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Kaler outlines future plans 'the Minnesota way' in second State of the University address

February 28, 2013

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler detailed academic, research and cost reduction successes during the past year and outlined next steps to move the university forward in his second State of the University address Thursday.

Kaler spoke to about more than 250 students, faculty and staff in the university’s Coffman Union Theater and the program was carried live to the U’s systemwide campuses.

Recognizing the demands on public higher education to demonstrate value and reduce costs, Kaler said that the University must embrace bold new ideas, but cautioned against quick fixes and knee jerk reactions. Noting that Minnesota has long been a pioneer in innovation and reform, he said the University must embrace change "the Minnesota way," tailored to our state’s unique needs and culture.

"I want us to meet [our future] not by chasing every new idea," said Kaler. "I want us to pave the path that’s right for us — not with flamboyance, but with the common good of the state and our students as priorities."

Among his priorities for the next year are:

  • Strategic planning to align priorities, create a shared vision and engage the University community.
  • Continued emphasis on Operational Excellence to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, including implementing recommendations from the current analysis of the University’s organizational structure and benchmarking key operational functions and a policy review to reduce the compliance burden.
  • Strengthening the Graduate School and graduate education by examining recent changes to the organization of the Graduate School and making recommendations for improvements.
  • Strengthening interdisciplinary teaching and research by removing barriers faculty face when it comes to working across colleges or departments.
  • Developing a comprehensive strategy for eLearning, which includes the University’s recent decision to join Coursera.
  • Continued focus on strengthening the Academic Health Center and Medical School to effectively compete in the changing health care market, improve its national reputation and strengthen our partnership with Fairview.
  • Adopt a "best practice" employee engagement strategy to improve productivity, retention and recruitment.
  • Begin to offer office hours to increase interaction with students on all campuses.

In addition to new initiatives, Kaler reported a number of accomplishments during his first full year as President, including:

  • Adopting the smallest percentage tuition increase (3.5 percent) in a dozen years and proposing a new partnership with the state to freeze tuition for the next two years.
  • Creating an entrepreneurial leave option for faculty members to inspire greater business and economic benefits to the state.
  • Using our faculty and facility capacity better in the summer months, beginning with a pilot program in the College of Design for a year-round calendar.
  • Lending the University’s expertise and leadership to reduce the state’s achievement gap.
  • Investing in eLearning to improve course accessibility to students, extend the University’s reach, and learn from new technologies.
  • Reducing administrative and operating costs through Operational Excellence to reinvest in students and the university’s mission.

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

Strategic planning
"The planning will have at least three major components, examining our classroom and other teaching, our research endeavors and how we deliver our mission to Minnesota and the world beyond."

Strengthening the Graduate School
"We need strong, competitively-funded programs to attract the best graduate students in the world. As a first step, we are increasing funding for graduate students. We’ve reallocated more than $700,000 to fund additional graduate fellowships. It’s not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction, and it builds on my allocation last year of additional dissertation fellowships.

Three years ago, we embarked on an experiment to change the way we managed our graduate programs…Now, I think it’s time to take a look at what has worked and to make recommendations for improvements…I am asking Provost Hanson and Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Henning Schroeder to convene a committee to lead this review and report its findings and recommendations to me."

Supporting interdisciplinary teaching and research
"…When I talk with faculty I consistently hear that we make it difficult, if not impossible, to do the kind of interdisciplinary work that defines the cutting edge of most fields and that is critical to solving most of today’s problems. When I report that to the deans, they tell me that we can do it, but maybe the budget model gets in the way. Whatever the barriers, they should go away."

A comprehensive strategy for eLearning
"I don’t believe that digital learning or MOOCs are a silver bullet for achieving cost-savings, access or academic excellence.

Most importantly, I want this first step with Coursera to galvanize your creativity and to jumpstart your ideas for using eLearning on all of our campuses."

Strengthening the Academic Health Center and Medical School
"We want to forge a truly integrated pre-eminent health system that includes strong community-based hospitals, a flagship academic health center, exceptional patient and clinical care, breakthrough research, a national reputation, and a strong connection to our communities. We’re working hard to make that happen."

Office hours with students
"…While I try my best to get out and meet students on a regular basis, sometimes that’s hard. I miss being around students. I want to see more of them. It’s important to know their concerns and I feed off of their wonderful curiosity… As my schedule allows, they will occur monthly on our Twin Cities campus, but I have plans to visit the Crookston, Duluth and Morris campuses in the coming months, and I will meet with students during my days there."

Kaler’s formal remarks were followed by a moderated question-and-answer session. Faculty, staff and students had an opportunity to submit questions in advance. Those questions, in addition to questions submitted during the speech via Twitter and in person, were posed to the President by Faculty Consultative Committee Chair Sally Kohlstedt.

Responses to questions left unanswered Thursday will be posted on the President’s website in the next 10 days.

The full text of the speech will be available here.

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


Twin Cities Campus: