Former U President Nils Hasselmo dies, university says

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Former University of Minnesota President Nils Hasselmo.
Former University of Minnesota President Nils Hasselmo.
Courtesy of University of Minnesota

Updated: 10:25 p.m. | Posted: 8:08 p.m.

Former University of Minnesota President Nils Hasselmo died Wednesday, current U President Eric Kaler confirmed. He was 87.

Hasselmo started as a professor at the U of M in 1965, teaching Scandinavian languages and literature.

A native of Sweden, Hasselmo was hired as the school's president at a time of increased public pressure for more accountability in its financial decisions.

"This is going to be an open administration. People are going to know exactly what's going on and if people don't like what's going on, they're going to have the opportunity to tell us so," Hasselmo said at the start of his presidency.

Hasselmo served from 1988 to 1997. He made difficult decisions, including closing the Waseca campus during a budget shortfall. He also proposed closing the General College, which the regents rejected. The General College was later made a department within the College of Education and Human Development.

Hasselmo is credited with strengthening the university at the undergraduate level, among other things. Former state legislator Roger Moe said he helped guide the university out of a difficult era.

"The kind of calm, deliberate style of Nils Hasselmo was what the university needed at that time, plus he was highly regarded," Moe said.

In a statement, Kaler praised Hasselmo's commitment to undergraduate education, improving class sizes and graduation rates.

"Nils was a remarkable higher education leader, and our University is better because of his service," Kaler said.

In 2015, Hasselmo said the university faces competition from research institutions around the world.

"And by the way they're doing it on something that looks suspiciously like the land-grant model: research, teaching and service," he said in a gathering of several other U presidents. "And they may be outflanking us if we do not continue to make that investment in what really was an American invention — the research university combined with teaching and service."