President's Report to the Board of Regents: A month in which we showed the breadth and depth of what we do

Friday, October 13, 2017

You all know that we toss around a lot of adjectives to describe our University. We use them freely, and even casually. We’re global. We’re highly ranked. We’re open minded. We’re diverse, and support equity and diversity efforts. We’re empathetic. We believe in partnerships to advance our mission and help the state. We face tough issues head on.

We talk that way about ourselves a lot.

But in my more than six-and-a-half years as President, I can’t remember a month in which those adjectives came to life as clearly and tangibly as they did over the past four weeks, or since we last met in September.

We weren’t just telling our story. We were showing it.

For example, on Saturday last month, I helped to bestow an Honorary Degree on the President of Finland, partly assisted by that 100 percent Norwegian, Regent Johnson. We are, after all, the University with the finest and largest Finnish cultural and language program in the nation, and hundreds of Finns awoke early on a Saturday to gather at Orchestra Hall to see our University honor their President, and to sing “The Rouser.”

Immediately after that event, I hopped in my car and went off to a conference of Somali-American leaders from across the nation meeting at our Law School to exchange ideas on youth development in their communities.That symposium was held on our campus because of our strong ties with our Somali neighbors and the excellent work of our Extension educators and 4-H. You heard a little bit about that yesterday.

Global, yes. Local, yes.

A convener to tackle grand challenges, yes again.

Our story is also told in the activism of our students and their diversity. I was visited during my regular student office hours by student Yongchan Jung.  He’s one of about 30 students that we know of on our Twin Cities campus alone, who has  been adversely affected by the government’s decision to cancel  the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, or MAVNI. Because of this cancelled program, our students face deportation.

Who are they? They are our international students with valid visas, who were recruited into the U.S. military specifically for their medical credentials or their language skills.  They signed enlistment contracts in exchange for obtaining U.S. citizenship.

However, those contracts are now being canceled or delayed. To seek resolution, Yongchan has established a new student group, the MAVNI Advisory Committee, to help support and connect students and alumni enlisted in the program and affected by this change. I applaud him and his colleagues for taking an unfortunate situation and trying to help others affected just like him.

His predicament is one I learned of this month, but such challenges are what our community faces and tackles every day.

Just  take last weekend. Our story was told in who we celebrated, how we teach, and the range of our reach. Last Saturday, our School of Social Work, the oldest social work school among any public university in the nation, celebrated its 100th anniversary. It’s been a century of addressing some of the state’s and nation’s most pressing problems, and a century of creating alumni who are on the front lines of personal and community struggles.

That same day, over at the Humphrey School, we honored former Senator Rudy Boschwitz, and I know Regents Hsu and Sviggum were there for that touching event that attracted an All-Star team of current and former members of Congress. It was this University bringing together a wide spectrum of people from all political views. It was the Humphrey School playing its role.

And then earlier this week, I met with leaders of our American Indian nations to discuss the University’s role in wild rice research.

Along the way, in this same month, we told our story in print, as I partnered with the President of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, sharing our joint position that the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, could hurt Minnesota’s economy, our work force, and close access to education.

Also this month, it was demonstrated that our commitment to minority hiring isn’t just talk, it’s action. That’s why, thanks to this Board and the good work of our Office of Business and Community Development, we were recently named the Corporation of the Year by the North Central Minority Supplier Development Council.

Because of this Board’s longstanding Supplier Diversity program, we saw an $11.2 million increase over the past year in the use of businesses owned by women, minorities and disabled suppliers, with a total spend of $82 million of business with those companies.

From afar, others told our story for us. The prestigious Shanghai Rankings, also known as the Academic Ranking of World Universities, was released and, lo and behold, it wasn’t just our adjectives bragging about us, it was those of an independent international organization.

The University of Minnesota’s education program in the College of Education and Human Development ranks Number Three in the world, according to this respected assessment. With only Harvard and Stanford above us, that makes CEHD the highest- rated public education program in the world. And our Social Sciences 14th, third among U.S. publics.

Those are pretty good numbers, and that happened even as, more locally, we were celebrating keys moment in our University system with the inauguration of Chancellor Michelle Behr at Morris on a simply beautiful day in Stevens County, even as we launched our search for a new Chancellor at our Rochester campus.

We also celebrated at Northrop a wonderful evening with our closest friends and donors -- about 450 of them -- as we launched in a spectacular way our capital and philanthropic campaign, called Driven.

I guess my report to you this month, Mr. Chair, is this: Yes, we do a lot of talking at a university. We love to talk. It’s in our nature as academics. But, under close examination, we don’t just talk about what we want to do or what we can do.

We just do it. Of course, as with all things, we can always do better. But, for me, this month, we truly lived our story as a University, we showed what we do, and all we can be proud of. 

With that Mr. Chair, I conclude my report.