Friday is Mark Yudof's last day on the job as president of the University of Minnesota. In early August he starts his new job as chancellor of the University of Texas system. Yudof supporters say in his five years at the university, he made some major changes to the look and reputation of the school, and healed some rocky relationships. But Yudof's tenure has also been marked by the ongoing problems in the athletics department, rising tuition and a drop in state financial support.
Since he arrived in Minnesota in 1997, Mark Yudof has been a charmer, a consummate politician who works the crowd and cracks jokes.
"The thing that really brought the staff, faculty and students together was embarassing me. I remember releasing a walleye, which I named after the governor, Arne. And I remember patting a llama, and walking a cow, and almost killing myself driving a John Deere. There were a lot of really fun moments like that," said Yudof.
At Yudof's Texas-style farewell celebration in mid-July, guests numbering in the thousands feasted on barbecue and lined up for a chance to personally say goodbye.
Board of Regents Chair Maureen Reed is still upbeat about the departing president.
"Look at his accomplishments that he did in the last five years - they are as long as your arm. And they aren't small accomplishments," Reed said. "They are huge accomplishments - from this building program, and making sure that our buildings are rejuvenated and the new ones are there to support research - from putting the university back in a position of knowing what its priorities are."
One of Yudof's first priorities was sprucing up the campus. The improvements brought visible results, from fresh coats of paint to a fully-remodeled Coffman Student Union.
During Yudof's tenure, the university has spent $1 billion on construction projects. Most of the improvements are on the Twin Cities campus. They include refurbished classrooms, new dorm rooms, the remodeled, high-tech Walter Library, and a new building to house molecular and cellular research.
The Yudof construction boom is one piece of the president's goal to improve the undergraduate experience at the U.
But not everyone is pleased by the building boom. "I just don't see where our tuition money is going," said student Ali Seifi, a junior majoring in chemical engineering. "I know that Walter Library was just rebuilt. They put so much money into rebuilding it. They didn't really rebuild it, they remodeled it or something. They spent millions and millions on that, and it's like, why?"
Seifi says by the time the mess is gone and the buildings are up, he'll be long gone - unable to take advantage of them.
But many others will take his place. Yudof says the number of quality undergraduate applicants is up.
During his tenure, the school has become less of a part-time commuter campus and more of a residential campus. Graduation rates are improving. The four-year graduation rate was 8.3 percent in 1990, and nearly tripled in 2001 to 25.6 percent.
"Look at his accomplishments that he did in the last five years - they are as long as your arm...making sure that our buildings are rejuvenated and the new ones are there to support research - putting the university back in a position of knowing what its priorities are."
- Board of Regents Chair Maureen Reed
Yudof's emphasis on improving undergraduate education has come as schools have had to step up marketing efforts, and pay more attention to how they stack up against other institutions in increasingly influential rankings.
In an October 1998 interview, Yudof acknowledged the challenge.
"I think you improve the undergraduate education, you pick out your research priorities, you fix up the buildings, you market your programs better. Then you just cross your fingers, and hope the people who do these surveys - some of which are totally absurd in terms of methodology - that eventually the truth will win out," Yudof said.
The U of M did win out, at least in one ranking. A July 2001 University of Florida survey placed Minnesota as one of the top three public research universities in the country.
While the university may be making strides in looking and feeling better about itself, students are concerned with yearly tuition increases. This fall, students will see an average 16 percent tuition increase. But many students don't blame Yudof, they blame state lawmakers and the governor.
This past session, the Legislature cut $24 million from the U's new spending budget because of the state's multi-billion dollar deficit. The U's bonding proposal was also slashed.
But there were rosier times at the Capitol.
In April 1998, the U received $249 million in new spending from the Legislature. For Yudof it was a major victory, after seven years of lackluster funding levels for the U of M. The money went not only to new construction and cosmetic campus improvements, it also went to increase faculty salaries.
Joe Massey is the past chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee. He says morale was low when Yudof arrived, because of a recent dispute with the Board of Regents over tenure. He says Yudof's commitment to the tenure process and increased salaries raised faculty morale. Massey says Yudof also shared common ground - he was one of them.
"The president has taken a stand of maintaining his scholarship. He finished up the latest edition of his law book this past year. The president (taught) freshman seminar. So he's involved in research and he's involved with students," Massey said.
Though many say Yudof's tenure was relatively low on the scandal meter, academic cheating among some male basketball players got plenty of attention in March 1999. Yudof bought out the remainder of former men's basketball coach Clem Haskins' contract for $1.5 million. The school later sued, and just months ago, recovered some of the payout money. Both men and women's basketball remain under NCAA sanctions, and the athletics department is struggling with a persistent budget hole.
One of Yudof's final acts as president was to merge the men's and women's athletic departments and hire a new athletic director.
One of Yudof's regrets is the Legislature did not fund a new multi-million dollar project called the Translational Research Facility. That facility would focus on translating scientific and technological discoveries into marketable products.
Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson has been one of Yudof's most vocal supporters. Carlson praises Yudof's energy, intellect and accomplishments. But, he points out college presidents come and go these days. For the U to keep moving forward, he believes it needs to manage its money more efficiently and focus on the institution, not just the people who run it.
"What the university has done over the years - it tries to solve its problems by bringing on board personalities," Carlson said. "If I were to ask you to tell me about 3M, a whole series of personal names don't leap to your mind. You think instead of the brand, and the quality of the brand, and the variety of products that brand represents. The university has to see itself in the same role. Not just in terms of the personalities, but most importantly in institutional management," said Carlson.
The Board of Regents is scheduled Friday to name a panel to recommend Yudof's successor. They hope to hire someone by the end of the year.More from MPR