U2000: A plan in flux

by Joel Sawyer

Editor’s note: Today the Daily kicks off a series of articles about University 2000, the often-cited but frequently misunderstood administrative plan to improve education and research at the University.
With the pending retirement of University President Nils Hasselmo and the recent election of Mark Yudof as his successor, the progress of U2000 has reached a critical juncture. Over the next eight days, the Daily will explore the genesis of the plan, its successes and failures and its future under a new University administration.
The stories will focus primarily on six “strategic areas” that form the core of U2000 — research, graduate and professional education, undergraduate education, outreach and access, user-friendliness, and diversity.

The 1980s proved to be a dark time for the University.
By 1988, the University had lost its president to a financial scandal, University athletics had been rocked by rules violations, and allegations of sexual assault, and top faculty members — not to mention high school seniors — were leaving the state in droves. The University needed to turn its sinking morale and public image around.
Students, administrators and faculty members alike hoped the appointment of University President Nils Hasselmo in late 1988 would change the school’s fortunes.
Five years later, Hasselmo had raised the hopes of the University community by introducing the University 2000 plan, a program he said would catapult the school into the next millennium.
“(U2000) is laying on the line the fact that the University of Minnesota has to be a leading research and land-grant university in the 21st Century,” Hasselmo said in a recent interview. “And that means that we have to focus our activities and we have to make strategic investments.”
But just exactly what those areas of focus are and what those strategic investments will be have often eluded faculty members, students and Minnesotans, many of whom are confused by the ambiguities of the plan.
To the uninitiated, U2000 is a nebulous catch phrase that defies understanding or definition.
“There was a lot of doubt in people’s minds whether or not U2000 was going to be effective because it’s hard to articulate,” said Board of Regents Chair Tom Reagan. “I still think there are people who question whether U2000 makes any sense.”
The U2000 plan, adopted by the Board of Regents Jan. 14, 1994, was heralded as a bold new vision for the University’s future, but that was not the case.
“When (initial planning for) U2000 came about in 1992-93, it was really an effort to pull together many, many different plans and actions that had been taken over a period of years,” Hasselmo said.
Confronted with shrinking federal funding in the 1980s, an increasingly competitive global economy, and the staggering pace of technological change, other universities such as Michigan, Stanford and Pennsylvania also began similar planning projects — all focusing on the year 2000 — to address the changing climate of higher education.
“U2000 is our own local codification of a national trend, but it didn’t come from two stone tablets dropped from the sky,” said Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
Until the early 1970s, long-range planning at the University had been uncoordinated and guided by assumptions of continued growth in federal funding and student enrollment.
But that changed during the presidencies of C. Peter Magrath (1974-84) and Kenneth Keller (1985-88), who saw the need to begin integrating planning throughout the University. Keller’s coordinated planning effort was popularly known as “Commitment to Focus.”
When Hasselmo picked up the remains of Commitment to Focus after Keller resigned over the Eastcliff remodeling scandal, the new president inherited a University shrouded by controversy over Keller’s attempts to reform the strategic planning process.
“That was the situation in December of 1988,” Hasselmo said. “U2000 was an effort to pull a lot of things together because things had gone pretty haywire.”
During Hasselmo’s early years as president, he continued to refine and integrate planning projects within the University and began new programs, such as the 1989 Undergraduate Initiative. The initiative borrowed heavily from Commitment to Focus and was designed to improve the quality of undergraduate education at the University.
His administration also initiated other long-range plans, including the 1991 five-year restructuring and reallocation plan that closed the Waseca campus.
In 1993, Hasselmo asked the regents to come up with a name that would effectively link the plethora of planning projects under one title.
They chose University 2000, a phrase coined by Reagan, which would come to symbolize nearly every aspect of planning for the University’s future.
The Plan
U2000 calls for the University to strategically invest in six areas critical to the school’s future: research, graduate and professional education, undergraduate education, outreach and access, user-friendliness, and diversity.
The directions represent, Hasselmo said, “an umbrella within which we do University planning.”
Administrators say the University must focus on the six strategic areas if the school is to produce competitive and well-educated students and remain a world leader in research and technology.
“If we don’t stay competitive, then our quality of life will erode,” Marshak said. “This University needs to be able to graduate people who can compete globally, and who can repatriate the rewards from that global competition to support the quality of life in this state — and if we don’t do that we’re screwed.”
Within the six strategic areas, administrators set goals for the year 2000. In order to monitor progress toward those goals, annual benchmarks are set and administrators must report their progress to the regents.
Strategic Directions
The University has traditionally been a top research institution. Since 1968 the University has ranked among the top 20 universities in the nation in federal funding for research and development.
Administrators wanted to make sure that, with all the other changes that were planned, the University continued its traditional focus on research.
A major goal of U2000’s research agenda is to recruit and retain world-class researchers, scholars and artists who are also effective teachers. One way to accomplish that goal, Hasselmo said, is to raise faculty salaries.
“Our goal is to move faculty salaries closer to the mean of the top 30 research universities,” he said.
Currently, the University ranks 24th out of the top 30 research universities in professor salaries.
Alongside research, U2000 sets goals for improving life for the graduate and professional students who are drawn to the University’s research programs.
Administrators are striving to improve the quality and reputation of graduate and professional departments by bolstering core programs and increasing interdisciplinary curricula.
The plan also calls for forging stronger ties with business, industry and the community, and recruiting top students from around the world.
But perhaps U2000’s most significant area of focus is the improvement of undergraduate education and the undergraduate experience at the University. Reforming undergraduate education was Hasselmo’s first project, and it’s the part of U2000 he hopes will be his legacy.
“I thought the most serious problem area that we faced (in 1989) was the definition of quality undergraduate education, especially on the Twin Cities campus,” Hasselmo said.
To address that problem, University administrators announced plans to increase admissions standards and the number of freshman living on campus.
Administrators said they also hope to increase the number of students who graduate within 5 years. They started offering a four-year graduation guarantee plan for some incoming students.
U2000 calls for making the University open to part-time and non-traditional students, in addition to the top seniors from the state’s high schools. Furthermore, administrators hope to continue the University’s tradition of reaching out to rural communities and Minnesota citizens into the next century.
The commitment to outreach and access represents a continuation of the University’s mission as a land-grant school.
Under the U2000 plan, University College merged with what was then Continuing Education and Extension to provide access to part-time and non-degree seeking students, using partnerships with most University degree programs.
The University is also seeking to build stronger educational partnerships with other state schools and the community. Those partnerships include a wide variety of continuing education programs, many of which are delivered through distance learning methods such as closed-circuit television.
At one of the largest public universities in the country, it is easy for students to feel detached from the campus environment. Student alienation was another aspect of student life administrators set out to change.
The U2000 plan says the culture of the University must change. “Bureaucracy and indifference must give way,” the plan states, “to a user-friendly approach to program and service delivery.”
In response to this challenge, administrators set out to make many of the minor burdens students face easier, including registering for classes and applying for financial aid.
Making the University a more friendly place meant more than just giving students faster service. Administrators also wanted faculty members and students of all backgrounds to be welcome.
In September 1994, administrators added diversity as a sixth strategic focus for the U2000 plan. Diversity was initially weaved into each of the original five strategic directives, but administrators wanted to give it more attention to prevent it from being obscured by other priorities.
“We needed to get in line with the rest of the world on diversity, whether it be students, faculty or staff,” Reagan said.
Increasing minority enrollment and recruiting and retaining more faculty of color at the University is a key part of the directive.
The importance of diversity, Marshak said, is that it prepares all students to deal with an increasingly varied society.
“Diversity is for everyone, not just for underrepresented groups,” Marshak said.
Despite the popularity of promoting diversity, it remains perhaps the most difficult of U2000’s goals.
Mixed Signals
Its broad ambitions and poorly-articulated goals make U2000 and the University as a whole an attractive target for criticism.
“(U2000) symbolizes the weakness in direction that has come to represent the last three years of Hasselmo’s administration,” said Matt Musel, former Minnesota Student Association president.
Musel criticized Hasselmo for not clearly and consistently informing the University community about the goals and progress of U2000. Because of that poor communication, Musel said, many students and activists have a distorted view of the plan.
“When I first got involved, (U2000 represented) every change the University would have been making normally under one title,” Musel said. “Now it actually has meaning and sting to it.”
That meaning and sting comes from a widely-held perception that U2000 stands for the corporatization of the University.
“The administration and regents have actually adopted corporate models to run this university,” said Progressive Student Organization organizer J Burger. “This is a university where people can learn, and not a business.”
Burger and other critics also say U2000 offers administrators a tool for taking credit for any positive development at the University while glossing over failures with the promise of future reforms.
“U2000 really represents a PR campaign for systemic changes,” Burger said. “But there’s no consistency to the changes that they implement. Their actions don’t support what their ambitions are.”
One area that some feel has not been emphasized enough is diversity.
“Fundamentally, the goals that we put together were good goals,” said former regent Hyon Kim. “But the diversity part, in my book, we haven’t even touched yet. I really hope that our new president will look at that issue very, very seriously.”
Its advocates have yet to articulate the vision U2000 is meant to represent. The plan has made it to the halfway point from its inception to the next millennium and has become one of the defining — if most ill-defined — projects of University history.
And the University is changing horses in midstream. Halfway through U2000, the president who developed it is stepping down. The plan Hasselmo hoped would assure his place in University history will succeed or fail under another administration.
When he takes office in July, President-elect Mark Yudof will have to decide if he will continue on the U2000 path or abandon it to follow a course of his own. Until administrators know their new president’s mind, U2000 will remain the University’s grandest vision and greatest enigma.