University news of the world, the nation and the state: The President's report to the Board of Regents

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Thank you, Chair McMillan, and congratulations on chairing your first Board meeting. I have to say, so far you’re doing a great job! 

Seriously, I look forward to your steady and firm leadership, and I’m eager to work with you, Vice Chair Powell and the entire Board in the coming year to tackle our challenges and celebrate our achievements. For today, let’s celebrate a little bit. Or, in UMD’s case, let the celebration continue.

Just yesterday, Regent McMillan joined a host of legislators, Duluth area dignitaries, UMD donors, and me as we broke ground on UMD’s new Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science Building. That was a day that demonstrated the power of University partnerships, our perseverance and our commitment to progress. This is a facility long in the coming and in the planning. It will serve our students, our faculty and staff, and the entire Northeastern Minnesota economy and work force pipeline for decades to come. It was a great day for the entire University system.

I’m also ready next week to celebrate with our leadership and staff of the University Libraries. McKnight Professor and University Librarian Wendy Lougee’s team recently received the National Medal for Museum and Library Sciences, and Wendy will be in Washington on Monday to receive the award. It is as a big deal as it sounds. This is only the third time in more than two decades that an academic library has won America’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for community service. The other academic winners are the University of Texas Health Science Center Medical Library and North Carolina State Libraries. That’s in 20 years. 

As you know, our Libraries support students and faculty system wide, and also public libraries and the millions of library users across the state through our MiniTex division, which is a hub for books, research and information across the state and region. Our Libraries are truly among the state’s most important life-long learning assets. And here’s some breaking news: Next Monday, July 17, has been proclaimed, “University of Minnesota Libraries Day” by Governor Mark Dayton. That’s a lot of fun.

A little bit farther away from home, earlier this month I concluded a quick trip with College of Science and Engineering Dean Sam Mukasa to Shenzhen, China, where we signed a remarkable agreement with the Chinese University of Hong Kong at Shenzhen, a vibrant, new research institution in a booming city. I know in my report to this Board last month I mentioned the unique student and faculty exchange in this new partnership. We are fortunate to get in on the ground floor with a global university with great ambition. 

And Monday of this week I was part of a group of only seven  university presidents and chancellors from across the country who were invited to the White House to meet with President Trump’s Domestic Policy Council and Domestic Policy Director. We had a good meeting and discussed the impact of federal funding on research and the power of higher education research on our state’s and nation’s economy. My presence in representing our University clearly recognized our national leadership in research, technology transfer and industry partnerships, as forged by our MnDRIVE and MN-IP initiatives. 

As we face dramatic cutbacks in federal research funding support, it’s critical that we keep our lines of communication open with the White House, and this week’s visit was a good first step in having access to decision makers at that level.

The spirit of innovation that I discussed in Washington is also alive and very well in our students as well. For example, our Formula SAE — once known as the Society of Automotive Engineers — Team, which is comprised of Twin Cities CSE students and recent grads. They compete in designing, developing and constructing a single-seat race car that beats other student engineering teams from around the world for performance and cost. Our Gopher Motorsports team is now the No. 1-ranked engineering team among U.S. universities, and we’re ranked 15th in the world.

I find it particularly rewarding to recognize students and student organizations that ften go unrecognized. So, congrats to our very fast and very inventive Formula SAE team.

The fact is that — far more many times than not — we are the subjects of — and the reasons for — good news. Our University Relations team does an outstanding job promoting and protecting our reputation while working with all of our campuses and units. In the most recent quarterly report compiled by UR, indicated there were 45,000 media mentions of all kinds of the U, and nearly 2,000 important stories. That’s in a quarter. Of those stories, 92 percent were determined to be positive. Ninety-two percent positive. That’s a good number to remember.

Those stories ranged from the $25 million gift to our Law School to help fund our Center for New Americans …
To Op-Eds in statewide news outlets by alumni supporting our legislative agenda …
To research breakthroughs, such as the invention of a nano-sponge to soak up water pollution and the development of a medical screening processes to spot aneurysms.
Our experts are being quoted locally, nationally and globally …
Our students are being written about and televised for their community service …
And through active social media efforts, we are highly engaged with key stakeholders, such as alumni, advocates, and students and their families.

And one more piece of good news. While the final numbers are not all in, it looks as if the incoming freshman class on our Twin Cities campus will be the largest in nearly 40 years, topping more than 6,000 students. And it also appears that we are getting a larger share of Greater Minnesota high school graduates than we’ve had in about 25 years. We’ll have the final figures later in the fall, but I’m excited about where we’re headed.

With that data in mind and as we quickly move to the exciting days of our students returning to our campuses – it is almost halfway through the summer -- it is my hope that we can all take a moment, push a re-set button, and stop to recognize just how excellent the University of Minnesota is, how special our students are, and how dedicated our faculty and staff are. And after we — briefly — bask in that glow, let’s all pledge to work together for another student-centered, productive, and memorable academic year.

Finally, as you know there’s been considerable conversation about the University’s role in Expo 2023. In new business later this morning, we’ll offer a resolution in support of that effort.

With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my report and will ask the Board staff to distribute a document detailing the accomplishments of my administration for the 2016-17 academic year. Thank you.