“I think I love this place too much,” says University of Minnesota historian and donor Ann Pflaum, ’75 Ph.D.
Pflaum has conducted extensive research going back to the founding of the University in 1851, braiding facts, milestones, and people into stories that continue to unfold today. She co-authored the U’s history from 1945 to 2000, among other projects. “I’ve been at this for almost 20 years and hope to continue as long as I’m able,” she says.
How has the U shaped history?
There are numerous examples. Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his research on diseases in grain. Initially conducted at the University of Minnesota, it led to the Green Revolution, which, along with medical devices invented at the U, saved countless lives worldwide.
One of my favorite stories concerns Elizabeth Kenny, a nurse from Australia who came to the U in the 1940s proposing a new treatment for polio. Doctors elsewhere were skeptical, but the U of M’s Wallace Cole and Miland Knapp saw the potential and offered her a position here. Sister Kenny’s methods revolutionized polio treatments.
What events have changed the University?
Early presidents like Folwell and Northrop helped the U of M grow from a few buildings and programs into a campus that embraced the land grant mission more fully, promoting research in the liberal arts, agriculture, medicine, teaching, and other disciplines. Post-war presidents helped the U accommodate an influx of GIs and baby boomers. Student protests in the 1970s resulted in curriculum changes that focused on equality and inclusiveness. Creating a more residential campus has transformed student engagement.
What advice do you have for those who will carry the University forward?
Throughout its history, giving people a chance has been part of the University’s mission. It is important to stay true to that tradition.
The impact of donors and the Legislature on tuition, programs, and research will support the U’s forward momentum, which is critical to everyone in Minnesota and beyond.
Hear more from Ann Pflaum: