The Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler Monday for its monthly Kickin’ It with Kaler interview.
Kaler talked about his recent trip to China, new administrators, the effect of the recent DOMA ruling on the University and more.
You visited China at the beginning of this month. Can you talk about what you did, or some of the highlights?
It was an amazing trip. I’m still recovering, but [it was] a great opportunity to meet a lot of our partners in China. I visited many research universities … [I] also met a group of entering students who will make their way to Minnesota in the fall and their
parents, so that was fun to hear some of their concerns and just feel some of the excitement that they have for their trip to Minnesota.
… There are students and faculty that are coming here, so the faculty who I met at various places on the trip were also working with their colleagues and collaborators, identifying some opportunities for joint research. So, really the full range.
You said your goal was to increase the number of students learning abroad and to increase opportunities for international students. Can you talk specifically about how you plan to increase the number of students learning abroad?
I think the biggest step we’ve made is opening an office in Beijing, which opened in ’09. That’s a great location for Minnesota programs to have visibility and have a point of contact for students.
… Again, it’s face time. It’s having a footprint in Beijing. … That promotes contact. We also have a very strong global studies alliance — very effective in establishing student mobility opportunities, both students coming here … and our students going there.
… 32 percent of our undergraduates have a study abroad experience here, and that’s a very high fraction. I think that puts us third in the nation in terms of fractions. You really want to have that because it’s a pretty interconnected world. You go out, and to have that international experience is a plus.
[The Defense of Marriage Act] was recently struck down in the Supreme Court of the United States. How will this impact the University in terms of faculty, staff and students?
To be honest with you, I don’t know what impact that’s going to bring, and our [human resources] people are looking carefully to be sure that what we do is completely in line … A) with the law and B) is in the interest of our faculty, staff and students.
So we will be looking at what the impact of that is, and if we need to make changes, we will communicate them and take as much feedback as we need to move those policies, but I don’t have a specific knowledge of what changes we will need to make.
Affirmative action was also addressed in the Supreme Court recently. In a statement, you said the University would examine its current standards. [Are there] any other specifics that you might have, such as a timeline or anything you know of right now that might need to change?
Sure, and I have a little bit of a disadvantage in having been out of the office for two weeks when all of that happened. I have asked our folks to look at it. It looks to me, at first glance, as a confirmation of the [Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin] case, so I don’t think that means much has changed for us, but again, it’s something our folks have to look at.
As we move into your third year in office, you will be working with fully three-quarters new administration, according to the Board of Regents. I’m interested in knowing the ‘whys.’ Was this strategic at all?
I think it’s just sort of a natural thing that happens. President [Bob] Bruininks had been in office for a reasonably long period of time, and his senior leaders had reached opportunities or times in their careers to either move elsewhere — as the provost did — or to separate from the University. … I’m very happy with the new people that we’ve hired. I think they are doing a tremendous job. There is, of course, a loss of institutional memory when you have senior leaders depart, but we also have a core of people who have been with the University for a long time.
The light-rail construction on campus is going to be ending in 2014. What are the chances of a fare-free zone on campus?
Well, we are very interested in a fare-free zone, and we are in conversations with the [Metropolitan] Council with how to do that. I think probably until those conclude, it’s just enough to say that they are ongoing.
Many are happy with the resident tuition freeze, but some are wondering about non-resident tuition. How much of a priority will non-resident tuition be in the future?
Well, I think when you look at non-resident tuition — even with the increase that we have — it is still well below non-resident tuition for many of our peer institutions, and it represents still a good value for students who want to come the University of Minnesota. I do believe that it is important that the University be affordable to all students, but I think it’s also fair to have a differential between the [in-state] and out-of-state students.
So in coming years do you anticipate more increases? Would you say probably not a freeze for out of state students?
I don’t think we will be able to freeze out-of-state tuition, so I would anticipate that it would continue to increase but at as modest a rate as we can manage.
How might you review [Norwood] Teague’s performance? His review is coming up, and we’re interested in a preview of what you think.
He got a review with all the other members of my senior leadership team … I’m very pleased with the progress he’s made. I think he’s brought together a great leadership team.
He’s also brought a variety of new faces to bear. I’m very excited about, in particular, our new basketball coach. I think he brings an enormous amount of energy and connection to the team. I think the statewide tour that he’s just finishing reached a large number of fans and did a great job to enhance the image of Gopher athletics across the state, which I think is important to do.
Anything additional that you’d like to add?
We do have a Board of Regents meeting coming up, and they are going to have the opportunity to vote on a resolution around the DREAM Act, so we have some enabling legislation to enable undocumented students to have in-state tuition. That’s important to me. I think you’ve heard me on this before. I think education is really an important thing, and to be able to have access to it regardless of documentation is going to be a good thing. So, my hope is that they will pass that resolution that puts us in compliance with the law that was passed earlier this year.