A week to celebrate

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

Last week was memorable.

Tuesday, Feb. 5, I sat alongside four of our professors who told the Senate Higher Ed Committee about the focused MnDRIVE initiative in our biennial budget request (PDF). One senator enthusiastically said that the presentation comprised “the most wonderful half-hour” she’d spent in the legislature. It was impressive.

Minutes later, from that same hearing room table, three of our undergrads articulately described to the senators the need to partner with us to achieve a time-out on increased tuition. That, of course, is the central element of our biennial budget request (PDF). Two-thirds of our students carry debt, and their average load is $27,000 at graduation. Committee members smiled grimly when Bailey Black, a Twin Cities Carlson School of Management senior, joked, “I will graduate with $36,000 in debt.... So, I guess you could say I’m above average!”

The next day, Wednesday, Governor Dayton delivered his State of the State speech, and forcefully urged lawmakers to invest in higher education and in our students. He uncovered a sobering fact: The last time the state of Minnesota spent less--in real dollars--to support higher education than it is spending in fiscal year 2012-13 was in 1980-81! That was my third year as a graduate student here at the U, a long time ago.

Thursday, we all woke up to remarkable news: Dr. Reuben Harris and his colleagues at the Masonic Cancer Center had uncovered the causes of many breast cancers--a potentially historic breakthrough, and the sort of discovery that reinforces the power of our research enterprise and Academic Health Center.

Hours later, hundreds of students from our Crookston, Morris, Duluth, Rochester, and Twin Cities campuses crammed into the Capitol Rotunda to rally, and then fanned out to meet their respective lawmakers as part of a student-organized “Support The U” Day. I joined them, as did our Regents, chancellors, and other members of my senior leadership team.

Then, on Friday, I detailed to our Board of Regents a new pilot program to provide more opportunities for students during the summer months. I first announced this goal--which promises to help students earn their degrees more quickly and to more fully utilize our facilities--in last year’s State of the University address. Here’s how that goal is becoming a reality (PDF).

I also explained how we’re aggressively tackling a request from the governor and legislature to analyze our administrative structure and benchmark certain administrative functions. See the details (PDF).

Meanwhile, in the days leading up to this memorable week, students and faculty from across our system received distinctive honors. To mention just a few that caught my attention:

  • Emily Campbell, a University of Minnesota Crookston freshman, was named the 2013 American Honey Princess, a role that will have her promoting the beekeeping industry across the nation for the next year. That should keep her busy!
  • Amid tough competition, Caity Shea Violette, a University of Minnesota Duluth senior, won the opportunity to perform her own play at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C.
  • And more than 130 of our faculty from Duluth, Morris, and the Twin Cities were honored with our Imagine Fund Annual Awards--all for their research in the arts, design, and the humanities.

Last week told us that when we take risks, when we discard the status quo, when we put students first, and when we display the genius of our faculty and our staff--that’s when we tell the real and powerful story of our University. We confirm our deep value to the state of Minnesota.

I welcome your comments, and I thank you for all you do every day for the University of Minnesota.


Eric W. Kaler