The Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler for its monthly Kickin’ it with Kaler interview Tuesday at the 17th Avenue residence hall’s Fresh Food Company.
Kaler discussed head football coach Jerry Kill’s recent leave of absence, the 2014 capital budget request and his Halloween party plans over a cup of coffee and chocolate cake.
Coach Jerry Kill is taking a leave of absence to focus on his epilepsy treatment, while Tracy Claeys will serve as interim head coach for the football team. What effect will this have on University athletics?
I don’t know of a person in Minnesota who dislikes Jerry Kill, and I think people who’ve met him are rooting for him to get better. It’s clear that he needed some additional time to get treatment and get himself back to where he needs to be the head coach, and so he’s doing that.
Right now, he’s taking time off, sick leave, like any other employee, and we’ve asked Tracy to be the acting head coach. … Jerry is our head coach.
Has there been any discussion between you and Norwood Teague about Kill stepping down?
Our plan right now is for Jerry to get better and be able to resume his full duties, and that’s what we want to see happen.
Have you discussed this with Kill?
Yes. Norwood and I have talked to Jerry about this. ... Again, you’ve got to note that there are probably millions of people with epilepsy who carry out perfectly normal lives … and our hope is we’ll get Jerry to be in that group.
The University of Minnesota is asking for about $232 million in state funding this upcoming legislative session for six projects system-wide. Four of the projects are science and research buildings. Do you think there are other important projects that are being left unfunded?
There are many important projects at the University, and it’s a challenge for us to set those priorities and identify where investments need to be made now because we have urgent needs across all of our campuses and across all of our disciplines.
You mentioned the science and engineering portion of that, and a couple of people have mentioned that, but it’s really an issue of timing in which those [projects] have come up. If you look at other construction around campus, we’re just finishing Northrop. ... We just finished Folwell renovation. ... Nicholson Hall was redone, so the fact that four of these are science and engineering is just kind of a consequence of where we are in the overall timing of this request for the University.
Are there any specific buildings that [you] would like to see on the 2015 request?
You’ll see us move forward with some discussions about Elliott Hall … being able to get into Pillsbury and renovate it so it can eventually be the home of the English department. ... We’d really like to find some resources to get into Eddy Hall, which is the oldest building on campus. We’ve asked [the state Legislature] for that at least twice and haven’t been successful.
How come that was left out of this year’s [capital request]?
You know, after a while, if you get told “no” enough times, you figure, “Maybe I’ll ask for something else.” We weren’t able to generate sufficient support for Eddy. We certainly haven’t given up on that — we’re going to continue to explore ways to get that building renovated — but there didn’t seem to be much appetite for it in the legislative session.
With the government shut down, the process for receiving new research grants at the University has been delayed. How has this affected the University?
Right now, because the shutdown hasn’t been going on for an extremely long time … we haven’t had a real drop in dollars coming to campus, but we are worried that the issuance of new grants and contracts will be slowed. When the government reopens, I imagine it will be a period of time before [federal government agencies] get back to normal, and if those grants and contracts don’t come to campus, we have graduate students and others who are supported on those grants, and that creates a hardship for them and a challenge for us to manage.
The sequester, of course, which we hope will be lifted as a consequence of a strategy to go forward, is very impactful to the University. We anticipate between $40 and $50 million of lost research support because of this sequestration, and that’s real money that impacts important work that’s being done. ... To give you the idea of the magnitude, we receive on average from the federal government $53 million a month.
Vice President of Research Brian Herman discussed the current gender gap in science programs at last week’s meeting. What efforts is the University taking to close the gap?
I’ve been working on the gender gap in engineering ever since I took a leadership role as a department chair [of the chemical engineering department at the University of Delaware] probably 15 years ago. It’s a persistent problem. It reflects early decisions that women and girls make about math and science and the career path they follow, so it’s, in some sense, a pipeline issue.
But in another sense, it is the need for the institution to offer equitable pay, obviously, but also equitable research support, teaching loads and access to graduate students, and we work very hard to do that, so I think as our ability to do that continues to grow, we’ll become increasingly more competitive, more attractive to women and to men who want to pursue academic careers.
On the student side, there are a variety of programs in the College of Biological Sciences [and] the College of Science and Engineering that are meant to increase the involvement of girls and young women in science-based activities and ultimately to encourage them to pursue that line of study at the University.
How will a new mayor of Minneapolis and new members on the City Council affect the University?
Obviously the Minneapolis campus depends pretty heavily on the city for lots of opportunities for students as well as for public engagement at all levels, so I look forward to working with the new mayor and new councilmembers as they come on board.
Clearly, most importantly in the surrounding neighborhoods, we need to work together to ensure good public infrastructure and good public safety. The current mayor has been a great friend and colleague, I’ll miss him and we’ll look forward to engaging with his successor.
Halloween is in a few weeks. What costume will you be celebrating in?
When I arrived as president, I got a lot of “welcome to the University” gifts and from the football team I got a Golden Gopher football jersey with my name on the back and number 16, so I’m going to be a football player for Halloween. No helmet, though.
Is your wife dressing up as well?
She is somewhat reluctant, but I believe [she] will emerge as a cheerleader. ... We will have a party at the house. I think we invited faculty and staff, so we expect hundreds of people to come. Goldy will be there as well.”