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

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thank you, Chair Beeson, members of the Board.

First of all, let me express my concern and hope for Coach Jerry Kill, his wife, Rebecca, and the entire Kill family. I think I speak for the entire University community when I say I look forward with great anticipation to Jerry’s return to the football team, and the sidelines.

It feels to me as if the entire state is rooting for him, and I hope Jerry senses that, too.

Moving on, I’m sometimes asked about my typical day as President of the University of Minnesota. After I laugh—and as these past 24 hours show—I reply that there is no such thing as a typical day.

So, for this report, I’d prefer to share with you and the rest of the Board what a typical month is like for me. It reflects the typical month for this always moving University.

Allow me to look back two weeks and then two weeks into the future.

As you know, Mr. Chair, I just returned—with you and Regents Lucas and Simmons—from a three-day trip to Phoenix with 80 other Twin Cities business and community leaders learning about how another metro area is addressing economic development issues.

I helped moderate a session with Arizona State University’s Provost about the role of an urban university—like our Twin Cities campus—on the changing landscape of higher education.

I’m proud of our increased engagement with communities and initiatives in the Twin Cities urban core.

For example, just two weeks ago, we announced a new partnership with the Minneapolis Public Schools to improve early childhood education.

As you know, closing Minnesota’s unacceptable achievement gap has been a personal priority since I arrived at the U. It’s also the life’s work of many U researchers.

Through this partnership we will establish new, high quality early education centers, starting in North Minneapolis.

The investment we make now in Minneapolis’ pre-school children will pay dividends in future University students and graduates and in our state’s workforce, something shown quite clearly by our Humphrey School Fellow and early childhood ed national advocate Art Rolnick.

Looking ahead, Monday night, I will be calling about 60,000 Twin Cities campus alumni in the metro area to get their input into the future of the University and our strategic planning process.

This is one part of my campaign to keep our many stakeholders informed of our strategic planning efforts, which are being led by Provost Hanson.

The last time we called our alums, more than 10,000 of them picked up the phone and participated, a truly effective way to have a town hall meeting and hear from a very important group of advocates.

Meanwhile, we are in the midst of interviewing our top three candidates for Dean of the Medical School and Vice President of our Academic Health Center. One candidate was on campus last week, and two more will be here next week. I know that our search committee is extremely excited about our pool of finalists.

And in this somewhat typical month, there’s much to celebrate.

Recently, our Law School and Medical School each celebrated their 125th anniversaries with well-attended events.

The 100th anniversary of the birth of our College of Design is on tap for later this month, and so is the 20th anniversary of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, our nation-leading think tank around gender equity and sports.

All of these events bring to campus an amazingly wide swath of community leaders and advocates for the University from a cross-section of disciplines and areas of interest, instilling remarkable pride in the U and all we do.

A typical month includes some frustrations, too. For example, we have been monitoring and assessing the effects of the federal government shutdown. Of course, we’re not alone in this predicament.

Those effects over the long-term are difficult to quantify at this time, but, for now, we’ve felt minimal short-term impacts.

The University does receive about $53 million each month from the federal government to support research grants, and new grant awards are expected to be delayed during the shutdown.

Our hope, of course, is that they’ll get back to business in Washington some time soon—recent news has been hopeful—and also reconsider various cuts to our nation’s research budgets through the budget sequestration.

Turning back to the good news front, our students continue to excel on all of our campuses.

One accomplishment particularly caught my eye, and that of national judges, too. It teamed student researchers from both our Twin Cities and Morris campuses, but also involved students from all of our campuses. Just last Sunday, a project called "The Next Generation Environmental Leaders" won first place at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Award. A coalition of students from the University of Minnesota’s Morris and Twin Cities campuses played a key role in Governor Mark Dayton’s 2013 Environmental Congress.

Here’s what they did: they brought science, public policy and their raw student energy together to team with Governor Dayton’s administration to help guide the state’s Environmental Quality Board in creating short-term action steps and setting long-term goals for the future.

Our students helped to mold state policy on environmental issues. This was interdisciplinary and multi-campus to the max. Funding for the work was provided in part by a mini-grant from the University’s Institute on the Environment.

It’s an ideal example of research, teaching and public engagement all rolled into one exceptional student experience.

And on the teaching front, our College of Biological Sciences (CBS) was awarded the Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction by the journal Science, one of the nation’s leading scientific journals.

The module is part of CBS’s innovative course, Foundations in Biology, which replaced the traditional "Biology 101" course.

Bio 101 was based on lectures and memorization. Very old school.

Instead, this new approach engaged teams of students to learn fundamentals of biology through solving real-world problems. Congratulations to CBS and key faculty members Susan Wick, Mark Decker, David Mathes and Robin Wright.

Then, just Tuesday night, at the Annual National Conference of the Wildlife Society, the UM Crookston student chapter team won the national Wildlife Quiz Bowl championship.

I know Chancellor Wood—who is surprisingly competitive—was especially proud that UMC students took on wildlife experts from much larger campuses, and beat them bad!

Finally, later this month, we will be honoring our alumnus Professor Sun Kwok, Dean of Science of the University of Hong Kong, as an Outstanding Achievement Award winner. A 1974 U Ph.D., he is one of the world’s most respected astronomers, and—as you would imagine—Sun is a real star himself.

I met Professor Kwok during my trip to China this summer and I’m delighted he will be returning to our campus on October 23.

So—if anyone asks—looking two weeks back and looking two weeks ahead—from North Minneapolis, to Washington, D.C., to award ceremonies across the nation, to the successes of our alumni around the world—that’s what a typical month looks like at this University of Minnesota.

Perhaps that’s why some wise person decided to provide a Board meeting respite in November. It will give us all a chance to catch our breaths.


With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my report.