Hasselmo, Yudof agree on U2000 goals

by Joel Sawyer

Editor’s note: Halfway through the University 2000 planning process, its chief architect plans to retire. University President Nils Hasselmo will be succeeded in July by Mark Yudof, the current executive vice president and provost of the University of Texas-Austin.
The Minnesota Daily spoke to both about the U2000 program and the vision each has for the University’s future.

Nils Hasselmo

Daily: How would you explain U2000 to somebody who knew nothing about the University?

Hasselmo: I would say that U2000 is laying on the line the fact that the University of Minnesota has to be a leading research and land-grant university in the 21st century, and that means that we have to focus our activities, and we have to make strategic investments, at least in those six areas which we have identified.
And then I would have to go into each specific area and say, these are the strategic priorities in these areas, and these are the strategic investments that we have made, and these are the results that we have achieved and so forth.

Well, let’s talk about some of those results. If we were to take a time machine back to 1993, and look at these strategic areas, how would they compare to today?

You can’t just start in 1993, because (U2000) didn’t start in 1993. The Undergraduate Initiative (begun in 1989 and a cornerstone of the plan) has paid off, I think, and made some dramatic changes. Even from `92, you can see — the four-year graduation rate and the five-year graduation rate (have improved). The number of freshmen living on campus has gone from less than 50 percent to over 70 percent in two or three years. We have residential college programs that didn’t exist in 1993, honors programs that didn’t exist in 1993.
Those are some very significant improvements. Class size has gone down, access to foreign language courses and other courses in tight demand has improved. Those are some of the specifics in the area of undergraduate education.

What about, say, in the area of research?

In the area of research, the Cancer Center has made major progress and has raised $30 million in private funding to support investments the University has made. We have founded a biomedical engineering institute, which is very advanced, and is raising $12 million in outside funding on the basis of University investment.
We have established a consortium of children, youth and family that has pooled research and teaching and outreach activities in that important area and connected with social service agencies around the state. The Carlson school has repositioned itself in the area of reputation, and it’s getting a beautiful new facility.

Is U2000 on schedule? Are we going to see these goals achieved by the year 2000?

I think so. The trend line is very positive, and we are ahead of schedule in most benchmark areas. But there are some problem areas, and one of them is in the improvement in the percentage of the number of students of color in the freshman class.
In other aspects of undergraduate education and research development and outreach activities, I think we are doing quite well, but it’s still early. And this is not something that is done. It is something that we have to keep pushing, keep pushing in the right direction. And that’s where I hope we can get continuity, and I think we will get continuity with president Yudof. We’ve pushed hard for the last eight years, and there is a lot of pushing still to do to go in the right direction.

Has Mark Yudof expressed his willingness to continue the U2000 program?

We have not discussed it in those terms, but I think that the agenda that we have been pursuing is one that faces every university like this across the country. I think we have put in place and have achieved some real improvements in some areas, and I think that is something that will continue.
Some of the regents and regents candidates in the process of being elected or re-elected have started quoting some of these statistics in undergraduate education. Legislators are quoting these things back to us, and that’s what we want. I think there’s a dynamic here that is beginning to catch on, and if we can somehow celebrate some of the successes here and then be encouraged to keep pushing further, I think that this University can continue to improve.

Have there been any surprises along the way?

We have not been able to communicate U2000 as effectively as we would have liked to. People still don’t have a very clear sense of what U2000 is, and what the aspirations are. And it is a very complicated thing. There are a number of things that are University 2000.
I hope that we can make it even more tangible and specific. And that’s why I keep hammering away at these specific changes. That should just tell you something. Doesn’t the improvement in the graduation rate tell you that there is something positive here?

Where has the problem been in relaying the message of U2000?

It’s probably that I haven’t been as eloquent as I should be. It’s a complicated message. A major factor has been that we have had several crises that have taken all the attention. I mean what happened in the surgery department and the tenure issue … those have been major preoccupations with all the media for several years.
I think that that has had an obscuring effect. (It) has been obscuring what has actually been happening. And that’s why I am so pleased when people do quote some of this data, because it shows change and progress under the smoke.

When you retire this summer, what do you want your legacy to be?

I want it to be U2000, if people understand what that really is — and it’s hard to convey this notion — that University 2000 is being a leading research and land-grant university with a very high quality undergraduate experience. And if people associate my administration with that, I would be delighted.
I would really like us to say that the University has really improved the quality of undergraduate education during the Hasselmo administration. If that is my legacy, I would be extremely pleased. Because I think that is essential.

Mark Yudof

Daily: How does U2000 fit into your vision of the University’s future?

Yudof: I should first say that U2000, when it was established, was well ahead of its time. It was very innovative. Universities, for all their research and science, historically have not been very fact-driven, and I think that’s the primary impetus for U2000 and similar efforts. By fact-driven I mean, ‘what are student-to-faculty ratios, how much are we spending per student, how well are we doing recruiting students of color?’
You want to make decisions that are empirically based, and I think universities have gotten a lot better at that, but I think President Hasselmo’s U2000 initiative was somewhat ahead of its time.
I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying the first thing I want to do is to take a careful look at the measures and see if I want to enhance any of them, drop any of them or alter any of them.

Are plans like U2000 and Compact 2000, your strategic plan at the University of Texas, part of a national trend in higher education?

Yes, it has to do with better service to consumers, it has to do with better long-range planning and it has to do with integration of budgets with your strategic plan.
My own view with U2000 is that I want to make it more college-based. My view of it is that the provost sits down with the dean, and they have all this data available to them, and they try to work through the serious issues for the college.
What I would like to do is somewhat like Compact 2000. An agreement would emerge between the central administration and each college and school, and that agreement would be the game plan in terms of additional funds, in terms of faculty hiring, in terms of staff support, libraries, so forth. It would all fit in with the game plan that’s laid out, and the idea would be to improve a college’s performance in specific areas.

Do you have the same goals as U2000 but simply a different plan on how to achieve them?

Yes, my basic philosophy is decentralization and delegation of authority to the schools, and I think, for a variety of reasons, that compact process works well. If people are treating each other with civility and respect, the chances of coming out with a meaningful agreement, which sort of reflects a flattened-out authority structure rather than a hierarchical structure, are very good.
We’ll take U2000, we may refine it some; I can’t say I endorse every goal. Some of them are terrific — more housing for freshmen on campus, higher graduation rates — we’ll look at those very carefully and maybe alter the format on a few in terms of how they are recorded and use that as a background tool to come up with a strategic compact for each college.

Is there one strategic area or direction that you want to see stressed more than others?

I agree with many of (the six U2000 goals), but I’m a lawyer. It’s all in the details of how you get from here to there. I agree with all those as abstract propositions, but I think you have to reduce them to manageable goals.
I would say the thing that is critically important to me is undergraduate experience. I think the University has made great progress there, so it’s really a question of building on what’s occurred. Taxpayers entrust us their sons and daughters, and they don’t want them lost in some shuffle of graduate education and only being exposed to graduate students (teaching) class.

There has been a problem articulating the vision of U2000 because it’s rather abstract. Do you think it needs to be broken down a little more so it makes more sense to people?

I think you have to break it down, and you have to have timetables and implementation reports. I’m not being critical because I don’t really know what’s out there (in U2000); I haven’t had time to look. But if you want to improve student life on campus, then the question is what will do it.
It has to be broken down into do-able, feasible tasks. Notions of community and enhancement of experience are just too vague without agreement on the steps on how to get from here to there.
I’m also not very keen on what I would call Draconian regulatory measures. I would prefer to create incentives and create systems that help students rather than demanding that they take a certain number of courses each semester. It just works better. People just respond better to carrots than they do to sticks.

Do you want to maintain the kind of outreach and access we currently have here at the University? Curtail it, increase it?

With access, I want to enhance it. To me there’s no debate over access, we need access. That’s very important for a land-grant university. The question is how do you do it. ‘How do we improve our ability not only to admit students, but to assist them in getting diplomas and facilitate their movement into careers?’

How do you increase access and at the same time increase admission standards?

There are lots of ways. General College is one way. Affirmative action can be another way. It’s not an either-or — that’s not the way the world is organized. Someone who might be sort of a discretionary admit, who has overcome terribly difficult life circumstances, on grounds of character might be a very appealing student here. I don’t think you need to choose between access and mechanical indicators like SATs and GPAs. I think that limits your decisions.

What is the most positive thing to come out of U2000?

The most positive thing to come out of it is the enhanced undergraduate experience. That just jumps off the page at you. There has been tremendous improvement. There’s been improvement in student-faculty ratios, improvement in the graduation rates, some improvement in diversity and lots of improvements in opportunities to live on campus.

Daily: What will be the first thing you will do as president of the University?

Yudof: The first thing I intend to work on is the peace and harmony theme. I think it’s important that we stop sniping at each other, that we sit back and say we’ve got a great place. It isn’t as great as we’d like; we can always make it better.