Yudof on Yudof: parting thoughts

Brad Unangst

When President Mark Yudof arrived at the University in 1997, the school faced problems that were emotionally and physically eroding the community.

Faculty morale was low following a tenure battle. A federal lawsuit against the University alleging misconduct in the Medical School was pending, and campus buildings were in disrepair.

In his five years as president, Yudof aspired to elevate the University into the nation’s top tier of research campuses. He tried to beautify the campus and improve the undergraduate experience.

As Yudof prepares to return to the University of Texas System as chancellor, his legacy will be marked by many victories and some losses.

The Minnesota Daily recently sat down with Yudof to capture his thoughts on his last months in office and his years as president.

Q: What are your proudest accomplishments at the University?

Yudof: I like to think of it as a time where, particularly at the undergraduate level, I pushed for things that needed to be done, whether it was freshman seminars or convocation, or adding to the residence halls and building Riverbend Commons residence hall, and getting financial assistance on a paperless basis on the done list.

Q: What is your fondest memory at the University?

Yudof: One of those touching moments was when we re-established convocation and I could see all those 4,000 freshmen out there. That was a very touching moment to me. It somehow made all the bureaucracy and committee meetings and budgeting all worthwhile.

Q: What is your most difficult memory of your University tenure?

Yudof: When I announced I was moving on to Texas. I mean, I was in tears in my office. My staff was in tears, and a lot of wonderful people here, and they are very loyal and I am very loyal. I really haven’t changed jobs that many times. I was basically at one institution for 26 years and another for five. I mean, that was it. Basically, I don’t move at the drop of the hat. It was difficult to leave Texas when I have similarly deep friendships. It’s difficult here.

Q: How is the transition going?

Yudof: I think it’s going very well. I think that maybe some people don’t fully appreciate how I’ve operated the last five years.

Ö It’s pretty much the way it’s been run before, except now I’m perhaps a little bit more deferential. I feel like I have to live with the decisions for six weeks, but (Robert Bruininks) has to live with the decisions for the rest of the year and his successor for years to come.

Q: What is the latest with the University Medical School dean search?

Yudof: I’m going to sit down with Frank Cerra (senior vice president of the Academic Health Center) and the provost and figure out who the next dean of the Medical School is going to be.

It’s one of the highest priorities here because we’ve worked long and hard to bring the Medical School back from the brink and get it better funded and better organized. I want to be 100 percent sure it’s in good hands.

Q: What about the athletics department and director search?

Yudof: On the athletics director search, despite some of the ink, I think we’re absolutely on the right trajectory.

My own view is that we could not put this department where it needed to be with a bifurcated department. And that’s the conclusion of virtually every other university in the county – there’s only four or five of them left out of all the hundreds. And we’ll pick a first-rate athletics director and we’ll be on our way.

Q: How will you balance both your chancellorship at the University of Texas System and the presidency at the University?

Yudof: If you have good relations with people, it works out fine.

Dan Burck is the chancellor at Texas. He will make the decisions, but I am hoping that if there is something that has some long-run impact, that he’s going to call me on the phone and say, “Mark, this is what I am proposing, and how do you feel about it,” and consult with me, even though he’ll make the call.

Q: Are you going to take any of your University staff to Texas with you?

Yudof: There may be one or two people, but I’m not going to speculate beyond that. I want to leave the University of Minnesota in great shape. I’m not interested in a “brain drain,” and my assumption is that very few people will go with me Ö there’s a very strong administrative team here, and I don’t have any intention to organize a substantial raid, but I can’t say that no one will leave.

Q: Will anyone from your senior staff leave?

Yudof: I’m just telling you what is truthful to today; I don’t see taking anyone from developmental. I don’t see taking anyone at the highest levels, from the provost office. Sometimes people volunteer. It’s certainly not my intention today.

Q: Whom would you like to see as the next president of the University?

Yudof: I think you need someone who is committed to the undergraduates and to quality programs, and being focused is real important. I think sometimes people underestimate how much in the way of administrative skills is needed.

Q: The state Legislature turned down the University’s budget request for Translational Research Facility funding. What does that mean for the University?

Yudof: We’re going to get (the TRF) built, period. I do not think the University should build it out of its own money, given we had to return $24 million to the Legislature.

Ö So what I am going to do is shepherd in the money so that they’ll have the architect’s drawings to show the Legislature in January when they reconvene to try and get it on a supplemental bonding list for the next session.

Ö This is not the last medical school building we’re going to build. If we’re going to be a great university in the 21st century, we need to go the whole nine yards. And that message will be presented effectively in January.

Q: What would you like to say to the students?

Yudof: The one thing is they are part of a great university and we have great students and they should understand that. The primary strength of this university is the students. They should maintain the course, even though there are day-to-day frustrations.