As we embark on a new year, we want to express our optimism about the prospects and future of the University of Minnesota. We are the University of Minnesota Retirees Association (UMRA), a group of nearly 600 former faculty, staff, spouses, partners and friends who know the university well and care about it immensely. Our members have committed nearly $28 million to the U’s ongoing “Driven” campaign since 2011, and volunteer more than 20,000 hours annually in service to the university. We want it to succeed.
Over the past year UMRA has conducted a series of forums and interviews with U of M leaders to get some sense of the university as it goes through a presidential and provost change as well as adding four new regents. As a result of these meetings, we feel very optimistic about the future of the university. All of those we talked with were thoughtful, realistic and practical about the university. We think the future looks bright.
We have heard from the following:
- Board of Regents Chair David McMillan
- University President Joan Gabel
- Regent Mary Davenport
- Regent Janie Mayeron
- Director of Athletics Mark Coyle
Our optimism is based on the positive impression these leaders have made on us and the commitment they expressed to taking a practical, nonpolitical approach to operating the university. While it is too early to judge these leaders on their deeds, they are well informed and thoughtful about how to properly operate the institution. The new president is articulate and well versed in higher education trends and has an excellent initial sense of the university’s strengths and weaknesses. She has hired a new provost who is an experienced administrator with an impressive background (behavioral economist). The two new regents we spent some time with exude the kind of high-quality judgment and integrity that should serve the university well. We expect they will be great fiduciaries for the university. Hopefully, the new leadership will also help to create cooperative relationships both inside and outside the institution and move forward in a team-oriented direction.
As we see it, the University of Minnesota is a unique state asset that is devoted to the ultimate long game: educating our children in hopes they will stay and become good citizens of our state; doing research to improve the human condition; assisting the state in its key enterprises — including agriculture, technology, and business — and drawing human capital to the state.
The U’s budget of about $4 billion educates our young people (15,000 graduate each year), creates research (think taconite; open heart surgery; apples [Honey Crisp, Haralson, SweeTango®]; the “black box” flight data recorder; Ziagen, an AIDS drug), and provides service to the state through U of M Extension. In 2018-19, the U of M Venture Center launched a record 19 startup companies (most located in the state) based on technology developed at the U of M, and more than 150 startups were launched from FY06 to FY19, including 70 in the health care field (bio/pharma/medical devices).
Our men’s and women’s athletic teams have been wildly successful this year in the Twin Cities under Athletic Director Coyle. The football and volleyball teams as well as the UMD hockey team provide a source of pride and good feelings. They are the “front porch of the university.”
The rest of the university, however, is the house that needs to be our primary focus and the object of support, because the university is essential for the long-term success of our state in an extremely competitive world.
We encourage the Legislature and citizens of the state to support the university’s new president, her new provost and the Board of Regents in the upcoming legislative session.
Bill Donohue is president of the University of Minnesota Retirees Association (UMRA). Frank Cerra is its president-elect. This piece was written on behalf of the UMRA. The following members of UMRA also contributed to this commentary: Lynn C. Anderson, John Anderson, Vernon Cardwell, Will Craig, Cathy Lee Gierke, Cherie Hamilton, Eric Hockert, Jean Kinsey, Jeanne Markell, Ron Matross, Kristine Mortensen, Kathleen O’Brien, Chip Peterson, Donna Peterson, Richard “Fitz” Pfutzenreuter, Richard Poppele, Jerry Rinehart, Terry Roe, KaiMay Terry, and Gloria Williams.
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