Some fears quelled, but questions remain

What is U2000? Beyond the now-traditional refrain of “Nils Hasselmo’s restructuring plan for making the University a world-class research institution,” it’s not an easy question to answer. Sometimes, it seems, even the administration is unable to clearly articulate the goals, benchmarks and achievements of the plan beyond the obvious abstracts. And because U2000 is a broad, over-arching concept covering all campuses, colleges and departments, it’s only natural to get a vague, perhaps ominous sensation that something’s fishy.
U2000, most simply put, is a process of prioritization, planning and implementing change — a process that’s always going on regardless of whether there’s a specific name for it. What makes U2000 unique, and maybe frightening, is the fact that it encompasses the entire University. Small scale change isn’t too intimidating, but “massive restructuring” throws up more red flags than “downsizing.” However, full-scale restructuring isn’t inherently bad, so long as it’s done thoughtfully. And there is evidence to suggest that U2000 is working well — especially in the strategic areas of undergraduate education and user-friendliness.
From computer access to graduation rates, the undergraduate experience is improving. Class sizes are down, and the number of classes taught by professors is up. Campus bureaucracy has been streamlined. The U Card has replaced the decomposing fee statement and class registration is easier than ever. More and more freshmen live on campus, which has bolstered a sense of community. Campus ergonomics, from buses to bridges, make the University easier to get around. So why the long faces?
All is not well at the University. As the tenure debacle, the fiery debate over unionization and a rocky presidential selection process suggest, deep and unstable fissures exist here in Gopherland. The Fairview merger and Coke partnership raise serious and lingering questions about the appropriate role of corporate America in academia. Advances in the U2000 strategic areas of outreach and diversity have been unimpressive and difficult to quantify. And in the critical area of research, the University is not adequately replacing shrinking federal funds.
That after three years, U2000’s mixed results should come as no surprise. It should, however, lay to rest some of the concerns that the restructuring plan poses a threat to the University. In 1994, suspicion was an appropriate response to the plan. Its broad language was perhaps inspiring, but lacked specifics. The road to hell, critics noted, is paved with good intentions. Halfway from the plan’s creation to the target year 2000, enough has come to pass for the University community to get a firm sense of the whole — its strengths and problems.
Organizations as large as the University don’t change overnight, they evolve gradually. Nils Hasselmo’s greatest ambition was to focus that evolution along a set of generalized standards — a difficult but logical task. As his presidency draws to a close, the U2000 policy of managed change shows some promise, but not enough to call the game. The success or failure of the restructuring plan rests ultimately in whether or not students and faculty embrace its results, and that won’t be known until well after the year 2000.