Interim President's Report to the Board of Regents 

September 8, 2023

Thank you, Vice Chair Kenyanya.

First off, I'd like to give you a brief recap of the last few weeks, when I have had the opportunity to be immersed in the life of our campuses across the University of Minnesota system. 

As you may know, our academic year really springs to life the week before classes start, and I was privileged to take part in some of the many events geared toward incoming students on the Twin Cities campus. 

Last Monday I lent a hand—without having to lift too much—during residence hall move-in day at Pioneer Hall, which happens to be where my wife LeeAnn lived at the U of M.

It was terrific to see the eagerness in the eyes of the students, as well as the mixed emotions on the faces of their parents.

The Housing and Residential Life team deserves a note of thanks for coordinating these move-in days so proficiently.  

Two days later I spent the day at the State Fair, visiting the many exhibits where the University demonstrates its research and outreach capabilities. I was also interviewed live at the Fair on WCCO, KSTP, Fox News and Linder Farm Network.  

That evening, I attended the Pride & Spirit event, which culminated in all the first-year students forming a giant block M on the field at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Last Thursday I spoke to first-year students for New Student Convocation. This has historically taken place at 3M Arena at Mariucci – but with the ongoing renovation of Mariucci, Convocation was moved to Northrop and the students were divided into two sessions—and the energy and enthusiasm of both groups was outstanding. 

Again, seeing all the gold [and maroon] T-shirts and the excitement of the entering students was a huge day brightener.

Seeing them fill up the entire student section that evening for the football opener against Nebraska—a thrilling, come-from-behind victory as time expired—was a perfect cap to the day. 

Those students are why we’re all here.

I was able to provide for them an impressive snapshot of their peers. 

The Class of 2027 is truly special!

On the Twin Cities campus, it’s one of the largest classes, with 8,300 new students—6,700 first year students and 1,600 transfer students. 

And it’s the most diverse class ever, with 35% BIPOC students. (Black, Asian, American Indian, Latinx)

It also contains the largest-ever international class.

Our new first-year students come from:

  • 77 (out of 87) Minnesota counties,
  • 47 states plus the District of Columbia, and
  • 69 countries outside of the U.S.

I’ve also had the opportunity to spend time at three greater MN campuses in the past few of weeks.  

My experiences at Morris, Crookston, and Duluth were engaging and enlightening. All three visits presented extensive opportunities to visit with students, faculty, staff, and community members and to tour each campus to learn about their strengths and challenges.

At Morris, I attended the convocation ceremony welcoming new faculty and staff. It was remarkable to see the number of UMM alums returning to work at their alma mater, which is a testament to the deeply held belief in Morris’ mission.

At Crookston, I was able to spend time with a large group of student athletes and leaders in residential life and learn about their enthusiasm for the hands-on collegiate experience provided by UMC and the abundance of opportunities to be involved in a small campus setting.  

Days later I was on the road again to Duluth, and had the chance to help with residence hall move-in there. I also met with students, faculty, and staff and visited with community leaders at Glensheen to discuss the impact that UMD has in the region and beyond.

Looking to UMD’s future, we will announce the search for the next permanent Chancellor of the campus in the upcoming weeks.

While in northern Minnesota I also had the chance to visit two great outposts of our system—the National Resources Research Institute at UMD, as well as the Cloquet Forestry Center, where I had the opportunity to tour the property with senior advisor for Native American Affairs Karen Diver and discuss the importance of transferring land back to the Fond Du Lac Tribal nation.

Earlier in August, I traveled to Redwood County for the 42nd annual Minnesota Farmfest. 

As part of that, the U of M Farm Family of the Year Recognition Program honored families in counties around the state for their contributions to the ag industry and their local communities. 

And I visited our Rochester campus back in June to help celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the first UMR graduating class and to help kick off the Onward campaign.

After these visits to all our campuses and research centers, I am very  impressed by how we’re delivering on our mission to advance education, research, and outreach all around the state. 

I came into this role with a great appreciation for the University, but now I have an even greater understanding of the impact the U of M System is making – and how our work betters the lives of Minnesotans and beyond. 


Turning now to our priorities for the near future…

In the two months since our July Regents retreat, those efforts have really started to take shape.

The financial health of our system is of course a top priority. Times are changing, and higher education isn’t immune to challenges of the economy. 

I support the work of the PEAK initiative to enhance delivery of our administrative services. I am also collaborating with our chancellors to analyze our campus-by-campus financial sustainability and how it’s tied to enrollment and overall strategic positioning. 

There are a number of additional items that my senior leadership team will closely oversee and we’ve broken them down into three broad action categories–SUSTAIN, RESTORE, and ADVANCE

I’ll quickly highlight a few examples of this work, but this is not an exhaustive list:
In the “sustain category” – I’ve understood from the very beginning that maintaining momentum on MPact 2025 is critical. 

There are many concrete examples of the University’s collective achievements to date and a clear direction on where we will have the greatest impact. 

We will continue listening to our Tribal communities to address our shared past and future needs. And we’ll continue the work to fulfill the University’s commitment to environmental sustainability; student mental health initiatives; and promoting academic freedom.

In efforts to “restore,” we’ve taken a major step in the area of public outreach by hiring of Melisa Lopez Franzen as our new executive director of government and community relations. I was able to introduce Melisa earlier this morning to the Special Committee on University Relations. 

Melisa will lead advocacy efforts for the entire University of Minnesota System at the Capitol in Saint Paul, in Washington, D.C., and among many community partners and neighbors throughout Minnesota. 

She started early last week and has already hit the ground running.
We’re also committed to better telling our story—actually, the countless stories of the incredible work being done at all our campuses—to Minnesotans and beyond. 

In partnership with University Relations, these efforts will include a new marketing campaign that will launch later this month, which was previewed in the Special Committee on University Relations this morning. 

It's called “Dear Minnesota” and it's essentially a love letter to our state, reminding Minnesotans that we've never stopped working to make their lives better.

It includes TV spots, digital ads, and stories illustrating the breadth of our research, education, and outreach efforts. 

We’re in good hands here, with Chuck Tombarge and Ann Aronson steering the University Relations ship. 

Finally, in the “advance” category – we will:

• Closely monitor and foster relationships through the collective bargaining process with graduate students,

• Respond to the University Senate Resolution on Workforce Reinvestment, and 

• Continue to navigate the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on admissions. 

Again, these are not exhaustive lists, but I hope they provide you with a sense of where my senior leadership team and I will be focusing our time and attention in the year ahead. 

Finally, I’d like to spend a few minutes discussing the health sciences.

I was thrilled at the announcement that Governor Walz is forming a task force to help determine the future of our health sciences programs at the U, and we are excited to have University representation on this group.. 

As for their timeline, a written summary of recommendations is due to the Governor in January of 2024 and we look forward to this work advancing over the next few months.

Concurrently, there are critical decisions to be made regarding our affiliation with Fairview, and time is obviously of the essence, with a decision due at the end of the year on renewing the contract with Fairview Health Services beyond 2026.

I want to speak directly about the new actions and direction that the University is taking to underscore the importance of our public mission to serve Minnesotans by providing the best health care available anywhere.

During yesterday’s meeting of the newly created Special Committee on Academic Health we heard from Dean Tolar about: (1) our world leading Health Sciences Programs at the University, (2) the Governor’s Task Force, and (3) about our exciting new expansion of our medical training with CentraCare in St. Cloud.

Today, I want to stress my support and engagement with our senior team to embrace our public mission and to participate in addressing the big problems our healthcare system is facing today.

Now that the Sanford merger is off the table, everyone wants to know what the next steps for the University are. We have not wavered on our mission to ensure Minnesotans have access to a world class academic health system. To deliver on this mission we believe that the University must control care delivery and direction of the academic mission on its own campus. 

What the failed Sanford merger showed us was that we almost lost ownership and control over our academic teaching hospitals to an out-of-state entity. 

The Governor’s task force is a wonderful opportunity for the community to engage and strategize about the next steps of academic health training and financing. We look forward to working with the dedicated experts who are appointed to the task force and we will continue to work closely with the administration to ensure the outcomes of the task force meet the University's mission and goals set forth in the executive order.

We hope the 2024 legislative session will be an opportunity to build upon the work of the task force and the University’s priorities to meet the goals of our 5-point plan, which includes:

(1) World-Class Academic Health System - to ensure Minnesotans have access to the benefits of integrated research, teaching, and top-level care.

(2) To provide a world-class academic health system, the University must own, govern, and control University flagship facilities, which are the University of Minnesota Medical Center - East Bank and West Bank, Masonic Children’s Hospital, and the Clinics and Surgery Center. 

(3) Opportunities for Strategic Partnerships. The University seeks opportunities for partnerships and relationships with health systems…so all Minnesotans can benefit from academic health. 

(4) We need a newly designed state-of-the-art hospital complex on the East Bank to move clinical and academic medicine forward for the next 50 to 100 years.


(5) In the short term, we need to invest to keep our current facilities well-functioning.  

We are scheduled to meet with our colleagues from Fairview next week and look forward to re-engaging with our clinical partner. 

My update today includes additional information from Dean Tolar and Senior Vice President Frans, who I would like to now invite forward to provide some additional remarks.