Profs’ drive is key to U goals

Angela Gray

With a new strategic positioning plan that focuses on turning the University into one of the top three public research institutions in the world, many professors say they are compelled to achieve that goal.

Craig Swan, vice provost for Academic Affairs, said he expects University professors to feel a certain amount of pressure to uphold the reputation of the University as it strives to become a world leader in research.

“Driven institutions are competitive, which benefits the school and the students,” he said.

During the past five years, the University of Minnesota has ranked consistently in the top 15 public and private research universities and in the top 10 public research universities in the nation, according to a 2004 University of Florida study on the top American research universities.

Swan said there is no defined workload policy in terms of how much time University professors should spend teaching and how much time they should spend performing research.

“How ‘U’ professors divide their time between teaching and researching depends on the dean and the department,” he said.

Lawrence Rudnick, professor of physics and astronomy, said the goal to become a top research institution includes more than the professor’s role as a researcher.

“The whole system needs to be aligned towards this goal, which includes undergraduate education,” he said. 

While some professors are committed to innovative education, said Ann Taylor, associate dean for medical faculty affairs, others focus on being superb researchers.

“All in all, it’s about (the medical faculty’s) goal, which is to produce doctors,” she said. “How professors go about doing that is up to that individual.”

Jim Chen, associate dean for Academic Affairs at the Law School, said there are standing expectations for professors.

“Our professors are required to teach a certain amount of credits, and encouraged to produce two works of (academic publication) per year,” he said.

“Undergraduate teaching and scholarship are mutual reinforcing enterprises,” he said. “However, the Law School is not limited to simply promoting research and rank.”

Improving technology in the study of law and increasing access to legal services are also significant focuses, he said.

James Fuchs, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics said most professors strive to make the University one of the top research institutions.

Fuchs said he feels pressure to teach and still dedicate a portion of his time to researching.

“Our department essentially relies on funding from the National Institutes of Health and other sources,” he said.

“I think if there was more funding, there would be more time to research,” he said. “(Then) we could be more competitive nationally.”

Undergraduate access to frontline research keeps the University competitive and is one of its greatest strengths, Rudnick said.

“The challenge for both faculty and students is how to best capitalize on this enormous resource to enrich the undergraduate experience.”