Regents, lawmakers praise Yudof’s accomplishments

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

Mark Yudof came to the University with a vision.

As president of the University, he wanted to improve the campus both externally and internally – to beautify the buildings and surrounding area while improving the freshman experience, research and the overall quality of education.

As he leaves for Texas after five years in Minnesota, regents and legislators praise his tenure and say he left the University in better shape than he found it.

Among his accomplishments are a successful $1.3 billion fund-raising campaign, a stabilized Medical School and revitalized science and technology research.

“He brought to the University a sense of vision and a plan to achieve that vision,” said Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, the House Higher Education Finance Committee chairwoman. “We have a better sense of where the University is going now than we used to.”

But as with every president, Yudof faced many unexpected challenges, including a series of athletics scandals and a cash-strapped Legislature.

“At a major university you have problems from time to time. It’s inevitable to confront a series of major issues,” said Robert Bruininks, executive vice president and provost. “Certainly, Yudof had a great many during his five years of service.”

The first major test of Yudof’s presidency came in 1999 when a tutor disclosed she had written more than 400 papers for men’s
basketball players. The scandal led to a major restructuring of men’s athletics and tough NCAA sanctions. Yudof’s critics charged that he acted too quickly to buy out former men’s coach Clem Haskins’ contract in the wake of the scandal.

But Bruininks credited the president’s quick mind and ability to ask the right questions as the reason he dealt with the situation so smoothly.

“When he is confronted with a difficult situation, he gets good information to fully understand the nature of the crisis,” Bruininks said. “To exercise good judgment, you need to have good information.”

The presidency hit another snag in 2001 when the Legislature granted far less money than the University requested, leading to a 13.8 percent increase in tuition for 2001-2002. Tuition will jump again next year by 16 percent.

However, in the hours following the announcement that Yudof had accepted the candidacy for chancellor of the University of Texas, many administration, staff, faculty, students and community mourned Yudof’s exit.

“Personally, I feel that a Texas hailstorm smashed through the state and destroyed our crops,” said Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter. “But the good thing about Minnesotans is that we’re going to plow the old crops under, pick ourselves up, plant the crops over and move forward.”

As he explained his decision to leave, Yudof said he was most proud of the renovation of campus, focus on undergraduate education, improvement of the Academic Health Center and Campaign Minnesota.

“I’m proud to say this administration has – with the help and cooperation of the Board of Regents, students, staff and faculty – accomplished many things that I set out to do in Minnesota,” he said.

Yudof started the First Year Experience program to help freshmen adjust to their new environment. He even taught freshman seminar classes as part of the program throughout his five years in office.

“He understands the value of the first year,” said First Year Experience program director LeeAnn Melin. “There were people who wanted to make it happen, but he’s the one who made it happen.”

Yudof sought to provide better housing for students and authorized the construction of new University apartment buildings, including Riverbend Commons and University Village.

Still, the seemingly annual increase in tuition costs and the implementation of a 13-credit minimum for full-time status left some students frustrated.

Maran Wolston, a College of Biological Sciences student, said she hopes the next president “isn’t afraid of one-on-one contact with students.

“That should be more important than looking for good ratings in huge national magazines,” she said.

Catherine Pham, a CBS sophomore, questioned the timing of Yudof’s departure.

“I think it’s a bad time, especially with all the financial problems within the school,” she said.

Other students, including Minnesota Student Association President Josh Colburn, said they are happy with the work Yudof has done.

“I’m impressed with what he has accomplished since I’ve been here,” Colburn said. “If you do a job well you won’t get a whole lot of comments either way, but if you do a bad job you’ll hear about it. I haven’t heard a lot of negative comments about him.”

Lindsey Nelson, a CBS sophomore, agreed.

“I think he did a good job, especially with the financial situation,” she said. “I think he’s going to be hard to replace.”

Leppik said that despite funding difficulties at the Legislature, Yudof has dramatically improved legislative confidence in the University.

“There is much improvement in the relationship between the University and the Legislature,” Leppik said. “He clearly laid priorities at the University and followed that. He didn’t try to be everything to everybody.”

Leppik said she thinks Yudof’s greatest achievements are improving the Medical School and the tremendous amount of private dollars he’s raised.

Bruininks said he is proud to have worked with Yudof throughout his five years at the University.

“He set ambitious goals in the first year to expand quite broadly on the University mission,” Bruininks said. “He’s done an outstanding job. His report card in my opinion is filled with A’s.”

– Dan Haugen contributed to this report

Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected]