Survey denotes divided campus

A Daily poll showed mixed opinions on the University’s strategic positioning progress.

by Conrad Wilson

Two years after the Board of Regents unanimously approved a revamp of the University, students and faculty say they are skeptical of the progress made.

The University administration’s goal to be one of the top-three public research institutions in the world has divided support, according to a poll conducted by The Minnesota Daily.

Overall, students were more confident than faculty about the likelihood of the administration to implement the strategic plan in the next decade. Where nearly 50 percent of students polled said they were certain the goal would be met, calling it extremely or very likely, only 36 percent of faculty responded with such optimism.

Still, a commonly used study from the Center for Measuring University Performance indicates the University might be on track.

According to the 2006 report, the University ranks in the top 25 in eight of its nine measures of success.

The study does not rank institutions. Rather, it groups them based upon criteria like research funding, faculty awards and standardized test scores of admitted undergraduate students.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said he sees the numbers as positive, grouping together respondents who said it was extremely, very and somewhat likely the University would reach its goal in 10 years.

“I think having more than 70 percent think this top-three goal is realistic and doable is a very positive sign,” he said.

Support from faculty, staff and students will be crucial to achieving this goal, Wolter said.

“Continued engagement and interest in this is going to be very critical.”

Regent Patricia Simmons said faculty skepticism might stem from variables outside the University’s control, like state funding and competition with other universities.

“I don’t think this reflects support as much as caution,” she said. “The faculty would and should respect the fact that this is an aspirational goal and there are a lot of factors involved that all have to come together.”

Simmons said she is inspired by the higher percentage of students confident in the University’s ability to reach its goal.

“I think it’s wonderful to see the faith and high level of expectation among the students,” she said. “I’m glad that they have that optimism and that feeds our desire in our work.”

Minnesota Student Association President Max Page said strategic positioning isn’t a huge priority for the organization.

“I know the administration has been working on implementing some of the strategies,” Page said. “It’s harder to fit students into what they are doing.”

Nathan Wanderman, chairman of the MSA representatives to the Board of Regents, said that it is good for a large institution to have a lofty goal, but is concerned that the strategic plan will make the University too research-oriented and not focused on students.

“I think it’s imperative that the University keeps students in mind as they push forward in this strategic planning effort,” he said. “Everything I’ve seen from the administration so far has been very good on that front.”

Opinion is divided over whether faculty’s focus on teaching would change under the plan, according to the Daily poll. Although 25 percent of respondents anticipate no change, 38 percent said they expect faculty focus on teaching to decrease, while 36 percent indicated an increase. Ninety-six percent expect faculty focus on research to increase.

The quality of undergraduate education was also divided. Forty-seven percent said the quality of undergraduate education would increase, while 28 percent predicted a decrease, according to the poll. Twenty-five percent said there would be no change.

survey methodology

The University Futures Survey was conducted from Feb. 23 to Feb. 27, 2007. 347 students, faculty and staff responded to the surveys for an overall survey response rate of 17.35 percent. The margin of error associated with this sample is plus or minus 4.78 percent with a 95 percent confidence interval (reported as 5 percent for simplicity).

Additional information about the survey, including a full description of the survey methodology and data reporting, can be found on the MN Daily Survey Research Department Web site: survey/survey.php

Questions about the survey can be directed to Dana Adams, director of survey research at The Minnesota Daily. E-mail: [email protected], phone: (612) 627-4080 ext. 3846.

Communication studies associate professor Kirt Wilson, who sits on the strategic positioning Academic Task Force for Faculty Culture, said as the University moves forward with its process, it will need to make sure it hires faculty with strong research and teaching potential.

“People always seem to think that to focus more on research means to take away from teaching,” he said. “I think that is a false dichotomy.”

Wilson said the likelihood of reaching the University’s goal depends on which measures are used.

The University is developing its own means to gauge achievement of the goal, but still uses the Center for Measuring University Performance report.

Wanderman said it’s an ambitious goal that will take not years, but decades to reach.

Wilson said if the achievement is measured by studies that quantify people, programs and funding, the University will likely reach its goal. However, if the measure is reputation, it might take longer.

“When people say (University of California) Berkeley, University of Michigan,” he said, “will the University of Minnesota be the next thing that comes out of people’s mouths?”