UMD chancellor talks rental rules, campus changes

Don't count Lynn Black among fans of Duluth's 300-foot rule, which limits how close rental properties can be to one another in certain areas around the colleges.

Chancellor Lynn Black
UMD Chancellor Lynn Black speaks with members of the Duluth News Tribune editorial board last week. (Bob King /

Don't count Lynn Black among fans of Duluth's 300-foot rule, which limits how close rental properties can be to one another in certain areas around the colleges.

Black, who replaced Kathryn A. Martin as chancellor of the University of Minnesota Duluth this year, might have rented a home for his first year -- but his options were all but eliminated by the 300-foot rule, he said in a recent interview.

"To arbitrarily assume two homes within 300 feet of each other are going to cause problems seems odd," he said.

In fact, the Duluth City Council will consider a measure this month to repeal the 300-foot rule, which was designed to avoid the transformation of single-family-home neighborhoods into student housing zones.

Lynn and Connie Black's first choice would have been to rent the home they ended up buying on East Kent Road, just blocks from campus.


Why that location?

"We wanted to be part of a neighborhood that's close to campus, that deals with campus community issues," Lynn Black said. "We have a house two doors down rented out by students. We've not had any problems."

Black spoke last week on a wide variety of topics as the end of his first semester as chancellor approaches. Following are some of his thoughts on his new community and UMD's future.

On life in Duluth

The Blacks, who arrived from Kennesaw, Ga., have seen the city as a welcoming place. The couple, originally from Tennessee, has three grown children and three grandchildren (the third, Henry, born on Wednesday).

Black has experienced winter here, attending snocross events at Spirit Mountain, touring Bentleyville, and hiking trails at Chester Park and Gooseberry Falls. He's a fan of Duluth restaurants and Lake Superior.

"I enjoy that I can see it out my window and how the character of it changes every morning depending on the weather," he said. "It's a phenomenal place."

On campus changes


Black has begun work on a new strategic plan for UMD. That means figuring out its goals and identity in light of the economy and other factors. An example of such a plan is when the Twin Cities campus of the U of M decided its goal was to be one of the top three research schools in the nation. Black expects the UMD plan to be finished by April.

"It's been a while since there has been a university-wide process to develop one," he said. "Because of the economic situation we're facing, we're going to have to make tough decisions. To do that well, the campus needs a strong sense of who it is and where it is headed."

Black has continued where Martin left off on attempts to improve the campus climate. A racist conversation between UMD students that erupted publicly on Facebook last spring left some in the campus community shocked at its nature. It led to many conversations and meetings about the prevalence of racism at UMD and what can be done about it. A summit was held in August to form leadership teams to begin work on diversity issues.

"Part of doing work with diversity is having people do some self-examination on where they fit, in terms of dealing with people who are different from themselves," he said. "There may not be a way to prevent things like the Facebook incident from happening ... but we don't want to just settle for where we are."

Ultimately, Black wants a campus of people that deal with differences in productive ways, he said.

On UMD growth

Student population at UMD is close to maximum in some areas, including liberal education courses and high-demand classes for science, business and engineering. Space is tight for many classrooms and offices.

"Most campuses that are seen as progressive are always growing a little bit," Black said. "But you need to grow in ways you can sustain."


The new campus plan will address these things, he said.

As for new construction, the American Indian Resource Center will have another go with lawmakers this year. The campus has seen nearly a dozen new buildings erected and renovated in the past decade, but there are still needs. General-use classrooms and office spaces for faculty and staff are some of them.

"We're really hurting in those areas right now," Black said.

On the budget

The university is bracing for another budget cut of between 3 percent and 6 percent for next year.

"We hope it won't be 6, but we have to be prepared in case it is," Black said.

On interaction between the city and UMD campus

Black has spent time with the mayor, members of the City Council and the business community. He's spoken to Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and held small meetings with students, faculty and staff in every corner of UMD. In both his meetings with the outside community and on campus, he's heard the perception that groups on each side feel unappreciated by the other.


"One thing I talked to (Mayor Don Ness) about is how we can break down invisible walls," Black said. "UMD is perceived to not be a welcoming place. And we're sitting here thinking, 'We want more people here from the community, so why don't they come?'

"Some people see campuses as foreign lands. The same thing is true for some students and faculty in terms of being downtown. I think we have enormous opportunities on both sides to be more engaged."

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