Daily plays integral role in Keller saga

Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a 10-part series of stories highlighting each decade of the 20th century and how The Minnesota Daily covered them. The series will appear on Wednesdays leading up to the Daily’s 100th anniversary on May 1, 2000, and culminate with a special edition. We hope you enjoy this trip through time.
Liz Bogut and Juliette Crane
Ken Keller’s tenure as the 12th University president during the late 1980s was the source of criticism from the beginning.
The storm of controversy surrounding Keller came crashing down as he resigned amid a swarm of television cameras in March 1988, exactly three years after his inauguration.
It was an exclusive article in The Minnesota Daily that sent Keller on a downward spiral, and it was the seventh Daily extra edition that spelled the end of his time at the University.
The spiral began Feb. 11, 1988, when the Daily reported $1.5 million in renovations to Eastcliff, the University-owned home of President Ken Keller, had prompted a legislative audit.
The renovations began three years earlier and, by 1988, the Georgian Colonial home had a $528,000 kitchen and dining room, $192,000 exterior paint job and $207,000 landscape improvement, the Daily reported.
The University had allocated only $400,000 for the renovations.

The investigation
Legislative auditors met with the University administration to examine documents in connection with Eastcliff renovations.
The auditors searched for Keller’s possible fiscal mismanagement and tried to determine who authorized funding for the project.
The three-year project cost almost double Eastcliff’s $693,000 market value.
It was later discovered Keller renovated his Morrill Hall office for a whopping $200,000, as well.
After several weeks of investigation, legislative auditor James Nobles also discovered a secret “slush fund,” containing up to $70 million, which the president had access to.
Keller came to the University after receiving his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1964. He joined the University faculty as a professor in the department of chemical engineering.
After serving as the Vice President for Academic Affairs from 1980, Keller was promoted to interim University president in August 1984.

On the way out
The allegations of Keller’s fiscal mismanagement had many people calling for his resignation.
Arne Carlson, then state auditor said, “from a historical perspective, the days of Ken Keller have ended.”
State Sen. Gary Laidig agreed with Carlson, saying, “I think (Keller’s) days are numbered.”
Approximately 150 students passed through Coffman Memorial Union and signed a banner calling for Keller’s resignation.
The Progressive Student Organization erected the banner to protest the excessive spending.
“Tuition already costs a fortune,” said one student who signed the banner. “It seems to me ludicrous that they’re spending money on that house … Obviously, students are not the top priority of the University.”
But Keller vowed to remain at the University until his presence hindered the University’s chances of progressing in the Commitment to Focus, his plan for improving the University.
But even from the beginning, Keller and his visions for the University faced opposition. During his inauguration in 1985, protesters chanted “Commitment to Focus is hocus-pocus.”
Three weeks after he vowed to stay, Keller resigned under pressure from the Board of Regents, Legislature, and then-Gov. Rudy Perpich.
On Sunday night, March 13, 1988, Keller addressed a room full of media in Morrill Hall.
“I have said before and I repeat now that I am profoundly sorry for it,” Keller said, as his voice was carried live over television and radio.
The regents were also criticized for allowing the expensive renovations to happen right under their noses.
Then-Sen. Duane Boston said, “None of them have any management skill. The board is a management dumping ground.”
The Daily was criticized as well. One professor was angered by the Minnesota Daily’s coverage of Keller’s fiscal mismanagement.
“The Daily has done everything to drive (Keller) out,” said H. Ted Davis, then-Department of Engineering head.

The aftermath
Since the Eastcliff scandal, the regents have made some changes.
A technical advisory committee and Friends of Eastcliff have been created to oversee the house University presidents live in.
Richard Sauer, a former director of the University’s Agricultural Experimental Station, was appointed as interim president after Keller’s resignation by the Board of Regents.
Two years later, Keller returned to the University amid a media circus in April 1990. He resumed teaching in the chemical engineering department and still teaches at the University.

Liz Bogut welcomes comments at [email protected] Juliette Crane welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3238.