Welcome back! — Twin Cities faculty and staff

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

For this avid baseball fan the past two months have felt a little bit like spring training, with the season off in the distance. 

But now, with a hint of fall in the air and the thrill of students returning to campus, I'm committed to getting things moving...literally!

We are on the verge of a challenging and exciting academic year, during which I will be advocating loud, hard, and ubiquitously for this great University. I can't do it alone. I will be seeking your help as I tell legislators, business leaders, alumni, donors (and prospects), and citizens across the state about the value and power of Minnesota's only public land-grant research University, about our redoubled commitment to excellence, and about our many strengths.

I learned about some of my own strengths when I took the same assessment that every incoming first-year student on the Twin Cities campus was given: Gallup'sStrengthsFinder

The Twin Cities campus is one of the first institutions in the nation to make this investment in all first-year students. Our hope is that by helping them to identify their strengths early, students will draw on them--over the next four years and throughout their lives--to achieve personal and academic goals. We think this investment will pay off, including helping with retention and graduation. 

Me? StrengthsFinder identified my skills as "achieving, analytical, competitive, learner, and individualization." The experts tell me that the first quality drives me to get something done every day. The latter quality means I have the talent to get different kinds of folks to work well together. That's my plan.

The Twin Cities campus Class of 2015 is our best-qualified incoming class ever. When it comes to the number of National Merit Scholars, we are a leader among public universities in the Big Ten. With nearly 40,000 applicants for 5,300 spots, our first-year students will bring the highest ACT scores ever to the Twin Cities campus. 

We are increasingly selective. Yet, we remain committed to Minnesota students, with nearly two-thirds of the Twin Cities' first-year class coming from Minnesota.

Raising private philanthropy to support excellence is a priority of mine. I was honored to help announce the magnificent $14 million gift to the College of Liberal Arts from the Charles E. and Myrtle L. Stroud Scholarship Fund, the largest scholarship gift in U history. Myrtle Stroud's generosity motivates me even more to champion access to the U for qualified students from all economic backgrounds. 

What's on deck? I will be presenting my revised budget to the Board of Regents later this week, allocating the $25 million Governor Dayton and the Legislature restored to us during the July Special Session. Budgets aren't just numbers. They reflect priorities and principles. I hope you'll begin to see mine when I seek the Regents' approval.

Our search for a new provost continues apace. Candidates are expected on campus later this month. 

I'm looking forward to inauguration on September 22. My hope is that through the ceremony and my inaugural address, complemented by a week of activity to showcase the U, we can spark greater pride in the University on our campuses and in the broader community. 

I am looking closely at our administrative layers. Where we find inefficiency, redundancy, or outdated operations, we will take action. 

I am working with MnSCU Chancellor Rosenstone to begin to examine the larger question of higher education in Minnesota, and the distinctive responsibilities and roles of the University and MnSCU. 

I am very sensitive to the burden of rising tuition on students and families. Also, I am committed to increasing support for our graduate students to enable deeper scholarship and timely completion.

I want to increase academic excellence throughout our organization; this means taking a hard look at everything from our hiring processes to how consistently students meet learning outcomes.

To achieve excellence, I believe we must drive the campus culture to get more quickly to "Yes," than to, "Sorry, we can't do it that way, we never have before." I look forward to engaging faculty and staff in this hard work and heavy lifting. 

The cost of higher education and of the spectacular work we do every day at this University should not be defined as a mere "expense." It is an investment in Minnesota's future, its economic health, cultural vitality, and quality of life. It is an investment in its people. We can't guarantee what new cure or software or strain of wheat or teaching technique we will develop in years to come. But I can guarantee this: without sufficient funding and without renewed public and private support for the U and its teaching, research, and outreach, our ability to discover and innovate will wither. That is unacceptable.

I am privileged to be your colleague. With the extraordinary strengths and passion we all bring to our jobs every day, I look forward to a productive and history-making year together. You can contact me at upres@umn.edu.


Eric W. Kaler