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Board Chairman Clyde Allen’s wish list for the next University of Minnesota president

If you’re interested in becoming president of the University of Minnesota, you might want to know what’s on the wish list of Board of Regents Chairman Clyde Allen.

Clyde Allen
Clyde Allen

If you’re interested in becoming president of the University of Minnesota, you might want to know what’s on the wish list of Board of Regents Chairman Clyde Allen.

Visionary, scholar, quick study, administrator, and maybe Energizer Bunny (my descriptor, not his), are a few of the qualities Allen would like to see in the next president.

President Robert Bruininks, who was appointed in 2002 after serving as interim president, plans to return to the U’s faculty next year. The board is conducting a national search for his replacement, the costs of which I wrote about Monday.

Some may remember Allen as a former commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Revenue (the state’s tax collector) and as a former research director for the Minnesota Taxpayers Association. Allen, a recent treasurer and vice president for business affairs at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., graduated from Yale University with a degree in political science.

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‘A lot of work to do’
“If it’s somebody who comes from the outside, it needs to be somebody who can get acquainted very quickly with the leaders in the university community,” Allen told me Monday in an interview. “These are very difficult times … financially and we have a lot of work to do, and that’s not much fun. So it needs to be somebody who can gain the confidence of people in a short period of time; or if it’s someone from the inside, someone who has the confidence of people.”

In his state-of-the-university speech this year, Bruininks noted a new trend in the revenue stream for the U. “This year for the first time, tuition ($700 million) contributes substantially more to our budget than our state appropriation, and that trend is all but certain to continue,” Bruininks said.

If you want a crash course on financial conditions at the U, I’d recommend reading that speech [PDF].

Allen is dismayed by cuts to higher education in recent years, including the governor’s $50 million unallotment to the U, which was ratified by the Legislature in recent days.

“I don’t believe we will ever get back … to the formula they used to have (years ago), where for every dollar of tuition that we received the state put in about $2,” Allen said. “Since then, that state support has declined because of two things: demands from other areas such as health and senior citizens … but also because we have decreased taxes. We’ve dropped Minnesota’s ranking in taxes and maybe we shouldn’t have dropped it that much. Maybe we should have used a little more of that to put some more revenue in.”

Proven academic track record’
The new president “needs to be a visionary and … a scholar,” Allen said. “I think a large research university of this sort needs an academic with a proven academic track record. I don’t mean they need to be practicing that particular discipline recently. They may have been, and in fact I hoped would have been, in an administrative position in recent years. But they need to have a proven track record in the scholastic area.”

Energizer Bunny is on the list of attributes, though Allen didn’t use the term.   

“They need to be willing to work long, long hours,” said Allen, who was first elected to the 12-member board in 2003. “This is not a 50- or 60-hour-a-week job. It sometimes involves more than that. By the time you get through all the evening phone calls and the visits to prospective donors, it’s a long week and a hard job.”

While the last national search ended in the hiring of an internal candidate (Bruininks) — “what a good choice that was” — Allen is careful to say the board wants to look at the entire field. 

“I think we have (internal) candidates right now, but I have no idea of how they compare with candidates we might have from around the nation — mostly because I don’t know the ones from around the nation,” he said.