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UMM Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson

University of Minnesota, Morris, chancellor Jacquie Johnson sees a bright future for UMM.

Morris on the move

Chancellor Johnson ready to build on UMM's strong reputation

By Jim Thorp and Judy Korn

Dec. 1, 2006

When Jacqueline Johnson took on the role of chancellor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, in August, she viewed it as a homecoming of sorts: to public liberal arts education with an emphasis on access and service. She arrived as the campus was ramping up for the new academic year and in the midst of a massive strategic positioning effort system-wide--which forced her to hit the ground running.

Catch up to her, and she's engaged and engaging, with fresh fondness for her new home and a clear vision for the future of UMM. During the course of two interviews she shared her perspectives.

Q: You're making a return to public higher education--how do the challenges differ from those at Buena Vista or St. Martin's? A: There are a number of important differences--an especially important one is that I'm accustomed to working directly with a Board of Trustees, rather than indirectly through a system and legislative organizational structure. There's a learning curve in that respect, but I think I'm catching on.

And honestly, I think there are more similarities than there are differences between public and private higher education. In general, higher education is challenged to stay affordable, to be accountable to a variety of constituents, and to find multiple and varied sources of revenue other than tuition. In addition, each type of institution operates in a highly competitive marketplace for students--thus, it is extremely important that institutions maintain clear focus, that our educational promises are clear, and that we demonstrate the distinctiveness of these promises and how we are delivering on them.

Q: What, in your mind, sets the University of Minnesota, Morris, apart from the other schools in the U of M system? From other state colleges and universities in Minnesota? A: The University of Minnesota, Morris, serves as a public liberal-arts college, the only school in the University of Minnesota system with that particular focus. We are also the only school in Minnesota that belongs to COPLAC--the national Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges.

Our liberal arts mission is focused not only on the traditional liberal arts disciplines but also on the vitally important features of liberal learning: critical thinking; effective writing and speaking; problem solving; quantitative reasoning; civic engagement; and the ability to function effectively in an increasingly diverse and global society. Our mission calls on us to offer a challenging and rigorous academic experience to highly qualified students in a public, residential and undergraduate-focused setting.

Our mission and the characteristics of our students and faculty create a learning experience in a public setting that is similar to the more expensive versions offered by our private competitors.


Johnson served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, and vice president for academic affairs at Saint Martin's College in Lacey, Wash.

She began her career at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., where she served as chair of the department of anthropology and sociology and as general education program director.

Her areas of teaching expertise include social psychology, gender and women's studies and social inequities.

Q: As a recent transplant to the U system, how do you think Morris is viewed beyond Minnesota? A: One of the things that attracted me to the University of Minnesota, Morris, as an applicant for the chancellor's position was its reputation, and I don't think I am alone in this. When a colleague of mine learned that I would be joining the Morris community, he said, 'Oh, I know Morris; it's that little school out there on the prairie where all the smart kids go.' Like him, I had known of Morris by reputation for a long time.

Q: What excites you about serving here? A: It's clear to me that I have joined a vibrant academic community one sure of itself in terms of its commitment and mission, and one sure to advance to the next stages of excellence. I'm most excited about the opportunities to build on our legacy and create a future in which we expand and strengthen our role as a public, liberal arts college with a strong honors focus, committed to developing and using renewable energy sources, serving the region as an economic, environmental and educational resource.

Q: You're obviously in the thick of strategic positioning at Morris. What role does Morris play in the push of the U overall to become one of the top three public research universities in the world? A: Morris' mission is connected to, yet different from, that of the Twin Cities. UMM's mission is exclusively undergrad, and we provide, in a public setting, an educational environment similar to that of our private, undergraduate-focused competitors. Like the other coordinate campuses, UMM shares in the University's land grant mission with special attention to serving well the regions in which they operate. Faculty at UMM, like their Twin Cities counterparts, are also 'driven to discover' and are actively engaged in the production and generation of knowledge and creative work. Because of our undergraduate mission, UMM faculty members play the special role of bringing that research and creativity to undergraduate students, in the classroom and outside it.

As part of our strategic planning effort, we are thinking carefully about our brand claims and market niche. UMM's strategic plan includes the claim that we aspire to be a public honors college.

We believe that with this claim we can continue the legacy of rich and rigorous undergraduate education that has long characterized this institution. And, we believe that the particular niche that this claim represents will allow us to reposition and distinguish ourselves even more effectively than we already have.

Q: Strategic positioning has helped bring attention to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary scholarship across the U. Tell us about your scholarly interests, which seem to fit this mold. A: As much as I love my discipline of sociology, I do think that the most exciting research and scholarly activity happen at the points where sociology intersects with other disciplines--psychology, political science, literature and art. My research interests reflect this belief. I also have found that research emerges from my own personal interests--cultivated and developed through travel and personal relationships.

Q: What's your Polish connection? Do you have other international ties that might benefit the U? A: My Polish connection is fellow sociologist Anna Karwinska, faculty member and assistant rector at the Krakow Academy of Economics in Krakow, Poland. In the early 1990s, Dr. Karwinska and I embarked on a fascinating research project using children's art work to 'capture' their understanding of their own and others political culture. She has traveled to the U.S. as we have worked on this project, and I have also traveled to Poland.

In addition, I have a special interest in China--at Saint Martin's and Buena Vista, I worked with colleagues to develop partnerships with institutions in Shanghai (Shanghai Maritime University) and Wuhan (Hubei University of Technology) and have made several trips to China in the past few years. I expect that my international connections will build on the excellent work that is part of the legacy of the University of Minnesota in general and Morris in particular. I believe that international travel and learning experiences are a key part of education in the 21st century.

Q: Describe where you are in the strategic planning process--will we see big things happening at Morris already this winter? A: Our strategic planning efforts began last academic year with an initial draft submitted to system officers in April 2006. Based on responses from those officers, we have continued to revise our plan over the course of the past few months. A final version of the plan was posted for campus review mid-October. At a Campus Assembly meeting on Oct.24, the general direction of the plan was endorsed by 92 percent of assembly members--a remarkable show of support for the work of the Strategic Planning Task Force and an extraordinary vote of confidence in UMM's future from faculty, staff and students. The University of Minnesota, Morris, submitted the final draft of its strategic plan to President Bruininks in November.

The campus community has been highly involved in shaping the plan through focus group activities, forums and the regular committee structure. Big things are always happening on the Morris campus, and that will continue to be true as our strategic plan takes greater shape.

FURTHER READING UMM a "homecoming" for Chancellor Johnson Jacqueline Johnson is UMM chancellor Strategic Positioning at UMM