Former U of M leaders give their insights. (Alex Friedrich / MPR)

Six University of Minnesota president from over the past 40 years gathered Monday to talk about current higher-education issues and how the U might navigate them today.

Listen to the discussion here.

For two hours in Northrop Auditorium, Star Tribune columnist Lori Sturdevant moderated a conversation among Eric Kaler, president since 2011, Robert Bruininks (2002-11), Mark Yudof (1997-2002), Nils Hasselmo (1988-1997), Kenneth Keller (1985-1988) and C. Peter Magrath (1974-1984).

Judging from their statements, lots of today’s concerns – state funding, academic freedom, and the quality of undergraduate education – weighed on the minds of many of them years ago.

It was a meandering discussion – much of which covered old ground for On Campus readers – but the most interesting topics revolved around changing support for higher education.

Below are a few of the most interesting tidbits.


Magrath on funding the university:

“The financial landscape … of support for American higher education … is extraordinarily [more] difficult than it was when I was first president here, and I’d suspect for in many ways the people that succeeded me. The amount of state money that goes into the U today … is not much, it has been going down, and pardon my English, it ain’t gonna go back up in any forseeable future. We are in difficult financial straits if we’re going to continue to perform our service to the public and the people. That means … universities have got to be extraordinarily resourceful not only in getting money from donors and trying to control costs … we have to generate resources, in my judgment, by getting into relationships with business and industry. It can be done without selling your soul.”

Yudof on how demographics have changed support for higher ed:

“There’s an asymmetry. Everybody believes higher education is important, and almost no one wants to pay for it. Part of it is an aging demographic. If you think of the priorities – and I’m not against any of these things – but we have pharmaceuticals for the elderly, we have Social Security, we have Medicare and Medicade and [public safety] – things like that. So the shine isn’t quite on higher ed the way it was in the ‘50s. There are competing priorities. And the competing priorities increasingly get resovled by an electorate that is increasingly aging. … And part of it is a certain skepticism: ‘We change. Why don’t you? … We don’t that way in Lockheed, we don’t do it that way in the airline business.”

Hasselmo on the diminished voice of universities:

“There has been this wave of anti-intellectualism in the country, and … the universities have somehow ended up on the sidelines in this whole debate. You have this overheaded debate of climate change and the climate change deniers. We have [debate over the relative safety of] vaccination, creation science. We have a whole plethora of issues here. … We have a new intellectual environment because of the internet. We as universities have to direct ourselves to this massive flow of mis- and disinformation. … And it also raises the question: Have we somehow failed in liberal education, in providing students with an ability of critical thinking?”

Hasselmo on how other countries might beat the U.S. at its own higher-ed game:

“We [in Sweden] came here because the notion was that in America you had the best higher education system in the world, and that you had research being conducted [integrated with] a broad spectrum of teaching. And today what to we see in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and in China? They are researching massively in their research universities. And by the way they’re doing it on something that looks suspiciously like the land-grant model: research, teaching and service. And they may be outflanking us if we do not continue to make that investment in what really was an American invention – the research university combined with teaching and service.”

Keller on the university’s need to assert its value as a public good:

“There needs to be some pushback. This notion that higher education is a private good, rather than a public good, is devastatingly bad. There’s no way to live with that notion and continue to be an effective educational institution. … It happened when we went into a financial crisis a few years ago, which was quite real. Under [those] circumstances, budgets had to be cut, and the university had to take its lumps along with it. But … people in the political sphere wanted to justify what they were doing by more than the fact that we were out of money, and so they said it’s easy to make the argument that, ‘Anyway, [higher education] is a private good.’ So you recover financially, but you’re left with this philosophical change.”

Courtesy of Metropolitan State University

Metropolitan State University officials say a “probable” data breach announced in January likely exposed the personal information of about 160,000 current and former students.

An investigation has concluded that a hacker could have obtained the last four digits of the Social Security numbers of about 11,000 students, they said.

But no other student financial or credit-card data is in jeopardy, they said. A university spokeswoman said no one from the Metro State community has reported any identity theft.

In an emailed statement, interim president Devinder Malhotra wrote:

“We regret this incident and sincerely apologize to those impacted. Since learning of this intrusion, our Information Technology team has disabled the vulnerability that permitted the breach and replaced the affected server. The university also completed additional security measures to minimize future security risks.”

In February, the administration notified 900 faculty – who’d served at any point between 2004 and 2009 — that their Social Security numbers may have been taken in the hacking. A university spokeswoman said she did not know for sure whether that data contained full Social Security numbers or just the last four digits, but thought the hacker got just partial numbers.

Metropolitan State University announced the breach Jan. 16, saying a hacker had penetrated a university web server once in mid-December. They said a network security service discovered the hacking Jan. 2, and that five days later personnel fixed the software glitch that caused it. The university also moved its web site to a new server.

University officials say about 25,000 of the 160,000 students affected have been enrolled in the past three years. But a spokeswoman said she did not know how far back in time the affected data goes.

The information includes dates of birth, home addresses and phone numbers, grade point averages and other personal information.

Something’s changing. (Alex Friedrich / MPR)

Starting today, the University of Minnesota is upgrading the software that all of its campuses use for business and academic operations.

The 10-day, $85 million switchover will affect almost 100,000 faculty, staff and students. It should improve how the U manages areas such as payroll, financial aid and grading.

CIO Scott Studham says people outside the university shouldn’t notice much of a difference, and that most of the information systems will operate as usual.

“So email will continue to work just as usual,” he said. “The network and wireless will continue to work just as usual.”

It’s not just about improving operations, Studham said; the vendor for the current system doesn’t support it anymore.

“This is an absolute necessity,” he said. “So while it may cause some change, this is something that we just have to do.”

Testing suggests the changeover should run smoothly, Studham said.

But he said it’s always possible the new system will suffer some glitches. He says the U has beefed up staffing at its help line for those who encounter problems and it will have personnel to help people on campus.

Studham says during the last major upgrade in 1996, a squirrel made its way into a power panel outside the data center and electrocuted itself. The resulting power outtage caused computers to go down for about an hour.