Board gauges plans, success

President Bruininks gave an update on strategic positioning at the meeting.

Elena Rozwadowski

According to University President Bob Bruininks, the University is right on track to becoming a top-three international research institution.

Bruininks gave a strategic positioning update to the Board of Regents at its March 9 meeting. In it, he told regents what progress the University has made and what the next steps are to improve its place in the local and global community.

“This is about trying to change the long-term culture and long-term trajectory of the University,” Bruininks said.

“This is all about thinking about the future, when the generation of ideas will be the very currency of our economy,” he said.

Bruininks began by restating the goal of reaching top-three status within 10 years, a goal he said is “clearly audacious and aspirational, but it’s also something we can achieve.”

Bruininks played down rankings in favor of achieving a “sustained commitment to cultural improvement” at the University.

He said the University has made big strides in access and affordability, especially considering that “no place in the country has gone through the kind of budget challenges we have.”

The Founders Free Tuition Program, which provides free tuition to low-income students, has served 2,153 students to date. That number is expected to more than double to 4,500 in two years.

Bruininks said the University has also helped to prepare K-12 students for a “career in higher education,” another strategic positioning goal.

Nearly 40 percent of students from the class of 2010 systemwide were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Diversity has also improved, with students of color making up about 16 percent of the freshman class.

The University has also made improvements in recruiting strong faculty and staff, Bruininks said. He said the University might replace about 50 percent of the faculty across all campuses in the next five to seven years.

“If we’re going to be serious about changing the culture of the University of Minnesota, we’ve got to be serious about investing in our own human capital and knowledge,” he said.

Bruininks also discussed research priorities like fuel energy efficiency: a regular schedule for changing light bulbs and more energy-efficient products can save the University $1.5 million each year.

“That just gives you an idea about what happens when people just show up every day and start thinking,” he said. “You have to give people permission to think creatively to change the place.”

Regents Vice Chairwoman Patricia Simmons asked about the progress on implementing this plan.

Bruininks said progress has been “phenomenal,” and that the University has followed the priorities set at the beginning of the process, citing many of the examples he gave in his presentation.

Regent John Frobenius congratulated Bruininks on the accomplishments of strategic positioning, but said there is a “constantly raising bar” that the University needs to be aware of. As the strategic positioning plan proceeds, he said, the University needs to continue to challenge itself so it doesn’t lose momentum.

Regent David Larson also offered his commendation, but said he hopes to see some high performance benchmarks for the University in the future.

“We could declare victory too soon,” he said.

Bruininks said the ultimate goal has been to start a dialogue about the University that people can understand to identify gaps in progress.

“That’s our mantra,” he said. “To improve the human condition in our society through knowledge.”

Other business

The Board approved the report of the All-University Honors Committee, which included four nominees for honorary degrees. Although all nominees were not named, Regents Chair Anthony Baraga said they include a former vice president of the United States, a former prime minister of Iceland and two prominent northern Minnesotans.

The University typically does not reveal the names of possible honorary doctorate recipients until the honor is accepted, said University Senate Administrator Vickie Courtney last month after Bruininks accidentally revealed that the University may give former vice president Al Gore a doctorate.

The Board of Regents will meet again in May when it will welcome four new regents.