2018-10 From the President: We need to think strategically

In September the UMRA Board reviewed the wide-ranging list of new initiatives generated at the August leadership retreat (see last month’s column). The discussion of prioritizing the proposals raised interesting questions about UMRA’s mission and surfaced inherent tensions between the desire to serve and influence the University with the need to care for the welfare of our retirees.

UMRA’s mission and purpose have been articulated in various ways over the years; while in most statements it is clear that “service to retirees” and “service to the University” are simply two sides of UMRA’s currency, it is a little more complicated than that.

Conversations with UMRA leaders with more experience than I, and a review of minutes of Board meetings over the years, reveal that “service to the University” means different things to different people. For some it is serving on committees, volunteering to assist in University projects and activities; for others, it is having a seat at the table and a voice in University planning and decision-making.

At this time in our history, however, I think it is fair to say that we have more control over the services we provide members and more opportunity to volunteer to help, than we have ability to participate in and/or influence University governance or endeavors. The latter can only occur if UMRA’s contributions and impact are recognized by University leadership.

We need to think strategically
To be on the list of community partners the University turns to when it undertakes major search processes or seeks input on strategic directions or assistance at the legislature, we need to think strategically about our activities and initiatives. Certainly, we can build upon the recent report from the University of Minnesota Foundation, which shows UMRA members have contributed or pledged more than $23 million dollars to the U since 2012. We can also make sure that our representatives to and liaisons with University units are well prepared to present UMRA’s interests.

Three proposals included in our discussion of priorities could also clearly help raise our visibility: 1) writing opinion pieces for local media addressing our perspectives on issues impacting retirees and the University; 2) inviting leaders of various search processes to special information sessions for UMRA members; and 3) encouraging and recognizing collegiate and departmental efforts to engage their retirees. 

I believe that thinking and communicating strategically about these proposals, and others currently under consideration, can have positive impacts on our retirees’ experience and deepen the perception of UMRA in the broader community. Continuing our strong tradition of working together, we can make this happen.
—Jerry Rinehart, UMRA president, 2018–19