Last week, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler joined the Minnesota Daily for this semester’s third installment of Kickin’ It with Kaler.
Kaler sat down with the Daily to talk about the recent student government elections and mental health, among others.
On March 30, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced he would not seek charges against two police officers in the shooting death of Jamar Clark last year. Do you have a reaction to the decision, and do you feel that it impacts the University community in any way?
I’m sure Mr. Freeman did what he though was best based on the evidence at hand. … I know he weighed that decision very carefully. … I think right now the climate around race — particularly young black men interacting with police officers — is challenging across the country.
The University of Minnesota recently had its printers breached, allowing hackers to print anti-Semitic messages from outside of the University system. And today [the Daily] found out about anti-Islamic literature that was reportedly found tucked inside a number of Minnesota Daily issues at Blegen Hall and at Humphrey, as well as tacked to a poster board. At least with the first incident, how do you feel the University responded?
I think we did as well as could be reasonably expected. … We sent bias response teams to the places and talked to people who had seen those images and were offended by them.
You announced last month that the University hired Turnkey Search to lead the athletics director search. How has that process been, and have you received any leads for potential candidates?
We have a robust list of potential candidates. I just talked to Turnkey today actually. The search is moving well, and I’m confident we’ll have a very high quality person in place.
How has it been working with [Turnkey]?
They have a lot of contacts, and they bring a lot of experience and perspective having done a lot of AD searches like Michigan and Georgetown recently.
Representative Abigail Whelan recently introduced a bill which would withhold $14 million from the University unless it establishes a fetal tissue research center. The bill would also allocate $1 million to this center. Do you have a position on the proposal?
We oppose that proposal pretty vigorously. ... It … would disrupt our progress of hiring people for the Medical Discovery Team, which is the medical school’s highest priority. … The withholding of funding would have a big impact on our research.
Does this raise any concerns for you about the U’s autonomy from the state?
There is a potential autonomy issue there, but we do accept research money from the state for a variety of projects, and the state does have, of course, the opportunity to set the budget. There probably is not an autonomy issue there.
Medical School Dean Brooks Jackson recently announced Sophia Vinogradov, a prominent California doctor, would begin leading the psychiatry department in August. How do you feel her background will help the department amid high scrutiny and ongoing criticisms regarding research practices in the department?
I think she’s an experienced academic leader and a very good scholar. ... It’ll be an important part of the continuous effort to improve processes there.
Thomas Stolee, a 19-year-old University of Minnesota freshman from Duluth, has recently been lauded as a hero by preventing a woman’s suicide after he talked her down from a railing over the Mississippi River. Have you reached out to Stolee?
I called him as soon as I found out about the story and got his cellphone number. We had a nice talk. It sounds like he’s a terrific young man and third generation Gopher.
With several suicide attempts occurring on the bridge connecting both East and West Banks, are there any initiatives you’d like to see implemented given the wide attention mental health of students has received on campus lately?
We’ve added some resources there, but there’s more work to be done. And again, particularly as we get near the end of the semester, I frequently tell students to look out for each other. … We’re encouraging people to just ask, “How are you?” and show concern and connection for your classmates and fellow University citizens.
At the same time, the Minnesota Student Association and Faculty Consultative Committee have recently teamed up to look at ways to address mental health on campus. Do you see any roles the administration can play as groups on campus tackle the issue?
We’ve added some resources, and we’re looking to see how much and what other resources are needed.
During the March Board of Regents meeting, some regents expressed a desire for more oversight of the athletics department. Though the proposals have been moved for further discussion in May when the Regents reconvene, what are your thoughts on more oversight of the department, and how do you feel this might affect the AD search?
Well, the Board has the propagative, of course, to determine how it wants to provide governance oversight. ... In terms of the AD search … I think candidates are going to be comfortable with anything that’s put in place.
With student government election season here, is there anything you’d like to see in the next crop of leaders?
I think it’s very important that the students think carefully about who they elect and be thoughtful. The positions are critically important. I listen carefully to what student leaders say, and I interact with them frequently.
Is there any specific topic that you’d like to see student government tackle in the next year?
Mental health will continue to be a challenge. I think conversations about freedom of speech and freedom of expression will continue to be topics.
Are there any initiatives that student government accomplished this year that you’re proud of?
Their commitment to bring mental health needs forward has clearly been very important. I think that the long work of student government, both last year and this year, around the issues of informed consent … has been really important.