A unifying force: President's Report to the Board of Regents

Friday, December 9, 2016

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As 2016 winds to an end, the conversation on campus and in the media continues to focus on how divided we are as a nation and a state. But amid this narrative, I believe the impact of our University tells a far different story, and it’s this: the ‘U’ is a truly unifying force across our state.

I spoke about this last night when we met with agricultural and natural resources leaders, and I want to reiterate my message today. From North Minneapolis to Willmar, from Chanhassen to Alexandria, we are one of the few institutions that every day works diligently to try to bridge the urban, suburban and rural divide.

Our Extension is doing great work in all 87 of Minnesota’s counties. We have world-class researchers and scholars tackling a host of global and local grand challenges  — from clean water to the educational achievement gap, from developing advanced robotics for industry to feeding a hungry world. We have faculty problem solvers and thought leaders working for all of us, finding cures and treatments for Alzheimer’s, seeking solutions for food animal viruses, and translating the dizzying political and social sciences that fuel our decisions, institutions and future.
We also have more than 250,000 alumni statewide contributing their medical, teaching, business, legal, agricultural, natural resources, and artistic skills to their cities and towns.
We have sports teams to rally around. And, of course, at our core, we prepare the next generation of talent for the youthful work force we all need to sustain Minnesota’s extraordinary quality of life, from Blaine to Crookston. 

As 2017 approaches, we have our challenges, of course. You know them all, from maintaining our affordable excellence, to increasing the diversity among our students and faculty that reflects our communities, to our relationship with the Legislature. But, as the New Year dawns, I am very proud of the impact we have across our state as a resource, a convener, and a partner.

Unlike the electoral map, the University of Minnesota isn’t divided between red and blue. We are, instead, solidly and passionately maroon and gold, and, as we have been for 165 years, we’re here to help keep Minnesota strong, forward looking, and unified. Let’s embrace that role, let’s treasure it, and, as 2017 dawns, let’s continue to spread the word about our impact on bringing our state and its people together.
Let me turn to just a few more items. Yesterday, the Faculty and Student Affairs Committee unanimously approved the appointing of Michelle Behr as the new Chancellor for our Morris campus, and this entire Board will be asked for approval in a few minutes. I am very excited about Dr. Behr joining our Senior Leadership Team. She brings great experience, a deep understanding of Morris’ special role in our system, and new energy to one of the nation’s top, public liberal arts institutions. This transition allows me once again to thank Chancellor Jacquie Johnson for her decade of leadership at the University of Minnesota, Morris. She has established a lasting legacy and I know we are all grateful to Jacquie for all she’s contributed to the University of Minnesota.

At Crookston, of course, Fred Wood is leaving us, and we’ll miss his calm and thoughtful personality. I am pleased that Associate Chancellor Barbara Keinath has agreed to serve as our interim chancellor at Crookston. I visited our Crookston campus a few weeks ago and helped to launch our national search for Chancellor Wood’s successor.I’m confident we can find someone who understands the high-touch nature of the University of Minnesota Crookston, and who can relate to and directly interact with our students who live and learn there. Someone who understands the Crookston community and can work with its leaders. Someone who is consultative and works closely with — and listens to — the faculty and staff. And someone who appreciates and can even build on Crookston’s pioneering on-line learning leadership and tradition. We hope to have our new Chancellor in place to start the 2017-18 academic year.
As the semester comes to an end, finals approach and the holiday break is upon us, it’s important that everyone in the University community be aware of the mental health resources we have available on our campuses. Here on the Twin Cities campus — thanks to the strong support of this Board of Regents — I am happy to report that wait times for mental health services have been eliminated or significantly reduced. Investments we made over the past year have been effective and are critical to the wellbeing of our students, even as Boynton Health continues to see increasing demand for mental health services. Our University conversation around mental health must continue in such important forums as the Joint Provost/Faculty Task Force on Mental Health. I’m happy we’ve made progress, but I know we still have more work to do for the benefit of our students and their families.                                          

Finally, I don’t think there have been any more exciting athletic events on any of our campuses in recent years than the matches we’ve seen recently by our spectacular and victorious Gophers volleyball team. Even the mainstream sports media has taken notice and just last weekend the Star Tribune — my favorite newspaper — called The Pavilion — quote — “the place to be” — unquote — for a live sports in this town. We will all be cheering for the Gophers when they move onto the NCAA Division I volleyball Sweet 16 against Missouri tonight, en route, we hope, to a second straight Final Four.

Meanwhile — Regent McMillan! — the UMD Bulldogs men’s hockey team is ranked Number One in the nation right now.

And, of course, the Gopher football team is headed to San Diego and the Holiday Bowl on December 27th  with great expectations. But not as great as some other expectations I have for that same date.
December 27th  is also the due date of Karen’s and my first grandchild. Contrary to rumors, our son Charlie and daughter-in-law Lisa are not going to name the newest Gopher fan Goldy, but it will certainly be a wonderful way to end 2016 and celebrate the arrival of 2017. Thank you all for your support and contributions to the University of Minnesota this year, and into the New Year.