Kaler talks amendments, VP search

The University president discussed the election Tuesday.

by Alexi Gusso

The Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler on Election Day to discuss politics, changes to the University’s administration and how election results could impact the University.

University News Service spokesman Steve Henneberry said Kaler was planning to vote that night at the University of St. Thomas.

The interview took place before any election results were known.

By the end of the election, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party had gained control of both the House and the Senate in the state Legislature.

In this election, what race have you been following the closest?

I have been following most of the legislative races in Minnesota for both the House and the Senate.

Knowing who we’ll be working with as the legislative session moves forward is extremely important. I’ve been looking at the candidates and their positions, in particular on higher education.

Party control in both houses of the state Legislature could change. How do you think who controls the Legislature will affect funding to the University?

We are eager to work with leadership and rank-and-file across the aisle in both the House and the Senate.

I think we have a good relationship with many of the people in both houses, and I think we have a compelling story about why the University is worthy of investment, and I look forward to telling them.

Last week in a speech, Gov. Mark Dayton said that he needed DFL majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate to avoid another 15 percent cut to the University. What do you think of his statement?

I think the governor is eager to have colleagues in both houses that he will be able to work with most easily.

I certainly hope that if that doesn’t come true that doesn’t imply a 15 percent cut to the University; that would be devastating.

What is your stance on the Voter ID amendment?

I’m concerned about the amendment, personally. I’ll give my personal point of view; the University doesn’t take a position on these issues.

I’m very concerned that if it does pass that the law that results is crafted so that there’s no restriction of access for students to the polling place.

I’m concerned about what it means for place-bound seniors and their ability to vote, and I’m concerned about what it means for mail ballots, which are used in precincts around Minnesota.

I think if a precinct has less than 400 voters they do it by mail and, frankly, I don’t know how you certify a mail ballot. So I think there are lots of issues around that.

What is your stance on the marriage amendment?

My personal point of view is that I am not in favor of the amendment. I think it sends a difficult message to people. I think Minnesota needs to be an open place.

The University is currently finishing up the second search for the vice president for the Office for Equity and Diversity. What did you learn from the first search?

I don’t know that I particularly learned anything from the first search.

Searches generate a pool of applicants, and you sort through those applicants of people available for that job at that particular time, and I didn’t feel that we had exactly the right person for that role.

I thought it’d be useful to look again, and I think the two [current] finalists that visited campus were both strong candidates, and we’re in the process of vetting their presentations and their impressions, and we’ll make a decision fairly soon.

How do you think the two current candidates compare to the three finalists from last spring?

I think they have interesting mixes of different strengths, and of the two here, we’ll be able to find the next vice president. I didn’t feel that way about the first [candidates].

Due to the future departure of Robert Jones as senior vice president for academic administration, you assembled a task force to review the functions of the Office for Academic Administration. Based partly on the task force’s recommendations, you decided to eliminate the OAA. What will change due to this elimination?

You’ll see the units that used to report to the OAA will report to the appropriate vice president, either the provost for academic-related activities or other VPs will report either to me or to the appropriate place.

The chancellors will now report directly to me for all activities. Before, they reported to me for strategy and planning and to Robert for operational activities. So you’ll see my number of direct reports increase a little bit, and the workloads across other administrative units will increase somewhat, too.

What went into making the task force appointments, and who did you appoint?

The task force was led by my chief of staff, Amy Phenix. Because it involved system-wide issues, it was important to have a chancellor, so I asked Lynn Black, the chancellor of Duluth [campus], to  serve. It was important to be able to understand the financial implications. Richard Pfutzenreuter, our chief financial officer, served, and Tim Mulcahy, the vice president for research, has a good perspective on the University system and has a good neutral voice in organizing what needed to be done.

How is the University going to benefit from the elimination of the OAA?

I know we’ll see some significant cost savings, and we’ll have a tighter integration of units with other units that they interacted with before.

What we’ll lose is Robert’s very valuable work in helping to build a more unified University of Minnesota system and his great presence and activity in the community. His departure is a loss, and we’re only able to do this reorganization because he built such a good foundation for the University system to unfold.

With the cut of the OAA and your proposed budget, are there any other upcoming plans for further University savings?

We work all the time to generate those as part of our operational excellence drive. I don’t have a timetable for the next announcement, but we’re continuing to service opportunities, to evaluate them and, when appropriate, to move forward.