Student State of the University Address

Amanda Zimmerman, Students for a Democratic Society

On March 6, President Eric Kaler will give his annual State of the University Address. Will Kaler speak for all 50,000 of the University of Minnesota’s students?

If his 2014 address is anything like those of previous years, we can expect it to downplay serious problems that impact students while touting overenthusiastic and uncritical optimism about the work the administration has done. This is simply an event for marketing the University as an accessible, diverse and cosmopolitan place, not for actual engagement with the issues students, staff and faculty care about.

So, following Kaler’s address, Students for a Democratic Society will host a responding student-led panel discussion in collaboration with Whose Diversity?, The Wake, the American Federation of State, City, and Municipal Employers 3800 clerical workers, and Fossil Free Minnesota.

Tuition has risen much faster than the rate of inflation for years. In the last decade, our tuition has approximately doubled. The average student debt upon graduation in Minnesota is more than $30,000, the fourth highest nationwide. In his 2013 address, Kaler’s only mention of inflating tuition was that it was driven up by “the economic crisis.”

Coinciding with the rise of tuition over the last decade, our University has added more than 1,000 non-teaching administrators and faculty — a 37 percent increase.

Many of those administrators make more than $200,000 annually. Kaler himself earns about a $610,000 salary, not including bonuses. His predecessor’s salary exceeded $400,000.

Although Kaler loves the buzzword “diversity,” our student body doesn’t reflect the diverse urban environment of Minneapolis. Latino/a, Native American and black students are vastly underrepresented. The administration’s idea of fixing this is to waste money on reconstructing the once-vibrant student cultural centers on the second floor of Coffman Union. The murals of those cultural centers are lost, and so too is the safe space that helped so many students feel at home on campus.

Most recently on campus, there has been increased fear about campus safety. The result has been reduced public access to our public university and increased profiling by University police. While data points to years of reduced crime around campus, the recent lockdowns and profiling have done little to address the most pressing safety issues of property-related and student-on-student crime.

Many of us are tired of hearing the same empty rhetoric and seeing minimal efforts made toward making our campus inclusive, accessible and affordable.

SDS’s Student State of the University Address is part of an ongoing campaign to put pressure on the administration to make real change.