VP for research Mulcahy will retire at the end of the year

Mulcahy is the latest in a string of top administrators to leave the school.

by Kyle Potter


Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy will leave the University of Minnesota at the end of 2012.

After more than seven years overseeing the University’s research, Mulcahy, 60, called his announcement Tuesday “bittersweet.” According to Mulcahy, his departure has been in the works for several years and he told President Eric Kaler of his plans before Kaler assumed office, and in January picked a firm date to leave, he said.

Mulcahy came to the University in 2005 after more than a decade in administration at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Since then, the University has increased the number of startups based on its research from just one in 2005 to eight and nine in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The University has netted more federal and state grants and built and expanded state-of-the-art research facilities in the Biomedical Discovery District.

But Mulcahy doesn’t take credit for buildings like the Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building, which will complete the research district once it’s finished in 2013. Instead, he insists his greatest contribution has been his role in crafting a culture that will fill them.

“I helped create … the attitude and the environment that’s going to help the output from those great laboratories to benefit the state and the nation,” he said.

A national search committee will be finalized in April in hopes of finding Mulcahy’s replacement by the fall. Kaler said he’s looking for someone with Mulcahy’s traits that can continue to move research and commercialization forward.

Mulcahy will spend his last months in office working on a long-term financing plan for improvements and additions to research facilities as well as implementing a new initiative that would make the University less risk-averse in its research.

After that — and helping his successor settle in — Mulcahy looks forward to spending more time with his wife and family and focusing on a neglected hobby: photography.

“I’m hoping to spend a little time exercising the right side of my brain.”

Turning things around

Mulcahy took over the Office of the Vice President for Research just as the Board of Regents approved a lofty goal: to make the University a top-three research institution.

He said he embraced the motives behind that goal but he wasn’t sold.

“When I came in, I found that very precise objective — the number three in particular — to be difficult,” he said. “In my own experience, I did not know how you would ever measure that.”

Over the course of his tenure, Mulcahy said he tried to back the University away from such a strict standard and rather focus being a top research school in general.

In 2010, the National Science Foundation ranked the University’s Twin Cities campus eighth among public research universities in the nation.

Kaler said he expects Mulcahy’s successor to have that same commitment.

“I want the University to be in the conversation,” he said, “and that’s not going to change with the new vice president.”

Mulcahy said when he came to the University in 2005, many thought the Office for Technology Commercialization was churning out startup companies at an “anemic rate” — OVPR spokesman John Merritt said there were critics inside and outside the school. The University produced 10 such companies in 2001. By 2005, that number had shrunk to a single startup.

But there has been a fairly steady rise since Mulcahy took over and he expects that trend to continue for 2012. An external review of the office last summer concluded that, with a few caveats, OTC “is an office at or near the top of its peer group, and should be considered an exceptional success story over the past five years.”

Merritt points to that review as evidence of Mulcahy’s leadership. Mulcahy said it’s the result of recruiting and nurturing other leaders in OVPR, like OTC director Jay Schrankler.

“I wanted this organization to be viewed as an enabler of productivity and success,” Mulcahy said. “It’s going to last long beyond me.”

The go-to guy

On top of losing a vice president, the University will be short a mainstay on the search committees that bring new faculty and administrators to the University. Mulcahy couldn’t put a number on how many of those committees he’s sat on over the years.

He chaired the committee that selected the first chancellor for the University’s Rochester campus in 2007. Most recently, he chaired the group that recruited Karen Hanson from Indiana University to replace Tom Sullivan as vice president of academic affairs and provost. He’s also been a co-chairman of the committee working to find athletic director Joel Maturi’s successor over the summer.

Kaler said Mulcahy quickly became a go-to for searches because of his terrific judgment.

“There’s only a few of us academic leaders who are still here who have been here for a few years before Eric,” Mulcahy said, guessing why he’s been a fixture on those committees. “I think I understand as well as anybody here what his objective is.”

Administrative turnover

Mulcahy is the latest in a string of leaders at the University to step down between former President Bob Bruininks’ retirement announcement and Kaler’s first year in office.

Other big-name departures include former provost Sullivan, who left his post at the end of the year and will take over as president at the University of Vermont this summer; Kathleen O’Brien, who will step down as vice president of University Services this summer; and former Vice President for Scholarly and Cultural Affairs Steven Rosenstone, who left the University last summer to become chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

In total, nearly 10 top administrators — many of them vice presidents — have left the University since Bruininks’ announcement, or will leave in upcoming months. Kaler called it a normal phenomenon that happens during periods of transition.

But Mulcahy had been mulling his exit since before Bruininks announced his retirement — it’s a coincidence that his departure fits in with the exodus of administrators, he said.

Aaron Friedman, vice president for Health Sciences and dean of the Medical School, and Steven Crouch, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, will head the national search for his replacement.

Mulcahy will help ease his successor into the new job after he or she is named in the fall.

He had one recommendation for the committee: make sure it’s an experienced researcher, someone who knows the ins and outs of fighting for grants and working with graduate students.

“If you don’t experience that, you’d be isolated from understanding how an administrative decision might impact your ability to do all those responsibilities.”