Kaler discusses his resignation and goals for the year

Kaler looks toward his last year as president in an interview at the Minnesota State Fair.

President Eric Kaler pets a lamb held by veterinary medicine student Jennifer Pitkanen at the Miracle of Birth Center on Friday, Aug. 24 at the Minnesota State Fair. Kaler spent the day at the fair with his wife.

Image by Ellen Schmidt

President Eric Kaler pets a lamb held by veterinary medicine student Jennifer Pitkanen at the Miracle of Birth Center on Friday, Aug. 24 at the Minnesota State Fair. Kaler spent the day at the fair with his wife.

by Helen Sabrowsky

The Minnesota Daily met University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler at the Minnesota State Fair last week to talk about his decision to resign, the search for a new president and the University’s presence at the fair.

What are you most looking forward to at the State Fair this year?

I always enjoy seeing all of the things the [University] is doing at the fair… the [Driven to Discover] building, the [CHS Miracle of Birth Center], all of the animals and just the general good vibe at the fair and the impact the [University] has on all of the things that go on here.

Last month you announced you will step down as University president a year before your contract was set to expire, what did you weigh as you made this decision?

I figured that it’s just time. I’ve done what I set out to do and I think it’s important as a leader to know when that time is and so the opportunity to give the board plenty of time to find my successor is in front of us. I feel I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and now let’s let someone else have a swing at it. 

How long have you considered resigning?

I would say probably a year ago, at the start of the last school year, I began to reflect on what I’ve done, what I can do, what I want to do and what I want to do with my life.

What are your priorities in your final year as University President?

Really finishing the philanthropic campaign as part of [Driven to Discover] is really important, that’s what I’m going to do for the year after I step down as president as well. We’re a little over $3 billion towards our $4 billion goal and I want to get that done. I want to also work with the Legislature and new governor to chart a good, strong budget for the University and also continue to work on our strategic plan for the system.

Soon, a search committee will be formed to find the next University president. What would you like to see in the next president?

Well, people have different strengths and weaknesses and the next president will probably have a different mix of those than I do. I think that we’re all looking for someone who loves the University and wants to see it succeed and has the energy and passion to drive a vision of excellence and accessibility for Minnesotans.

Executive Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson recently announced she will leave her position at the end of the year, what are your thoughts on her decision?

Well she’s been absolutely terrific as a provost. We really could not ask for a person with a better set of skills to serve as provost, so the University has been really fortunate to have her service and I wish her the very best as she moves forward.

What are you looking forward to this year with Gopher Athletics?

Well we’re obviously excited about the opportunities Gopher Athletics has. I think we’ll see a growth year in football, it is [P.J. Fleck’s] second year and that’s a process of building that he’s engaged in. But I’m very optimistic about our men’s basketball season and of course I’m very excited to welcome Lindsay Whalen back as our women’s basketball coach.

Last year, nearly 2 million people attended the State Fair — where the University has a large presence. How do you use the fair to interact with Minnesotans, especially those from greater Minnesota?

It’s a really terrific opportunity to do that and we encourage everybody to engage. Whether it’s our [Driven to Discover] building or our showcases or other things that feature the [University], it’s just a chance for people from around the state to learn about and appreciate … the impact the [University] has.

As summer wraps up, what are you looking forward to most this year?

Well, I’m always excited about the energy our new students bring. Convocation on Thursday is a great event. We’ll have 5,900 new students [and] 2,000 transfer students, so one of the great joys of higher education is the renewal that each fall brings and I’m excited about that.