Pres. reflects on past 5 years

by Ahnalese Rushmann

.Did you celebrate homecoming last week?

We attended a lot of activities. We, first of all, were in the homecoming parade and then we went to the tent before the game, where we host and entertain friends of the University, then watch the game.

The parade was the high point [laughs] and the game was the low point, for me. It was very, very disappointing. We played an incredibly good team but we did not play well.

Speaking of football, the Gophers won’t be playing in the postseason after five consecutive bowl games. Do you attribute the losing season to the coaching transition?

A good deal of this is attributable to the loss of some players from the team, through injury and through dismissal. The shift to new systems, you know, new offensive and new defensive systems and to some bad bounces here and there.

We have the right coaches to turn our program in the right direction. I think we are having very good success in recruiting prospective student-athletes for next year.

On an upbeat note, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community recently donated $12.5 million to the University – a huge gift for TCF Bank Stadium, as well as a scholarship endowment. What does that contribution say about the University?

This is one of the more inspiring contributions we have received to support the University of Minnesota.

$10 million will name the plaza Ö in honor of the Native American communities in Minnesota, and it will celebrate the history and culture of the American Indian communities of this great state and this region.

Combined with that part of that gift is a major scholarship commitment to students.

The focus (for scholarship recipients) will be on supporting students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds, with a preference to students from American Indian backgrounds.

We made a commitment to ensure that the stadium fundraising would not detract from the academic interests of the University. In fact, we made a commitment to try to use the stadium fundraising to raise academic dollars for the University of Minnesota.

To date, we’ve raised well over $70 million toward the financial needs of the stadium, but we’ve also been successful in leveraging about $40 million of academic gifts through the same sources.

Nov. 8 marks your five-year anniversary as University president. What are your proudest accomplishments?

The proudest moments have really related to the academic mission and purposes of the University.

We have made student access and affordability a very high priority. We have more than doubled student scholarships in the last three years, through private support.

In a time of rising costs and economic challenges for students and families, we’ve made this a very high priority and have successfully raised nearly $200 million to help support students and we have allocated approximately $25 million of internal University resources, mostly for undergraduate students, and another roughly $15 to 20 million dollars to underwrite and support students in graduate and professional study.

Faculty are getting more recognition for the quality and the impact of their work through elections to the National Academy of Science, with the awarding of a Nobel Prize, and very significant fellowships that people have received.

We did particularly well in the last legislative session to increase the state support and state commitment to the University of Minnesota.

Last year and the year before, we had record private fundraising years.

We are meeting, in many ways, with our respect to our focus on the environment on campus as well as our leadership in research and education, areas that have to do with renewable energy, human health.

I think the reputation capital of Minnesota is stronger today than it has been in any of my 38 years and I think it will get even stronger with the ideas and the strategies that we’ve put in place.

Would you say scholarships and other student funding become more available in a comparable way with increasing tuition costs?

I actually think the amount of support for students has increased at a faster rate than the rising costs that we’ve seen.

Through internal support and through the private funds we’ve raised, we’ve really greatly increased the amount of support for students and by doing that, I think we’ve been successful in lowering the cost of education.

The other thing we’ve done is increase campus employment.

But I’m equally worried about these trends. I’m pleased the federal government increased the Pell Grant awards; I’m pleased that we’ve made some progress in this area, but we need to do a better job of controlling the costs of the University of Minnesota.

Are there things from the past five years that you regret?

I usually don’t dwell on situations that happen to me from a framework of regret. I often take adversity and I try to reflect on what has happened and really try to learn from the experiences that I’ve had.

I certainly regret the fact that the state of Minnesota gave us a $185 million budget cut in the first two, three months of my tenure as president. But these are just very difficult things you have to manage.

I think the strikes should’ve been avoided, could’ve avoided it, should’ve avoided it and I think we should all dedicate ourselves in the future to doing better.

This has been five years of considerable challenge and opportunity. But I think we’ve met the challenges and we’ve seized on the opportunities and the University is in a stronger place today than it was five years ago.

A couple of weeks ago, the University received the second bomb threat of the semester and students and faculty weren’t warned until six hours after the threat had been e-mailed to UMPD. This seemed to be a loophole in security. What is the University doing to improve safety in situations like this?

I don’t know that there was any kind of gap in security because every one of these threats or alleged threats needs to be investigated and you need to find the appropriate response.

I deeply regret the fact that people feel that they can threaten the safety of their fellow citizens through e-mail letters or through taking any kind of direct action.

If Ö we sense Ö there’s a gap in these issues, we immediately revisit those issues and make sure we have the plans and operational procedures in place to really protect the public safety of our own students, faculty and staff.

The Board of Regents will meet this Friday. Any strategic positioning updates from the past month?

We’re mainly going to focus on the progress we’re making toward our goals.

We’re going to be adopting several employee contracts. I’m really glad that we’re getting those issues resolved so that people can get appropriately rewarded for their work here at the University of Minnesota.

Some people heard about the donation from the Shakopee Mdewakatan Sioux and linked it to the University policy that allows the Gopher hockey team to compete against UND, despite its controversial Fighting Sioux logo. While they’re separate issues, is there any validity in associating them?

They’re completely separate issues.

In the case of the NCAA’s dispute with the University of North Dakota, that issue has been resolved, at least tentatively resolved, by an agreement that asks the University of North Dakota to seek the approval and support of the major tribes in North Dakota for the use of the Sioux name and logo.

We have a great relationship with the University of North Dakota. We play them in ice hockey by a prior contractual agreement.

We schedule our athletic events years in advance and I know we’ll play the University of North Dakota sometime in the next few years in some sports, I’m sure of that.

We’ll get this issue resolved.