Kaler: U of M poised to meet society's grand challenges

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Contacts: Brooke Dillon, University News Service, , (612) 624-2801

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (03/06/2014) —University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler detailed this year’s academic and legislative successes and outlined his vision for the future in his third State of the University address today.

Kaler spoke to more than 250 students, faculty and staff in the university’s Coffman Union Theater and the program was streamed live to the U’s system-wide campuses.

Describing the state of the university as ‘vibrant,’ Kaler noted that the U of M has unique attributes that drive Minnesota’s economic, cultural and innovative richness. The U’s goal is to lead efforts to meet society’s "grand challenges" --world hunger, disease, intolerance, to name a few -- by bringing together leading experts across disciplines who will find solutions and infuse this interdisciplinary approach through the curriculum and in public engagement.

"Few organizations have the historic mission or the public charge to confront such challenge. Few universities have the expertise across a range of disciplines, the resources or the ambition to solve these challenges," said Kaler. "But we do. And because we do, the State of the University of Minnesota is vibrant, filled with ideas and fueled by boundless human energy."

Among President Kaler’s priorities for the next year are:

  • Complete the ambitious strategic plan for the Twin Cities campus. The plan, still in development, is focusing on four emerging, bold goals:
    • Making the university pre-eminent in solving the grand challenges of a diverse and changing world.
    • Supporting excellence and rejecting complacency.
    • Recruiting and retaining field-shaping faculty and researchers.
    • Creating a "culture of permeability" to leverage the Twin Cities campus’ unique, location in a thriving metropolitan region.
  • Work differently with the City of Minneapolis and surrounding neighborhoods to ensure quality of life for the students living there and enhance public safety.
  • Advance equity and diversity, including launching a new campus climate initiative and continuing targeted programs such as "President’s Emerging Scholars" and "Retaining All Our Students."
  • Continuing to invest in graduate education by extending $2 million in funding for a doctoral dissertation fellowship by one year and working keep professional school affordable.

In addition to new initiatives, Kaler highlighted many accomplishments, including:

  • Partnering with the state to enact a two-year tuition freeze for resident undergraduate students.
  • Infusing new energy and resources into the U’s research enterprise through MnDRIVE, a four-pronged research platform that seeks to solve some of society’s most pressing challenges.
  • Advancing Operational Excellence with a plan to save $90 million over five years.
  • Developing the Center for Educational Innovation to strengthen instructional and academic technology collaboration and support across the University, as well as creating an Office of University Economic Development to be the "front door" to the business community.
  • Breaking ground on a new Ambulatory Care Clinic and rebranding our clinical partnership with Fairview "University of Minnesota Health."
  • Strengthening relationships with agriculture and re-emphasizing the U’s unwavering commitment to Greater Minnesota agribusiness.
  • Reopening Northrop after more than two years of restoration.
  • Raising the profiles of the university’s system campuses:
    • At Duluth, 22 students made history by earning the first Masters of Tribal Administration and Governance degrees, the only graduate degree program in the U.S. that trains students in the best management practices for tribal governments.
    • Rochester celebrated the first-ever graduating class and received national accolades in Forbes magazine for its innovative approach to teaching and tenure and its relationship with the city.
    • Crookston was again named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for 2013 by the Corporation for National and Community Service, and was named by U.S. News as the No. 1 best public regional Midwest college.
    • Morris’ commitment to sustainability landed it on the list of Greenest Universities in the nation and it’s value was recognized as second in the nation this week by Kiplinger magazine.

Kaler’s address was followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Faculty Consultative Chair Professor Will Durfee. Faculty, staff and students submitted questions in advance and asked them following the speech via Twitter and online.

A highlight video will be posted Friday on the President’s website.

The following are excerpts from the full speech, which is available here.

Strategic planning
"Completing strategic planning on our Twin Cities campus is my top priority for this year… Our planning workgroup has established a set of four strategic and overarching initiatives and strategies that will establish incentives to empower faculty and staff to excel at what they do every day. These emerging initiatives are frankly, very inspiring."

Operational Excellence
"Internally, we are making significant progress on Operational Excellence, one of my top priorities since taking office. We are aggressively tackling administrative costs. A few months ago we pledged to redirect $90 million from administration to our core mission activities over the next five years…. We will [also] hit our $15 million reallocation goal this year, and I am confident that we will also do so in the years to come."

Public Safety
One especially big challenge we’ve faced recently on our Twin Cities campus is an increase in crime…. To that end, we’ve put into place an aggressive public safety initiative called Safe U. The Board of Regents reallocated $4.1 million to add lights, security cameras and secure buildings… [and] we’ve added police officers and have enhanced our collaboration with the Minneapolis Police Department."

2014 Legislative Request
"Last week, we turned our attention to the Capitol seeking support from lawmakers to ensure our facilities are upgraded so that students learn and faculty teach in 21st century buildings. The request contains important funding for maintenance and renewal across the system."

Equity and diversity
"Advancing equity and diversity is a priority of mine… and the offices of Equity and Diversity and Admissions are redoubling efforts to enroll more diverse students.

"We … know that for many of our students of color on campus, the environment could be more welcoming…With our new Campus Climate Workgroup, I look forward to seeing new initiatives this spring and next fall and I am prepared to provide the resources this team needs to implement their plans."

Commitment to agriculture
"As our Extension continues its important work across the state, we have strengthened our relationship with agriculture and agribusiness communities. We’re intentionally supporting new synergies between CFANS and CBS to support this important industry."

Graduate and Professional education
"We excel in our undergraduate education mission, but the signature of a research university is graduate education. One of my first budget actions as president was to add $6 million over three years to our Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships. This has been a success, and I am renewing that support for an additional year… Professional schools face enormous challenges in maintaining excellence and affordability and those challenges are the most important we face as an institution."

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