University of Minnesota
March 2, 2012
Before his State of the University address, President Kaler took some time to visit with Prescott Morrill, a graduate student at the U and the great grandnephew of Senator John Morrill (author of the Morrill Act), and Candance Doerr-Stevens, Ph.D. student and fellowship recipient.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary
President Kaler outlines his vision for the U and some new initiatives
By Rick Moore
As President Eric Kaler sees it, the issues and opportunities facing the University of Minnesota can be framed with a single word: balances. Balances like job training and lifelong learning; state support and tuition; imagining a future and paying for it now; risk and reward.
And so “Balances” was the theme of Kaler’s first State of the University address, delivered March 1 to a sizable crowd at Coffman Theater, as well as to audiences watching remotely at the other University campuses and via a streaming webcast.
In it, he outlined the budget battles that the U faces, his plans for a new model of operational excellence, and a half dozen new initiatives that touch on each aspect of the University’s mission—teaching and learning, research, and outreach and engagement.
Kaler described a number of new initiatives for the U, some of which are already moving forward and others that are being explored.
Two initiatives address the U’s educational mission:
• Becoming leaders, in the state and nationally, in using technology to improve learning. One example would be focusing on electronic textbooks as a way to save money for students. The U will be creating a competitive pool to incent faculty to pilot innovative uses of technology.
• Developing a substantially revised academic calendar that would include three full 14- or 15-week semesters. This would begin on the Twin Cities campus, and builds on the report from the 2011 Summer Semester Committee. With the new calendar, students would have a better chance of graduating in less than four years.
Among the initiatives focused on research:
• Developing a new “entrepreneurial leave” program that will enable faculty to work full-time with industry to develop ideas or products in the marketplace.
• Establishing a formal, recurring, research infrastructure pool to support and enable researchers to succeed in a highly competitive environment.
And in the broad category of outreach and engagement, Kaler reiterated his commitment to working with stakeholders to reduce Minnesota’s educational achievement gap. As part of that effort, the U will hold a “mini summit” that brings together experts from across all campuses.
Kaler also outlined a plan for the U to achieve operational excellence, which, he said, “isn’t a buzzword, or a project, or an initiative. Think of it as a long-term commitment to work smarter, reduce costs, enhance services, and generate new sources of revenue.”
One example is the Minnesota Innovation Partnerships (MN-IP) effort begun in the Office of the Vice President for Research, which moves U discoveries and intellectual property to the marketplace more quickly by cutting unnecessary regulations.
The many changes that will unfold through operational excellence are designed to “eliminate ESP in our organization,” Kaler said. “ESP stands for ‘Extremely Stupid Procedures.’”
A quick look at the budget
Kaler spoke about budget decisions made this past summer and the University’s budget outlook moving forward. He also talked about tuition and student debt and how, as the State of Minnesota’s investment in the University has declined, the need for tuition dollars has necessarily increased.
“My hope is that the State of Minnesota will engage us in the important work we do at a level that minimizes or eliminates tuition increases,” Kaler said. “But it is not enough to work for—or simply hope—that the state will invest in its future with us. We must chart our own future. We must reduce costs, eliminate course and program duplication, improve learning outcomes, and be efficient and effective in all that we do.”
A land-grant legacy and the next 150 years
While looking ahead to the future, Kaler gave a special nod to a legacy from the past. As the University celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act—which created the nation’s land-grant universities—it does so with a relative of Senator Justin Morrill (who authored the act) in its student body.
Prescott Morrill stood up and took a bow as the great grandnephew of Senator Morrill. Prescott graduated from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and is now a master’s student in landscape architecture and urban and regional planning on the Twin Cities campus.
“We can move forward toward the next 150 years of our land-grant mission, balancing the prosperity of this state with the economy of the flat and connected world in which we live,” Kaler said. “From public health to agriculture, from engineering to law, from philosophy to medicine, our great university has the ability to attack and solve the challenges facing Minnesota, the nation, and the world. That should be our calling for the future. …
“There is no counterbalance to our calling. As an efficient, effective, and engaged institution, this University will continue to change the world.”