Head of U talks faculty, regents

by Bryce Haugen

.The Minnesota Daily sat down with University President Bob Bruininks at Morrill Hall on Monday to discuss research, Regents, faculty retention, baseball and the emergence of spring.

As you probably read in today’s Pioneer Press – and knew long before – the University has lost longtime researcher Mark McCahill (who helped develop the Internet and coined the term “surfing the Web”) to Duke.

Mark McCahill has been one of the most creative people on the University’s campus in the last 30 years, and he’s been at the center of a lot of innovative improvements in the application of technology to learning, research, the improvements of our internal systems.

So I am deeply saddened to hear that he is moving to Duke. But I understand they have really shaped the position around his interests in a way that will allow him to continue to be a creative force in higher education.

I’m sorry to see him go.

I understand his frustration. This is not an easy time to be at the University of Minnesota. We did take some serious hits, and I imagine some of the budget cuts of a few years ago … probably cut into his flexible resources and his ability to pursue some things. He’s unusually creative and he’s had really a profound impact on the way this place is run.

Is the departure of prominent faculty a trend at the University?

No, I don’t think this is a trend at all. In fact, I think there are many more examples of extraordinary people being hired at the University of Minnesota than there are people leaving for other promising positions. But we live in a global economy, and people – talented people – can be recruited just about anywhere in the world.

And what I took from Mark’s comments in the newspaper is that our state needs to take seriously the fact that we are in a highly integrated economy, in which people of enormous talent can move anywhere in the world. That makes it vitally important that the state support research at the University and that we do everything possible to keep talent – to draw talent and keep talent.

This morning, I was in former Regent Cindy Lesher’s office, and she was not excited to be leaving the Board of Regents. She did reapply, and the process was, in her view, too political … Now that the process is done and the new regents are coming on board, what do you think of these new additions, and what are your thoughts on the exiting regents?

All four regents who are leaving the board (and attended their last meeting in March) were really strong contributors to the University during the period they served on the board, and I think it’s safe to say that they will be missed in many ways. But at the same time it’s normal to get some turnover in the Board of Regents, and I think it’s often very positive.

The people who are being appointed did an excellent job presenting themselves before the Regents Selection Advisory Committee and, obviously, the legislative committees. They have very strong backgrounds and a strong, deep commitment to the University of Minnesota. My sense is they are well-prepared to serve with distinction on the University’s Board of Regents, and I look forward to working with them.

You’ve met them and spoken to them?

I have spoken to most of them. I have left voicemails for a couple of them, but haven’t been able to reach them. I am having lunch with all of them (Tuesday).

You can’t get a hold of them? Is that a good sign?

No, it was not a good sign (chuckle). I had the flu for three days and didn’t feel like calling them – and then I was traveling the rest of the time.

As you know, a big avian flu research grant has been awarded to the University of Minnesota. It’s not a rarity, but that’s just the most recent example. Talk about the progress at the University in advancing research – I mean, we lost the professor, but got the grant.

I think one of the things – as far as the University’s research profile – we should remember is that this year University faculty will bring in more than $600 million in research and contracts, and the avian flu research is one of many.

And what’s interesting about this project, and I think characteristic of the University generally, is the breadth of the University, the ability to cover multiple fields.

For example, the connection between animal and human health. People in the area of infectious diseases have told me that 10 of the last 11 infectious diseases affecting humans have started with animals. So the fact that you have … (several disparate colleges) all of these units are working together on these various issues and so we’re now becoming an international center for research on infectious diseases, the protection of food and the food supply, the improvement of foods to benefit human health.

I mean, all of those things are going on here because of the breadth and the interdisciplinary strengths of the University of Minnesota, and that’s just one of many examples that I could mention. We think we’re making the right kinds of decisions in fields as diverse as arts in the community, to renewable energy, to the environment and the broad advances in the bio sciences and biomedical sciences.

So, I know you’re pretty abstract. It’s finally starting to feel like spring – especially last Monday. That was summer.

I was actually in New York visiting some alumni when it was 80-some degrees. Then I was in Washington, D.C., for the Fulbright Board when it was really warm here, and the cherry blossoms were coming out in Washington. It’s great.

So spring is in the air, and make for me, if you will, a metaphor about how that is appropriate for what is going on at the University right now.

Spring is usually reflective of new beginnings, of fresh beginnings, and starting with athletics on the Twin Cities campus, we’ve hired two really great coaches that I think will breathe fresh enthusiasm into intercollegiate athletics on the campus.

This is also a period in which we’re trying to strongly position the University with the state of Minnesota. The Legislature – the House and the Senate – made rather strong, positive recommendations on the University’s budget, and if something close to their recommendation passes, I think we will have, for the first time in many years, some badly needed investment to improve the quality of education for students, advance the University’s research profile and I think greatly strengthen our ability to connect the work of the University to the needs of our society.

So, to me, spring is all about celebrating achievement – the graduation of our students – but also looking forward to fresh new beginnings and a much stronger future for the University of Minnesota.

Two quick baseball questions for you. Twins home opener: What’re their chances? And Herb Carneal (iconic Twins radio broadcaster who died Sunday): What a poetic day for him to die? Comment.

Well, I don’t know how the Twins will do in their opener, but if I had to guess, I’d guess they’ll win their opening game. And I think they’re going to have a great season. I think they’ve got to solve a pitching problem or two, but they have probably the best top-to-bottom field of young hitters that you’ll find in the American League this year.

Herb Carneal is a real loss to the Minnesota community … Everything everyone has written about him and said about him indicates that he was not only a superb announcer and a student of baseball, but he was also just a great citizen, very civil, kind and respectful human being. And I have kind of an indirect connection to Herb Carneal. The Carneal family bought the home we had and sold to them about two and a half years ago.

No way. Herb Carneal lived in your home?

Yes. He bought the home a few years back when we felt we couldn’t use it.

Did he die in your home?

Yes. He died in our home. So we kind of had a special connection – kind of a special spiritual connection.

And I’ve learned about what a fine human being he is – not only from what I read and what I know directly, but also the great neighbors we left behind in Minnetonka.