Interim U of M president says he’ll be more than a caretaker
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents appointed Jeff Ettinger as interim president in May, but he doesn’t see his role as a “caretaker” president. During a visit to the Minnesota State Fair on Wednesday, he said he wants to highlight all the positive things happening on university campuses.
“I really think there’s sometimes a sense of a mismatch between all the wonderful things that happen at the university,” Ettinger told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “All the great research. All the great teaching. All the great outreach and sometimes the public perception of it. And so if I can help with that in my interim presidency year I’m really eager to do that.”
Beyond doing public relations and outreach, he will also have to be involved in some key decisions that can’t wait for a new president to be appointed in several months.
“The board was clear they weren’t looking for a radical change agent in a one-year person as the interim,” Ettinger said. “But I don’t think you can be a caretaker of a major institution this day and age. Too many things are going on. Even to stay on the same trajectory you have to make some different changes.”
For one thing, he said he’ll review the enrollment in various programs at the university’s several campuses and see if some changes are needed. He’ll also be focused on student safety, especially at the Twin Cities campus after violence and crime in recent months in the Dinkytown area near campus.
“We’re doing everything we can to have that in place,” he says of security on and around campus. “We were grateful for the support from the Legislature to provide public safety funding not only for the Twin Cities but for all of our campuses. Our University of Minnesota Police group works very closely with the Minneapolis Police Department to make sure we handle any incidents that occur and really try to get ahead of them.”
Another issue that can’t wait is a data breach at the U of M that could have exposed up to 7 million Social Security numbers. Ettinger says the university is still trying to determine the scope of the breach with internal and external cybersecurity teams working seven days a week on the investigation.
“We’re in the final stages of really digging into this,” he says. “You get a challenge, you get an allegation something happens and you really need to make sure what is the scope of it? Did it really occur? Who was involved? Clearly, once we get to that point, and we’re in the final stages of that, we would absolutely notify anyone that was involved.”
Another issue that will require key decisions on Ettinger’s watch involves the future of the U of M’s partnership with Fairview Health Services. There’s a deadline looming on Dec. 31 for the two sides to decide whether to extend their partnership. There’s also the related issue of whether the university can get state funding for a new $950 million hospital on campus. The governor appointed a task force to study all of this and report back by January, just before the next legislative session.
“The notice provision in the 30-year deal is Dec. 31 of this year,” Ettinger says. “A three-year notice [to end or continue the partnership]. Both parties have to assess by that time. If we see things in the task force where we think things are making progress and Fairview agrees to that, there’s no reason we couldn’t extend that [deadline].”
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents is likely to start its search for its new full-time president in October.