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Ettinger reflects on his presidency

Ettinger shares the University of Minnesota’s achievements from the last year and his hopes for future projects the next president, Rebecca Cunningham, will undertake.
Image by Gustav DeMars
Interim President Jeff Ettinger inside Morrill Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Ettinger gets deep with the Daily: “It’s bittersweet.”

University of Minnesota Interim President Jeff Ettinger reflects on his last few months, sharing his feelings, goals and the future of the University with Rebecca Cunningham as president. 

Ettinger discussed burnout among faculty and campus safety. He said he is not done yet, and there is a lot more to finish before his term ends on July 1. 

The Minnesota Daily: Your term ends in June. What are your plans moving forward?

President Jeff Ettinger: “My last official day is July 1, and most of that month of June, it sounds like Dr. Cunningham will be here in person. So, we’ll really have a good opportunity for me to make some introductions and for some really good hands-on time for that aspect of the transition. I’m honestly looking forward to just enjoying a Minnesota summer. I started this job last year in May, and was working full time through the summer, and the year before I ran for Congress, so that was also a kind of a 12-hour day proposition right through the summer as well. 

“I’m looking forward to doing that. I’m also talking with Professor Mark Bergen from the Carlson School, with whom I’ve taught previously, and looking at maybe working with him again in the fall. We’re trying to figure out how that would work.”

Daily: Throughout your time here, what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?

Ettinger: “We were fortunate that all four of our kids graduated here from the University of Minnesota, and so I thought I knew the institution reasonably well. But boy, I mean, after having a chance to be in this role for a year, it’s just really more impressive than I even had known. There are so many talented students, faculty and staff, and there is such a broad reach both in the state and beyond. I’ve really enjoyed having the chance not only to interact with folks here in the Twin Cities campus but on all four of the other campuses as well and know more now about the University of Minnesota as a complete system as opposed to just the flagship campus.”

Daily: Working alongside Cunningham, what has that experience been like for you, and what are some things you hope she accomplishes in her time here? 

Ettinger: “She was selected in late February, but it is going to be a gradual transition. She had probably five or six weeks that she was still full-time at Michigan, and didn’t really have a lot of time to do other things. She then made a short visit here earlier in April, and we did have a chance to interact that way, and we talk to each other by Zoom once a week. Now, she’s coming again, for the Regents week and early May, so we’ll have more interactive opportunities, and then we’ll really get here full-time in June. And that will be kind of the final relay lane, as the handoff of the baton will be during that stretch.

“You know, for me, as was talked about by the Board of Regents and giving me priorities, I was somebody who didn’t have a lot of university background but had some experience in sort of the broader public environment that my focal points had been more external, more public-facing with the legislature and the press and going to events, working on the Fairview partnership, working on public safety issues and those types of things.

“I’m sure Dr. Cunningham is going to try to keep up the momentum in those areas, but she clearly comes with just a wealth of background in the core mission area of the University, as she’s an outstanding researcher herself. She’s run a major research arm of the University of Michigan as one of their leaders and she had lots of opportunities for interaction in her career with faculty and students. And then, she has this added bonus of having such a strong medical background at a time where the University is confronted with some challenging questions about our partnerships and future hospitals and that type of thing. I’m sure she’ll be deeply engaged in those areas. 

“And then last year, I’ll point out that the Regents, when I came on, they said, ‘Hey, look, you don’t need to work on this strategic planning because we already have a strategic plan in place’ — and that’s MPact 25 — ‘And since you’re a one-year person, that’s not really the time to work on strategy.’ She clearly will be very front and center on the efforts by the total campus next year to develop the strategy for the future.”

Daily: How do you feel reflecting back? Do you feel this is a bittersweet moment? Do you feel a lot of sadness or joy?

Ettinger: “I mean, I think it’s bittersweet. That is a good word for it. I really enjoyed it. It’s just such a unique environment. The mission is so special. There are great people who work in this institution.

“I mean, literally, I walk around, attend meetings, and there’s probably a thousand people that I’ve gotten to know this year that I didn’t know 15 months ago. And so that’s been really special. 

“I knew it was an interim job when I took it, so I knew this day would come. And I’ve already retired once from a profession, as I was involved in running the Hormel Foods company with the team there. And so I think I’m ready this time to go back to maybe not being a full-time person. I might still serve on boards or help teach classes or that kind of thing, but not on a full-time basis.”

Daily: You came into this position with some goals in mind. What goals have you achieved?

Ettinger: “I feel like we’ve made good progress in all four of the priority areas that the board asked me to work on. So, in the public outreach area, we were able to launch the first marketing campaign for the University in four years, the Dear Minnesota campaign that Ann Aronson and her marketing team put forth that features all of our campuses and mostly faculty and student voices. It’s already gaining some good traction in terms of the reputation of the institution in the state. I’m pleased that we were able to hire Melissa López Franzen, and that she’s in turn hired some great folks to fill out her team. So, that’s been another key component of that public outreach area. 

“We’ve made some progress on the Fairview relationship front, and in addition, [were] excited the Board approved the future medical school expansion in St. Cloud with CentraCare. So, those will be the first new doctor spots in the state of Minnesota in 50 years. So, that’s really a nice thing that occurred. 

“We keep working on the public safety front, I think we have been way more proactive. We’ve embrace[d] the fact that the Dinkytown and Stadium Villages are very important to our students and staff and faculty and parents. We’re more active in being involved in those areas as well. 

“And then the last area that was a priority has been financial sustainability. There’ll be presentations at the May Board meeting by all four of the Greater Minnesota campuses that really talk about where they’re at with enrollment and how that fits with a sustainable financial model. I feel good about all of them. I think we’ve made progress on all of them.” 

Daily: UMPD is in the works with MPD to enter a pay contract that would have two UMPD officers in the morning and evening riding the metro. I also know that UMPD is understaffed at the moment. So hearing both those things, where does UMPD stand right now trying to achieve its goal of providing safety to the campus community? 

Ettinger: “Yeah, it’s a very good question. I mean, I think our team does a really outstanding job [at] covering what is a broad — not only the on-campus sort of core mission — but as we’ve asked them to do transit, as we’ve asked them to do events, as we’ve asked him to be involved more in Dinkytown through the Mutual Aid Program that was announced recently.

“I talk regularly with Chief Clark, I know they have some new recruits coming on. Actually, the training period is a few months, so they’re not just immediately available, even once they’re initially hired. But that’s something I think the University is going to have to keep its eye on is, ‘Okay, how many things can we ask UMPD to do and still have it be fully functioning the way it needs to?’

“Part of the reason that UMPD agreed to take on the Mutual Aid program in Dinkytown was that we have had a lot better success in recruiting and keeping much closer to what our full rate would be than the Minneapolis Police have been. And so therefore, our response time, if something does occur, has been much quicker — that’s certainly in everybody’s interest — but at some point, you do have to worry about you don’t want to burn out your officers by just asking for too much.”

Daily: Burnout has been a pretty big issue here on campus for faculty. What efforts are being made to alleviate those stressors?

Ettinger: “The University Senate at the end of last year passed the workforce reinvestment resolution, which was a pretty comprehensive look — that not only the faculty was involved with, but the staff and student governance groups as well — that’s similar to the TRUTH Report. We’re actually going to report here at the May meeting, as to some initial responses that we felt we could take on as a University to try to help alleviate some of those issues. And then candidly, I mean, they’ve also raised compensation as an issue, they feel that they’re falling behind the market rate for some of the positions and that ultimately, at some point, if that’s correct, you could compromise the quality and excellence of the institution, because our faculty and staff are part of what brings that. And so that will be a longer-term challenge for the University, but something that at some point needs to get addressed.” 

This interview has been edited for clarity, grammar and length.

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  • UMN Tenured Faculty Member
    Apr 30, 2024 at 3:38 pm

    The Senate’s Workforce Reinvestment Report recommended turning adjunct faculty positions–adjunct faculty are the hardest working faculty, and the best teachers, and are paid laughably low for the essential work they do for the University–and Ettinger’s administration rejected it. Ettinger has tried to block passage of a reform in the legislature that would make it possible for 2/3 of UMN employees to unionize. He’s done more harm than good in only year for the University’s vastly-undervalued employees.

  • To Pres Ettinger
    Apr 24, 2024 at 3:01 pm

    Outgoing President Ettinger, are you aware the individuals arrested by UMPD have also been banned from campus for a year? You have the power to drop the charges against the U of Mn community members who were arrested Tuesday morning for standing in solidarity with justice and peace. You have an opportunity to be remembered for something powerful as interim UMN President. Already there are murmurings of what commencement might be like if these protests escalate because of the heavy-handed approach your administration deployed on Tuesday morning. Please choose public safety over politics.

  • Drew Bromley
    Apr 23, 2024 at 9:44 am

    Shoutout to Mr. Jeff Ettinger! He did a wonderful job in a tight position.