‘U’ offers public support to next president

By Tom

The University Board of Regents and I had a remarkable experience this spring when we asked Minnesotans to tell us what they wanted to see in the next University president. Our experience proved that Minnesotans care deeply about their University and that they firmly believe its future is the state’s future. We found their opinions both challenging and reassuring.
The majority told us of their tremendous pride in the University. They recognize the power of the University to affect their lives. They told us they want a leader who can see around the corner of the year 2000 so the University can remain a state, regional and national leader.
The regents also heard some supportive, constructive criticism — offers to help the University deal with the problems facing all higher education today. These people worry that the University will be stymied by a lack of public funding and lose the momentum needed to remain at the top.
There will be those whose criticism is neither supportive nor constructive. Some folks refuse to be a part of the solution and therefore could prove to be the biggest problem as we search for the next president. These voices are impatient, full of easy answers to complex problems and are unwilling or unable to recognize that the University is already making meaningful changes.
The current administration and the regents have made great progress in areas that count. Here are just a few examples:
For years, one of the biggest problems facing us was a perceived indifference to the needs of our undergraduates. That problem is being solved. The $10 million spent to improve undergraduate education on the Twin Cities campus has made a real difference in class size, recruiting, advising and the quality of campus life. There is already evidence that the investment has paid off for our undergraduates.
We’re proud to say that in the Twin Cities, 72 percent of this year’s freshman class chose to live on campus. That’s a remarkable sign of renewed vitality, since just a few years ago only about 45 percent of freshman chose campus housing.
As evidence of a renewed responsiveness to the needs of business, the University recently created new degree programs and is seeking more partnership opportunities with Minnesota’s state universities, community and technical colleges.
And look at the partnership we’re building with Fairview — concrete evidence of our ability to effect meaningful change and focus precious resources. While other university medical schools across the nation struggle to survive, the “U” is making sure its education and research missions are protected.
The University has much to recommend to the next president: a strong tradition of excellence, a quality faculty; a better-prepared student body and U2000, President Hasselmo’s blueprint for further improvements in education, research and outreach.
The University has some problems, yes. But nothing it’s unwilling or unable to tackle.
Support from the community is crucial to the presidential search. As the search progresses, the best incentive we can offer a prospective University president is broad public support from all sectors.
If the “U” has problems, be part of the solution. Show support for your University by touting its strengths and acknowledging its progress in tackling some of higher education’s most difficult problems. That is how we will attract the next great leader.
Tom Reagan is chairman of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. This piece originally appeared in the Thursday’s edition of the Star Tribune, and is reprinted with permission from the Star Tribune.