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

Friday, September 13, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and a Happy New Semester to us all!

This September rush of energy is just about my favorite time of the year.

There’s much to report and share with you as the academic year kicks off.

I am focused on several key priorities:

  • launching our strategic planning process,
  • furthering Operational Excellence,
  • aggressively pursuing private philanthropy,
  • improving our undergraduate experience,
  • strengthening our partnership with the state,
  • driving Minnesota’s culture of innovation,
  • preparing the state’s workforce and next generation of leaders,
  • all the while continuing to evaluate just about everything we do.

To further all of that, I am regularly deploying all the lines of communications I can to keep you and others informed, and to to listen to concerns, ideas and, occasionally, to receive a compliment or two about the U to brighten my day.

I will continue to schedule monthly faculty lunches, regular academic department visits, and discussions with faculty and staff consultative committees.

I also will continue regular office hours with students, which I especially enjoy.

I am eager to communicate more regularly with parents and alumni, too.

On November 4, I will hold a Campus Conversation on the Twin Cities campus, open to all, to provide a progress report on strategic planning and to answer any other questions. I invite you to attend.

Another key area in which communications and relationships are important is the Legislature.

During the summer months I met regularly with key legislative leaders to understand what’s on their minds, to maintain our strong relationship, and to thank them for partnering with us last session. The meetings have gone well, and I’ve learned and shared much.

As we approach the 2014 legislative session, which starts in February, and begin to advocate for our capital request, which you’ll hear about later today I will call on you to help me make our case.

On the leadership front, searches for key positions are under way.

We are entering the final stages of interviewing extremely strong candidates for our Medical School Dean and Vice President of the Academic Health Center.

We’re deep into a search for a new dean for our Twin Cities campus’s College of Liberal Arts.

And, as you know, Provost Hanson announced last week, we are exploring the creation of a new college on the Twin Cities campus—primarily from our College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and our College of Biological Sciences. I believe such a consolidation could significantly strengthen our already strong departments in those colleges and advance our national reputation and impact.

I want to assure you—and our partners, alumni and friends in the agriculture community—that this exploration in no way signals any diminution of our commitment to agriculture.

Indeed, we believe—I believe—such a combination could significantly strengthen agricultural research, teaching and outreach, but we need a thorough exploration before making a final decision.The possibility of a creating a new college that is focused on agriculture, natural resources, and life sciences has been discussed by leaders within the colleges for a while, even before Provost Hanson and I arrived on the scene.

Given Dean Elde’s retirement and Dean Levine’s decision to step down, this is a moment when it makes abundant sense to further that conversation, and Provost Hanson will lead that process.

Our neighboring land-grant universities—Wisconsin-Madison and Iowa State—both have successfully consolidated Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences and, in so doing, strengthened departments and their overall research, teaching and outreach agendas. Earlier this week, the Provost and I sent a letter to about 70 agriculture and food industry leaders to keep them informed.

Tomorrow happens to be Ag and Food Day at the Gopher football game, and I—accompanied, I know, by some of you and our Deans—will be meeting in the morning with industry leaders to discuss this exploration.

On the athletics front, I want to report something very important—and not just that our Gopher football team is undefeated, or our Gopher volleyball and soccer teams are undefeated or that the UMD Bulldog football and volleyball teams are undefeated.

Last month, at our Faculty Academic Oversight Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, it was reported that our Gopher student-athletes for all fall sports were academically eligible for their seasons.

And none—not a single one—because of any special waivers, which have been common. It is, as far as anyone can remember, a first for our athletes.

It is a real tribute to the McNamara Academic Center and its director Lynn Holleran, a tribute to our coaches and their staffs, and, mostly, a tribute to our athletes who understand that what happens off the field is, frankly, more important than what happens on the field.

In other points of pride across the system…

Later this month, the new Green Prairie Community will be officially opened at Morris, the first new residence hall on that campus since 1971. In keeping with Morris’ nation-leading sustainability mission, the Green Prairie Community is, among other features, powered, heated and cooled with renewable energy from the Morris campus’ onsite wind and biomass community-based energy systems.

Also, in case you missed it, UM Morris was named again to the Top 10 Public Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News, in the ranks with West Point, Annapolis and the U.S. Air Force Academy. Congratulations to Chancellor Johnson, her faculty and staff.

Later this afternoon, in Duluth, UMD grad Brian Kobilka, the 2012 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, will be lecturing and meeting with students. It’s going to be a very celebratory day on the UMD campus.

By the way, I’ll be visiting UMD next week, and will be conducting student office hours there. I’m looking forward to that.

Earlier this month, our Rochester campus welcomed 179 first-year students, its largest class ever, and a spectacular sign of growth and demand.

You might recall in May, we graduated our first UMR class of 50, and now it has been succeeded by a class more than three times as large. It is proof of that campus’s and this University’s commitment to preparing students for Minnesota’s health care work force, and confirmation of the success of Chancellor Lehmkuhle’s vision.

At Crookston, there was national recognition, too. U.S News named UMC the best—Number One—regional college in the Midwest out of 367 in our region. Congratulations to Chancellor Wood and our entire Crookston community, which is also celebrating its 20th year of offering baccalaureate degrees.

A few final notes:

Before we meet again in October, we will be celebrating Homecoming on all of our campuses.

With a lovely Minnesota fall circling back to us once again, homecoming is a chance for us to gather, remember and enjoy. I urge you to participate in this ritual on whatever campus you choose, to celebrate and renew our maroon and gold community across the state.

Also, on October 6, I will join a group of civic and business leaders—including Regents Beeson, Lucas and Simmons—on an InterCity Leadership Visit to Phoenix.

We will be exploring regional issues, learning from Phoenix area leadership, and I, particularly, will be exploring how another large urban university—Arizona State—works with and enhances its metropolitan neighbors.

At the conclusion of my remarks, you will be receiving my Work Plan for the coming year.

Among my goals…

My highest priority is to complete a Twin Cities campus strategic plan to address critical challenges and opportunities for the future, but it will align with systemwide campus strategies. I will update you on that process later this morning.

We will continue to engage our elected officials to demonstrate to them the importance and value of the University to the State. We will aggressively advance a compelling biennial capital budget request to meet systemwide strategic infrastructure needs.

We will drive Operational Excellence. That includes completing phase two of the spans and layers analysis and implementing the results of the benchmarking study, and I’ll go into more detail about that in just a few minutes.

We will implement the new Integrated Structure with Fairview and advance the joint venture to build the Ambulatory Care Center.

We will ensure MnDRIVE advances critical research in Minnesota.

We will improve academic program reviews to invest in excellence, and enhance the undergraduate educational experience, including Honors, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, President’s Emerging Scholars, and First- and Second-year programs

I welcome your feedback, input and, of course, support.

I have to close on a note of great sadness because a visitor to the Twin Cities campus fell to her death last weekend in a terrible accident. Our condolences go to her family and friends. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Danita Brown and I communicated with our students soon afterwards and stressed to them the importance of campus safety.

As we do every day, we must redouble our efforts to keep all of our campuses safe, and also encourage our students and visitors to the University to make good decisions.

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