Yudof implements former University president’s plan

Craig Gustafson

When Kenneth Keller became University president in 1985, the school was in disarray. University funding was suffering and programs were getting cut due to budget shortfalls.
Keller developed an ambitious plan to solve the problem, but was unable to see it through, resigning after a 1988 scandal.
Trouble began in January 1988 when Keller made major renovations to Eastcliff, the presidential mansion in St. Paul. The work cost far more than expected, equal to nearly three times the value of the mansion. The total renovation reached $1.7 million, but the Board of Regents authorized a budget of only $400,000.
Soon after, it was found that Keller spent $200,000 renovating his Morrill Hall office.
Legislative Auditor James Nobles investigated Keller’s financial accounts and found a secret reserve fund. The “slush fund” contained as much as $70 million.
Three weeks later, Keller resigned under pressure from Gov. Rudy Perpich, the state Legislature and regents.
Despite his tarnished reputation, Keller’s greatest achievement, “Commitment to Focus,” still lives on at the University.
The plan proposed cutting and reallocating various programs to better focus on the University’s strengths. Both former University President Nils Hasselmo and current President Mark Yudof used variations of the plan in their own budget proposals.
“I think the University under Yudof is about to enter its brightest period,” Hasselmo said in 1998. “But a lot of groundwork was laid by Keller.”
The University rehired Keller to teach in the chemical engineering department two years after his resignation.
He is currently a faculty member in the chemical engineering and materials science department and at the Humphrey Institute.
Craig Gustafson covers the Medical school and welcomes comments at [email protected]