Board of Regents actions advance Transforming the U agenda
By Jim Thorp
Brief, Dec. 13, 2006
The Board of Regents meetings Dec. 8 - 9, 2006, illustrated a critical point in the University of Minnesota's efforts to become a top-three public research university: Transforming the U is not a process or a catch phrase--it's the way the University does business. Elements of strategic positioning were discussed throughout four separate committee meetings as well as the full meeting of the board.
The Educational Policy and Planning Committee heard a report on interdisciplinary initiatives currently underway on campus, including:
- The Institute for Advanced Study
- The Institute on the Environment
- The Institute for Translational Neuroscience
- The Institute for the Advancement of Science and Technology
Faculty members explained how the interdisciplinary focus of such institutes supports the University's commitment to education, research and outreach by enabling collaboration on complex problems that transcend traditional academic disciplines--and how grant funds are increasingly being awarded to interdisciplinary projects.
Committee chair Peter Bell asked how encouraging such broad-based collaboration might impact the U's strength within academic disciplines, the ability of faculty members to get published and be appropriately reviewed, and decisions regarding tenure.
The panel--which included graduate school dean Gail Dubrow; medical school dean Deborah Powell; ecology, evolution, and behavior department head Claudia Neuhauser; interim director of the Institute on the Environment Deb Swackhamer; and Institute for Advanced Study director Ann Waltner--replied that there are sufficient avenues for publishing and peer review of interdisciplinary research. However, the U's increasing emphasis on such activities will require more central coordination and new ways of addressing faculty recognition and tenure.
They also shared a strong belief that bringing different disciplines together to address critical issues will, in fact, help to strengthen the individual disciplines, as well to attract and retain top faculty and graduate students.
"If the disciplines aren't strong, the institutes won't be, either," explained Swackhamer. "We aren't--and can't--take away from that strength, and we believe that by encouraging interdisciplinary work we will be adding to the energy, innovation and available funding for research."
In the Facilities Committee meeting, Vice President for University Services Kathleen O'Brien and Athletics Director Joel Maturi provided the Facilities Committee with an overview of the East Gateway District, the name being used to describe the area of new development at the east end of the Twin Cities campus. In addition to the TCF Bank Stadium, the East Gateway District will house potentially eight to 10 major academic buildings, including the new Medical Bioscience Building; two new parking structures; and a hub for mass transit.
O'Brien noted that when stadium planning kicked into gear three years ago, a medical biosciences corridor had not been envisioned--now, the University is planning the biggest campus expansion since the West Bank expansion in the 1960s, in an effort to enhance its research and educational capacity and connect the U to the community beyond.
Transforming the U also provided the backdrop for extending President Robert Bruininks' contract through 2011. The Board of Regents gave unanimous approval to the extension, citing Bruininks' visionary leadership as a primary reason why.
"If the university is going to be one of the best in the world, we need to be competitive," said Board Chair Anthony Baraga. "From managing challenging budget situations to strategic planning, President Bruininks has developed powerful momentum for this institution. This contract will help us to retain an outstanding leader and ensure strong presidential leadership for the next five years."
Other highlights from the meetings included:
- A report on the status of University research. Tim Mulcahy, vice president for Research, told the board that while the U faces challenges in becoming a top-three public research university, they are not insurmountable. Mulcahy emphasized the strength of the U in translating research into patentable solutions and the diversity of its "research portfolio" beyond medicine and engineering. He also reaffirmed the need to focus on interdisciplinary efforts and said the University must work to increase institutional, industry and federal research funding.
- The creation of the Regents Presidential Leadership Chair. This chair will provide $100,000 annually to be used for presidential initiatives such as leadership development activities, research on the governance of academic institutions, or other purposes consistent with the president's agenda.
- An update on the replacement of the U's Enterprise Financial System. A new $45.7 million Enterprise Financial System, which will provide colleges, departments and other users more tools for improved financial analysis, planning and decision-making, is to be rolled out in July 2008. It will replace an older mainframe financial system and various independent tools that have appeared due to inefficiencies in the older model.
- A resolution to continue master planning for UMore Park. The board passed a resolution to maintain the UMore Park property in Dakota County as an intact parcel; to develop it in a manner that supports the U's teaching, research and outreach mission; and to begin to make the property ready for development.
- New academic programs and changes to existing offerings. The board approved a new Master of Occupational Therapy degree; a new Bachelor of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering degree (from the merger of two existing degrees); and a health science track with the Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. They also voted to move the Bachelor of Science degree in Scientific and Technical Communication and three existing minors to the College of Liberal Arts and to change the name of the University of Minnesota Extension Service to University of Minnesota Extension.
- Additional action items. Board of Regents members approved policy concerning acquiring controlling equity interests in technology licensees, as well as updates to enhance employee recruitment and retention policy, the employee health benefits policy and the student conduct code.
The board plans to hold a special meeting on Jan. 3 to review
and take action on the schematics and budget for TCF Bank
ADDITIONAL READING U of M Regents strengthen student conduct code, extend Bruininks contract Research without borders: New environmental institute to set standard for interdisciplinary work at the U Meeting of the minds: The Institute for Advanced Study explores the boundaries between academic disciplines