Kaler on proposed tuition hike: ‘It is an equity issue’

The Minnesota Daily sat down with President Eric Kaler on Tuesday to discuss the faculty unionization effort, administrative oversight and recent bridge vandalism.

University President Eric Kaler fields questions from the Minnesota Daily on Thursday, Sept. 21.

Image by Jack Rodgers, Daily File Photo

University President Eric Kaler fields questions from the Minnesota Daily on Thursday, Sept. 21.

by Allison Cramer

The Minnesota Daily met with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler on Tuesday for the semester’s second monthly interview about campus news.

Kaler discussed the search for a new medical school dean, Title IX and the proposed tuition hike. 

It’s homecoming week. What is your favorite homecoming tradition at the University?

My favorite homecoming tradition at the University probably is talking to the alumni group that gathers before the game in McNamara [Alumni Center]. It’s always a fun group and it’s a great opportunity to have some fun … We just have a great time. The parade’s always fun too.

On Monday, University Medical School Dean Brooks Jackson was named dean of the University of Iowa’s medical school. What is the timeline for hiring a new University medical school dean?

We’re in the process of identifying Brooks’ successor right now, and I anticipate making an announcement about that in the next several days.

And what candidate qualifications or traits will you prioritize in the search?

It’s very important that the dean be a physician leader, have a terrific track record both as a clinician and as an academic researcher. Those are really important traits for the new leader to have.

On Friday, the Board of Regents approved a policy change that would reduce the number of administrators required to submit financial disclosure forms. Why was this change introduced?

Experience has shown that for the group of administrators that we reduced that burden on, there was very rarely a case in which an issue arose that needed to be mitigated. Those administrators will still fill out the baseline conflict of interest form, which should catch the items that the previous form also identified. So it’s really just a chance to reduce some paperwork that really wasn’t doing a very effective job.

And how does the University plan to maintain oversight after this change?

Because they still have that … [baseline] form to fill out, … they just won’t have this second level of oversight. And we feel it’s a situation where the second level, for some administrators, was a bit of overkill.

Following Paint the Bridge, there were several incidences of vandalism on political student groups’ panels. What was your reaction to these incidents?

If you disagree with free speech, then you should have some more speech. Vandalism or other malicious behavior is not acceptable. It is an incorrect way to protest ideas that you don’t agree with. We will follow up on [incidences] of vandalism, and if we can identify perpetrators and those perpetrators are students, they will be subject to student conduct code discipline.

And going forward, are any policies surrounding Paint the Bridge going to change?

For the great majority of student organizations, the Paint the Bridge activity works just fine, so we don’t foresee changes. We will need to find ways, I think, to monitor the bridges more carefully so that, again, vandalism will be discouraged.

After last week’s Board of Regents meeting, a sexual misconduct policy with proposed updates will be open for a 30 day public comment period. Some of the proposed changes, like giving accused students written notice of allegations and a chance to respond to investigative reports, were made to align University policy with Title IX. However, University officials have said the school won’t increase the standard of evidence used in sexual misconduct investigations to follow new Title IX guidelines from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. How are the decisions about University policy made?

We feel confident about our current approach, and again, we’ve made some improvements to align with Title IX. But most importantly, rather than focusing on the penalty part of this, which the policy describes — we take those very seriously, [and] we will be diligent in following up with allegations that are brought by victims. We’re unwavering in doing that — but we’re also spending resources and time around treating sexual harassment and assault as the public health problem that it is.

And why follow some of the new Title IX guidelines, but not the shift in standard of evidence?

Our decision there is that the shift of standard of evidence is actually a step backwards in enabling resolutions to be reached on these allegations, and so we don’t plan to do that at the current time.

Historically, the University has had one of the lowest out-of-state, nonreciprocity tuition prices. Officials have frequently cited this ranking in discussions about tuition hikes, usually as a reason to support increases. Why is the University aiming to move toward the middle range of tuition rates in the Big Ten?

Well, at the end of the day, it is an equity issue. So, if a student from outside Minnesota is looking at educational options outside of her home state, it feels equitable to me that the value of that education is in range with the cost of that education. We feel we have a great value, and it should cost about the same as other elements in the market do, which would be the midpoint of the Big Ten.

The University has repeatedly resisted faculty unionization efforts. Faculty recently announced that they’d be moving forward with a workers’ association, rather than a formal union. Will the University be more receptive to the workers’ association rather than a union?

A workers’ association … is not a union, and they would need to engage through faculty governance, as other groups do. We would welcome those conversations.

Halloween is right around the corner. Can you tell me what was your most memorable childhood costume?

Oh, boy. You know … part of the problem is that when you get to be 61 years old, you don’t really remember what you dressed up as for Halloween as a kid. … I will tell you that my most memorable family Halloween costume was when my son Sam was 2 and dressed up as an adorable little dinosaur. It was adorable. His first trick-or-treating experience, he had his plastic pumpkin bowl … and he had a little bit of candy in it to start. We went to our next door neighbor … and the mom came to the door and gave Sam a piece of candy. And he looked up at her, and he looked down in his bucket, and he reached and got another piece of candy and gave it back to her … He did not understand the purpose of Halloween was to acquire candy. He thought he was just going to trade. That’s my most adorable Halloween story.

Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.