Mark Yudof, a Philadelphia native and lawyer, served as executive vice president and provost at the University of Texas prior to becoming the University’s 14th president in 1997. He traveled throughout Minnesota to learn what its citizens wanted from their University and its new president. In time, he would become known for his wit, his love of pancakes, and his building and beautification initiatives. In his October 17, 1997, Inaugural Address, Yudof emphasized the importance of achieving a balance between access and excellence, cautioning his audience, “If we do not provide reasonable access...the state government will turn their backs on graduate education and research.” He subsequently identified six key programmatic priorities: agriculture; molecular and cellular biology; design; digital technology; new media studies; and continued attention to undergraduate education.
A major achievement of Yudof’s first year was his success with the governor and the legislature. Aided by a strong state economy and a budget surplus, Yudof put together a proposal that won unprecedented support for academic priorities, historic preservation, and new construction. A record $207 million in the state bonding bill led to new buildings on each of the campuses. In the second legislative session of Yudof’s presidency, funding was strong but not as spectacular. To supplement legislative support, Yudof announced a private fund-raising campaign in October 1998. As had been true of the first private campaign launched in 1986, this was among the highest dollar goals set by a public university. When the campaign ended in 2003, more than $1.6 billion had been raised for scholarships, endowed chairs, research, and other initiatives.
In 1999, Yudof was tested by allegations of NCAA rules violations in men’s basketball on the Twin Cities campus. Three years later, he restructured men’s and women’s athletics on the Twin Cities campus, combining them under a single administrative head. Academic initiatives moved forward, as did administrative enhancements such as moving from the quarter to the semester system, developing and refining computer-based financial aid and registration systems, and strategic compacts, between the administration and the University’s individual campuses, colleges, and service units that tied additional resources to specific desired outcomes.
In 2001, Yudof was approached about returning to Texas as chancellor, but he refused to let his name be considered. The following year, however, he was again approached, and this time he accepted the offer.
Yudof’s five years as Minnesota president were marked by steady progress toward his major goals. Legislative generosity and success in private fundraising led to substantial new construction, restoration, and improvements on each of the campuses. In the Twin Cities, freshman seminars were established (including one taught by Yudof himself), and for the first time in more than 20 years, incoming freshmen gathered at Northrop for student convocations.
Following Yudof’s departure in August 2002, the regents ensured continuity of leadership by selecting Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Bruininks as interim president. Initially, Bruininks asked not to be considered for the permanent position; however, after a national search convinced them that Bruininks would be a strong contender, the regents persuaded him to be a candidate. In November 2002, he became the 15th president of the University.
Source: Stanford Lehmberg and Ann M. Pflaum, The University of Minnesota, 1945-2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 255–317.