Interim President's Report to the Board of Regents

December 8, 2023


Thank you, Chair Mayeron.  

The fall semester has sped by—much faster than I could have imagined. New Student Convocation seems like a recent memory, and yet those new students are days away from having a full semester under their belts. 

I wake up each day energized and excited at the chance to help lead this great university.

But this fall has not been without challenges, and I’d like to briefly address the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Seeing the images of human suffering is deeply saddening, and we’re acutely aware of the toll this is taking on members of our U of M campus communities. 

I’ve held several listening sessions with students, faculty, and alumni, and I’ve taken the opportunity to reiterate that the University needs to remain a place where people can express their opinions. 

The Board of Regents’ policy on academic freedom and responsibility states that academic freedom includes “the freedom… to speak or write on matters of public concern…” and that academic responsibility includes “... the candor to make it clear that when one is speaking on matters of public interest, one is not speaking for the institution.” The Administration has been working with individual faculty and departments to ensure that we uphold this policy, and with the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee of the Faculty Senate to consider how to provide guidance for members of our University community on statements.

At the same time, we are focused on providing a safe and supportive environment for everyone on all of our campuses.

Student mental health services are available for individuals in need of trauma-informed care, and faculty and staff have resources available through the Employee Assistance Program. 

We strongly encourage all members of our community, if they encounter any instances of bias or discrimination, to bring them to our attention through the Bias Response and Referral Network, and, if necessary, contact law enforcement. 

Despite these global challenges, we continue to hear affirmations of success and progress on our campuses. 

This fall, 7 out of 10 students systemwide are from Minnesota, so we’re doing well with attracting Minnesota’s young minds.  

Also systemwide, this fall’s class has the highest percentage of BIPOC students in our recorded history—nearly ⅓ of all first-year students! 

That diversity mirrors trends in our state and nation. It continues to be an essential part of our mission for all of our students to feel a sense of belonging here at the U. 

The Duluth and Rochester campuses had their highest four-year graduation rates ever recorded. And the Twin Cities campus has recorded the second highest four-year and highest six-year graduation rates of all time. That four-year rate has more than doubled in the last 20 years.

The University’s position as one of the world’s outstanding institutions was reaffirmed recently with the publication of Shanghai Ranking’s 2023 Global Ranking of Academic Subjects

In eight subjects, the U of M ranked in the top 25 globally, including ecology (ranked No. 3), library & information science (No. 4), management (No. 13), communication (No. 17), economics (No. 20), psychology (No. 23), medical technology (No. 24), and statistics (No. 24). We were ranked No. 10 overall in terms of public universities in the US.

In total, 34 out of the 47 subjects in which the U of M was evaluated were ranked among the top 100 in the world. 

And the Twin Cities campus achieved its highest “national universities” ranking ever according to U.S. News & World Report, and continues to rank in the top 25 of public national universities.

I’m continually impressed by the strength of this university, the expertise and resolve of our faculty and staff, and the resilience of our students. 

I’m equally proud of what the U of M does for Minnesota and for the world. 

There are the research discoveries that make it into the news practically every day, some of which are featured in our new marketing campaign titled “Dear Minnesota.”

Our external research funding has increased 30% over the past five years!

And there are the countless ways we work with Minnesotans in meaningful, community-driven engagement. There are more than 1,700 individual partnerships with Extension alone. 

Sharing those stories—around our campuses, with our government leaders, and with the public—is very important. 

Moving on to some updates…

Fairview/Health Systems Update

As you know, we were notified just before the Thanksgiving holiday that Fairview was electing not to renew our current agreement, which runs through the end of 2026. 

We have previously said, as has Fairview, that our current agreement needs to change for the future.

With Fairview having given its notice, a reciprocal Notice would serve to confirm our commitment to engage with Fairview on re-fashioning our relationship for the future. 

In addition, on Wednesday of this week we issued a joint statement with Fairview confirming that we will continue to work together toward a reimagined partnership, and make shared requests to the Task Force.

While there is much detail to iron out in our ongoing conversations with Fairview, we agree that the Governor’s Task Force on Academic Health presents a unique opportunity– and some urgency– to define our future relationship together, and at the same time, consider opportunities for the state to support academic medicine. 

The training of health professionals is key to meeting Minneosta’s future healthcare workforce needs. We also have broad healthcare challenges to address, like Medicaid reimbursements. 

We are working to align on several recommendations the Task Force could make and will provide additional updates in the coming weeks as more detail becomes available.

I want to be clear: none of this affects the clinical partnership we share with Fairview today, and the world-class care patients receive in M Health Fairview hospitals and clinics will continue at least until the end of 2026.

Meanwhile, the University continues to participate in critical discussions and planning with state leaders. 

The foundation of the University’s vision and plan for the future is based on a new partnership between the state and University. We believe that partnership must guide our actions, now and in the future, so all Minnesotans benefit from efforts to improve health and offer equitable and accessible high-quality health care with a world-class workforce. 

At this week’s Task Force meeting, Senior Vice President Frans outlined the University’s case for state consideration, which includes near-term, medium-term, and longer-term initiatives. 

Importantly, the initiatives address stabilizing the finances and facilities of University Medical Center facilities, enhancing healthcare workforce development, and planning for a next-generation academic medical center that supports the health and wellbeing of generations of patients to come.

In the longer-term, we want to make the case for investment in a next-generation medical enterprise center on campus at the University.

Let me share thoughts with you about this long-term vision that I provided to the Task Force last month. As a business person, I admit I am sometimes skeptical about the need for “new.”

But after touring our facilities, and learning from Dr. Tolar and the other health sciences Deans, there are clear challenges that need our careful attention.

  • Our University of Minnesota Physicians and other M Health Fairview medical professionals are offering patients outstanding care, but working in outdated facilities;

  • Space is extremely tight, sometimes with patient crowding that does not promote privacy, recovery, and health;

  • There is a frequent need to turn patients away – particularly troubling when it involves important medical referrals or procedures where we have demonstrated expertise; and

  • There is operational inefficiency, including when patients and staff must go back and forth across the river to our current facilities.

Frankly, it’s the wrong approach for Minnesota to support world-class teaching, research, and care – all core to our mission and service to the state – in these aging and outdated facilities.

Our patients deserve better, and as a leading academic health enterprise, we must do better.

The University already owns an on-campus site for a potential new medical center facility, right next door to our innovative Clinics and Surgery Center on the East Bank.

Our vision is to collaborate with those across Minnesota’s health care community to ensure the future of academic health and its facilities. The University would be involved in the planning of the scope and function of this new center in collaboration with other stakeholders.

To be clear: the mission of the University is to serve the public interest of Minnesota. Our unique role as the public academic research institution for all the health sciences is one of the most impactful examples of the alignment between the University’s and State’s interests.

In the end, we have a great deal of confidence that our plan for a world-class medical center on the Twin Cities campus that fosters our academic health mission across all of our health science programs will serve Minnesotans with the best this University has to offer.  

Government Relations Update and Presentations

Our government relations work has already ramped up, even two months prior to the start of the Minnesota Legislative Session.

This year, as you know, our State Capital Request is focused exclusively on funding for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (or HEAPR) funding. 

The requested funding of $500 million would allow the renewal of more than 150 buildings to support education, research and outreach across the state of Minnesota.

We’ve hosted bonding tours on our Twin Cities and Morris campuses for the Minnesota Senate and House, as well as a bonding tour for Minnesota Management and Budget.

On November 21, I was part of a team that introduced our 2024 State Capital Investment Request to the Governor’s Executive Budget Team. 

We’re also advancing our fiscal year 2025 supplemental budget request of $45 million in recurring operational funds to help address a portion of expected cost increases and to keep costs lower for students by minimizing tuition increases. 

An initial hearing on this request was held at the Capitol, chaired by Rep. Gene Pelowski. Vice President Julie Tonneson and I were the principal presenters for the U of M, with help from UMPD Chief Matt Clark, faculty liaison Donna Spannaus-Martin, and TC undergraduate student government president Shashank Murali.

The two-hour session included questions from legislators on a wide array of topics.

UMD Chancellor Search

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Duluth campus and participate in community listening sessions regarding the search for their next chancellor. 

Over the course of the day, search committee co-chairs Lori Carrell (chancellor of the Rochester campus) and Lisa Erwin, (UMD’s vice chancellor for student life) led an exceptional series of conversations with students, faculty, staff, and community members about the desired attributes of their next leader. 

The feedback we received informed the position profile, which is now live on the search website. Our consultants from AGB Search have begun advertising the position widely and are actively recruiting candidates.

Email for life update/progress on data security and retention

I’d like to talk briefly about two information technology initiatives. 

In fiscal year 2020, the Office of Internal Audit and Office of Information Technology undertook a collaborative assessment to assess risks and mitigation strategies related to access to data and digital platforms. 

Part of that assessment identified issues with consistently removing access to University systems and resources after students, faculty, and staff left the University. These findings resulted in a charge to OIT’s Identity and Access Management (IAM) service to evaluate the need to adjust our practices.

After an extensive analysis, OIT recommended the University discontinue its practice of providing email accounts to alumni and retirees. 

Earlier this year, we announced our proposed changes to email and Google Workspace offerings. I’ll reiterate that this decision was based on reducing data security risk, enhancing data privacy, and avoiding increasing costs for data storage.

Robust consultation took place with governance groups, IT leaders, deans, the retirees association, UMAA, and OHR, among others.  

This important step saves costs and enhances our cybersecurity posture, and although it may cause some inconvenience, OIT is moving forward with discontinuing email accounts for alumni and retirees (approximately 97,500 individuals currently have these types of active email accounts). 

The University has begun to notify individuals – just this week – and they will have a one-year transition period along with the opportunity to opt in to an alumni domain email account. 

OIT’s comprehensive communications plan includes monthly reminders to these individuals, as well as a 30-day, 14-day, 7-day, and 1-day reminder before their account is ultimately shut off. 

Separately, I’ve also been having conversations with key leaders about comprehensively reviewing our data retention policies and considering how we may strengthen them, if needed. 

The University is committed to minimize risk and follow best practices in data collection and retention. To this end, the Office of Internal Audit has informed me they plan to conduct a review of the management of personal identifiable information in central repositories and associate systems after the initial investigation is complete.

Recap of Visits and Campus Happenings

I was in Morris in late October to participate in the inauguration of Janet Schrunk Ericksen as the 7th chancellor of the Morris campus. 

Chancellor Ericksen has a deep connection to the Morris campus and the community. She’s a valued thought-partner to me, to her fellow chancellors, fellow faculty members, Morris campus leadership, and students—just to name a few!

The Morris campus is headed toward a bright future under the leadership of Chancellor Ericksen.

I had my first meeting with Minnesota Tribal leaders recently. We had good conversations about resources in the new modules of the Gopher Equity Project, as well as the new website for Native American Affairs. We also discussed how we are reviewing the TRUTH report.

I’m looking forward to continuing the conversations at our next meeting.

I traveled to Seattle to participate in the APLU fall meeting. I’ve found the opportunities to meet with other university leaders extremely valuable–we have shared experiences in our challenges and successes. I attended sessions about the role of AI, academic freedom, and enrollment challenges. 

Last month I spoke at the UMF Board of Trustees Annual Meeting and Dinner. I provided an overview of activities and initiatives this fall, as well as a snapshot of the “Dear Minnesota” campaign that debuted this fall.

Athletics highlights 

Congratulations to the University of Minnesota Morris football team, which won its first conference title since 2006, and to the University of Minnesota Crookston trap team, which finished 2nd in the nation in this growing sport. 

On the volleyball court, both the Bulldogs and the Gophers were selected to play in the national tournament. The Gophers won their first-round match against Utah State— their ninth straight season of winning a first-round NCAA match.

Also at Duluth, the men’s cross country team finished runner-up at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) championships, and the Bulldog football team finished the season 9-2. 

And despite an up-and-down Fall for Gopher football after consecutive 9-win seasons, the squad did bring home the Floyd of Rosedale trophy by defeating Iowa. The team has been selected to play in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on December 26. The selection was based on the strength of the team’s academic performance, which is a testament to the comprehensive program that Coach Fleck has built. It also typifies the great work in the classroom by our student-athletes throughout the U of M system.

And finally…

The weekend before Thanksgiving I traveled to Washington, DC with Brian Buhr, dean of our College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, for events related to the National Thanksgiving Turkey ceremony. 

This year’s National Thanksgiving Turkey, “Liberty,” and its alternate, “Bell,” are from Minnesota, which leads the nation in turkey production. 

For the first time ever, the pardoned turkeys will live out the rest of their lives at the University of Minnesota. They’ll serve as educational ambassadors at CFANS, where they’ll help instruct the next generation of agricultural students.

Later today there will be an official ceremony welcoming them to their new home in St. Paul.

That concludes my report. As we look to the conclusion of the fall semester across our campuses, I wish everyone some well-earned rest and relaxation, and hope you have a great and safe holiday season.