Sunday, April 8, 2007

OurLeader Gives 2007 State of the University Address
Ambitious Aspirations to Greatness

Mr. B. had hoped to get a transcipt for comment. But tempus fugit and he cannot wait any longer. This article from BigU's website will have to do.

Bruininks delivers State of the U for 2007

By Rick Moore

April 6, 2007

President Robert Bruininks ... used the address to highlight some of the many achievements made across the University system since the strategic positioning initiative was launched two years ago.

The goal of that initiative, to become one of the top three public research universities in the world, is designed to urge all U campuses to live up to their heritage of achievement and public responsibility, he said.

"The good news is that this goal is now well established," Bruininks said. "All of you know it, our supporters are drawn to it, and our peers are taking notice. 'Top three' is aspirational and audacious, but that's not to say it can't be achieved.

Hmm… These words would seem to imply that BigU could become one of the top three public research universities in the world, nicht wahr? Or have I missed something in this statement of ambitious aspirations?

"We must continue to set aggressive goals in critical areas of academic responsibility and to truly measure what we value, but we must not get caught up in rankings or begin 'teaching to the test.' We aspire not to ranking [sic], but to stature--and achieving this aspiration requires a deep and abiding cultural commitment to excellence in everything we do, from the education of our students to advancement of knowledge for the public good."

We aspire not to ranking? If this is so, why does the Provost's office have a whole web page devoted to the topic of "Academic Rankings" which selectively reports ones that are favorable to BigU? How about the US News rankings? How about the Times Higher Education Supplement rankings?

Is OurLeader serious or not about BigU becoming one of the top three public research universities in world? Under which shell does the pea go
?If OurLeader is serious then let's all sing "Dream along with me." If this is simply a money extracting ploy, then eventually the university will suffer for this perceived deception even if OurLeader has already parachuted to his hobby-horse riding retirement. It should be noted that BigU already has stature, which is rapidly eroding as the unreality of the top three claim starts to sink in.

Statewide, the U's five campuses and their students are flourishing. The University of Minnesota, Crookston continues to lead the system in online education, Bruininks noted, and recently received the maximum 10-year accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. At UMD, the Sieur Du Luth Summer Arts Festival has become internationally known for its opera program, with some 120 participants registered this year from Mexico, Europe, and Asia. This fall, Duluth will launch its first-ever doctoral degree, in education. On the Morris campus, student Eagan Heath was recently named a 2007 Truman Scholar, Bruininks said, and last fall UMM's Center for Small Towns and the city of Morris received a national Carter Center Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration.

All of these activities are laudable. But they do not contribute to the University of Minnesota’s becoming one of the top three public research universities in the world. Perhaps this goal should not be a top priority for Coldstate and its citizens?

And the University of Minnesota Rochester continues to expand it academic footprint to meet the education and research needs of southeast Minnesota, building on the U's relationships with Rochester Community and Technical College and Winona State University and its partnership with the Mayo Clinic.

Care should be taken in making grandiose claims about the University of Minnesota Rochester. Given the problems we have with our current funding situation, establishing a new university does not appear to be a very shrewd move and apparently an Iron Range U may be next. But, after all, these are folks who thought tearing down Memorial Stadium was a good idea. We are in the process of paying in excess of 300 million dollars for that mistake.

Despite its many recent successes, the U's path forward is not without obstacles, Bruininks noted.

"All of our aspirations are contingent upon two resources: persistence and funding," he said. "I rank persistence first, most obviously because in this regard we control our own destiny. It is only fair that an institution committed to responsible stewardship would expect to be held accountable by the state and the public. We've identified important strategies that support our view of excellence, but we cannot expect continued investment without continuing reform."

The word reform is currently popular with Administrators at BigU. On her website the medical school dean (of Pepsi-Cola fame) used to call for reform. Judging from recent events, this does not appear to have happened. What exactly is meant by reform? Will it be further ethical training for faculty at the AHC? Will we be cutting the number of administrators or their salaries? The last I heard our president received a rather large salary increase. Resources are clearly going to be a problem at BigU for the foreseeable future. Perhaps we should “elevate those guns a little lower?” Perhaps we should regroup and decide how best to use the limited resources we’ve got, rather than making grand, extravagant or audacious claims?

"Two years ago, I said that Minnesota needs a great research university, and this University truly needs the state of Minnesota," Bruininks added. "I also said that strategic positioning would provide the basis for change and a commitment to excellence worthy of our heritage and our future. "The inscription on Northrop captures this beautifully: It expresses the spirit of a great University, its commitment to excellence, and its service to the greater good. It's a tremendous vision, and I'm humbled by your efforts to attain it--but we clearly still have more work to do."

The inscription reads:

"The University of Minnesota/
Founded in the faith that men are ennobled by understanding/
Dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth/
Devoted to the instruction of youth and the welfare of the state"

It is a wonderful sentiment but subject to diverse interpretation. I don’t see the words “great research university” there. As Shakespeare wrote, approximately, in the Merchant of Venice: "The devil can cite scripture for his own purpose." The last time I had a hard look at the inscription is when I stood outside Morrill Hall and listened to Lou Bellamy and many other articulate people speak in favor of General College. We asked that OurLeader come out for discussion. He did not appear.

At some point serious conversations will need to be held about where we are going.
Please let us groundlings know when this happens. Requesting reports that had "deliverables" specified by the administration will not solve our problems.

A StrangeGopher in a strange land (aka Bonzo)

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