Robert H. Bruininks was appointed the 15th president of the University of Minnesota on November 8, 2002. His inaugural address emphasized the University's public mission and unique role as Minnesota's only comprehensive research university and its only land-grant university—two essential aspects of the University that he never lost sight of, despite multiple deep state budget reductions during his administration.
Beginning in 2004, after the first of these cuts, Bruininks and his leadership team undertook a transformative strategic positioning effort that has raised the University's academic profile, its service to students and the community, and its stewardship of resources. Advances in academic quality and improvements in the student experience, such as expanded undergraduate research and study abroad opportunities and a campus-wide Honors Program for the Twin Cities campus, helped to fuel high student satisfaction rates, increased applications and enrollment, and significantly improved graduation rates.
Affordability for students on the University's five campuses was another primary concern for the Bruininks administration. As a result, he made student scholarships the University's top private fundraising priority. The Promise for Tomorrow scholarship raised more than $340 million, even as the University garnered historic gifts to support its facilities and research mission. In 2009, Bruininks announced the expansion of the University's need-based aid strategy to include guaranteed aid for all Minnesota students from low- and middle-income families through the University of Minnesota Promise scholarship program.
Both as a faculty member and as an administrator, Bruininks has worked to advance the public mission and responsibilities of the University. He is a leading advocate for accountability and reform in higher education, which, during his presidency, was manifest in the strategic reorganization of University of Minnesota Extension and the colleges of Design; Education and Human Development; and Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences to better serve the state, its citizens, and students. In 2007, Bruininks joined the NCAA Division I Board of Directors; in 2008 he served as chair of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU); and he was a presidential appointment to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board until 2009. Named Executive of the Year by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal in 2009 and Minnesotan of the Year by Minnesota Monthly in 2004, Bruininks also strengthened ties with Minnesota business and industry, serving on the Itasca Project and the Minnesota Business Partnership.
Prior to becoming an administrator, Bruininks's academic career centered on child and adolescent development and policy research, and strategic improvement in the fields of pre-kindergarten to grade 12 and higher education. His significant scholarly and policy work on behalf of people with developmental disabilities has improved understanding, assessment, treatment, and care for countless individuals and their families, both in Minnesota and nationally and internationally. He has served the University for more than 40 years, formerly as a professor, dean, and executive vice president and provost—taking a rare path to leadership by staying within a single institution. Bruininks announced in fall of 2009 that he would return to the faculty on June 30, 2011, and the Board of Regents named then Stony Brook University provost Eric W. Kaler to be his successor in November of 2010. On June 10, 2011, the Regents of the University of Minnesota conferred upon Bruininks the title President Emeritus, and on July 1, 2011, he returned to the faculty of the University, as a professor in the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the College of Education and Human Development, where he continues to work on issues of public leadership, human capital, and higher education policy.