Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tim Foley for the Chronicle

New University of Minnesota President,

is a New U to Follow?

Over the years, I've posted on matters related to this important piece. See for example:
World-Class Greatness at a Land-Grant University Near You?

 (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Will [Kaler's] four-year contract require him to oversee the dismantling of a major research university to keep its basic education mission affordable for most Minnesotans? Will he need to scale back the university’s land grant mission and divert dollars to revenue-producing departments and labs, namely the “U’s” strong medical, health and related sciences fields?

In the simplest terms possible, will he have to sell the office furniture to pay the light and heating bills?

Research dollars are drying up or not keeping pace with inflation at the federal level, which has historically supported land grant institutions. State budgets here and elsewhere are strained to the point of collapse from the weak U.S. economy, “no new taxes” state policy and lack of political will.

“People should be debating just what they want their university to be,” said Paul Brutlag, a Wendell farmer and Morris attorney.

For those reasons, Brutlag sent out-going University President Robert Bruininks a letter asking him to query presidential candidate Kaler about the following:

“What is your personal description, definition of the Morrill Land Grant education system?

“Please describe your past personal experience with the land grant education system.

“Please state what your personal position and passion will be to affectively support, enhance the land grant foundation of the University of Minnesota.”

There were no media reports that Bruininks passed along those questions and requests in the public forums leading up to the regents’ election. But as the west-central Minnesota farmer-lawyer put it, “Now’s the time to ask. It doesn’t do much good to complain after the fact.”

While the university's land grand mission helped Minnesota become a world leader in food and ag sciences production and the businesses that go with it, a second monster Minnesota industry began to extend from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic at Rochester. It is the complex of sciences that come together involving health, medicine, health care, medical technology and devices, and pharmaceutical research. Yet, current state and federal budget cuts have threatened that research.

MedCityNews.com summarized the University of Minnesota’s future funding challenges in a Nov. 9 report, “Vision unrealized? University of Minnesota faces reality.”

Everything from diabetes research to completing and staffing previously authorized research centers to create new products and inspire new Minnesota companies are at stake, reported Thomas Lee, the news service’s Minneapolis bureau chief.

In an interview, Lee said the university’s access to federal research dollars is threatened just as much as its state budget support. Lee noted that University of Minnesota research dollars from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) declined by 6.5 percent last year, to $241 million.
The Regents have touted the new president as a change agent.  

Change to what? 

Shouldn't there be some public discussion of where we want our flagship state university to go and what we want it to be?  

Or will these decisions be made in closed meetings and involve secret planning. Only later when plans are about to be revealed will the peons be informed and thus shared governance can be claimed? 

This has been the pattern so far.  With MoreU Park, with the closing of the graduate school, to give just two of many examples.

Let us hope that the new president looks into recent history and consults with those at the U who have some semblance of institutional memory. And please indicate to us at the beginning that we are all in this together: students, faculty, administration, the state legislature, the governor, and the citizens of the state. 

As Mark Yudof famously put it:

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!

Without authority invested where the real work of this University is done, the light of excellence will only grow dimmer.


1 comment:

Michael W. McNabb said...

New U? Unfortunately, the answer is almost certainly in the negative. A secretive selection process for a new president eliminates any debate about what people want a university to be--the kind of debate recommended by Paul Brutlag. Instead, we have a new president who embraces the (misplaced) priorities of the Regents to whom he is beholden for his $600,000+ position.