Kaler talks calendar, Vikes, Sviggum

President Eric Kaler discussed the state of the University.

by Dina Elrashidy

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler sat down with the Minnesota Daily Wednesday to discuss administration changes, his State of the University address initiatives and Vikings stadium deal updates.

You gave your State of the University address March 1. What are your next steps for those proposed initiatives?

Now is the time to sort of put these plans into action. So I’m pulling together folks to talk about the year-round calendar. I’ve asked Vice President [Tim] Mulcahy and [Chief Financial Officer Richard] Pfutzenreuter to look at the capital funding equipment request. [Provost Karen Hanson] is working on the electronic teaching and learning activities. So basically I’ve tasked people — and some I’m doing myself — to put together groups to move those plans forward.

What kind of reaction have you received about the proposed year-round academic calendar?

I think I [got] … some mixed views. Most faculty that I’ve spoken with about it are certainly supportive of looking at the idea. I think students that I’ve talked to are, in some cases … sort of surprised by the idea of giving up a quote, unquote summer vacation, which of course they’ll use for work in many cases.

I think if you think about it a little bit more, the flexibility of coming for one or two summers is attractive, particularly the idea [that] if you were doing an internship, you could do it some other time of the year than the summer, makes it more attractive. Again, once we develop the details and can lay out the advantages and illuminate the disadvantages clearly then we’ll be in a position to make a better judgment.

Your plan for the next budget is to include a 2.5 percent pay increase to all University employees. With tuition on the rise, do you think this is a good time for that?

Faculty and staff haven’t had a raise now for three years. People have worked very hard to [mitigate] the students’ financial downturn. As the economy seems to be improving, I think it’s a prudent time to provide a modest raise for people who have worked very hard for a long time.

The federally subsidized Stafford Loans rate might double to 6.8 percent from 3.4 in July. There’s concern that if the lower interest rate is renewed, money might be taken away from Pell Grants. What are your thoughts on these issues?

I think the federal government should be doing much more in support of students in higher education in general. I think it’s very foolish for our leaders to raise rates on these student loans. Education is extraordinarily valuable, and we should be making it easier to find the funding for education not harder.

Srilata Zaheer was named dean of the Carlson School of Management March 8. What do you think made her stand out for the position?

I think she illustrated, while interim dean, a really strong set of skills to manage and lead that college. She has great international experience and is well received by the Minnesota business community. So when we teed all of that up, it was an easy and good decision to bring her on.

Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy announced his retirement plans this week. This is after a string of other administration changes. What do you think of these changes, and what priorities do you want for your new administration?

Obviously when you have a presidential transition you have a pretty healthy turnover in senior administrators. That’s happening now, which is to be expected. I look forward to bringing leaders who share my views on what’s important to the University — leaders who are committed to being efficient and effective, who want the University to move at a faster pace and really want to drive costs out of our central administration operations so we have more dollars available for the academic enterprise. I’m looking for those kinds of people.

Is there any progress on the Vikings deal with the University to play at TCF Bank Stadium?

The last briefing I got was that we have an agreement principle. I think there may still be some residual conversation needed about the dollars that the Vikings would provide, but I believe that those discussions are essentially complete. I have a meeting today on that subject. I can’t give you an up-to-date answer. We’re interested in helping Minnesota retain the Vikings, and I’m sure we’ll get that done.

Former Regent Steve Sviggum recently announced his resignation after the board determined his position in the Minnesota Senate is a conflict of interest. What are your thoughts on the process and the outcome?

I think it was a board issue and the board governed itself in an appropriate way. It was open in dealing with the issue. I think it was a good example of a process that worked to resolve an issue that members raised. I think it’s a healthy process. I know the outcome was painful for Regent Sviggum, and I have great respect for him and his record of contributions for the state of Minnesota.

What did your spring break look like?

We’ve been meeting with individuals talking about the bonding bill and the higher ed bills. We’re trying to position the University to benefit from the bonding bills and put our priorities forward, increase in [Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement] funding for example, which is larger in the House bill than was proposed by the governor. It is $35 million in the House bill and it was $20 million from the governor. So that’s been a step in the right direction. And a variety of issues on higher ed that we’ve been working with the members and leadership on.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think there’s been a lot of stuff in the paper about transition packages and leave compensation. We are in the process of revising University policies to tighten those opportunities and also to have the Board of Regents involved in approving large exceptions from those rules so that’ll get us to a place where you won’t see transition packages of that magnitude in the future.