Budget request, renovations top Yudof’s first year

Jennifer Niemela

One down, an undetermined amount to go.
It’s been exactly one year since Texas transplant Mark Yudof took over the helm as University president from his predecessor Nils Hasselmo. So far, about the only thing the two administrations have in common is the office suite 202 Morrill Hall.
While Hasselmo’s presidency was pocked with such controversial issues as the tenure reform debate, the medical school’s ALG scandal and conflict with the Minneapolis City Council over the University’s steam plant, thus far, Yudof’s administration has been an almost unmitigated success.
From such seemingly small deeds like washing windows and planting flowers to roping in $242.8 million from the Legislature, Yudof’s first year in office has been, in his words, “a honeymoon period.” With a sharp, innovative mind under a Charlie Brown-esque demeanor, Yudof has fit in well with Minnesotans.
Yudof has succeeded in part by being in the right place at the right time. The state’s economy is booming, allowing for unprecedented amounts of money to be allocated to higher education. After recovering from some morale-crippling issues, the past year was relatively controversy-free for the University.
However, University leaders say Yudof’s genius lies in his ability to rally the University’s human resources — faculty, students and administrators — to bring these factors together for the good of the University.

Cleaning house
When a committee pared the search for a new president down to three candidates in 1996, the University was plagued with stubborn issues dying slow deaths. Faculty had just narrowly voted against unionizing in the wake of the tenure reform controversy, a sluggish deferred maintenance system had racked the University with a huge debt and the University’s relationship with the Legislature was tense.
When Yudof was finally selected to succeed Hasselmo, the major issue of faculty morale had already started to heal itself due to a compromise tenure code implemented in June 1997. That compromise was one of the deciding factors in Yudof’s northbound exodus.
“I would not have come to the University if that was still a festering sore,” Yudof said. “You can’t effectively run a University when the board and the faculty are in sharp conflict.”
But while the faculty had warmed up to the administration somewhat because of a reshuffling of the Board of Regents, memories of the tension between faculty and administration were still sharp when Yudof took office. He recognized this tension and worked to change the relationship between the two groups.
Using a combination of consultation and creation of a faculty-administration coalition to deal with the University’s $249 million capital budget request, Yudof has been the physical therapist in the recovery of faculty trust.
And so far, it’s worked.
While faculty leaders recognize their good fortunes of late are due to a combination of factors, including a more sympathetic board and governor and a booming state economy, they credit Yudof with bringing all the forces together to their benefit.
“I’ve been remarking that it’s interesting how long the honeymoon is lasting,” said Virginia Gray, who was chairwoman of the Faculty Consultative Committee during the faculty union election. “Gee, what if it’s going to be like this? It’s been a long time since things were this good on this campus.”
Yudof said the improvement in faculty morale is his proudest achievement — even more so than the bonding package passed by the Legislature.
Some other house-cleaning projects are still in the works, like combining his Compact 2000 plan with the remnants of Hasselmo’s University 2000 initiative. But the new administration has made progress on tackling the most pressing of them: deferred maintenance.
Yudof has taken a different approach to dealing with the aging buildings on campus. Instead of appropriating the majority of funds to the creation of new buildings like the Hasselmo administration did, Yudof is dedicating more money to refurbishing some of the campus’s old buildings.
While Hasselmo appropriated 70 percent of construction money to building new facilities, leaving 30 percent for renovations, Yudof earmarked 63 percent toward refurbishing old buildings.
Yudof said that focus on cleaning up what the University already owns helped in getting as much money from the Legislature as he did.
“I kept hearing we don’t take care of what we have,” Yudof said. “It’s like your mom or dad saying, ‘Why should we get you a new x-y-z? Look at your room.'”
This focus on refurbishing rather than rebuilding also led to the Beautiful U Day, when University employees repainted the graffiti-ridden Washington Avenue bridge. Yudof also initiated a multi-million dollar window-washing and trash clean-up to beautify the campus.

Legislative success
One of the busiest offices on campus last summer was the Office of Budget and Finance, which compiles the capital bonding requests every even-numbered year and the operating budget request on the odd-numbered years.
The University’s share of the capital bonding bill — $206.8 million — will go to building renovation and construction. The supplemental bonding request, which comprised the other $36 million of the $242.8 million the Legislature allotted the University, will go toward classroom improvement, new equipment, hiring and employee compensation.
While the office had done major work on the request before Yudof came in July, the new president put a new spin what became a $249 million bonding request.
“The president started in July and, boom! We were off to the races to get the capital budget together,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, associate vice president for the Office of Budget and Finance. “It’s not as if we hadn’t gotten work done on it, but the president changed the focus, changed the themes, changed the direction.”
The real difference between last year’s successful legislative session and sessions of years past wasn’t in the contents of the request; it was in the presentation.
“Yudof added the academic packaging and priorities,” Pfutzenreuter said. “Without that, we would never have gotten this much money.”
The majority of the projects included in the 1998 capital budget plan had been in the works for at least six years. In years past, the capital budget proposals had been too bland for the tastes of many legislators. In pre-Yudof times, the state allocated, at best, less than half the amount of money to the University as they did this legislative session.
But Yudof came in with his academically-oriented proposals, like a new Molecular and Cellular Biology building, media facilities, digital technology center and agricultural research center. In January, he stood in front of the Legislature holding a human brain and a bag of barley to demonstrate the importance of these programs.
And the legislators responded enthusiastically.
However, the bonding package doesn’t come without strings. A rider put on the bill stipulates that if the projects aren’t completed or well under way by July 2002, the University must pay a debt service on $138 million of it.
“They don’t trust us,” Pfutzenreuter said. “But we know the timing of the construction on these projects isn’t going to present a problem, unless something big happens, which isn’t unusual.”
If something does happen to slow up the completion of the projects, the person who takes the heat is the person on top — Yudof.
Regent Robert Bergland said the monumental task of completing the construction on time and under cost is daunting. Although Yudof isn’t directly in charge of construction, he has a profound interest in keeping a close watch to see that things are running smoothly when the cranes start towering over the mall.
“If everything works fine, no one notices. If it doesn’t, no one forgets,” Bergland said of the construction initiative.
Another reason for ensuring the current projects are completed expediently is that for the next capital bonding session in 2000, the University plans to ask for another large chunk of money. And if the current projects aren’t completed or underway by the time the 2000 legislative session starts, the University will be hard-pressed to explain why the Legislature should give them another large amount of funds.
Yudof understands the monumental nature of his task. He said after the initial euphoria of succeeding at the capitol wore off, he thought, “Oh my God, we’d better do what we said we’d do or these people will never trust me or the University again.”
The future political ambience of the state is unsure right now. A new governor will replace Gov. Carlson, who championed Yudof’s cause to the Legislature, and a slew of new legislators could change the face of that body. However, Pfutzenreuter said he’s optimistic about the University’s chances in the next session.
“Are we going to top ($242.8 million?) I think we’re going to top this,” he said. “I think the president’s vision and the admiration the citizens of the state have for him can only help.”

After the honeymoon
Most of Yudof’s initiatives currently in the toddler stages are growing strong. The attempts to decentralize administration with a streamlined provost system and $6 million in administrative budget cuts have been successful so far. His compacts with individual colleges to give deans more policy-making ability and responsibility have been well-received by faculty.
But students will discover a 3 percent tuition hike when they come back to school next fall, rather than the 2.5 percent proposal championed by student leaders. While administrators recognize the symbolic importance of that half-percentage, they say the students are getting more for their dollar and therefore, the increase is fair.
While Yudof isn’t wholly responsible for the increase — the board approved it in their June meeting — as captain of the ship, he will receive the most criticism for any leaks.
And while Yudof has shown himself to be a competent leader during the 1997-98 school year, his strength under pressure has yet to be shown, Gray said.
“Anybody in his position is untested until they’ve had a crisis,” she said. “There hasn’t been some really bad news out of the University Yudof has had to deal with. That’s something he’ll go through: a seasoning, testing time.”
Indeed, Hasselmo’s administration was considered strong and effective at first compared to that of his predecessor, Ken Keller, whose administration was scandalized by illegal renovations he made to the presidential home, Eastcliff. But toward the end of his tenure as president, Hasselmo’s administration was shaken by the tenure controversy.
While University leaders acknowledge that bumps in the road are inevitable, they are confident in Yudof’s ability to deal with problems effectively.
“We don’t see any storm clouds, but inevitably the University will face challenges,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Bruininks. “I’m confident (Yudof) has the leadership to weather any problems that come along.”