On campus beat: U's new No. 2 knows campus

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2012 - 7:19 PM

The new University of Minnesota president touts his connections with the place. But in a dozen ways, his new second-in-command has him beat.

Not only is Karen Hanson, like Eric Kaler, an alum, but so are her father and two brothers. In fact, her father, Lester E. Hanson, was a professor of animal science there for more than three decades.

As a kid, she attended his department's picnics. As an undergrad, she rode the bus to campus with him each morning.

Hanson, who started this week as the U's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said that she's thrilled to be back.

She comes to Minnesota from Indiana University, where as executive vice president and provost of the Bloomington campus she held a similar post. She joined the faculty there 35 years ago, after earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University.

Things here are still new. Her Morrill Hall office is quite empty, her Minneapolis condo is half-unpacked. When asked Tuesday about tricky issues, including a proposal to charge business undergraduates higher tuition, she noted that she had not yet completed her first official day on the job.

"My challenge is to learn as fast as I can," she said.

But she was open about her joy in returning to the U. "It was wonderful," she said of being an undergrad. "You could take courses in all kinds of areas."

She majored in philosophy and mathematics, choosing philosophy because "it would allow me to follow a lot of different interests," including mathematical logic and ethics.

Hanson regrets that her parents aren't around to see her take the U's provost position. Her father died in 1985. Her mother, who had moved from Falcon Heights to Indiana, was happy to be with her family but "missed Minnesota terribly." She died last spring.

"There is a little bit of nostalgia, which has the Greek word for pain in it," Hanson said. "There's a sense of a cosmically missed opportunity."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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