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Bruininks named interim president

Looking for someone to step quickly into the shoes of departing University President Mark Yudof, the Board of Regents found their man a few feet down the hall from Yudof’s Morrill Hall office.

The board unanimously approved University Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Bruininks as interim president Friday, one week after Yudof announced he was leaving to become chancellor of the University of Texas System.

Bruininks will take the helm during a period of some uncertainty. Not only is the University without a permanent president, but the search continues for several other key positions, including a Medical School dean, an athletics director and an executive vice president and provost to replace Bruininks.

After a disappointing legislative session, there remain questions about funding, and the athletics department awaits possible sanctions from the NCAA for alleged rules violations on the women’s basketball team.

Board of Regents chairwoman Maureen Reed said they turned to Bruininks because of his experience and institutional knowledge.

“He’s going to make it happen,” she said.

Bruininks will take over the position no later than August 1 – when Yudof leaves for Texas – and will maintain the position until a permanent president is found.

Bruininks said he was pleased the board wanted him to serve as president during the “critically important” transition period and said he would work hard to continue the University’s goals, especially for students.

“In the past 10 years, we have made students a priority at the University of Minnesota,” Bruininks said. “We will not be a great university unless our students feel they’re coming here to get the best education they can get anywhere in the world.”

Recognizing the challenges before him, Bruininks said the “interim” title would not hamper his ability to accomplish the University’s missions.

Bruininks was the top choice to replace Yudof, regents said at Friday’s emergency board meeting.

Bruininks said he is not a candidate for the permanent presidency and could serve six to 18 months as interim president.

The length of his contract has yet to be determined, but Bruininks will be paid $295,000 a year, Reed said.

University officials applauded Bruininks’ appointment by highlighting his commitment to the school.

“He bleeds maroon and gold. He loves the institution,” said University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter. “He’d do anything he could to make the institution succeed.”

Robert Elde, College of Biological Sciences dean and chairman of the Dean’s Council, said University deans were “passionately” supportive of Bruininks’ appointment and trusted his vision for the University. All college deans, except for those in the Academic Health Center, reported to Bruininks during his five years as provost.

Chris Frazier, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, said she hopes Bruininks will continue to make students a University priority.

‘The guy for the job’

Choosing Bruininks to succeed Yudof seemed like the best move for the University, given the circumstances, higher education experts said.

Bob Atwell, president emeritus of the American Council on Education, said the University’s recent athletics scandals, the state government’s “political cauldron” and the University’s shaky financial situation could make the presidency unattractive for some potential candidates.

In addition, University students are facing a 16 percent tuition increase caused in part by decreased state higher education funding. Minnesota’s projected deficit is $2.5 billion next year.

Finding an experienced administrator from within the University to deal with those issues for a year would allow the regents time to find their ideal president, Atwell said.

Regent Frank Berman said the University was fortunate to have Bruininks available during this time of transition.

“He’s got just a broad range of knowledge of what’s going on at the University and really has the depth of experience and depth of feeling for the place, the depth of knowledge of the place,” Berman said. “He was really the guy for the job.”

Bruininks has worked at the University for more than 30 years, beginning in 1968 when he was named an assistant professor of educational psychology. He spent nine years in department administration, seven as the department chairman. For six years preceding his post as provost, Bruininks was the College of Education and Human Development dean.

Yudof appointed Bruininks as provost in July 1997.

As provost, Bruininks was responsible for mapping out the University’s academic mission, including improving the undergraduate student experience and making colleges more accountable.

University officials called Bruininks a good communicator who worked hard to improve relations between staff members. He also participated in Yudof’s goal of beautifying the University campus and worked with the state Legislature to accomplish Yudof’s vision for the institution.

He supervised a variety of offices including Admissions, Budget and Finance, Multicultural Affairs, the registrar and Scholarships and Financial Aid.

In November, Bruininks announced that he would leave his position as provost for a yearlong sabbatical prior to returning to a faculty position in the College of Education and Human Development.

“I’ve always planned at some point in my career to return to my academic roots – to teach and do research – which is what I love – and to connect research to the needs of the community,” he said.

Board members thanked Bruininks for delaying his sabbatical to act as president during the transition period, but said he would take a vacation prior to starting his new position.

Transition Plans

Over the next couple of weeks, Reed said, the regents will sketch the general transition plans, including the search for the new president. Although Yudof will act as president through August, Bruininks will be involved in implementing the University’s budget, preparing the upcoming legislative agenda and filling vacant faculty and staff posts, Reed said.

The University is also looking for a vice president for University service and deans for the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and the College of Natural Resources.

Bruininks said filling the provost position he will vacate is one of his first priorities, but he did not say when it would happen.

Institute of Technology Dean H. Ted Davis, co-chairman of the provost search committee, said final interviews with the three candidates should have been completed by Yudof two weeks ago and expected a decision to be made soon. Davis said he is unsure if the change in University leadership changed the timeline.

But the change in leadership could eliminate candidates who don’t want to take the provost job not knowing who their boss might be, search officials said.

The University of North Carolina’s Risa Palm, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is the only candidate from outside the University and could not be reached for comment. Vice President for Campus Life Robert Jones and Graduate School Dean Christine Maziar round out the field, and both said Bruininks’ appointment does not change their interest in becoming the University’s next provost.

A decision on the dean search would be made within 10 days, Bruininks said.

“I don’t think anything good can come from leaving those positions open,” he said.

The search for a new athletics director should not be affected by Bruininks’ appointment.

Mary Jo Kane, chairwoman of the combined men’s and women’s athletics director search committee, said the search is on track, but declined to comment on how many candidates have been identified. She said she hopes to present two to three candidates to the president by early July. The departments will combine on July 1.

“I anticipate the new athletics director will have some role in the merger,” Kane said.

University assistant athletics director Jeff Schemmel said Wednesday he applied for the athletics director job, but said he has not heard when interviews will be or if there are other internal candidates.

New president

Allowing the new president to participate in filling the provost and athletics director positions makes the University position more attractive, search firm officials said.

Bill Funk, a search coordinator for Korn/Ferry International, said with lots of national university president and chancellor searches currently underway – including three in the Big Ten – the biggest challenge facing the board is competing for the best people.

“President candidates will view the opportunity to hire their own provost as a positive,” said Funk, who has recruited nine of the last 11 Big Ten university top officials.

The regents have been collecting names of interested parties and have contacted several search firms for help researching the backgrounds of presidential candidates for the University, Reed said.

Although the board will decide in a couple of weeks which firm to use and what the final qualifications are for candidates, Reed said they are looking for someone with the abilities to apply, manage and communicate a vision for higher education to the University and the citizens of Minnesota.

Reed said she hopes to name a president by the end of the year.

“We will not sacrifice quality for brevity,” Reed said.

Funk said the University would be looking at three types of presidential candidates:

ï A provost with experience from a widely respected academic institution – a large, complex research university

ï A sitting president with an understanding of the rigors of running a university.

ï A nontraditional candidate – a person with some experience in academia, but currently working in business or other related fields

The University’s prestige will help contribute to a large pool of strong individuals, and the board will have to pay the finalist approximately $300,000 to 400,000 per year, Funk said.

Yudof earned $350,000 per year and will make approximately $600,000 per year as Texas chancellor.

To combat worries of his commitment to the University, Bruininks pointed to the 17-pound, 6-ounce mounted walleye in his office.

“I think the fish is going to stay at Morrill Hall,” Bruininks said.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]

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