University of Minnesota president finalist James Holloway told students and staff Wednesday that he was drawn to the job because of the U's service to the state — and if he gets it, he'll aim to sell others on the school's value as well.

"I think it's really important for us to create a shared vision of why we're here and why what we do is important," Holloway said in a public forum held on the Twin Cities campus Wednesday. "The thing about the University of Minnesota that is critically important is that it is very clearly created to support and serve the state."

Holloway is one of three finalists in the running to become next University of Minnesota president, overseeing five campuses that together serve about 68,000 students and employ more than 27,000 people. Also up for consideration are Laura Bloomberg, president of Cleveland State University and former dean of the U's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Rebecca Cunningham, vice president for research and innovation at the University of Michigan.

The new president will take over at a time when the U is trying to reverse declining enrollment at some of its locations, chart the future of its medical programs, and convince state lawmakers to provide hundreds of millions in additional funding. Student and faculty leaders have said they hope the next president will help them build a better relationship with the Legislature and bring in money to help lower tuition or increase faculty pay.

Holloway currently works as the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of New Mexico, a public research university that has nearly 27,000 students and about 14,000 employees.

His remarks came at the end of a whirlwind three-day tour in which he visited all five U campuses, as the other finalists will do as well. For about an hour, he fielded questions submitted online and from dozens of people gathered in a theater inside the U's Coffman Memorial Union.

If he's selected for the job, Holloway said he would aim to highlight the unique attributes of each campus for prospective students and to make information about new scholarship opportunities for Indigenous students more visible.

"I think one of the opportunities we have is to really think about enrollment across the system and think about how we can ensure that we give students the options to go to the part of the system that works for them," he said.

Holloway said he built relationships with lawmakers in New Mexico by meeting with them before funding asks were on the table, sometimes to discuss something as simple as sharing book recommendations. And he credited those relationships with helping the university secure additional funding to raise faculty pay.

If a university loses someone because it offers lower pay, "it's a loss to the state," he said.