Interim President's Report to the Board of Regents

October 13, 2023


Thank you, Chair Mayeron.

I’ll start by highlighting a few of the activities and visits I’ve been a part of over the past month. 

First, it was exciting to be involved with Homecoming activities on the TC campus the last week of September. 

I participated in the student blood drive on Wednesday, spoke at the alumni awards affair on Thursday evening, was a part of the royalty coronation at Ski-U-Mania on Saturday morning, and witnessed the Gopher football victory against Louisiana on a hot fall afternoon. 

Homecoming, both here at the Twin Cities and our Greater Minnesota campuses, is a great reminder of what the University of Minnesota means to our many proud alumni. 

Last week I had the opportunity to join leaders across the Twin Cities campus as part of the Provost’s Fall Leadership Forum. 

It was a great event organized by Provost Croson and I found it very fulfilling to interact with over 200 campus and collegiate leaders. 

I also spent the day last Friday in Rochester, meeting with Chancellor Carrell and her leadership team, touring our unique and evolving UMR campus, and interacting with faculty, students, and community leaders. I even attended a highly-interactive Chemistry class.

We had the opportunity to have lunch in the new dining center, aptly named “The Perch,” on its first day of operations. It is located in the Student Life Center, which has been successfully converted into a residential hall from a former hotel. 

The food was excellent and the students were thrilled to have this new resource. I remain excited about the future of UMR and our presence in Rochester in cooperation with civic partners. 

Next I’d like to give a brief update regarding the health sciences area.

We were excited to learn about University representation on Governor Walz’s task force to help determine the future of our academic health mission at the U. 

We appreciate the appointments of Regent Penny Wheeler, retired CEO of Allina Health; Dr. Jakub Tolar, vice president for Clinical Affairs and dean of the Medical School; and Connie Delaney, dean of the U of M School of Nursing. 

The task force met for the first time last Thursday and again just yesterday, with upcoming meetings scheduled over the coming months. As a reminder, a written summary of recommendations is due to the Governor in January of 2024.  

We will continue to keep you updated as further progress is made in our discussions with Fairview and through the task force. 

I’ll turn now to the data incident that you’ve  heard about in the last few weeks. 

To recap, in July we learned that an individual claimed to have posted online certain information from a University database.

We engaged internal and external forensics professionals in an investigation to assess the validity of these claims.

The investigation revealed that the person likely gained unauthorized access to a University database in 2021.

The incident did not result in the University losing access to University data, nor did it disrupt University operations. 

Based on the University’s investigation, the incident potentially affected individuals who:

– submitted information as a prospective student, 

– attended the University as a student,

– worked at the University as an employee,

– or participated in University programs…
between 1989 and August 2021. 

In late September the University began sending notifications to individuals who may have been affected. Those emails provided more detail about the steps being taken in response to this incident. 

We are offering individuals the ability to enroll in 12 months of free identity-monitoring services, provided through a third-party contractor that specializes in these types of incidents.

The University has also been responding to messages from people requesting further information about the data incident and the U’s response.

Since 2021, the University has taken steps to bolster its overall system security, including by reducing the number of people authorized to access sensitive information, expanding multi-factor authentication, and increasing monitoring for suspicious activities.

We take the security of information very seriously, and we regret any worry or inconvenience this incident has caused. 

Regarding the future of the Duluth campus, We’ve launched the search for the next UMD chancellor. 

My thanks to Lori Carrell, chancellor of  the University of Minnesota-Rochester, and Lisa Erwin, UMD’s vice chancellor for student life and dean of students, who have agreed to serve as co-chairs of the search committee. 

We have finalized the search committee membership and will be announcing the names soon. As a next step in the process, the search committee will hold a series of listening sessions in early November. 

I’d like to talk for a moment about freedom of expression, and diversity of thought, as they pertain to two events on campus: the recent appearance by Congresswoman Liz Cheney at the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series and the interview of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett by former Dean Stein this coming Monday, both in Northrop Auditorium on the Twin Cities campus. 

At the University of Minnesota, we take great pride in our mission of education, research, and community engagement. 

We are a community that values both the pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas as fundamental pillars of our society.

Despite opposition to these appearances by some in our community— which itself is freedom of expression— it’s important that we offer a forum for diverse voices to be heard. 

As Interim Law School Dean William McGeveran said in an article recently, “As a law school, it’s valuable for our students to be able to hear directly from one of the nine most important jurists in our country.”

These are useful learning experiences for all of us, and I’m grateful to the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Law School for hosting these conversations.  

During the last two meetings you’ve become familiar with the University’s Six-Year Capital Plan and 2024 State Capital Request. 

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to celebrate the fruits of our prior capital planning process—and supportive funding from the Minnesota Legislature—at the “project kickoff” of the new Chemistry Undergraduate Teaching Facility. 

It was an exciting occasion that attracted significant media interest and featured a bipartisan group of leaders from our State Government. 

The renovated building and its 18 new labs will support a world-class education for 5,000 students each year—nearly ⅓ of all undergrads on the Twin Cities campus!

It will put us on the leading edge of instruction, sustainability and safety.

And very importantly, the money appropriated from the state is an investment through the University for Minnesota’s future workforce.

Ensuring the safety of our community continues to be a top priority of my team. We are unwavering in our commitment to the safety of every U of M student, staff, faculty member, and visitor.

Thanks to state investment, the U of M has accelerated projects throughout all of our campuses to maintain and replace security equipment.

I am pleased to report that our back-to-school safety efforts have been effective. From the new turnstiles at Pioneer Hall on the Twin Cities campus to increasing access control in our campus buildings, we have given students an array of safety resources and tools and have heard a great deal of positive feedback.

UMPD officers are also completing their work with Transit Police at the campus light rail stations and trains. Providing extra visibility on mass transit came at the request of the campus community, and this partnership was helpful in promoting a safe fall semester.

Next week, I will be participating in a Campus Safety Walk and meeting with additional community members committed to campus safety. I remain thankful for Chief Clark’s leadership and for the tireless efforts of UMPD in keeping our students, faculty, staff, visitors and guests safe. 

Over the last several days, we’ve watched the devastating and ongoing violence in Israel, Gaza, and the surrounding regions. We recognize that this conflict touches the lives of many in our University community–especially those who have connections to both Israeli and Palestinian communities.

Regardless of an individual’s position on the longstanding conflict in the region, there is no justification for acts of terrorism. We join many others in condemning the abhorrent acts committed by Hamas. 

We are also saddened by the potential for future escalation of violence in the region. We recognize that our differences can escalate during times of crisis and conflict. As this crisis unfolds, we have encouraged our community to seek out support through mental health services offered on all of our campuses. We have also urged everyone to report any incidents of bias. 

Lastly, I’ll provide a brief update on our efforts to improve relationships with outside constituents—the focus of the Board’s Special Committee on University Relations.

Our new Executive Director of Government and Community Relations, Melisa Lopez Franzen, presented earlier today her vision for the department, and for legislative and community engagement over the coming year.

Melisa has a broad, bipartisan, and intentional plan that will fully engage the University with our constituents in the community, in Minnesota, and nationally. 
As we previewed last month, our “Dear Minnesota” marketing campaign has hit the airwaves—as well as digital spaces. Hopefully, you have seen some or all of these seven videos featuring students and faculty from all five of our campuses.

So far, we’re hearing great reports about how the campaign is resonating with Minnesotans.

Visitors to the “Dear Minnesota” website are engaging deeply with the stories, and we’re receiving submissions from Minnesotans who have visited the site about how the University of Minnesota has made their lives better.

That concludes my report. Thank you, Chair Mayeron.