[Opinion] - A call for a campus-wide discussion

Is the University close to becoming one of the top-three public research institutions in the world?
September 22, 2008

The University was recently humiliated in the new Forbes ratings (524th!), but showed slight improvement in the U.S. News beauty contest (61st) — leaving us still last in our self-selected peer cohort and in the bottom half of the Big Ten. We are now four years from the beginning of our campaign to greatness, in another year we should be halfway there. Are we?
Margaret Soltan, an English professor at George Washington University, writes the premiere academic blog in the United States, University Diaries (UD). One of her favorite targets is the excesses of football at the expense of academics, and we have become one of her primary targets. Evidently, we have made our academic standards even lower in our latest recruiting efforts. I believe that our current football troubles and most of our other problems are directly linked to the University’s goal to become one of the top three public research institutions in the world. President Bob Bruininks has touted ambitious aspirations in an embarrassingly titled document: “Serving Minnesota Through World-Class Greatness.”
“Starting in 2004 … Under the leadership of Provost Sullivan, the University community articulated an ambitious aspiration for the University — to be one of the top three public research universities in the world within a decade.”
This column is not meant to be argumentative but rather it is meant to stimulate the initiation of a campus-wide discussion of where we are as a University and where we would like to go as a community. I am very disappointed that Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Thomas Sullivan dropped “Conversations with the Provost,” — a blog set up for that very purpose — due to lack of time on his part. Certainly time spent on such a campus-wide discussion is worth more than that spent on yet another legal tome or further résumé-building conferences?
Let all of us — students, faculty, staff and administrators — work hard to make the University an institution of which we can be proud. People need to have input and they should have some tangible evidence that their input has been heard and acted upon and not just used as evidence that they have been consulted. The administration needs to stop calling people who disagree with them “doubters.” We have just as much at stake as they do — perhaps more.
In the words of President Bruininks’ predecessor Mark Yudof:
“To the best of my recollection, no great scientific discoveries, no insightful social science tracts, and no novels have been produced in Morrill Hall. No classes are taught in Morrill Hall. No patients are made well in Morrill Hall. Help, or get out of the way! Without authority invested where the real work of this University is done, the light of excellence will only grow dimmer. University administrators have not yet cornered the market in acumen and foresight; a monologue will not suffice.”
President Bruininks, Provost Sullivan: How about it?
I ask that you respond with a column on the “top three” goal and that we continue a public dialogue throughout this academic year so that communication about important issues does not continue to be a monologue. Other important topics loom, including ethical behavior, UMore Park, relations with coordinate campuses and the land grant mission, but the place to start discussion is the “top three” goal, because its pursuit precludes the solution of more important current problems.

Bill Gleason is a medical school faculty member who graduated from the University with a Ph. D. in Chemistry in 1972. He writes a blog entitled “The Periodic Table.” Please send comments to letters@mndaily.com .

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