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Johnson: Search for new prez. at U of M going well

Dean Johnson, University of Minnesota regent. Tribune photo

WILLMAR -- Hiring a new president is one of the most important jobs for the regents of the University of Minnesota.

Hiring a football coach isn't technically the regents' job, Regent Dean Johnson of Willmar said this week, but a healthy football program can have a far-reaching impact on a major university.

University President Bob Bruininks plans to retire in June 2011.

Johnson talked about the progress toward finding a successor this week before leaving for a three-day regents meeting in the Twin Cities. Johnson, a pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church and a former state Senate majority leader, was elected to a six-year term as a regent in 2007.

"The number one responsibility of the Board of Regents is to hire a president," Johnson said.

"We've been working on it for months."

A list of semifinalists is expected when the regents meet today, and a new president could be hired this winter. A Texas search firm is assisting the University in the search, which has drawn a lot of interest in the academic world, Johnson said.

While there is interest in the search for a president, the public's attention is more closely focused on the search for a new football coach. Coach Tim Brewster was fired a few weeks ago as losses mounted. The team currently has a 1-9 record, with the only win coming in the first game of the season.

Bruininks and Athletic Director Joel Maturi are responsible for hiring a new coach, but the regents regularly hear from the public about the football program -- "20 e-mails today," Johnson said on Wednesday.

"Our mission is academic, outreach, research," he said. "Football is the gateway to our university."

The University competes in 28 sports, but football, men's basketball and men's hockey must make money to help support the rest of the program. TCF Bank Stadium, which opened a year ago, was still full this year because of season ticket sales, he said, but there's no way of knowing how many people will renew their tickets next spring.

A competitive program raises interest in the University, increases visibility and increases donations in all areas, he said.

"Minnesotans are hungry to become more competitive in football," he said. "There's a lot of buzz."

In the midst of the search for a new president, the U of M is also dealing with the effects of a long-running state budget crisis, Johnson said. The University has a $3.1 billion annual budget and has 67,000 students on its six campuses including 51,600 on the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses.

Over the past 10 years, the University's state subsidy has shrunk from about 38 percent of its budget to 17 percent, he said. The school has dealt with that by making budget cuts and redesigning the services it provides.

"We know there's going to be more cuts," as the state deals with a $6 billion projected budget deficit, he said, and he thinks the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system may need to find more ways to cooperate in the future.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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