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Cumulative effect

Board of Regents actions advance Transforming the U agenda

By Jim Thorp

Brief, Dec. 13, 2006

The Board of Regents meetings Dec. 8 - 9, 2006, illustrated a critical point in the University of Minnesota's efforts to become a top-three public research university: Transforming the U is not a process or a catch phrase--it's the way the University does business. Elements of strategic positioning were discussed throughout four separate committee meetings as well as the full meeting of the board.

Interdisciplinary initiatives
The Educational Policy and Planning Committee heard a report on interdisciplinary initiatives currently underway on campus, including:

Faculty members explained how the interdisciplinary focus of such institutes supports the University's commitment to education, research and outreach by enabling collaboration on complex problems that transcend traditional academic disciplines--and how grant funds are increasingly being awarded to interdisciplinary projects.

Committee chair Peter Bell asked how encouraging such broad-based collaboration might impact the U's strength within academic disciplines, the ability of faculty members to get published and be appropriately reviewed, and decisions regarding tenure.

The panel--which included graduate school dean Gail Dubrow; medical school dean Deborah Powell; ecology, evolution, and behavior department head Claudia Neuhauser; interim director of the Institute on the Environment Deb Swackhamer; and Institute for Advanced Study director Ann Waltner--replied that there are sufficient avenues for publishing and peer review of interdisciplinary research. However, the U's increasing emphasis on such activities will require more central coordination and new ways of addressing faculty recognition and tenure.

They also shared a strong belief that bringing different disciplines together to address critical issues will, in fact, help to strengthen the individual disciplines, as well to attract and retain top faculty and graduate students.

"If the disciplines aren't strong, the institutes won't be, either," explained Swackhamer. "We aren't--and can't--take away from that strength, and we believe that by encouraging interdisciplinary work we will be adding to the energy, innovation and available funding for research."

Campus expansion
In the Facilities Committee meeting, Vice President for University Services Kathleen O'Brien and Athletics Director Joel Maturi provided the Facilities Committee with an overview of the East Gateway District, the name being used to describe the area of new development at the east end of the Twin Cities campus. In addition to the TCF Bank Stadium, the East Gateway District will house potentially eight to 10 major academic buildings, including the new Medical Bioscience Building; two new parking structures; and a hub for mass transit.

O'Brien noted that when stadium planning kicked into gear three years ago, a medical biosciences corridor had not been envisioned--now, the University is planning the biggest campus expansion since the West Bank expansion in the 1960s, in an effort to enhance its research and educational capacity and connect the U to the community beyond.

Other action
Transforming the U also provided the backdrop for extending President Robert Bruininks' contract through 2011. The Board of Regents gave unanimous approval to the extension, citing Bruininks' visionary leadership as a primary reason why.

"If the university is going to be one of the best in the world, we need to be competitive," said Board Chair Anthony Baraga. "From managing challenging budget situations to strategic planning, President Bruininks has developed powerful momentum for this institution. This contract will help us to retain an outstanding leader and ensure strong presidential leadership for the next five years."

Other highlights from the meetings included:

The board plans to hold a special meeting on Jan. 3 to review and take action on the schematics and budget for TCF Bank Stadium.

ADDITIONAL READING U of M Regents strengthen student conduct code, extend Bruininks contract Research without borders: New environmental institute to set standard for interdisciplinary work at the U Meeting of the minds: The Institute for Advanced Study explores the boundaries between academic disciplines