What I've Learned, Where We're Going

Dear Colleagues,

Since arriving back on campus this past February, I have spent much of my time meeting with you, listening to your ideas and concerns, and seeing firsthand the remarkable work being done across this great University. Before we are caught up in the hectic last weeks of the semester, I wanted to take a moment to share a bit about what I've learned and where I am focusing my attention over the next several months.


Many of you have great interest and aspirations in this area. To support those aspirations, we are working to coordinate better our institutional infrastructure and expertise and to bring together a variety of digital initiatives and resources.

I asked Professor Chris Cramer to join my office half-time this year to assist with this work and to serve as our faculty liaison for eLearning initiatives, and I was delighted that he agreed to serve in this role. Chris is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor, a University Teaching Professor, and the Elmore H. Northey Professor of Chemistry. He served last year as chair of the FCC, and he is serving this year on the Executive Committee of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

My office is making new investments in the enhancement of undergraduate education through digital technologies, saliently through this request for proposals. Chris will help coordinate this effort, and he has also organized eLearning: Tools & Triumphs, where you can both learn about resources for digital enhancement of courses and hear from other faculty about what has worked well for them. Please mark your calendars for this event, Nov. 19, 2-3:30 p.m., 402 Walter Library.

Graduate Education

Just over three years ago, the University began a restructuring effort designed to enhance the graduate student experience, streamline administrative processes, and improve the quality of graduate education. Since then, we have made significant progress, but we are now taking a close look at what is working well and what refinements may be needed to help us fully realize the original goals.

Interdisciplinary Teaching and Research

This institution, with its broad range of scholars and researchers across many colleges, schools, and disciplines, has built tremendous strength in interdisciplinary teaching and research. But I have heard that there are sometimes obstacles to your working across disciplines and colleges and sometimes frustrations at the energy that must be expended to overcome those obstacles. We are actively exploring better ways to facilitate interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Even as we work through these issues, please note and take advantage of an existing program that provides interdisciplinary research proposal preparation support.

Accountability and Improvement

At the September Board of Regents meeting, Senior Vice President Robert Jones and I presented the annual Accountability Report in a new way, using the opportunity to dispel some common misperceptions about graduation rates, class size, diversity, affordability, and more. The presentation received some media coverage and you can learn more on the Accountability website.

We are undertaking new initiatives on assessment and program review, however, in part in connection with new requirements from our accreditors and in part because we continue to strive for excellence and to respond appropriately to the public and to our various stakeholders. Vice Provosts McMaster and Schroeder, working together with the college and school deans and faculty, are leading our efforts to strengthen our processes for academic program review and assessment of student learning.

Pride in the University

As a graduate of the University who has returned after many years away, I have been struck by our community's modesty—a modesty evident both on and off campus—about the level of distinction achieved by our faculty, staff, and students. I encourage you to call attention to the superb work being done here, to the accomplishments of our faculty, students, and staff. Please nominate your units, your colleagues, even yourselves, for awards and honors. (If you want help making nominations for national and international awards, contact provost@umn.edu.)

I also ask that you identify opportunities for improvement and innovation, and don't hesitate to offer constructive advice.

Finally, when the realignments recommended by the Task Force Report on the Office for Academic Administration occur on January 1, there will be significant shifts in administrative structures, as well as the loss of an invaluable colleague, Robert Jones. We are working together, however, to make a smooth transition, and I want to offer a warm welcome in advance to the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, the Office of Public Engagement, and Extension as their reporting lines transition to the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost. My staff and I look forward to enhancing the collaborations between these and the other units in Academic Affairs.

Trying to balance the desire to communicate with a desire not to try your patience, I can't in this message touch on everything you may be wondering about. I will provide more information about these and other topics over the coming months—on my website, in email, and as I continue to meet with you. In the meantime, I encourage you to send a message to provost@umn.edu if you have thoughts you want to convey on these or other topics.


Karen Hanson signature.

Karen Hanson,
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

email sent November 6, 2012 to all Twin Cities faculty and staff.