O’Brien to retire after 10 years as VP at University

As vice president of University Services, O’Brien oversaw campus construction.

Kathleen O’Brien, here in her Morrill Hall office, will retire from the University of Minnesota this summer. She has been the vice president of University Services since 2002.

Kathleen O’Brien, here in her Morrill Hall office, will retire from the University of Minnesota this summer. She has been the vice president of University Services since 2002.

Greta Kaul

 

Vice President of University Services Kathleen O’Brien announced her intent to retire in an email to University Service employees Monday. She has served in the position since 2002.

In 10 years, O’Brien oversaw the construction of TCF Bank Stadium, the opening of the University’s Rochester campus and the groundbreaking of the Central Corridor light rail, including the University’s litigation over its construction with the Metropolitan Council.

She’ll step down June 30.

“With mixed emotions, I’m announcing today my retirement as Vice President of University Services,” O’Brien wrote. “After four incredibly rewarding decades of public service, I know in my heart this is the time to move on to the next phase in my life.”

According to the email, University President Eric Kaler will soon announce a nationwide search to fill O’Brien’s position.

Her tenure wasn’t without difficulties, she said, noting the 27 days of court-ordered mediation between the University and the Met Council over the effects of light-rail construction on University research facilities in the spring of 2010.

As vice president for University Services, O’Brien oversees Facilities Management, Campus Health and Safety, University police and Capital Planning and Project Management. To students, she’s the administrator behind construction email updates.

Prior to holding the job, O’Brien spent eight years representing the University’s ward in the Minneapolis City Council, worked as chief of staff to former University President Nils Hasselmo and served as Minneapolis’ city coordinator.

“I’ve gone back and forth between the city and the University,” she said in an interview.

Assistant Vice President and Chief of University police Greg Hestness worked with O’Brien at the city and at the University. He said the relationships she built with the community helped her in her role at the University — she knows who to call.

O’Brien is the most recent in a succession of administrative officials to leave their positions at the University, including Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Tom Sullivan, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences Frank Cerra and Vice President of University Relations Karen Himle. Administrative turnover is common during presidential transitions.

O’Brien said she’d planned on retiring when former President Bob Bruininks did, but Kaler asked her to stay and help with the transition.

For her successor, O’Brien said knowing the ins and outs of the large University, being a good listener and a good collaborator are essential.

In her retirement, O’Brien said she looks forward to researching Twin Cities history and getting involved in community-based work with women’s and children’s organizations.

“It’s going back to my roots” in community organizing, she said.