Kaler talks CLA, growth, business and athletics

University President Eric Kaler sat down with the Minnesota Daily on the eve of the homecoming football game.

by Greta Kaul

University President Eric Kaler sat down with the Minnesota Daily on the eve of the homecoming football game.


WhatâÄôs the logic behind the University of MinnesotaâÄôs decision to slightly increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) enrollment over the next few years?

WeâÄôre targeting a pretty small increase in enrollment in STEM and nursing. The idea there is to really help meet demand in those fields. The quality of students in those fields is continuing to increase, and the number of applications in those fields from high quality students is increasing, so thereâÄôs that kind of pressure for growth that is not there in other elements of the student population. So it makes sense to grow that carefully. WeâÄôre also allocating some additional faculty lines into various areas including into the College of Liberal Arts. So while CLA student numbers wonâÄôt increase dramatically, their faculty numbers will increase.


What do you think Karen HansonâÄôs biggest assets will be when she comes to the University [as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs] in February?

She clearly brings administrative experience, which is important. She brings a history of involvement and appreciation in the liberal arts, which I think will be terrific. She brings just a steady and very collegial and cooperative personality that âÄî since sheâÄôs returning to Minnesota, I think sheâÄôll be able to use in a very direct way. IâÄôm extremely looking forward to working with her.


A lot of liberal arts faculty members were very excited about the possibility of HansonâÄôs appointment. Do you think they see it as a kind of safety net to have someone from the liberal arts in the administration?

I think thereâÄôs always a feeling of comfort in any field when somebody from that field becomes a senior administrator. I think the scientists and engineers were happy to see me and I completely understand that the liberal arts faculty will be happy to see Karen. ThatâÄôs human nature.


The UniversityâÄôs been on the hook for a lot of athletics hirings and firings under Joel MaturiâÄôs tenure, whose contract ends in June. What are your thoughts about an extension?

He and I are going to have some conversations in the next couple of months about what he would like to do âÄî what makes sense for him and what makes sense for the institution. He and I havenâÄôt had the chance yet to really have those conversations. IâÄôd like to start that before the end of the year, for sure.


Comments on Don LuciaâÄôs three-year contract extension?

I think that makes a lot of sense for the U. HeâÄôs been a good coach through the years and had a couple of tough seasons, but I think heâÄôs the right guy for Gopher hockey.


What about the Court of AppealsâÄô decision to uphold the $1-million award for Tubby SmithâÄôs hiring fiasco with Jimmy Williams?

I was disappointed in that finding. I think itâÄôs obviously a setback for the University, but because we are considering appealing that ruling, I probably canâÄôt say much more about that right now.


What can the University do to make sure that type of lawsuit doesnâÄôt happen again?

Unfortunately, in human interactions sometimes people have misunderstandings and make mistakes. ThatâÄôs in some sense the cost of doing business. You canâÄôt always have processes in place that protect against that.

But I know in athletics we do have a tighter set of processes now that would prevent that type of thing from happening again. Unfortunately, lawsuits in our society are part of the way we deal with one another.


Do you think the business community is ready to actually go up to bat for the University at the Legislature this coming year?

I think they are. I think itâÄôs a matter of helping them understand what our issues are with the legislators and really calling on them and inviting them to help us tell the story. I think every business leader understands that having a strong research university adds enormously to the culture and capacity of Minnesota and the Twin Cities, and we just need to have them engage as they talk to political leaders in the state about that university. I think theyâÄôll be willing to do that and I think itâÄôll be helpful.


Do you think itâÄôs a more difficult climate with the control of the Legislature right now?

I think itâÄôs a different climate. The agenda that the Legislature will have will have to focus on the state budget and on controlling âÄî managing âÄî the dollars that the state has. So thatâÄôs going to be their number one job. I think the business connections with both sides of the aisle are substantial and I think theyâÄôll be there.


Dayton said heâÄôd like to have a sit-down dinner between you, himself and the business leaders âÄî is that something youâÄôve talked to Dayton about?

ItâÄôs a very exciting offer. I was just delighted âÄî he invited business leaders who want to engage with us to his house to meet the three German shepherd dogs and sit down to talk. ItâÄôs a very generous offer from the governor, and IâÄôm looking forward to having hopefully more than one dinner because I think he only seats 16 at the table.


What are your plans for homecoming weekend?

IâÄôm excited about homecoming. ItâÄôs going to be great. IâÄôm going to be in the parade tonight, say a few words at the pep fest in the stadium tonight and be back out tomorrow for pre-game activities and then the game against Nebraska. So IâÄôll be pretty busy âÄî Karen [Kaler] and I will be wearing a lot of Gopher gear this weekend.


Did she go shopping for more Gopher gear?

We have accumulated a pretty substantial collection of Gopher gear. I think sheâÄôs still looking for more, but I think weâÄôve got plenty.