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A University of Minnesota graduate

Outstanding students are just one of the assets helping to position the University of Minnesota for global prominence.

Ascending U

Two years into an aggressive campaign to become a top-three public research university, the U of M is already on the rise

By Jim Thorp

Nov. 22, 2006

Any climber can tell you there are mountains and there are mountains--summits that leave you breathless, looking down on the surrounding peaks and knowing you found one worth the effort. Climbing such a mountain is no picnic. It requires patience, persistence and, most of all, the courage to start up the hill.

The University of Minnesota began its ascent in July 2004, when, with Board of Regents approval, University President Robert Bruininks initiated a formal, system-wide strategic positioning effort dubbed Transforming the U. In the two years since, the University has taken major strides toward a bold goal: To become one of the top three public research universities in the world.

Global positioning
Substantive changes in the past year are already positioning the U for national and international prominence. Highlights include:

"In the context of Transforming the U these successes take on new significance," Bruininks said. "As a university we are poised for increasingly rapid and transformative change--and the efforts of the past 14 months in particular provide focus and direction for that change."


STRONG INDICATORS

Job satisfaction: U of M faculty and staff continue to report high levels of satisfaction with their jobs, the U as an employer, and their co-workers, according to the results of the 2006 Pulse Survey.

On the rise: From 1997 to 2005, undergraduate student satisfaction has climbed to all-time highs on the Duluth, Morris and Twin Cities campuses, according to the 2005 Student Experience and Senior Exit Surveys.

Action items: Areas of concern for faculty and staff (such as pay satisfaction, work/family conflict and job security) and students (including the cost of higher education) are being targeted via Transforming the U initiatives and other University efforts.

The view from here
The past year's substantial changes are only the beginning. A look across the higher-education landscape shows that universities everywhere are making concerted efforts to stay competitive, from recruiting talented students to competing for grant funding.

"Transformative change is never easy, but neither is the alternative: falling behind in impact and relevance," said Bruininks. "I believe it is our responsibility to meet the future on behalf of Minnesota and its people. To remain competitive and vital in this new century of knowledge, Minnesota needs a top-notch research university."

Bruininks acknowledged that the scope and pace of change have created challenges for some staff and faculty members, and he's expressed pride in their perseverance and creativity.

"We're definitely pushing the U out of its comfort zone," Bruininks said. "But it's the people who make this place great, and they're a big reason why I believe we can achieve our goals. Even in the face of tremendous change, our faculty and staff are engaged and enthusiastic--they want to be here, and they want to help." (See "Strong Indicators" sidebar.)

While the day-to-day work of strategic positioning has led to many hours of discussion and hundreds of pages of reports, its success will ultimately be found in a deeper, more subtle transformation of the University's culture and its expectations. System-wide, people are working on numerous initiatives to be implemented in the coming year--a process of transformation that will continue well into the future.

"This effort is not solely about task forces and reports," he said. "We want to spread the word about the exceptional work we do to advance understanding and improve people's quality of life. We want our students to have an educational experience that's second to none. We want the public to know us as an educational resource, an economic engine and an incubator for leaders with imagination.

"We've branded ourselves 'Driven to Discover,' and we're talking more than ever about the wealth of knowledge and research that resides in the U. But in terms of Transforming the U, being driven is every bit as important."

For more information on the U's progress toward its strategic goals, download "Advancing the Public Good" (PDF 1.71 MB). This brochure is intended to share U accomplishments with both internal and external audiences and will be distributed system-wide, as well as to presidents and provosts at peer institutions.


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