When Nils Hasselmo came to the University as president, it was a homecoming. He had joined the faculty in 1965 as a professor of Scandinavian languages and literature. Subsequently, he became associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and vice president for administration and planning. He left the University in 1983 to become provost and senior vice president at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
After the controversies that ended the Keller presidency, Hasselmo's first job was to restore public confidence. Accountability became the watchword of his administration. His native Swedish accent helped to make him popular with Minnesotans. He embraced Keller's "Commitment to Focus" and reframed it in his inaugural address as "Access to Excellence." Hasselmo's plan emphasized themes such as enhancing undergraduate education, increased attention to technology transfer, and continued planning and priority setting within individual colleges and campuses.
In 1991, a state budget shortfall led to one of the most difficult decisions of his administration: closing the Waseca campus. The campus offered two-year technical education programs. The rationale for this action was that there were other educational institutions in the region that students could attend. Knowing the pain the closing would cause, Hasslemo went to the campus to deliver the news in person. Between 1995 and 1997, there were also tense debates about the University's tenure policy, which at one time pitted the president and the faculty against the board of regents. With the help of the dean of the Law School, E. Thomas Sullivan, who would later be appointed senior vice president and provost in 2004, a tenure code satisfactory to both groups was ultimately developed.
Other priorities of Hasselmo's administration included K-12 initiatives, international education, and intercampus telecommunications. Systemwide planning, which dated back to the late 1970s, began to pay real dividends. Class sizes became smaller, and more introductory classes were taught by senior faculty. Students arriving at the University came better prepared, with more from the top 25 percent of their high school classes. Graduation rates improved and registration lines diminished as more students registered online.
In an article written for the Minneapolis Star Tribune published his last day as president on June 30, 1997, Hasselmo observed, "We must all understand the unique nature of Minnesota's only research, land-grant university. It should not and cannot be exactly like any other institution." He also urged the importance of both collaboration and mission differentiation among Minnesota's higher education institutions. If this happens, he suggested, "all people can be served without one system trying to be all things to all people."
In an editorial the same day, the Star Tribune praised Hasselmo's persistent efforts to improve undergraduate education, noting, "No university can neglect its undergraduates and still achieve national acclaim." The editorial also commended him for helping Minnesotans better understand the strategic importance of the University:
Much more than they did so eight years ago, Minnesotans accept that the University of Minnesota is unique among the many state higher educational institutions. They see more clearly that if the University fails to play its role well, no other institution can fill what would be a woeful void.
Hasselmo left the University in 1997. He subsequently became president of the American Association of Universities in Washington, D.C.
Sources: Nils Hasselmo, "Access to Excellence," The Inaugural Address of University of Minnesota President Nils Hasselmo, October 20, 1989; "President's Report to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents" (January 8, 1992): 5; "That was Then This is Now: Progress at the University of Minnesota, 1986-1996," University Relations, University of Minnesota, February, 1997; Nils Hasselmo, "A President's Farewell," Minneapolis Star Tribune (June 30, 1997): A-11 and "Nils Hasselmo: Better Education is His Legacy," Minneapolis Star Tribune (June 30, 1997): A-10.