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.

Six Presidents - Highlights

View the entire two-hour-long conversation.

Our Presidents

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 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 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.”

Share a Greeting or Memory

Recent Entries

Dearest friend Ken, Being a chief administrative officer often changes the individual to fit the demands of many and suddenly the administrator loses his or her own vision for the task ahead. Ken, you never followed that path and did not become a president that just happened to have been a scientist. You remained a scientist that happened to have been a president. And you did a GREAT job in both jobs! Thank you for sharing a part of your life with me. Andreas Rosenberg
To Ken: Many best wishes -- I have great memories of the our interactions when we had some joint research interests. Many thanks and congratulations on all your contributions to the University of Minnesota. -- Mary E. Dempsey, Professor Emerita, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics
To Nils, Mark and Bob: I have many great memories of the periods I served under you as a member of the Faculty Advisor Committee and chair of the Tenure Committee. They were turbulent times, but everything turned out well! I especially enjoyed the opportunity to get to to know you and felt we were good friends. Many thanks and congratulations on all your achievements for the University of Minnesota! Best wishes -- Mary E. Dempsey, Professor Emerita, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics
Amazing... These guys are wonderful. Keller was BY FAR the most courageous....calling a spade a spade and saying that Pro Sports has NO PLACE in a University Education. Guess what...the problem has grown worse with research on concussions, and the inability of the U to compete in the big time sports.