Sunday, September 21, 2008

The following piece, in a slightly shorter form, has appeared in the Minnesota Daily:

Call For A Campus-Wide Discussion of our Top Three Goal

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax— And cabbages—and kings—“

Another great summer has passed. The campus was surprisingly alive with students - some taking classes, some doing research, and some being introduced to the U through various summer programs. The students certainly aren't the problem here.

The tail end of the summer was a little disheartening though. We were humilated in the new Forbes ratings (524th !), but showed slight improvement in the US News beauty contest (61st) – leaving us still last in our self-selected peer cohort and in the bottom half of the BigTen. We are now four years from the beginning of our campaign to greatness, in another year we should be half way there. Are we?

This is being written on the last Friday in August and I was away earlier in the week 'Up North in God's Country, aka the Norwegian Riviera, at Naniboujou above Grand Marais. There were no tvs, no newspapers, no email, no internet. This was a chance to think about where we are and where we'd like to be both personally and at the U.

Margaret Soltan, an English prof at George Washington, writes the premiere academic blog in the US, University Diaries (UD). One of her favorite targets is the excesses of football at the expense of academics, and we have become one of her favorite targets. It was on the UD site that I first learned of the latest troubles at the football factory. Evidently, we have made our academic standards even lower in our latest recruiting efforts.

I believe that our current football troubles and most of our other problems are directly linked to the top three goal. President Bruininks has touted ambitious aspirations in an embarrassingly titled document: "Serving Minnesota Through World-Class Greatness.”

"Starting in 2004...Under the leadership of Provost Sullivan, the University community articulated an ambitious aspiration for the University—to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic] within a decade."

Today's piece is not meant to be argumentative but to stimulate the initiation of a campus wide discussion of where we are as a university and where we would like to go as a community. I am very disappointed that the establishment of a blog for this purpose [“Conversations with the Provost”], promised last year by provost Sullivan, was dropped because of lack of time on his part. Certainly time spent on such a campus-wide discussion is worth more than that spent on yet another legal tome or further resume-building conferences?

Let all of us, students, faculty, staff, and administrators, work hard to make the U an institution of which we can be proud. People need to have input and they should have some tangible evidence that their input has been heard and acted upon and not just used as evidence that they have been consulted. The administration needs to stop calling people who disagree with them “doubters.” We have just as much at stake as they do, perhaps more.

In the words of Mark Yudof:

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. Help, or get out of the way! Without authority invested where the real work of this University is done, the light of excellence will only grow dimmer. University administrators have not yet cornered the market in acumen and foresight; a monologue will not suffice.
President Bruininks, Provost Sullivan, how about it?

I ask that you respond with a piece on the top three goal and that we continue a public dialog throughout this academic year so that communication about important issues does not continue to be a monologue.

Examples of other important topics include the money sink that is UMore Park, ethical behavior at the university, student debt upon graduation, relations with our outstanding coordinate campuses, and the land grant mission of the university. But the place to start discussion is the top three goal, because its pursuit precludes the solution of more important current problems.

I look forward to your response and the initiation of a true conversation this year.

Bill Gleason is a medical school faculty member and U of M alum (PhD, chemistry, 1973) who has taught at Carleton and St. Catherine. Prior to returning to the U in 1989 he worked nine years as a research chemist at 3M. He writes a blog entitled The Periodic Table, described as: "Periodic submissions related to chemistry, education, research, academic life at BigU, and anything else of interest to Mr. Bonzo (aka the Whining Dinosaur)."

No comments: