Interim President's Report to the University Senate

September 28, 2023

It’s an honor to be able to talk with such a broad cross-section of engaged faculty, staff, and students. 

Throughout my career I’ve led complex organizations, but the model of shared governance is admittedly new to me. 

I truly appreciate the opportunity for consultation and collaboration with faculty, student, and staff leaders, and I look forward to our engagement over the course of the year. 

Priorities/year ahead

In the 3 ½ months that I’ve been Interim President, I’ve had the chance to visit each of our campuses and talk with numerous stakeholders. 

I came into this role with a great appreciation for the U of M, but now I more fully understand how the important work on all of our campuses improves the lives of people in Minnesota and beyond. 

Despite our strengths in so many areas, we still have work to do to advance the U of M in new ways.

So I’d like to talk for a few minutes about our priorities for the near future…

I’ve had the chance to discuss and share with Regents my leadership team’s goals and priorities for the coming year. In the time since the July Regents retreat, those efforts have 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.

We’ve broken them down into three broad action categories–

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 examples of the University’s collective achievements to date and a clear direction on where we can have the greatest impact. 

We will continue listening to our Tribal communities to address our shared past and future needs. My first meeting with Tribal leaders will occur in late October, with the assistance of senior advisor Karen Diver. We are also aiming to provide an initial response to items raised in the TRUTH report by early next calendar year.

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 with the hiring of Melisa Lopez Franzen as our new executive director of government and community 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 a month ago 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 feature a new marketing campaign that launched early last week.

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’ve received great early feedback on these stories.

These public outreach efforts are also being elevated to the Board of Regents level, with the establishment of a Special Committee on University Relations… which met for the first time at this month’s Board meeting.  

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

• Closely monitor and foster relationships through the collective bargaining process with graduate students and with faculty represented by the UEA, 

• Continue to navigate the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on admissions, including its likely effect on financial aid, and

• Refine the System’s strategic agenda on DEI. Vice President Ramirez Fernandez will be reporting on this important work at the October Board of Regents meeting. 

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. 

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

I was grateful for the announcement that Governor Walz was 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 in this group, as announced last week. 

We appreciate the appointments of Dr. Penny Wheeler, retired CEO of Allina Health and a member of the University’s Board of Regents; 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. 

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 this year on renewing the contract with Fairview Health Services beyond 2026.

We will keep you informed as these decisions are being made.

Campus safety

I’d also like to briefly address safety on our campuses.

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

Over the summer we implemented a wide range of safety strategies and tactics for our students, faculty, and staff returning to our five campuses this fall. 

To prepare for the increased activity on and around the TC campus, the U of M Police Department has allocated overtime to support the Minneapolis Police Department in the Dinkytown area. 

In addition, the State Patrol, Hennepin County Sheriff, and Metro Transit Police are providing extra patrols on and near campus.

We’re also working with Metro Transit, which has implemented their own safety plan to make transit feel safer and more welcoming. 

We launched a new 
Safe Campus website with quick access to important safety resources and information. The site prominently features safety news and announcements. 

As a public university we must balance public access to buildings with the safety of students and employees. 

And we continue to examine access to our campus spaces. Buildings with clear public access needs— like libraries, museums, and venues like our student union—remain open to the public. 

About 95 buildings on TC campus are now accessible only with a U Card.

We’ll continue to review and assess our building access.

We’ve also begun to replace outdated security cameras and to align building access equipment across all campuses for more efficient building security. 

The one-time allocation of $8 million over two years in state funding helps us greatly accelerate this work.

We are also piloting turnstiles in Pioneer Hall to help ensure that only those who have permission to enter the building can do so. 

Data incident 
I’d like to talk for a moment about the data incident that’s been in the news and that has an effect on many of you.

In July, we learned that an individual claimed to have posted on the internet certain information from a University database.

We immediately began an investigation, engaging external forensics professionals in an effort 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. 

Last Thursday the University began sending notifications to individuals who may have been affected.

The emails provide 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.

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

For those of you whose data may have been involved, we ask for your patience through the email-notification process. 

We take the security of information very seriously, and we regret any worry or inconvenience this incident may cause you. 

We are working hard to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Turning to a few additional updates…

Workforce Reinvestment Resolution

Last spring, this Senate endorsed the Resolution on Workforce Reinvestment: Rebuilding a Better U for Employees.

The Provost along with SVP Frans and VP Horstman have charged a group to provide a comprehensive response to the University Senate-endorsed Resolution on Workforce Reinvestment. That group, led by co-chairs Mary Rohman Kuhl, Senior Director of OHR Total Rewards, and Beth Lewis, Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs has had their initial meeting and is making progress toward having a draft to review later this fall. We anticipate an official response being reported to the Senate during the Spring 2024 semester. 

UMD Chancellor search

Earlier this month, we launched the search for the next UMD Chancellor. My thanks to Lori Carrell, Chancellor of the Rochester Campus, and Lisa Erwin, UMD’s vice chancellor of student life and dean of students, who have agreed to serve as co-chairs of the search committee. We are working now to finalize the search committee roster.

That committee will work with AGB Search to finalize the position profile, hold listening sessions, and then begin recruiting. I will be attending the listening sessions held in Duluth in early November. We anticipate holding interviews and making an offer late winter/early spring. 

Faculty Misconduct Taskforce

Last spring, the President’s office announced the next phase of the on-going work related to faculty misconduct. 

I’m happy to report that two faculty have agreed to serve as co-chairs of the “implementation phase” – they are Ned Patterson, from the College of Veterinary Medicine on the Twin Cities campus, and Lin Xiu from the Labovitz School of Business and Economics on the Duluth campus. 

We will be opening up a nomination process for additional members soon.

Conclusion/questions to the president 

That concludes my report, so we can turn to questions to the president. None were submitted in advance, but we have time for one or two.