U2000: Halfway there?

Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of an eight-day series on the U2000 initiative.
Joel Sawyer

Despite tremendous strides in improving the educational experience at the University, questions remain about the school’s ability to reach the goals set out in the ambitious University U2000 plan.
“Are we going to where we wanted to be by the year 2000?” said Board of Regents Chairman Tom Reagan. “I’m not sure, but the effort’s been well worthwhile.”
Students and faculty members have criticized U2000 for its ambiguity and say it receives too much credit for actions that would have been made without the plan. U2000 might be vague and all-encompassing, but it’s hard to argue with many of the plan’s results.
Since 1993, undergraduate education has markedly improved. Admissions standards are higher, more students are living on campus and the school has a more diverse student and faculty population. Classes are generally smaller and are taught by more tenured professors than before.
The University’s bureaucracy is also easier to navigate. Students can register over the Internet and use the U Card to bank, check out library books and make photocopies.
Outreach, access and research — cornerstones of the University’s land-grant mission — have been preserved and in some cases strengthened. General College remains a bastion of access for the academically underprepared. Stronger ties with the Minnesota State College and Universities system and innovative distance learning programs have bolstered outreach.
Research dollars have continued to flow into the school’s coffers despite federal restrictions and the University has taken steps to recruit and retain top-notch faculty members.
Despite those improvements, administrators admit there is a lot of room for progress.
“We certainly haven’t accomplished what we set out to do in U2000, but we’re halfway there,” Reagan said.
University President Nils Hasselmo said improvements in undergraduate education, research and outreach are welcome but added that several areas still trouble him, including minority enrollment and faculty compensation.
“We’re very concerned that the graduation of students of color, and especially African-American students, from our high schools has plateaued or even declined,” Hasselmo said.
“If we can’t help solve that problem, we can’t help meet our aspirations when it comes to graduating students of color. That’s one area of concern. And that’s probably the major one at this time.”
Faculty members, many of whom support the goals of U2000, remain skeptical of the plan. They say it is too vague and short on tangible results, especially in the area of faculty compensation.
“The administration is beginning to remember that they can’t have a major university without high-quality faculty,” said Ellen Berscheid, regents professor of psychology. “And you can’t have high-quality faculty when you’re at the bottom of the heap in compensation.”
By its own count, the University currently ranks 28th among the top 30 research institutions in pay for full professors.
Hasselmo has long said compensation is a concern that needs to be addressed. He announced a plan on Friday that could boost salaries for some faculty members by 8.5 percent next year. The school’s 1998-99 biennial budget request also asks for $115.4 million to improve faculty salaries.
Berscheid said similar proposals have been made in the past without positive result, leaving many cynical.
“We need action, not just words and ambiguous plans,” she said. “We’ve had too much of that for too long.”
Hasselmo also cited the University’s management and financial systems as areas where U2000 has been disappointing.
“We need to make major changes there and I am impatient that we haven’t gotten farther,” he said. “We are in the midst of a technological revolution, of course, and we try to adopt one system, and then the next year there is a major leap forward, so you almost always are a little behind … but we have definitely made some improvements, and we have to just keep pushing.
With a changing of the University’s guard set to take place this summer, the U2000 plan could receive a substantial overhaul, effectively stopping that push.
“The bottom line on U2000 is that I think it was a great idea, is a great idea, but I will re-evaluate it,” University President-elect Mark Yudof said.
“There’s no chance we’ll abandon it,” he added. “The question is how will we refine it.”
Yudof said he is not familiar enough with the details of U2000 to say exactly what he would do, but said he would like to simplify the plan, delegating more authority to deans at the college level.
That approach mirrors the Compact 2000 strategic plan Yudof implemented at the University of Texas. That plan calls for the formation of detailed agreements, or compacts, between central administration and colleges. The agreements give individual colleges more power to shape the future of their programs. But with that expanded authority, Yudof said, comes expanded responsibility and accountability.
Achieving the lofty goals set forth in U2000 will be difficult with or without an overhaul of the plan by Yudof, administrators admit.
Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said he doubts the University will accomplish the goals of the plan.
“Why would you want to set a vision where you reach all the goals?” he said. “If you did you were probably too chicken on your vision in the beginning.”
If you set you goals so you’re guaranteed to meet every one of them then you’re not dreaming, Marshak said, “and that’s pretty pedestrian and boring.”
Reagan agreed: “If U2000 turns out to be 50 to 75 percent of what we hope it to be then that means we have advanced this University tremendously,” he said. “The results will show people that at least we had the right motives and goals in mind.”