Although University President Nils Hasselmo is still in charge for a few more months, we recently caught a glimpse of the University’s future under a new administration. In his first major move since being hired last winter, University President-elect Mark Yudof announced last week plans to scrap the University’s provostal structure in favor of an administrative system similar to the one in place at the University of Texas-Austin, where he serves as executive vice president and provost. Yudof’s move suggests that he is prepared to jettison the status quo in an attempt to move the University toward greater competitiveness. And his plan exemplifies the type of proactive leadership that he promised while interviewing for the job.
At first glance, Yudof’s plan to replace two provosts and the senior vice president for Academic Affairs with a new post, called the executive vice president and provost, looks like a variation of any higher education structure. No matter how you cut it, a complex bureaucracy within which each college and department must operate, will still exist at the University. Moreover, a reshuffling of administrative structures is not uncommon with the emergence of new presidents; Hasselmo, for his part, created the provost positions in 1994 in an effort to simplify the then-existing system.
An encouraging component of Yudof’s plan, however, is its emphasis on allowing more autonomy for individual colleges and departments. Under the proposal — which the Board of Regents will review during its May meetings — the executive vice president and provost would be responsible for overseeing each non-medical academic program’s planning and budgeting. That will erase a bureaucratic layer and allow each college to have closer contact with the president’s office. In an increasingly competitive academic environment, the importance of giving colleges freedom and autonomy cannot be overstated. This plan aims to do that.
Based on interviews between Yudof and the Board of Regents during the presidential search process, we can expect the new president to seek innovative ideas for pushing the University forward. He was hired in large part because he expressed a desire to be, in his own words, “a proactive president” who would “provide the vision and leadership that you’ve asked for.” Yudof also pledged to make the University one of the top five research centers in the country, and to improve undergraduate education.
It will be important for Yudof’s administration to immediately identify and address the University’s shortfalls. Historically, University presidents have served relatively short terms. Hasselmo, for instance, came aboard nine years ago with the monumental task of streamlining the University. He helped to do so through such measures as closing the Waseca campus and merging University Hospital with Fairview Health System. But he will step down long before the fulfillment of goals set forth in U2000, his grandest plan for reshaping education and research at the University. No president can solve every problem, but if Yudof’s recent action is any indication, the new president is ready to tackle the University’s obstacles with vigor and vision. That is what we should demand from our new leadership.