First-year law student Terran Chambers studied at the law library at the University of Minnesota Minneapolis, Minn.

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Eric Kaler: Principles of a great university

  • Article by: ERIC W. KALER
  • October 7, 2011 - 6:27 PM

One hundred days as president of the University of Minnesota is not a very long time. But in that short period I believe I have clearly established the fundamental themes of my administration and the initiatives by which I want to be measured now, and for years to come. They are:

1. Excellence. In everything that we do, from teaching to research to community engagement to operations, we must be at the top tier of U.S. public research universities.

I want us in the conversation with Berkeley, Michigan, North Carolina and UCLA. I want us to be known across the state and nation as a game-changing, global university for the 21st century.

2. Access. Even as we work to attract academically exceptional students, we must also strive to keep the U accessible to all qualified Minnesota students, regardless of their family income. This is difficult during a time of diminishing state investment.

Still, increasing financial aid and limiting tuition increases must be a priority. More than 63 percent of our Twin Cities freshmen class -- the best incoming class ever -- are Minnesotans, about the same percentage as over the past decade. We remain the state's university.

3. Diversity.  Our commitment to access must promote diversity among our student body. A student who experiences a narrow and homogenous education will be spectacularly ill-equipped to succeed in a modern life.

We especially need to work with our K-12 system to ensure that their students are prepared for the rigor of the U.

We must work with our K-12 system to close the alarming decline in science and math teaching and learning and the deplorable achievement gap between white students and children of color. The U must lead that effort.

4. Research. We are the state's only public research university. Last year, our researchers received more than $800 million in funding to find cures, advance technology and seek solutions to the most daunting problems facing our communities and our world.

We are the engine of Minnesota's innovation economy. We create the future. We transform our curiosity and discoveries into new products, new processes and new ways of looking at the world. Our investments in our research enterprise drive a high return.

5. Pace and efficiency. To some, university efficiency is an oxymoron. To address this, we will evaluate all that we do. Our senior leaders and deans will be making major decisions soon in the area of operational efficiency.

I told faculty in my inaugural address that they are drivers of academic excellence at the U, but if their research is stale, if their classroom is boring, if their community engagement is ineffective, then they have to reinvent themselves or step aside. I meant it.

6. Engagement.  We are Minnesota's lone land-grant university, established for the advancement of our state.

To that end, we engage with partners in businesses; nonprofits; urban, suburban and rural communities, and the K-12 education system to leverage our unique resources and expertise. We are here to diligently work with the state's citizens.

7. Philanthrophy. I have been meeting with business leaders and potential donors to encourage increased financial support for the U. Private support is profoundly important, especially as we face public disinvestment in higher education and the resulting rise in tuition.

Philanthropy will not, and should not, replace public investment. And I will not give up on clearly articulating the role of our state and federal government in supporting public higher education.

But philanthropy plays a pivotal role in building on the foundation of public investment. Philanthropy is what will transform us from very good to truly excellent.

I will tirelessly work to tell the U's incredible story and to rally our supporters and alumni far and wide. I will do that for the next 100 days, and the next and the next.

With their help -- and yours -- I will strive to ensure that the University of Minnesota takes its rightful place among the nation's and the world's best universities.

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Eric W. Kaler became the 16th president of the University of Minnesota on July 1.

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