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More Happy Talk from Provost Sullivan?

From a blanket email from the Provost:

"As the University's chief academic officer, I see the University of Minnesota as a place where we all work together to help understand and solve some of the world's most urgent problems. Our University is an exciting and leading center to think and debate the important issues of the nature and meaning of life."

Wow! The meaning of life... Leading center to think and debate... Maybe we could have a conversation about more pressing problems? Maybe a little faculty consultation? You do remember what happened this most recent academic year?

Inadequate Consultation: a Hallmark of this Administration?

"The University of Minnesota is making enormous strides in the effort to transform itself into one of the top three public research universities in the world. New programs have been launched and are being developed to enhance the undergraduate and graduate educational experience. Our undergraduate application numbers and yield are unprecedented; the Class of 2013 is simply exceptional. They are not alone--since 2000, more University of Minnesota students have been awarded Rhodes Scholarships than students from any other public research university, except one."

Exceptional? This is a mantra that the Morrill Hall crowd has used repeatedly in their marketing campaign. Apparently they believe that if they repeat it often enough, this alone will make it true. To claim that our undergrads are exceptional, as compared to those at our other self-selected peer institutions, is simply a condition contrary to fact. And Provost Sullivan is well aware of this from his own most recent report to the Board of Regents.

Tom, you are aware that almost any university in the country can make the same claim about unprecedented application numbers? You do realize that students apply to many more places than they used to? As to the exceptional nature of our undergrads, please see:

Latest Statistics on Incoming Students - SAT/ACT (10/11), HS top 10% (11/11)

"Our faculty continue to receive international and national attention. Since 2007 one of our faculty has been awarded the Nobel Prize, 8 were selected as Guggenheim fellows, 5 were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 3 to the National Academy of Sciences, and 14 to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Our total research awards rose from $524 million in 2004 to $675 million in 2007."

We have a great faculty. But do not make the mistake of equating, say, membership in the National Academy with greatness. It is not a game we can win:

What We're Up Against in Top Three Trek - U of M Faculty Membership in National Academy

"Given the new budgetary realities of the State of Minnesota, we as a University community will have to be even more prudent, even smarter, and even more creative so that we can continue to invest wisely in the academic initiatives that distinguish the University of Minnesota as preeminent. We will not diminish our intensity of purpose or our significant momentum achieved through strategic positioning as we look to the future. We will need to make choices, but our investments in great teaching and research must and will continue."

It is time for new priorities, Tom, or a return to our core values? Chest-pounding about "ambitious aspirations" and "strategic positioning" is inappropriate given our resources.

Time to start playing with the cards we've got? Time to get those retention and graduation rates up? Time to start paying attention to our mission - the education of the youth of our state? Time to back pedal on the tuition two step?

Have a good year, Tom. But I am afraid the noises from Morrill Hall sound to me like the usual ones. The football coaches get criticized for failing to make second half adjustments. That criticism seems appropriate for the academic administration as well.


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