Kaler talks budget, campus campaigns

Kaler talked with the Minnesota Daily about legislative expectations, the election and University programs.
October 23, 2012

The Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler. The president talked the future of his budget — which will hit the Legislature in the upcoming session — political activity on campus and his “conventional” Halloween costumes growing up.

 

At their last meeting, regents approved your two-year budget request, which will go before the state Legislature in January. What are your expectations as far as how the Legislature will receive the request?

I’ve had a lot of conversations with legislative leaders, and I would say there’s a good level of interest in what we’re
proposing.

It really does change the conversation from what we want to what we’re going to do with the state support that we’re
requesting, both in the tuition relief and the research initiatives.

It’s had a good reception; of course, it’s a tough budgetary time. We’re just trying to ask the state to spend a little bit more on its resources, on the University of Minnesota, because we think we’re a good investment.

Some students aren’t on board with donating to fund construction of the Goldy statue outside of Coffman Union. What do you think the statue would represent for the University?

I think traditions are an important part of student life on campus, and this was a student-initiated and student-led activity. The idea came out of a student engagement committee that was involved in my inauguration activities in 2011. They believe, and I do too, that [the statue] will increase a sense of pride and connectedness with the student
community.

But certainly if a student doesn’t want to make a contribution toward the statue, they don’t have to.

University donors gave about a 10 percent increase in contributions in 2012. Given the current economic conditions, did this surprise you?

I wouldn’t say I was surprised because I understand how much work and development people put into raising that private money, and I worked on it pretty hard myself.

It’s gratifying to have hard work turn into such a good result for the University and for students.

The campus has been buzzing with political activity surrounding the upcoming election. What are your thoughts on all the campaigning on
campus?

It’s a terrific part of what a university is. We need to be a place where people with very different political views can come and debate, have an open exchange of ideas and points of view, think about what other people are saying and respond to it in an intelligent and respectful way.

To have a really vigorous debate is one of our core missions, and I’m glad to see students so interested in this political season.

At the regents meeting you mentioned launching a new President’s Emerging Scholars Program for next year. Can you explain a little more about the program?

It really is going to expand what is now called “Access to Success” for all the freshman-admitting colleges next year. It’s going to help students have the academic support and the personal support, the scholarship support that they need to thrive.

It will roll out some of the Access to Success mentoring and other activities through all four years instead of just the first year.

It will be a good program and will improve our retention rates, and ultimately our four- and six-year graduation rates.

You said the program will assist students whose personal experiences, rather than their high school performance, may qualify them for admission. What personal experiences might qualify a student?

I can imagine that maybe having a difficult childhood; maybe the potential student has been homeless for a period of time; maybe the student has had a substantial dislocation. They may be from a recent immigrant family; maybe [they had] a prolonged illness. Things that would maybe make them look not as qualified on paper but actually do project to be successful at the University.

You met the king and queen of Sweden a few weeks ago. How was that?

It was a royal experience. One of the very neat things about my job is the chance to meet so many different people with different experiences.

Having met the king and queen of Sweden, and having met the king and queen of Norway last year, it’s
interesting.

When you grow up in Alamogordo, N.M., you don’t meet a lot of kings or queens.

The U recently launched a new “Driven to Discover” campaign with TV ads featuring University alumni. What are some focuses of the campaign?

The theme is illumination, which I think is a great theme to describe the power that education brings to people and the ability to illuminate new ways of thinking.

The ads are aimed at telling the University’s story to the public. One of the ads in particular is aimed just at helping to grow scholarship donations to the University.

Halloween is coming up. Did you dress up in any cool costumes as a kid?

When I was a child I was pretty conventional. I would do the cowboy outfit; I would do the space suit outfit, but nothing too radical.

Anything else to add?

Back to the budget element, I think our ability to deliver a tuition freeze and accelerate research activities in the four areas that we’ve outlined is a really important investment for Minnesota to make.

I hope to be able to have the support of students and their families as well as our faculty and staff as we advocate for that.

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