New president should fill Yudof’s shoes

T By Adri Mehra

the University’s next permanent president should not only fill the deep and nuanced cast left by former President Mark Yudof, he or she should further it. Yudof was masterful at lording over bureaucracy. His ability to cut through administrative red tape was second to none. We watched as he deftly prodded the Board of Regents year after year to bankroll and facilitate his wildly progressive initiatives, from campus beautification to departmental research efforts he sponsored. Through vetoes and scandals, Yudof remained a visionary.

Being president of the University entails more than a modicum of visibility. The local press jackals trailed Yudof as if he were glitterati. And no one doubts the University’s international reputation as a top public institution for all things research, which carries a big stick in the predominantly ivy-colored realm of academia. As always, we could use an engaging personality to fire up potential donors and local political leaders. This, along with the requisite intellectual ability, would be enough to attract a top-tier staff with the social cojones to tackle fiscal and organizational concerns alike. Nothing says “more” to open alumni and endowment wallets than that.

Perhaps most timely on the laundry list of priorities is staying progressive as well as tight-fisted. Every possible economic indicator points toward the University spreading its meager resources thinner than canola oil. The president needs to be smart about who, what, where, how much and how long any action will take. Referencing the latter, many campus construction projects are now moving close to completion, but they were developed at a pace that was far, far behind that of large contractors doing similar jobs in the area. I recently learned of a student who graduated from law school in the time it took to put Coffman Union on stilts. How about some new heads in the management department and the long-overdue acknowledgment that design-bid-build is expensive and cumbersome? We have found out the hard way, through Riverbend Commons and Coffman, that design-bid-build is neither lucrative nor quick.

And while we’re on the topic of too many fruitless years being spent, let’s turn to students’ use of their time. On his way out, Yudof was getting comfy putting the clampdown on Big Ten-basement graduation rates and anemic credit loads. The incentive-laden four-year plan he created motivated no more than a few newborn undergrads to buckle down and make it Thirsty Thursday instead of Thirsty, Ph.D. And the University, even with its frustrating tuition hikes of late, is still a real bargain.

Kudos to Yudof for the University’s digital technology makeover. The new computer lab at Walter Library not only facilitated the composition of this essay, but countless others, in swift, painless and utilitarian style. Let’s make good on our opportunity to get somebody who’ll keep doing this with all of our networked facilities.

Let’s shamelessly play to our own sentimentality and wish for someone who will want to call Minnesota home. Yudof was a happy and popular import, but his veins still flowed with that of Texas. The guy had decades down there, senior administrator status, the whole enchilada. He had been everything but president of the University of Texas system.

More than a few of us hope that the next president takes a page from outgoing Gov. Jesse Ventura and applies pressure to the push for a comprehensive undergraduate program in film, particularly film production. The Twin Cities is now the fourth largest market nationwide in this regard, yet aspiring filmmakers have had to settle for associate accreditation from local arts schools.

Also, let’s make the highly successful undergraduate acting program, developed in tandem with the Guthrie Theater, be the model for more pilot programs to emerge in that collaborative spirit. The Twin Cities offer an array of solid-performing and progressive-minded companies in all disciplines that would no doubt love to have a relationship with a University department that would be churning out members of their applicant pool anyway. Introducing such a dynamic from the get-go not only takes the middle man out of the industry’s prerogative, it also throws logs in the fire fueling the University’s job placement numbers.

The University is lucky to once again have the strength of the Korn/Ferry firm behind the exhaustive search for a new president. The same outfit hooked up the University of Wisconsin-Madison, our brother from another mother. Interim President Robert Bruininks, you have ably maintained the momentum. Our fingers are crossed in hopes that such lightning can strike twice.

Adri Mehra is a College of Liberal Arts sophomore. Send comments to [email protected]