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Eric W. Kaler, Published March 10 2012

U of M’s value is huge

I’ve been back in Minnesota for eight months now, listening to hundreds, if not thousands, of people tell me how they feel about the University of Minnesota. More recently, I have testified six times at the Minnesota Legislature.

And I’m looking forward to visiting the Fargo-Moorhead area Tuesday to, among other things, speak to members of the Moorhead Rotary Club and meet with leaders of your higher education community.

For reasons as diverse as the people of this state, elected officials, community leaders, employers and parents have one thing in common: They recognize the value the university delivers.

For example, you may have recently heard your neighbor, Dr. Jerry Rogers of Essentia Health, on a radio ad talking about the profound impact the university has had on his life.

With our footprint 87 counties wide and our economic impact of

$8.6 billion a year, our value is enormous.

It reaches into the Fargo-Moorhead area. Our county and regional Extension offices engage daily with members of your community. This semester, 285 students from Moorhead are enrolled at one of our five campuses.

Meanwhile, 1,159 Moorhead residents are U alumni, and they hold 1,428 degrees, including advanced degrees in medicine, law, engineering and veterinary medicine. Those jobs and degrees have saved lives, enhanced salaries, supported purchases in your community and increased tax dollars for this state. That’s all very quantifiable.

But how do you place a value on the work of great researchers such as Professor Karen Asche, whose cutting-edge work on Alzheimer’s disease is leading us toward a cure? Others are fighting heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s and childhood illness every day.

How do you put a price tag on a unique interdisciplinary approach to early diagnosis of developmental disorders in pre-school children?

How do you accurately find the bottom line to our College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Sciences fighting the Ug 99 wheat rust fungus that threatens the world’s food supply?

How does a cash register ring up these historic victories: the birth of the heart pacemaker, the development of taconite, the invention of the seat belt or the creation of some of the world’s tastiest apples?

With our campuses we graduate all of the pharmacists, all of the dentists, all of the veterinarians and 85 percent of all of the physicians in Minnesota every year.

You want value? You want excellence? You want an institution that, every day, raises the worldwide brand of this state?

If you do, I urge you to contact your legislator to support the University of Minnesota and our capital and budget requests currently being considered by the Legislature and governor. The U must remain strong and vibrant to conduct our groundbreaking research, to continue to engage with communities like yours and to prepare leaders and employers for the state’s 21st-century workforce.

Kaler is the 16th president of the University of Minnesota.