Speeches and Writing

Welcome Back

Email to coordinate campus faculty and staff
September 6, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

For this avid baseball fan the past two months have felt a little bit like spring training, with the season off in the distance.

But now, with a hint of fall in the air and the thrill of students returning to campus, I'm committed to getting things moving...literally!

On all of our campuses we are on the verge of a challenging and exciting academic year. I will be advocating loud, hard, and ubiquitously for this great University. I can't do it alone. I will be seeking your help as I tell legislators, business leaders, alumni, donors (and prospects), and citizens across the state about the value and power of Minnesota's only public land-grant research University, about our redoubled commitment to excellence, and about the strengths of all of our campuses.

I learned about some of my own strengths when I took the same evaluation that first-year students on the Twin Cities campus were given: Gallup’s StrengthsFinder.

I figured if the students were going to take it, I should, too!

StrengthsFinder identified my skills as "achieving, analytical, competitive, learner, and individualization." The experts tell me that the first quality drives me to get something done every day and the latter quality means I have the talent to get different kinds of folks to work well together. In a system as far-flung and complex as ours, that's my plan.

Recently, I visited our distinctive campuses in Morris and Crookston, meeting faculty, students, campus and community leaders, and also touring the outreach centers. These were terrific days. I learned so much about UMC and UMM. I met with local legislators. I advocated for these jewels of the U family. I look forward to visiting Rochester and Duluth in October.

I also visited the State Fair, where I met countless U supporters from across the state. I even milked a cow..., which is decidedly not one of my strengths.

What's on deck? I will be presenting my revised budget to the Board of Regents next week, allocating the $25 million Governor Dayton and the Legislature restored to us during the July Special Session. Budgets aren't just numbers. They reflect priorities and principles, and I hope you'll begin to see mine when I seek the Regents' approval.

I'm looking forward to inauguration on September 22. Although the festivities will be centered in the Twin Cities, I look forward to hosting a reception for coordinate campus representatives on the twenty-first. My hope is that through the ceremony and my inaugural address we can spark greater pride in the University on all of our campuses and in the broader community.

Systemwide, I am beginning to look closely at our administrative layers. Where we find inefficiency, redundancy, or outdated operations, I'm prepared to take action.

I am working with MnSCU Chancellor Rosenstone to begin to examine the larger question of higher education in Minnesota and the distinctive responsibilities and roles of the University and MnSCU.

I am very sensitive to the burden of rising tuition on students and families. And, I want to increase academic excellence throughout our organization; this means taking a hard look at everything from our hiring processes to how consistently students meet learning outcomes.

To achieve excellence, I believe we also must drive a University-wide culture to get more quickly to "Yes," than to, "Sorry, we can't do it that way, we never have before." I look forward to engaging faculty and staff in this hard work and heavy lifting across our system.

Especially after my trips to Morris and Crookston, I'm more convinced than ever about the power and impact of the teaching, research, and outreach we do on all of our campuses.

The cost of higher education and of the spectacular work we do every day on every campus should not be defined as a mere "expense." It is an investment in our state's future, and its economic health, cultural vitality, and quality of life. We can't guarantee what new cure or software or strain of wheat or teaching technique we will develop in years to come.

But I can guarantee this: without sufficient funding, without renewed public and private support for our teaching, research, and outreach, our ability to discover, innovate, and move our state forward will wither. That is unacceptable.

I am privileged to be your colleague. With the extraordinary strengths and passion we all bring to our jobs every day, I look forward to a productive and history-making year together. You can contact me at upres@umn.edu.

Sincerely,

Eric W. Kaler
President