The challenges faced in 2008 by incoming Minnesota State University Moorhead President Edna Mora Szymanski seemed insurmountable. They were not. Szymanski surveyed a dangerous landscape, developed a strategy to negotiate the pitfalls, and then took on the sometimes divisive task of fixing what desperately needed to be fixed.

It was not easy.

Within months she discovered a $4.95 million structural deficit – at a time when the national economy was headed into recession, legislative support was insufficient (and had been for some time), fewer high school graduates were in the student pool and the community was anticipating major Red River flooding. Two big floods that would affect the campus were to come.

Nonetheless, Szymanski began the difficult process of realigning faculty and other resources with student enrollment. Her focus always on students, she understood that the primary purpose of MSUM – to educate young people – would be compromised if changes in operations on campus were not made.

Not everyone was happy with the president’s recipe. But when she had completed the necessary task the results were impressive. A few examples:

  • Ninety-seven percent of MSUM 2012 graduates were hired in a job related to their degree, according to school officials. That is the highest of MNSCU schools.
  • Despite cuts in staff, the faculty is among the best in the nation, boasting more Carnegie Professors of the Year than any other school of higher education in the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
  • Some low-enrollment programs were shut down, but investments were made in new disciplines where student demand and subsequent job opportunities are up.

Most importantly, Szymanski’s reforms meant an infusion of efficiency into all aspects of the school that guaranteed a new president would inherit a university in excellent financial condition. Considering where the school was in 2008, her accomplishment is noteworthy – some would characterize it as astonishing.

Friends, admirers and colleagues will gather today at 3 p.m. for Szymanski’s retirement open house in MSUM’s Owens Hall atrium. She’s done at the end of the month. As has been her style, it will be a low-key farewell without fanfare or program. But there is good cause to honor the work she did for the school. MSUM is on a sound footing. The school is well-positioned today and for the future to offer qualified students a first-class university education. That’s what it’s all about, and Edna (as she prefers to be called) understood the mandate from the beginning of her tenure.

She’s done an outstanding job. We wish her well.

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