Task force to give U ideas

Officials said the University is well on its way to becoming a world-class research institution.

by Anna Weggel

With a task force giving recommendations to University President Bob Bruininks on Wednesday, officials said the University is well on its way to becoming a world-class research institution.

At the March 11 Board of Regents meeting, regents voted to endorse a goal for the University to become one of the top three public research universities in the world within the decade.

The next step will be for the academic and administrative task forces to make recommendations to Bruininks dealing with undergraduate enrichment, faculty culture, design of the University and procedural steps, said E. Thomas Sullivan, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Bruininks will consider the recommendations and decide how the University should go about becoming a top research institution.

He will present his ideas to the board, and any action taken will be decided at the regents’ June meeting, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said funding for the plan will come out of national grants for the faculty, encouraging support from the Legislature and increasing fund-raising efforts.

Sullivan said that any possible cuts to programs to help fund the plan will be announced Wednesday.

“It will mean access to a much stronger university academically as well as support, and mentoring and advising of students,” he said.

Sullivan does not expect enrollment to decline, as the University is on track this year to receive more than 20,000 applications for 5,300 first-year student spots, he said.

“Applications are really skyrocketing this year,” he said. “We think there’s a positive correlation between increasing the quality and excellence of the University and attracting and retaining talented, qualified and motivated students.”

Sullivan said his goal is to enhance the educational experience for students while they are at the University.

“Students come out positive winners on this,” he said.

Tom Zearley, the Minnesota Student Association president, said that although he believes the plan will positively affect the University in the long run, he has a few concerns for the immediate future.

Zearley said he is concerned about how students are going to know when the University reaches its goal, how accessible the University is to Minnesotans and whether it is going to select only an elite population of students.

“Some of the restructuring and the regrouping I really see being beneficial,” he said. “It may have a negative effect right away, but I believe five to 10 years down the road, people will actually say, ‘That really wasn’t that bad.’ “

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said achieving the goal will be a long process.

“It’s not like walking into a room and turning a light switch on and all of a sudden light is in the room,” he said. “This will be a long and steady march to that goal.”

Regents Chairman David Metzen said that although the regents haven’t received details on how the plan will be carried out, he supports the goal.

“If we’re one of the top research (universities), it will help every department in the University,” he said. “The higher we’re respected, the better off it’s going to be for everybody.”

Metzen said that if the University achieves its goal, it will attract top professors, and research dollars will follow.

“You end up with top professors, good facilities and top kids wanting to come here because of the great reputation that it has,” Metzen said.

Frank Cerra, Academic Health Center senior vice president, said he thinks the goal is achievable.

“The University is a community, and if it works together, this goal will happen,” he said.

Cerra said interprofessional research that will benefit from the plan is essential to making discoveries that lead to breakthrough therapies that prevent or treat diseases.

“The University makes a positive difference in each Minnesotan’s life,” he said. “This plan will only enhance this positive difference.”