Kaler: Embrace challenges, drive culture change to make a difference at U of M

April 2, 2015

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler called on the U community to join him in embracing a short and focused list of meaningful initiatives in the coming year in his fourth State of the University address today.
 
Kaler spoke to more than 250 students, faculty and staff in the University’s Coffman Memorial Union Theater, and the program was streamed live to the U’s four system-wide campuses.
 
Underscoring why the University should take up four key initiatives Kaler noted that it’s time for the U of M to pick up the pace, address its flaws and build on its accomplishments as it helps fuel a vibrant Minnesota. Despite the historic continuity of universities, he said, community members at institutions of higher education do change. He urged faculty, staff and students to create a more collaborative culture driven by the desire to make a difference.

“Because what we do here every day truly matters,” said Kaler. “[From] educating students; preparing them to be scholars, leaders, employees and engaged citizens; providing an ecosystem for new discoveries and serving as the cradle of culture and the keeper of civilization. … If we have an opportunity to have an impact on an institution of this size and scale, we must take it. It’s an opportunity to cherish.”
 
Among President Kaler’s priorities for the next year are to:


In addition to tackling these newest challenges, Kaler highlighted many accomplishments, including:

  • Creating an achievement gap hub called the Educational Equity Resource Center, the first of its kind in the region to bring together all of the University's work and serve as a bridge among researchers, resources and K-12 educators.
  • Implementing a robust program to attract women and scholars of color to the University.
  • Modernizing the U’s technology systems to better serve students, faculty and staff with the upcoming Enterprise Systems Upgrade.
  • Offering the first “grand challenges” courses for Twin Cities campus first-year students. These inaugural courses bring an interdisciplinary focus to a topic related to grand challenge teaching and research and will promote active learning.
  • Growing the Global Food Projects in which researchers cross disciplines, colleges, schools and departments, and partner with the likes of General Mills, the Turkey Growers Association, the Urban Farm Project and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Cutting administrative costs by $39 million in the last two years, toward the commitment of cutting $90 million over six years to reallocate funds to core mission activities.
  • Acquiring a gift of more than $4 million in support of the arts and the U’s cultural history. The generous donation from late alumnus Dr. Roger Anderson will enable the renovation of Northrop's historic pipe organ and groundbreaking for the new Bell Museum.

Kaler’s address was followed by a moderated question-and-answer session.
 
The following are excerpts from the full speech, which is available here.
 
Strategic planning
“Our strategic plan is not written or conceived as a simple check list. Fundamentally, it’s about driving culture change. That is, a pivot in how we do our work as an institution and with each other: more collaborative, more transparent, more transdisciplinary, more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic, with freedom to fail, and try again. It’s a culture that demands rigorous self-examination.”
 
Grand challenges curriculum
“This coming fall semester, we are offering our first ‘grand challenges’ courses for Twin Cities campus students. … One addresses political reconciliation and will be taught by faculty from three different CLA departments. Another focuses on various ways to examine world hunger, team taught by CFANS and CBS faculty. The third looks at ‘Complex Global Health Issues,’ and will be taught by faculty from the School of Nursing and the College of Veterinary Medicine.
 
“You can’t tell me those aren’t examples of breaking down barriers and creating a more transdisciplinary and collaborative culture…”
 
Recruiting and retaining field-shaping faculty
“We must promote our culture so that more of the world’s best thinkers, teachers and researchers want to come here and, like you, want to stay here.
 
“The University is home to many highly acclaimed departments based on popular and discipline rankings. …these highly ranked departments also get high marks on key positive drivers of employee engagement. Collectively, they are the most committed to excellence.
 
“But it’s incumbent on deans and department chairs to take this employee engagement data seriously and, if you have areas that can improve, please work to make them better.”
 
Human subjects research program
“We’re tackling [that work] with urgency because our clinical research is too important to be anything but exceptional. … This institution has a remarkable history of medical breakthroughs … from open heart surgery to pioneering bone marrow transplants, to the discovery of AIDS treatments, the list is as long as was the clinical process to achieve their successes.
 
“We have taken to heart the outside reviews, and we have already taken actions. Last week, we assembled a highly qualified implementation team to make sure that our response is timely and thorough. Dr. William Tremaine, a member of the Mayo Clinic faculty, and importantly, the director of the Mayo Clinic Institutional Review Board, has agreed to chair the team. This outside leadership is important to gain the trust of the public, of legislators, and, perhaps, many of you as we move forward.”
 
Operational Excellence
“ … come next week, you will be experiencing something that will save money, improve efficiency but that also will affect your daily lives. April 10 begins a transition period of about two weeks for our Enterprise Systems Upgrade.
 
“Simply put, our business processes are outdated and the platform they are running on is being retired by the vendor. We need to become more efficient with our business processes. … when the new system goes live and you fire up your devices, things will begin to look and operate differently.”
 
Diversity and campus climate
“It’s imperative that we make this a more welcoming, respectful and diverse place to learn, teach and work. We must intentionally reject complacency about diversity and campus climate.
 
“I have asked the Office of Equity and Diversity and the Office of Admissions to develop a high-touch, early outreach program for multicultural high school students, maybe even to the junior high level. This will require time and resources to see the results, but it’s important, and we will do it.
 
“We did lead when we changed our procedures on crime alerts and suspect descriptors. … I’m proud of where we landed. … It wasn’t easy, but I’m confident after a robust discussion among many units, that we have arrived at a framework that is workable, legal and respectable, and that ensures a safer Twin Cities campus.”
 
Reciprocal engagement
“We now have as many as 140 faculty and researchers across the University working on closing the achievement and opportunity gaps between low-income and students of color and their more privileged classmates.
 
“More and more schools are coming to us to learn what we know and we want to build on that to be an even stronger partner in closing the achievement gap. With that in mind, we are establishing the new Educational Equity Resource Center – the region’s first dedicated research hub and portal to closing the achievement gap – which will serve as a bridge between our researchers and our resources and the educators who work with Minnesota’s children and youth every day.”
 
2015 Legislative Request
“I am very thankful to Governor Dayton for his commitment to freeze tuition for all Minnesota-resident students — undergraduate and graduate and professional — and for his support of our Medical School.
 
“… I’ll be spending lots of my time over the next six weeks advocating for the University over at the Capitol. I urge you to raise your voices and let your legislators know that this University has a unique return on investment for the state.”

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