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U inaugurates Rochester chancellor

By Martha Coventry and Pauline Oo

Stephen Lehmkuhle
Stephen Lehmkuhle delivered a lighthearted yet visionary inauguration address. He was formally installed as the first chancellor of UMR on April 4.

April 4, 2008

The mayor was there, prominent members of the community were there, dignitaries from higher education across the state were there.... Pomp and pageantry ruled near the Rochester campus today (April 4), thanks to 180 people--60 of them in full academic regalia. The occasion? Stephen Lehmkuhle was formally installed as the first chancellor of the University of Minnesota, Rochester.

Lehmkuhle delivered his visionary address to an audience that included Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, five members of the Board of Regents; President Bob Bruininks and his wife, Susan Hagstrum; other U dignitaries; guest speaker Elson Floyd, president, Washington State University; and Lehmkuhle's wife, two children, and mother. The ceremony took place in Phillips Hall at the Mayo Clinic, and a reception followed at the student lounge on the Rochester campus.

When he began his inaugural address, Lehmkuhle told the story of a search firm approaching him about coming to Rochester--"a 400 student school located in a shopping mall." Lehmkuhle was not interested, thinking, "I really have something else in mind."

The firm persisted and when Lehmkuhle, then vice president for academic affairs at University of Missouri, visited Minnesota, he began to think differently. In interviews, the talk turned to the opportunity at University of Minnesota, Rochester (UMR) for innovation and partnerships, and then he felt the Rochester community's commitment and enthusiasm.

"It occurred to me that...if I accepted a leadership position at another established institution, I would continue managing change," said Lehmkuhle. "But in Rochester, I would be leading a new institution. Here I would be creating change, not managing change." He accepted the position nine months ago.

For Lehmkuhle, Rochester is one big campus, and he wants to blur the line between town and gown, with students learning at Mayo, IBM, in the bank offices, and in the arts community. "I hope that you will find it difficult to delineate our campus borders because this will mean that we are integrated into the community," he said. "This will be our signature."

Lehmkuhle wants nothing less for UMR than a new way of teaching and learning. Two trends in higher education convinced him of the need for a new model.

One trend is the way information quickly changes today. "...more and more often, the content that we present our freshmen is outdated before they graduate," said Lehmkuhle. Students, he believes, must be "armed with the capacity to learn if they are to thrive in the future. They must learn with understanding."

The other trend is that, as Lehmkuhle said, the students of the future will be "all comers," meaning they will come from all different backgrounds, cultures, and with different levels of academic preparation.

Learning must be more individualized. "We are designing at UMR a personalized educational experience that promotes learning with understanding for all students," he said. He envisions a student's record like a medical record, so faculty can be diagnostic and strategic in their teaching and use the student's preexisting knowledge to help him or her organize new knowledge and learn with understanding.

"We are designing at UMR a personalized educational experience that promotes learning with understanding for all students," said Lehmkuhle.

To help achieve these goals, UMR plans to open a nationally recognized Center for Learning Innovation where faculty will conduct research on student learning. "Our core faculty will be cognitive guides rather than dispensers of information," he said. "They will design a curriculum enriched by integrated learning experiences."

UMR is also looking to build or lease a "flexible research infrastructure" that would help it develop more research partnerships and better nurture existing ones with the local community.

In a congratulatory note to Lehmkuhle, Marilyn Stewart, chair of the Rochester Higher Education Development committee (RHEDC), said that the University was spot on with its choice for chancellor, having picked "the right leader at the right time."

"Our RHEDC report recommended the establishment of a world-class distinctive higher education institution that would leverage the University of Minnesota's research capability in build signature academic and research programs to complement southeast Minnesota's leadership in the health sciences, biosciences, and technology, as well as contributing significantly to the economic growth of Minnesota," said Stewart. "We are watching out dream come alive with Steve's very capable, creative, and collaborative leadership."

In his closing remarks, Lehmkuhle reiterated his reason for coming to Rochester. If the applause in the room seemed loud before, it was thunderous by the time he stepped away from the podium.

"I believe the University of Rochester is in a critical period of development. And what we do now will have a long-lasting impact on the institution," he said. "My most important legacy will be to make being innovative and being better immutable institutional traits that will enable University of Minnesota Rochester to grow into the leader in higher education that we all want.

A chat with the chancellor

To learn more about Stephen Lehmkuhle and his vision for UMR, read "Connect and commit: A Q&A with the first chancellor of the Rochester campus".