The Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler on Tuesday.
The Legislature will convene next month for its 2013 session, when it will consider the University’s $1.2 billion two-year budget request. The state already faces a projected $1.1 billion deficit.
Kaler discussed the future of the University’s budget request, new administrative appointments and his winter break plans.
It was reported last week that the state is expected to face a $1.1 billion deficit in the upcoming biennium. How do you think this will affect higher education funding as a whole?
It certainly doesn’t make it an easier conversation as a whole. Our strategy is to talk about the importance of public higher education, not only to our students and staff, but to the future of the state of Minnesota.
It is absolutely critical that the state make smart investments, and when you’re in a challenging budgetary time, it’s even more important to make smart investments.
I don’t think there’s a better investment to make than in education of Minnesota’s students and particularly the research and innovation agenda that this University drives. It’s very important to the future of the state that this be made healthy and strong.
How do you think it will affect funding to the University and especially the $1.2 billion budget the University is proposing?
I think lawmakers will be under a lot of pressure to make smart decisions, and I fully expect there will also be conversations about tax reform and how that will play out in terms of revenue. I think it will be a very interesting session.
Do you expect the University to receive the full funding amount requested?
I am always an optimistic person, and I think that we’ll be able to tell our story and influence the decisions in a positive way. But we need help doing that. We need students, faculty and staff to strongly engage with us in supporting the University’s request.
I invite people to go to supporttheU.umn.edu and sign up, contact your legislator, talk about the value of the tuition freeze we’re proposing, talk about the investment in your future as a student, talk about the value of research and innovation to the economy of the 21st century.
If the University does not receive the full amount requested, which parts of the request are likely to be revised or changed?
It’s way too early to talk about that; we’re going to be advocating vigorously for our full request.
Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, told the Daily last week that with the predicted deficit, it’s even more important that the University let lawmakers know the importance of the budget request. What will this entail?
I’m going to be spending a lot of time there; we have faculty liaisons for government relations that will help us, but students and their families are very powerful voices, so the degree that people contact their legislators will help.
I think elected representatives are in St. Paul to govern the state and the interest of their constituents, and if they hear from their constituents that higher education should be a priority, then they’re more likely to believe that.
Who will these faculty liaisons be?
The two faculty liaisons are [associate professor of classics in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies] George Sheets and [chair of the Department of Applied Economics in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences] Brian Buhr.
Their goal is to bring the faculty voice to the legislative process and to bring back information from the Legislature to the faculty.
What kind of reaction from students have you gotten about the budget so far?
I haven’t met a student yet who wasn’t excited about the potential for a tuition freeze.
Last Friday you announced that Katrice Albert will fill the two-year vacancy as vice president for equity and diversity. What made her stand out from the other candidates?
She has a great background; she’s had some terrific successes at [Louisiana State University]. She has the personal character, I think, to fit well in our community.
I think she will be an effective advocate for equity and diversity inside the University and an important ambassador outside the University for that mission.
Do you have any big plans for the winter break?
I’m going to Houston to watch the Gophers play football at the Meineke Car Care Bowl. I will be delighted to see students taking some time to go have a warm break in between Christmas and New Year to root for our football team.
Anything else to add?
The end of the semester is a stressful time for students, but it’s an opportunity for them to take care of each other and access some of the professional offices we have to help manage stress.
I encourage everyone to be healthy and smart and enjoy their holiday break.