President's Report to the Board of Regents: Lincoln, Morrill Act and Grand Challenges

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Today is February 12th, and, as we all know, this is Abraham Lincoln’s 207th birthday. 

He was the leader of our nation when the Morrill Act — which helped to create land-grant universities — was established, and I am a true believer in the power and endurance of that Act, which guides the spirit of our University and our mission today.

Land-grants were established to offer America a bold promise and a hope that higher education could put opportunity within reach for everyone by providing accessible education for students of all backgrounds, creating an educated populace ready to make the most of the advances of the Industrial Revolution, and generating new knowledge for the improvement of our nation.

Today, with the Morrill Act as our guide, we are a model 21st Century land-grant, committed to — and successful at — providing affordable and accessible world-class higher education, preparing our students to make the most of the advances of the Technological and Cultural Explosions we’re experiencing, and certainly, through our research, creating and developing new knowledge, cures, treatments and public policy for the improvement of the nation.

I would reflect Lincoln’s birthday is an opportunity to pause to remember and honor the foundations of our mission.  And I do believe that the Twin Cities Campus’s Strategic Plan, which is moving into a new phase, is consistent with and true to President Lincoln’s vision of what a land-grant is and does in the 21st Century.

Next Tuesday, Provost Hanson will be conducting a Campus Conversation at Northrop discussing the exciting details of what’s now called “Driving Tomorrow,” and I hope you’ll all consider attending. I know you received the Provost's report this week, so I won't steal the Provost's thunder.

As important as the recommended Grand Challenges is the inclusive and collaborative process that resulted in the identification of these focus areas. Last winter, Provost Hanson charged a faculty-led team with the responsibility to advance broad consultation with faculty and the campus community. That team included nine Regents Professors, seven McKnight Chairs, and other distinguished members of our faculty. It was, without doubt, a high-powered and respected group of faculty, and they reached out to their colleagues in a remarkable way.  A “Call For Ideas” went out and 130 ideas came in from more than 350 faculty members. Five campus-wide forums were held. Additional feedback was received, all in the name of seeking excellence. I’m extremely proud of that process and thankful to Provost Hanson for her bringing together our faculty. 

By the way, as you know, attracting and retaining field-shaping scholars is also key to our excellence, as is ensuring that our faculty are elected to the nation’s and world’s most prestigious academies.
That’s why I was so happy to learn earlier this week that Professors David Pui and Emmanuel DeTournay were named to the National Academy of Engineering, which is the highest honor an engineer can achieve.
Congratulations to them and to our College of Science and Engineering.
There’s much else to be proud of systemwide …

At UMD, campus visits by prospective students were up more than 12 percent last year, a good sign, and students who are already there are making a mark on the Northeast Minnesota economy.
This spring, nearly 200 Labovitz School of Business and Economics students will assist 28 businesses in the region on organizational management, accounting and marketing, all the while gaining experience consulting with companies.

But, more dramatically, Chancellor Black isn’t here today. Why? Because he’s going back to his theater roots. He is starring this weekend in UMD’s production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” and, not surprisingly, his role is that of the King.

In Rochester, just like their UMD counterparts, students are making a real difference in their community. UMR’s Community Collaboratory [CO-LABORATORY] partnered recently with Med City Beat, an online news service, to create a comprehensive, in-depth report on the business, social and regional impact of the Destination Medical Center. 

At Crookston, preliminary enrollment data indicates UMC has shown a significant increase in fall-to-spring retention, with more than 90 percent of first-year students returning for spring semester.
Meanwhile, construction of the Wellness Center, funded with our legislative partners, is on budget and on schedule, with plans for a grand opening for new students arriving in the fall.

And the search for a new Chancellor of the University of Minnesota Morris is going full steam ahead. The search committee, led by Morris Professor Peh Ng is set to conduct confidential interviews with candidates in March. Our goal is to have a new Chancellor in place by July 1, when Chancellor Johnson retires. Jacqui, through her leadership, has left us with an extraordinary foundation to recruit her successor, and I’m confident we’ll find the right leader for this unique and attractive campus.
On the Twin Cities campus, our student-athletes continue to shine in the classroom. Among our fall sport athletes, 70 of them were named Academic All-Big Ten honorees. On the field, our Gopher teams were 8th in the Learfield Director’s Cup, which reflects the cumulative standings of all sports among all Division I programs, a testament to our broadly successful athletics program.
I remind you that the Minnesota legislative session begins on March 8. One day later, Governor Dayton will deliver his State of the State speech here at McNamara when the entire Legislature will convene.
We plan to be good hosts. 

Governor Dayton’s bonding request announced last month is a good first step for us, and I’ll be seeking all of your advocacy as we go forward to ensure that our partnership with the state remains strong. He is fully supporting funding for the Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science Building on the UMD campus, for our Health Sciences Education Facility on the Twin Cities campus, and to build a Plant Growth Research Facility on the Twin Cities campus.  

He also recommended $55 million— of the our $100 million request — for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement, or HEAPR, funds, which is our top priority request for bonding investment.
We are committed to being responsible stewards of public resources. Forty-three percent of our buildings are more than 50 years old, so these critical maintenance funds bring aging buildings up to code, ensure energy efficiency, and enable us to prepare students for successful careers in the 21st century.

Of course, there are two additional projects we’re seeking from our state partners. One is the all-encompassing Academic and Student Experience Investments, used to convert obsolete spaces on the Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Twin Cities campuses into modern spaces to meet the needs of today's programming and provide new learning opportunities across Minnesota. The other is the renovation of our iconic Pillsbury Hall, the second-oldest building on our Twin Cities campus. We’ll need to continue to make the case for full HEAPR funding and the two projects not in the Governor’s bonding proposal.

Plus, there’s our important Supplemental Budget request, to help us:

  • Restore support for critical family medicine training statewide,
  • To upgrade our information technology network to make it more secure,
  • To help fund the Mining Innovation Minnesota Initiative to revitalize the state’s mining region,
  • And to improve quality health care access, including dental care, to underserved communities across the state.

I invite you to join over 200 other advocates at our Legislative Kickoff Breakfast right here in McNamara Alumni Center on February 24. I also invite you to my State of the University address on March 3 at Coffman Theater.

Finally, Board staff will now distribute to you my Mid-Year Progress Report, a measurement of all I’ve and my administration have done to deliver on my 2015-2016 Workplan.