Progress evident as U builds for next century

By Nils

Welcome to the 1996-97 academic year! This is my 27th fall quarter in the University of Minnesota community, and it is surely the most charged — both with controversy and with the excitement of truly positive changes that we have made over the past few years.
Thanks to our faculty and staff, thousands of students have returned to learning experiences that are dramatically and demonstrably improved. For the third year in a row, our entering freshman class is the best prepared in decades of University history. More are living on the Twin Cities campus, filling the first new residence halls built in more than 20 years, and residential college experiences are expanding and succeeding.
System wide, classes are smaller, large classes are being taught more effectively, curricula have been overhauled and information technologies are transforming academic programs.
Our students are supported by student services that are being revolutionized in a remarkable combination of World Wide Web technology and user-friendly staff creativity. I’ve seen several demonstrations; I hope you’ve read newspaper articles about it or seen it on TV — I know I cannot do it justice in a brief letter. To appreciate it fully, I urge you to try it yourself via the Internet:
The people and organizations we serve vote with their feet and their dollars. The number of student applications continues to grow, reflecting confidence in the quality of our faculty and academic programs and in the fact that the University is one of the best buys. The public and private organizations that sponsor research have also recognized the quality of our faculty and staff by choosing to invest their research dollars here. Last year’s expenditures in sponsored programs are estimated at $304.1 million, up from $293.5 million in 1994-95, and continuing to set new annual records.
Thanks to faculty, staff, deans, development officers and volunteers, private fund raising last year ($72 million) matched the previous year, which included a single $13 million gift. Last year the endowment increased 23 percent, from new gifts and investment performance, allowing the University of Minnesota Foundation to distribute a record $42 million for faculty, programs and scholarships.
There’s one very important point to make about these and other improvements we’ve accomplished. They’re planned, long-term and sustainable improvements, producing measurable results that we will continue to build upon.
Next month, the Board of Regents will act on our biennial budget proposal, which is an aggressive, four-year program of partnership investment by the University and state government. Our biennial proposal is committed to results: faculty and staff compensation at the median levels of the appropriate competitive markets; results from the programmatic investments of University 2000; greatly expanded uses of information technologies, with all University students having and using computers by 1999; and better use and maintenance of University facilities and infrastructure.
These improvements have taken years to accomplish, and there is no reason why the current controversy over revisions to the tenure code must undermine the progress. The rhetoric has been heated and the formal process of a collective bargaining election has complicated the resolution of issues, but they will be resolved ultimately in good faith.
The last thing I want to turn over to our next president is an unresolved dispute over our tenure code. As I have stated publicly and repeatedly, I believe that our Faculty Senate’s proposal is on the mark. It continues strong protection of academic freedom, it provides for appropriate post-tenure review, it provides an effective process for handling the very rare cases where disciplinary action is called for and it provides all of the policy flexibility that we may need for the restructuring or elimination of programs.
While the Board of Regents and I are not in full agreement on these points, I do know that the board fully understands the seriousness of the issue, the potential impact of a drawn-out controversy and the importance of laying this matter to rest.
I also know, based on 27 years of proud membership in this academic community, that the faculty and staff of the University are totally committed to teaching, research and public service of the highest quality. If we work together, the University of Minnesota will continue to be a great university.
Nils Hasselmo is the president of the University of Minnesota.