public universities in such gold medal winning company, and we’re one of them. That, folks, is an academic grand slam, and in keeping with my goal to drive our world-class scholars to such recognition, thereby enhancing the reputation and stature of our great university.

Let me turn to athletics. Our agreement to have the Vikings play at TCF Bank Stadium was considered by the Facilities and Operations committee yesterday and was unanimously advanced it to the entire Board for action later this morning.

I thank General Counsel Rotenberg and Vice President Wheelock for their hard work on that.

Our Gopher football team has upgraded its schedule for 2014 and 2015 with games against Texas Christian University. This move closes the loop on the outstanding scheduling issues created by the North Carolina cancellation.

It also closes the “financial” loop—we have not only recouped the $800,000 we paid to cancel UNC, we’re coming out $100,000 in the black. We hired a talented, experienced, energetic and youthful new men’s basketball coach, Richard Pitino.

Let me turn to Title IX and a report in yesterday’s Minnesota Daily. I want to state my unequivocal commitment to Title IX and women’s opportunities. Unfortunately, that Daily report was incomplete and misleading. As President, I take gender equity in athletics and across the University extremely seriously. Over decades, Title IX has been a long-term commitment for this University. We monitor and evaluate it regularly through our Title IX Coordinator and through our faculty Advisory Committee on Athletics’ Subcommittee on Equity and Diversity.

These measures have been in place for many years. Long before any news story, we were in the process of selecting an external expert to complete a Title IX review. Athletics Director Teague shares my passion for women’s athletics and looks forward to the outcome of this report. But let me be clear, if we identify a need to do something differently, we will address it head-on.

Let me turn to our Twin Cities campus policy around smoking. Last week, the University Senate passed a resolution supporting a smoking ban—with few exceptions—on campus. When this issue first crossed my desk soon after I arrived, I felt that a lack of consensus in the campus community had been one of the holdups. With the Senate’s action consensus has now been overwhelmingly reached.

Certainly, the data has been clear for decades: illnesses related to smoking are the leading cause of avoidable mortality in the United States.

Minnesota as a state has been among the most progressive when it comes to protecting the public’s health. Our work at the University has been central to that. A smoke-free campus has become an expectation among peer institutions rather than an innovation. Our Duluth and Crookston campuses are already smoke or tobacco free. Forty-nine Minnesota colleges and universities have tobacco- or smoke-free policies. Nationwide, 1,159 colleges and universities are smoke free and 783 are 100% tobacco free. So, it’s about time for us in the Twin Cities. We now need to all work together to develop an implementation plan.

Our colleagues at the Boynton Health Center drafted a plan that’s an excellent framework from which to start. I would like to take the next year to educate the community about the change and to redouble our cessation efforts.

Smoking is an addiction. As the Star Tribune reported, a sophomore architecture student was quoted as saying: “If I can’t smoke in school, if I can’t smoke here, here or here, I might as well just give it up.” That’s exactly our goal. Once an implementation plan has met with campus-wide consensus, I will be prepared to enact a smoke-free and—depending on that consensus—a tobacco-free policy.

Which leads me to a very significant development that we will be discussing more fully in a few minutes and for which I will be seeking your approval. That is our relationship with Fairview. From the day I arrived on campus nearly two years ago, I emphasized among my priorities Operational Excellence and a rejuvenation of the Academic Health Center, and especially the Medical School.

What you will be seeing later today is a new agreement that, I believe, will advance those efforts. You should also know, last week University and Fairview leaders held a groundbreaking full-day retreat. The State Department might call the meetings we had “frank and candid.”

I would add “incredibly productive” and “firmly setting a new course.” I am looking forward to a new era of partnership between the University, University of Minnesota Physicians and Fairview. Joining us later today will be Chuck Mooty, interim CEO and chair of the Board of Fairview, and Carolyn Wilson, president of UMMC. They’ve been very good partners as we’ve worked to reset our relationship and finalize the integrated structure agreements.

With that, Madam Chair, I conclude my report, as always, thanking you and this Board for your deep engagement and commitment to stewardship in this University, and for all your support and guidance.