Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On the Approaching Tenth Anniversary of Mark Yudof's Inauguration

As President of the University of Minnesota

Mr. Bonzo has been associated with BigU since 1970. During this time he has observed the reign of presidents Malcom Moos, Peter McGrath, Kenneth Keller, Nils Hasselmo, Mark Yudof, and Robert Bruininks.

Of these presidents, the one whose influence on the university will be the most lasting and who did the best job was Mark Yudof. It is possible that Ken Keller might have had a larger influence if he had served longer but his presidency was cut short by a harmless mistake or overweening arrogance depending on what you thought of his Commitment to Focus program.

Now Mark Yudof was an outsider and he did not stay at the university for very long. Some apparently feel that this is bad for the university and seem to be willing to settle for a lifer who knows the institution well and will stay as president for a long time. Hasselmo, Keller, and the present occupant are examples of this lifer type.

Mr. B. is not a great fan of administrators but in his career he has observed two excellent presidents, Yudof at Minnesota and the late Howard Swearer while at Carleton. Swearer later served at Brown University where he did an outstanding job. They were both great writers, articulate, cultured, and comfortable in dealing with students, janitors, secretaries, and faculty. Yudof knew how to deal with state legislators and other politicians including Jesse Ventura. Swearer didn't have to, but I am sure he could have picked it up. Both individuals were scary smart but did not take themselves too seriously.

Events of the past ten years are indeed depressing, e.g. the destruction of General College, the prostitution of the University to Coca-Cola, Twin City Federal, and Pepsi Cola, addiction to consultants and the latest management fads, disgraceful treatment of workers. Now in cynical moments when ugly things happen at BigU courtesy of our administration it can be consoling to think: "It's this way everywhere." Don't believe it. Leadership matters.

What follows are some excerpts from Mark Yudof's Inaugural Address. They make you want to go out and labor mightily to keep the University of Minnesota a great university. Let's hope that some day we have another leader of Mark Yudof's caliber in the Big House.

Inaugural Address ( October 17, 1997)

I am deeply honored by my appointment as the 14th president of the University of Minnesota and by all of those assembled today in Northrop Auditorium to celebrate that ascendancy. I accept that honor with gratitude and humility. I accept it with the certainty that I would not be standing here today but for the family that nurtured and guided me.

Today marks a transition or passage in my own life and in that of my family, and it may also evidence a further evolutionary stage in the life of this great University, an accelerated evolution toward higher levels of excellence and service to this state and nation. I certainly hope so. I will do my absolute best in the years ahead. I approach the 150th anniversary of the University with a confidence borne of deep respect for our government leaders, the Board of Regents, and our splendid faculty and staff. Most importantly, I have faith in our students, those sons and daughters of Minnesota, who are our sole reason for being.

One critical value is community. The University should be a functioning community in which students, staff, and faculty are part of a larger whole, in which there is a sense of social obligation that transcends self-interest, and in which there is a culture of civic responsibility, civility, and tolerance.

In recent years, too many in the academy have abandoned community, with its commitment to fairness, willingness to sacrifice for the good of the entire enterprise, and a sense that we are all in this together. They have played the politics of distrust, envy, cynicism, and self-advancement.

It is fundamental--as Emmanuel Kant beautifully explained and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States embody--that the individuals in our community be treated with equal respect.

The need for integrity permeates every aspect of the University. The education mission of the University must be taken seriously--not just the way to get state funding.

Administrators should tell the truth, keep their word, implement what they promise, and not dissemble. My point is plain enough: Without integrity, the phrase higher education is an oxymoron.

Within our resources and true to the multiple purposes of a great land-grant institution, the hydraulic that drives the University should be the quest to be outstanding, to do things as well or better than any other institution in the nation.

We should always nurture a climate in which academicians are not intimidated by outside forces, other faculty members, students, or administrators.

I pledge today that I will always defend academic freedom. After all, whatever the titles, I am first and foremost a member of the academy and a fellow professor. All I ask in return is that the faculty never accepts mediocrity, that it hold itself to the highest standards of intellectual and pedagogical excellence, and that it police itself for those few colleagues who fail to uphold the highest standards of our profession.

Minnesotans expect us to be fair in providing access to the University for their sons and daughters. If we do not provide reasonable access--including access for those who are underprepared and historically underrepresented in higher education and in the upper levels of our socioeconomic life, the taxpayers and state government of Minnesota will turn their backs on our graduate, research, and outreach functions. Simply stated, it is imperative that we continue to embrace our land-grant roots if we are to thrive.

When making decisions, I view shared governance and consultation with constituent groups as only fair because of the enormous stake they have in the University. Without fairness there is no legitimacy and no buy in to the institutional vision.

To the best of my recollection, no great scientific discoveries, no insightful social science tracts, and no novels have been produced in Morrill Hall. No classes are taught in Morrill Hall. No patients are made well in Morrill Hall. My point is that we must value delegating academic and other decisions to campuses, colleges, schools, departments, and faculties. Administrators can facilitate, they can help the deans to build better English or physics or public health programs, but they cannot actually do the building. Help, or get out of the way! The great universities of the world--whether Bologna 900 years ago, Trinity College-Cambridge in the 17th century, or Stanford and Berkeley today--are highly decentralized. Without authority invested where the real work of this University is done, the light of excellence will only grow dimmer.

If war is too important to be left to the generals, then education is too important to be left only to professional educators. University administrators have not yet cornered the market in acumen and foresight; a monologue will not suffice.

We must also value our obligation to reach beyond the boundaries of our classrooms, libraries, and laboratories. We must value using our vast stores of knowledge to help solve the great public policy issues of the day; to help alleviate suffering; to assist in the development of aesthetic sensibilities; and to preserve the ecology of the planet. This is outreach and service where it touches and can be touched.

As a newcomer, let me tell you a great secret about the University of Minnesota, one that you may have overlooked. It is a secret that makes me very proud to be here. The University of Minnesota system, with its 48,000 students, varied campuses and programs, University and General Colleges, partnerships with MnSCU institutions, plans for distance learning, and more, has created the best balance between access and excellence that I have observed in any public university in the country. Self-doubts are inevitable in higher education, but in this case Minnesotans should be patting each other on the back.

Some would urge the University to pull back on its land-grant responsibilities, to rein in the access programs, to abandon the General College, to minimize the importance of the University of Minnesota Extension Service and other outreach programs, tone down our efforts to strengthen elementary and secondary education, or renege on the promise of U2000 for undergraduates.

But at what cost? To save so little and destroy so much? I will not support such efforts. Any short-term gain to research or graduate and professional programs occasioned by cutbacks to the core will be self-defeating.

The result will be a decreased level of public support for the entire University enterprise. There will be less to share. The University is built on its undergraduate program, though it rightfully aspires to and has achieved much more. If the foundation cracks, the whole edifice is in jeopardy.

At an inauguration there generally is unbridled optimism for the future and a sense that all is possible. I am honored by your confidence and good will. But I also am reminded of what Clark Kerr once said of university presidents:

The university president in the United States is expected to be a friend of the students, a colleague of the faculty, a good fellow with the alumni, a sound administrator with the [regents], a good speaker with the public, an astute bargainer with the foundations and federal agencies, a politician with the state legislator, a friend of industry, labor, and agriculture, a persuasive diplomat with donors, a champion of education generally, a supporter of the professions. . . , a spokesman to the press, a scholar in his own right. . . a devotee of opera and football equally, a decent human being, [and so on]. . . .

No one can be all of these things. Some succeed at being none.

At the crossroads of expectation and reality, human fallibility and aspiration, individual will and institutional inertia, I hope that you will forgive my inevitable lapses, take joint responsibility for the nurturing of values and goals, and find comfort in the progress we make together.

God bless all of you and God bless the University of Minnesota.

Amen - Bonzo


momo said...

Thanks for the reminder.

Mr. B. said...


You're welcome. I wish our present administration could read - and understand - the message here. If this were the case, we would not have had either of the recent strikes. Nor would Mr. Wolter, the university's mouthpiece, be saying such totally inappropriate things...



Anonymous said...

Came here from mnspeak. Yudof was popular, but what impact do you think he had that's even felt now? His message here was clearly, "don't worry guys, I won't rock the boat." His biggest project was cleaning up the campus (which I appreciated, but it's hardly a bold or controversial move). So you could say he was a good administrator, but I question whether he had any impact.

Plus, he bolted the second he saw trouble on the horizon.

Mr. B. said...

Thanks, anonymous, for your comments.

In addition to cleaning up the U, he also was responsible for waking up people to the idea that maybe cell and molecular biology was important - pretty sad when it takes a lawyer president to have to do this.

And then there was the straight talking with people - with his own words. Our present leader seems to only say innocuous things or have hit-people do the dirty work for him.

As for bolting the first time he had the chance, he actually turned down Texas the first year they pursued him. But then he went when they asked the next year. I guess that makes him a flip-flopper. Sort of like OurLeader who at first (wisely) took himself out of consideration for the job as UPrez and then changed his mind? But I guess there wasn't another person in the world up to leading us on our ten year march to be one of the "three top research universities in the world [sic]?" Meanwhile the president of the University of Iowa has moved onto Cornell and the Purdue provost has become the president at Iowa. Maybe people from outside are good? New ideas?

As to not rocking the boat, sometimes that is the right thing to do. Maybe it is better to do nothing in certain cases than to do something wrong or stupid?

I do think that of the presidents we've had in the 38 years I've been here, he was the best. If you don't think he was worth much, then I guess it is a pretty sad commentary on the rest of them...

Ciao, Bonzo

Anonymous said...

I didn't say he bolted "the first chance he got," but "when he saw trouble on the horizon." I also didn't say I didn't think he was worth much, I just asked what impact you thought he had. Emphasizing biology wasn't an achievement I was aware of, but that doesn't mean anything except that I wasn't aware of it.

I actually do know Bruininks, and whatever people say about him at a distance, he is a good and honorable person who is doing what he believes is right for the U. The political climate has changed in his tenture, and he has tried to make the U a leaner machine, to argue to taxpayer that she is not a bloated beast. You can observe, rightfully, that his own salary is bloated, but I insist that he is no Mr. Burns, and is not the monster he is made out to be. He is committed to the University, and deserves respect.

Mr. B. said...

Well, anonymous, I guess we don't agree, but thanks for your comments.

I don't want to start a debate on Bruninks, at least not right now. If you are interested in one example of why I find him so annoying, please have a look at:

I'm sorry, but I don't know how to put a nice link in this thing. Hope the above works.



Anonymous said...

"that the individuals in our community be treated with equal respect."

Jeepers creepers Mr. Bonzo, you're not suggesting that this extends as far as the faculty-staff relationship, are you? Please keep our ivory tower pure.