Former University of Minnesota president receives Peabody Distinguished Alumnus Award

by Jane Sevier

Peabody Lawn
(Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development bestowed its 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award on educational psychologist Robert H. Bruininks during Commencement on May 10.

Bruininks earned his master’s degree in 1965 and a doctorate in 1968 in educational psychology from the then-George Peabody College for Teachers. He had previously graduated with honors from Western Michigan University.


After completing his doctorate, Bruininks became a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, where he also taught organizational leadership. He went on to become dean of the College of Education and Human Development and then the university’s executive vice president and provost. He was president of the University of Minnesota system and the Twin Cities campus from 2002 to 2011.

During his tenure as president, Bruininks elevated the university’s academic profile and expanded its research and knowledge transfer activities, even as state funding was reduced. Under his leadership, enrollment grew, graduation rates increased and research expanded from $520 million annually to more than $800 million. Bruininks also led an effort to maintain the university’s accessibility through a $340 million scholarship campaign and expansion of need-based financial aid. He is now president emeritus and holds the Elmer L. Andersen President Emeritus Chair in educational and civic leadership at the university’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

“As a faculty member and administrator, Robert Bruininks worked to advance excellence in the academic mission and public responsibilities of the University of Minnesota,” said Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Peabody. “[lquote]He remains a leading advocate for reform and accountability in preK-12 and higher education.”[/lquote]

In addition to his service at the University of Minnesota, Bruininks was founder and director of the Institute on Community Integration, which promotes interdisciplinary teaching, research, policy development and outreach service programs. During a leave from the university in the mid-1970s, he was director of the Developmental Disabilities Planning Office for the Minnesota State Planning Agency. He was also co-founder of Minnesota’s P-20 Educational Partnership, which includes state educational, civic and business leaders.

“The educational opportunity at Peabody College literally transformed my life,” Bruininks said. “[rquote]I received an exceptional education, combined with extraordinary faculty mentorship, that prepared me for a long and productive career in higher education.”[/rquote]

The many honors Bruininks has received include a national leadership award from the Kellogg Foundation and special leadership awards from the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association, and the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. He was named Minnesotan of the Year in 2003 by Minnesota Monthly, and in 2009, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal named him Executive of the Year.

Bruininks served as chair of the Big Ten Presidents’ Council in 2007–08, as a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Board of Governors from 2006 to 2010, and as a member of the board of directors of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, of which he was chair in 2008–09. He also served on the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board from 2003 to 2009. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Society, and the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Bruininks is married to Susan A. Hagstrum, and they reside in Minneapolis. They have three children and four grandchildren.

Joan Brasher, (615) 322-NEWS