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"Students are the big winners in this plan," says Bruininks. His recommendations will increase student financial and academic support, enrichment, diversity, and writing proficiency.
Forging a bright future
President Bruininks's recommendations for a healthy University
From M, summer 2005
A letter from President Bruininks Dear
For the first time in more than a decade, we have forged a plan for the University's future. We knew we had to redefine the U's role and responsibilities for the next generation as we face more competition for resources and for the best students and scholars. The University of Minnesota is the single most important source of creative energy for the state's economy and quality of life and we need to take the utmost care of it.
Our goal is to become one of the top three public research universities in the world within the next 10 years and on May 2, I sent the Board of Regents my recommendations on how to get there.
Along with providing far richer opportunities for all students and strengthening our existing programs, my recommendations also call for systemwide improvements in undergraduate admissions and support, faculty retention, and financial accountability, among other important issues.
We will also change the structure of the University by integrating three colleges-the College of Human Ecology, the College of Natural Resources, and General College-with existing colleges to create new, expanded opportunities for study.
I invite you to read my recommendations in full at the Strategic Positioning Process Web site, and more about the whys and hows of these changes in the following M story.
As a 37-year veteran of this institution, I understand well the inherent challenges in putting a new future in place. I also believe that we can sustain the best of our past-our values, our tradition-while welcoming the risks and rewards that come with creating a great university. I look forward to your support.
Robert H. Bruininks
A bright future "If you do not think about the future, you cannot have one." President Bob Bruininks is fond of using writer John Galsworthy's words when he talks about making sure that the University has the kind of future it wants in a world and a state that are rapidly changing when it comes to higher education.
Demographics in Minnesota are shifting. In the next five years, the state's traditional college-aged population will begin to decline, and the number of high school students of color will increase. At the same time, national and international competition for the best students and scholars will continue to grow stronger.
"Every organization in our society is setting priorities and facing limitations of resources," says Bruininks. "I believe my administration has an obligation to define for the next generation the mission, the role, and the responsibilities of the University of Minnesota.
Funding resources are tightening. Twenty-five years ago, Minnesota was sixth in the nation when it came to financial support for higher education from state funding and local taxes. Today, it is 29th. And because American society increasingly views higher education as a private benefit rather than a public good, state and federal support may continue to fall.
The world is getting smaller. It doesn't just seem that way, it is that way. Not only are students and faculty looking at the whole world for their educational opportunities, researchers are collaborating more often across national boundaries and judging all higher ed institutions by world-class standards.
Given these challenges, Bruininks believes that if the University expects to provide students with the best possible education, contribute to the betterment of the world, and increase its international reputation, it has to make some significant changes.
Pushing the envelope Last July, Bruininks asked provost Tom Sullivan to start putting together a plan for the future of the University. In March of this year, after a long commentary period for faculty, staff, students, and community members, the Board of Regents unanimously endorsed the plan--and its goal of the University becoming one of the top three research universities in the world within the next decade.
Bruininks then used the plan to form his own recommendations for changes to the structure, function, and culture of the University--the "next steps," as he calls them, in a long and innovative journey. He submitted them to the regents in May; the regents will vote on them in June.
The recommendations range from a University-wide honors program, to finding administrative cost efficiencies, to a major restructuring of colleges. In one way or another, all of the recommendations focus on students.
Shaking things up If the regents approve Bruininks's recommendations, the most dramatic changes will come with the restructuring of the College of Human Ecology, the College of Natural Resources, and General College in order to consolidate resources and strengthen areas where the U already shines. Here's what Bruininks proposes for those areas:
Design: The University will create a new College of Design that will include the current College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the College of Human Ecology's Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel.
Education and human development: The University will integrate academic departments related to education and human development across the life span into a single college. These include the College of Education and Human Development, General College, and the College of Human Ecology's Department of Family Social Science and School of Social Work.
Food systems, environmental science, and renewable resources: The University will integrate the College of Natural Resources and the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences into a single college. In addition, the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, now jointly administered by the College of Human Ecology and the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, will be part of the expanded college.
Of these major changes, the one involving General College has caused the most consternation and has generated some protests on campus. General College, which offers no degrees itself, has traditionally been a point of entry for students who want to come to the University but don't meet the competitive admission standards of the other freshman-admitting colleges. The goal is for them to transfer out of General College into a degree-granting college on the Twin Cities campus. The concern is that with no General College, these students will not have an opportunity to come to the University and that the University itself will be a less diverse place.
Bruininks is proposing the change to General College for two major reasons. One is that he believes that its graduation rates are too low: after six years, only 31 percent of General College students graduate from the University. The other is that he wants to make all programs at the University more accountable for helping all students succeed; that should not be the responsibility of just one college, he says. He also wants students to start in a degree program when they enter the U and be exposed to the energy and opportunities of being part of a larger learning environment. The right person at the right time Bruininks is just the president the U needs for a plan that will bring major improvements, even if it rocks the boat. One of his talents is seeing the big picture. This quality is essential when it comes to a plan of this magnitude--a plan that doesn't just focus on one issue but also takes on the larger and less easily quantifiable task of reinvigorating the spirit and focus of the University.
Someone who leads that kind of charge must enjoy a challenge or the plan will flounder. "I tend to thrive more in times of challenge, and sometimes in times of adversity, than I even do when things are going extremely well," says Bruininks. "I think out of challenge and adversity great organizations get in touch with their soul. They decide if they're going to move to new levels or accept a future that clings to the past."