Yudof compliments academic initiatives in University address

by Erin Ghere

Kristin Gustafson
Highlighting University promises to students, faculty and the Legislature, University President Mark Yudof spoke about where the University has upheld its commitments and where it has faltered during the past year.
Addressing the University Senate — more than 200 faculty members, administrators, staff members and students — Yudof presented his annual State of the University address Thursday at West Bank’s Rarig Center.
Yudof praised the University’s interdisciplinary academic initiatives, including molecular and cellular biology, digital technology, design, new media and agriculture.
He said undergraduate education has improved by increasing students enrolled in freshman seminars by 245 percent, adding 30 new faculty members and retaining 85 percent of freshmen.
But Yudof emphasized the University still has progress to make in the areas of academic integrity and faculty compensation.
Academic integrity
Though the University is bound by legalistic relationships, Yudof said the University’s integrity rests at its core.
In exchange for education and safety, the University expects that “students commit to studying, attending classes, turning in honest work and treating their fellow students with respect and civility,” Yudof told the University senators and other University leaders.
Key Yudof priorities for undergraduate education include making the University more welcoming and user-friendly, strengthening the campus community and treating every student like an honors student.
However, Yudof contrasted these gains with losses resulting from the University failing to keep its promises to student-athletes and Minnesota taxpayers.
Referring to declining graduation rates among student-athletes, particularly in men’s basketball and football programs, Yudof said, “The University must redouble its commitment to reverse this trend.”
He proposed eliminating freshman eligibility in men’s basketball, giving athletes a year to establish their academic lives before competing.
“These young people are often unacquainted with the rudiments of college life, but they are thrust into academic programs requiring a major proportion of their time and their energy,” Yudof said. “Not surprisingly, some cannot meet the demands of both academics and athletics.”
He also proposed that the NCAA require athletes leaving a school for any reason be in good academic standing or the college would lose the scholarship until the student normally would have graduated.
Yudof said he targeted men’s basketball with the first proposal “because I am on the most secure ground.” In contrast, women’s athletics have much higher graduation rates and might not support such a proposal, Yudof said.
“It’s going to be an uphill fight to get it adopted,” he said. Yudof added that he started with men’s basketball because it is “the revenue sport that appears to be in the most trouble in terms of graduation rates.”
The threat of losing scholarships would make universities consider the academic preparedness of potential student-athletes. Once they are enrolled, there would be more incentive for colleges to provide the students a full array of academic counseling services, Yudof said.
Yudof said he will bring the proposal to December’s Big Ten meeting. With support of “one of the best athletic conferences in the country,” Yudof hopes to persuade the NCAA.
Clem Haskins, the men’s basketball coach who resigned in June following allegations of academic fraud, supported the freshman eligibility proposal, Yudof said. “It’s not that far-out a position, even for a competitive coach.”
The University’s women’s and men’s athletics directors both support the freshman ineligibility, Yudof said.
However, Yudof would not support changing the University’s policies without nationwide NCAA agreement because it would put the University at a recruitment disadvantage.
“I think faculty and students both need to take a strong stand (on academic misconduct),” said Faculty Senate Chairman Fred Morrison.
Faculty compensation
Yudof also renewed a University promise to faculty members during his speech with specific plans addressing competitive faculty salaries.
The promise of a paycheck is one of the most tangible promises the University makes to its employees, Yudof said.
The University needs to raise faculty salaries by at least 15 percent, “and we need it tomorrow morning,” Yudof said emphatically.
The 1999 Legislature allocated $69 million to the University for faculty and staff raises, but that only allowed for a 3 percent salary increase, distributed in July. To be competitive with other research universities — and, in turn, attract and retain top faculty members — the University must offer competitive compensation, Yudof said.
“I was deeply disturbed by the lack of funding for faculty salaries by the 1999 legislative session,” Yudof said.
The University is currently ranked 20th in faculty compensation among other research universities.
Yudof cited a national trend in faculty salaries at public institutions, which are falling farther behind private institutions in terms of faculty and staff compensation.
The gap has widened substantially in the past 20 years, Yudof said.
“In 1980, professors at private institutions earned, on average, $1,900 a year more than they did at public institutions,” Yudof said. “In 1998, the difference was $14,000.”
By 2010, the disparity between public and private will be an estimated $25,000 to $30,000, he said.
Public universities cannot raise tuition as much as private schools, because the University’s students and parents cannot bear the costs.
“A land-grant institution cannot and should not embrace such a high tuition approach,” he said.
But legislators do not understand this problem, because they have to look at all of the state’s financial issues, Yudof said.
“I think our alumni and proven supporters understand our need for those funds more than the state Legislature,” Yudof said.
Private funding will be acquired through the University Foundation, the University’s fund-raising body, in a major capital campaign to be announced later this month, he said. The funds will come in the form of endowed chairperson and faculty positions.
“I think this is a new way to go,” Morrison said of the faculty endowments. “It’s a way that he had success with at the University of Texas, it’s a way that we have had success with in the Law School. I think it offers a promising opportunity.”
Yudof admitted that there are risks in going to the private sector.
The key is endowments, Yudof said.
“You don’t want to depend upon annual donations for faculty salaries, because the first time they decline because the economy has declined, how are you going to meet your obligations?” he said.
Endowments will cover faculty salaries, research assistants, laboratory space, equipment and release time to write grant applications.
“It’s a lot of things and not just salary,” Yudof said.
Faculty Senate members in attendance appeared optimistic about Yudof’s plan.
“I think (faculty compensation) is always a problem, because it’s hard to explain why someone who works nine months needs all this salary, but the competition is strong,” Carol Urness, a professor in the University Library, said after Yudof’s speech.
Urness said she has known professors who have left the University because they were offered a financial package from another school that they just couldn’t turn down.

Kristin Gustafson and Erin Ghere welcome comments at [email protected] and [email protected]