President-elect promises a new era of excellence

Joel Sawyer

Mark Yudof, executive vice president and provost of the University of Texas at Austin, will become the 14th president of the University in July.
Yudof accepted the position after the Board of Regents unanimously announced his appointment Dec. 13. Yudof will succeed President Nils Hasselmo, who will retire June 30.
“I’m delighted that you will carry the torch for Minnesota,” Hasselmo told Yudof after his appointment. “I welcome you to the most interesting, exciting and rewarding job in the country.”
Shortly after signing a contract that will pay him $225,000 a year, Yudof promised to make the University one of the top five research schools in the country and pledged to continue improving the quality of undergraduate education. He also vowed to provide accessibility and diversity at the University.
“I will do all within my power not to disappoint you and to be a proactive president, and to provide the vision and leadership that you’ve asked for,” Yudof told regents.
Yudof’s ended a controversial 10-month presidential search in which two of the three finalists, William Muse of Auburn University, and Judith Ramaley of Portland State University, dropped out of the race.
The search was nearly dealt a critical blow when Muse and Ramaley dropped out. Many, including Gov. Arne Carlson, state legislators, faculty members and student leaders, said the search was flawed and asked the regents to start it again.
The regents ignored the calls to scrap the search and forged ahead. Yudof visited campus for public interviews last month, winning over many constituent groups with his charm and quick wit.
Before Yudof officially takes over from Hasselmo this summer, he will undergo the equivalent of final examinations for several months as he learns the inner workings of the University.
Since his appointment, Yudof has been studying University documents, reviewing organizational structures, and has been in touch with Hasselmo and other administration officials. He has also taken a vacation to California and returned to his duties in Texas.
Tentative plans call for Yudof to make his second official campus visit Jan. 15-21. Yudof described his first visit, the public and private interviews with regents, the governor and other constituent groups, as a four-day “whirlwind tour.”
This time around, he said, “I’ll probably get to know a whole lot of people. I’ll be trying to ask a whole lot of questions, and learn about how the budgets work.”
Yudof’s itinerary calls for him to meet with a variety of University constituencies, including faculty leaders and student representatives.
“I do want to spend a fair amount of time with students,” Yudof said. Student leaders, many of whom were vocal supporters of Ramaley, were not enthusiastic about Yudof during his public interviews.
In addition to the contentious presidential search, the University has suffered from a series of conflicts — including the regents’ attempts to reform tenure and last spring’s attempt to close General College — that have sowed dissension among administrators, faculty and students.
“One of the major things I want to do is enter into an era of cooperation and good relationships among the various constituencies,” Yudof said. “I think the peace-making role is something I’m very sensitive to.”
To become acquainted with University budget matters, Yudof will accompany Hasselmo and members of the University’s Executive Council on a budget retreat scheduled for Jan. 21.
“From there a briefing sequence will commence,” said Mario Bognanno, Hasselmo’s chief of staff.
“We’re hoping that Mr. Yudof will be able to program periodic and regular visits on an every other week basis for two or three days,” until he takes over from Hasselmo, Bognanno added.
In addition to receiving budget briefings and meeting with various groups, Yudof said he wants to begin discussions to determine how the University can position itself in the 21st century in terms of technology.
“I think it is going to be real important for the University to have a presence (in digital science technologies) that will not only keep the student body and the professors on the cutting edge but will attract jobs to the state.”
Yudof is also scheduled to attend Carlson’s State of the State address Jan. 16, a Martin Luther King Day concert Jan. 15 at Ted Mann Concert Hall, and a Gopher hockey game on Jan. 18.