My Current Areas of Focus

Dear Colleagues,

While spring break may be a chance for some of our students to get away, I know many of us have used this time to catch up and to get ready for the rush toward the end of the semester. Still, I hope last week provided you with a sense of refreshment and renewal.

Over the past week I have had a chance to reflect on my first year at this remarkable university. I have seen and admired what is being done across the campuses to advance undergraduate, graduate, and professional education; to further the research enterprise; to enhance our outreach and engagement efforts; to foster diversity within our community; to develop as an international university; and much, much more.

I have also been looking ahead to the work we need to do over the next year. Several projects connect with themes that I identified in my email message to you last fall and which the president also highlighted in his State of the University address. I’d like to update you on my current areas of focus and invite your counsel on how we can work together to advance these priorities.

Strengthen the foundation of graduate and professional education.

The role of the Graduate School is to work with the colleges to ensure the quality of our post-baccalaureate programs. Recently the Graduate School and my office responded to an urgent need to enhance funding for graduate student recruitment. That response, however, was a small stopgap; the campus needs to revisit both the funding levels and the funding mechanisms for graduate fellowships. The president has also requested recommendations to sharpen our focus on graduate education. By the end of this semester, in conjunction with faculty governance, Dean Schroeder and I should have in place some working groups that, together with the standing governance committees, will help us identify opportunities for enhancement, along with problems we need to solve and possible solutions to those problems. These efforts will stretch into the next academic year, but as quickly as we can identify and agree on needed changes, we will move to implement them.

Enhance institutional mechanisms that encourage interdisciplinary teaching and research.

The Provost’s Interdisciplinary Team has supported several successful initiatives since the team was formed in 2006, including the Minnesota Futures Research Grants and the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowships program. The team is now looking at various approaches to facilitate interdisciplinary teaching and by the end of the semester will bring these to the deans for further consideration. The vice president for research and I will also be spearheading efforts to enhance interdisciplinary research.

Position eLearning activities to support teaching and learning.

The recent announcement of our partnership with Coursera, which has garnered favorable attention from the state, along with some good national press, is only one small part of our broader eLearning strategy. We are also working with the Office of Information Technology, the Libraries, and the Center for Teaching and Learning to consolidate and augment support services for eLearning initiatives; and there will soon be an announcement of grants awarded in response to the Request for Proposals issued last fall, which was aimed at programmatic developments. In addition, some of you have indicated an interest in developing additional MOOCs, and some have proposed developing new online degree programs.

We look forward to gathering all your new ideas in this arena, and we will be scheduling opportunities this semester and next fall for everyone involved with these initiatives to share what they’re learning from them.

Continue attracting outstanding students and enhancing the undergraduate educational experience.

While these eLearning activities are intended to improve educational outcomes, they are only one component of a much broader commitment to provide our undergraduates with an absolutely first-rate learning environment. The revitalization of Northrop will be complete in just one year, when it will reopen as the cultural and academic hearth of the Twin Cities campus. The vibrant programming planned for the new Northrop will contribute powerfully to the quality of our students’ university experience. In addition, opportunities such as the President’s Emerging Scholars Program, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and the Community Engagement Scholars Program are just a few of the many that add value to being an undergraduate at this great public research university.

Advance a systemwide international strategy.

For the University of Minnesota to remain world-class, our faculty must collaborate and engage globally, and our students must have global experiences. This last involves not only U.S. students learning abroad but also the integration of international students throughout the academic and social fabric of our campuses. The very positive December 2012 external review of the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance suggested strong support for a university-wide conversation toward building a vision for internationalization. Associate Vice President and Dean of International Programs Meredith McQuaid and I will be working closely with the deans to advance that conversation.

Reveal and capitalize on the distinctive features of the University of Minnesota.

We are among the very few comprehensive universities in the country—with agriculture, engineering, education, design, public affairs, and professional programs such as law and business, as well as the liberal arts and sciences, and an academic health center with a major medical school and nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, public health, and veterinary medicine all on one campus. With the urban setting of our Twin Cities campus and the fact that it sits within the boundaries of a national park—the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area—it is no exaggeration to say we are truly one-of-a-kind. This is exciting. Our nature and circumstances offer possibilities not many universities can match. As I continue to learn about the University of Minnesota, I encourage you to share what you think makes the University, and the education we offer, exceptional.

Thank you for reviewing this brief outline of plans. We will be adding more detail to these areas of focus on my website over the coming weeks. I hope you’ll add your voice to this conversation by emailing me at


Karen Hanson signature.

Karen Hanson,
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

email sent March 28, 2013 to all Twin Cities faculty and staff.