Six Presidents. Four Decades of Leadership. One University.
On May 4, 2015, six presidents of the University of Minnesota gathered for a historic conversation to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing higher education and the U. Northrop was filled, local media coverage was extensive and Presidents C. Peter Magrath, Kenneth Keller, Nils Hasselmo, Mark Yudof, Robert Bruininks and Eric Kaler shared their thoughts, their disappointments and their victories in a lively panel discussion moderated by the Star Tribune’s Lori Sturdevant.
C. PETER MAGRATH, 1974–1984
C. Peter Magrath served in a decade of tightening budgets. He assumed office with the goal of improving the national ranking of the University and emphasized the importance of graduate programs and research for the wellbeing of Minnesota. He looked to system-wide planning to help the University clarify its priorities. Magrath welcomed social change, supporting the establishment of women's intercollegiate athletics programs and advocating on behalf of equal opportunity and affirmative action. Internationally, he welcomed new ties between the University and China soon after the U.S. government normalized relations between the two countries.
KENNETH H. KELLER, 1985-1988
When Kenneth Keller was serving as acting president, Rudy Perpich challenged him to demonstrate that the University of Minnesota could make strategic choices. In a paper titled “Commitment to Focus,” Keller highlighted his three strategic priorities of strengthening graduate education and research, positioning the University among the top five public universities, and enhancing the preparation and experience of undergraduates. As president, Keller supported the work of colleges and departments to develop objectives within the framework of Commitment to Focus. Future University presidents would continue to refer to his plan as they established their own strategic priorities.
NILS HASSELMO, 1988-1997
Nils Hasselmo embraced Kenneth Keller's “Commitment to Focus,” reframing it as “Access to Excellence.” Hasselmo emphasized undergraduate education, technology transfer, and planning and priority setting within colleges and campuses. His other priorities included K-12 initiatives, international education, and intercampus telecommunications. He urged both collaboration and mission differentiation among Minnesota's higher education institutions. Under his presidency, students arrived at the University better prepared, class sizes became smaller, more introductory classes were taught by senior faculty, and graduation rates improved. Also, registration lines shortened, as more students registered online.
MARK G. YUDOF, 1997-2002
Mark Yudof identified six key programmatic priorities for the University of Minnesota: agriculture, molecular and cellular biology, design, digital technology, new media studies, and undergraduate education. He won support both for his academic priorities and for historic preservation and the construction of new buildings on each of the University’s campuses. Under his leadership, the University moved from the quarter to the semester system, and strategic compacts were formed with individual campuses, colleges, and service units. Freshman seminars were established, and for the first time in more than 20 years, incoming freshmen gathered at Northrop for student convocations.
ROBERT H. BRUININKS, 2002-2011
Robert Bruininks emphasized the University’s public mission and unique role as Minnesota’s public research university and its land-grant university. He raised the University’s academic profile, its service to students and the community, and its stewardship of resources. Advances in academic quality and improvements in the student experience helped fuel high student satisfaction rates, increased applications and enrollment, and improved graduation rates. Affordability for students was another of his primary concerns. He made student scholarships a top priority, including the Promise of Tomorrow Scholarship, even as the University garnered historic gifts to support its research mission.
ERIC W. KALER 2011-PRESENT
Eric Kaler has focused on academic excellence, access for qualified students, stewardship of public dollars, research focused on the needs of Minnesota, and public outreach—locally and globally. He forged a partnership with the state to freeze tuition for resident undergraduates and won new investments to match University research strengths with the state’s most pressing needs and key industries. Kaler and the University’s Twin Cities campus community are now implementing a strategic plan to carry out the vision that “the University of Minnesota will be preeminent in solving the grand challenges of our diverse and changing world.”