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President Bob Bruininks

President Robert Bruininks became president of the University in November of 2002. He delivered his sixth State of the U address on March 6.

Strength through change

U president delivers 2008 State of the U address

by Pauline Oo

March 10, 2008

"The state of the University is strong," President Robert Bruininks told a jam-packed Mayo Auditorium on the Twin Cities campus and, via interactive broadcasting, audiences at five other University of Minnesota locations.

In "The Challenge of Change"--his sixth State of the U address, delivered March 6--Bruininks spoke about evolving cultural identities and public policies, the creativity that change can spark, and recent accomplishments across the University system that continue to cement the U's place in the state and on the world scene.

"Our goal--to become one of the top three public research universities in the world, with an equivalent standard of excellence for our coordinate campuses--is well known, but sometimes misunderstood," he said. "There are those who believe that 'top three' is not achievable. Others feel that our focus on research compromises our commitment to education and serving the citizens of the state. In my view, neither is the case."

State of the U recording

To watch the video of or read the transcript from the 2008 State of the U address, visit the Office of the President Web page.

The University is not aspiring to rank, he added, but to stature. Transformative change is never easy, he adds; "it takes time, resources, and the perseverance of the entire University community."

All great universities share five common attributes: commitment to excellence, a drive to discover, a focus on results, economic vitality, and accountability to stakeholders.

"For nearly 160 years, our policy makers have considered the University to be one of Minnesota's most important investments," he said. But in the wake of the state's own financial challenges, "we must solve many of our own problems ourselves. We must constantly examine our own cost structure to make sure we realize the maximum return for every dollar."

Teaching is still one of the U's most important obligations, said Bruininks. The University, for the sixth straight year, has had a record number of applications. More than two-thirds of U freshmen are Minnesota born and raised, and its systemwide retention, satisfaction, and graduation rates are on the rise.

And students continue to earn national recognition and win international awards for the work they do in and out of the classroom. Bruininks cited civil engineering student Rachel Gaulke and her five-foot-long replica of the former I-35W bridge, which will be used by the National Transportation Safety Board during investigation briefings.

Statewide, the U's five campuses and their students continue to flourish. The University of Minnesota, Morris recently secured $1.8 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds to build a second wind turbine, bringing it closer to its goal of total energy independence by 2010. On the Crookston campus, international enrollment has tripled, and this year the community celebrated 15 years as the nation's original Laptop U.

UMD has introduced a new bachelor's degree in civil engineering and added a second doctoral degree program to its academic offerings. Its integrative biosciences program is one of only four in the nation. And this past fall, the University of Minnesota, Rochester moved to its own facilities and welcomed its first chancellor, Stephen Lehmkuhle.

Despite many recent successes, the U's path is not free of barriers, noted Bruininks.

"For nearly 160 years, our policy makers have considered the University to be one of Minnesota's most important investments," he said. But in the wake of the state's own financial challenges, "we must solve many of our own problems ourselves. We must constantly examine our own cost structure to make sure we realize the maximum return for every dollar."

Bruininks listed new and ongoing efforts designed to improve service and productivity across the University of Minnesota system, citing examples from entrepreneurial staff in Facilities Management and University Stores to save labor costs.

"If we expect investment and support, we must continue to demonstrate that we are an asset to the state of Minnesota and its citizens," said Bruininks.

And the way to do this, he added, is to develop a principled approach to challenges and make targeted investments. "We do this by pursuing the attributes of a world-class university, beginning today," he said.

Bruininks closed his address by pointing out the urgent need to be proactive about purposeful change:

"From where I stand, the case for change is this: The tide is rising on all sides. We can plug the holes we see and pray for the flood to retreat, or welcome the water and rise with it. It is my hope that, for the state of Minnesota and this great University, we will choose to rise--and continue to seek the bright horizon."