Kaler talks ticket policies, tuition freeze

He also addressed the declining condition of some University buildings and tuition for out-of-state students.

by Blair Emerson

Just a week before the Board of Regents will vote to approve University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler’s 2016-17 biennial budget request, the Minnesota Daily sat down with him on Friday for its monthly Kickin’ it with Kaler interview.

The president discussed his intentions to roll out the institution’s strategic plan, educational events the University will offer the week before the Washington Redskins play on campus, and his experience taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

In your biennial budget request, you have proposed additional funding to go toward health care, mining sustainability and “improving community vitality.” How did you choose these initiatives?

We talked to the deans, the provosts, other stakeholders and those emerged as very good candidates. We tried also to be, obviously, strategic about what the needs of the state of Minnesota are. And, as we’ve done in MnDRIVE two years ago, we really try to line up the strengths of the University against problems that the state needs to have solved. …

Members of the University community have expressed concern about the strategic plan “sitting on a shelf collecting dust” and not being implemented in a timely manner. How do you intend to make sure the plan rolls out?

We are not going to let it sit on a desk, that’s for sure — or the table, or the chair, or wherever it’s supposed to sit.

We will have a robust implementation activity, and the deans will be incorporating these principles into their planning. And we will centrally incorporate them as we allocate budgets.

So, the directionality around the grand challenges will be important. Of course, not everything that is done here will align with a grand challenge, but I do think it will set the stage for some new initiatives.

Your new approach to requesting Higher Education Asset Preservation and Renovation funds has received mixed reviews from state legislators.

Some say your proposal to lower the HEAPR request by $5 million and instead request this money for the operating budget is “double dipping” into state funds. How do you respond to this?

I don’t think it’s double dipping at all.

What we’re doing is opening a conversation about different ways that our infrastructure could be maintained, and we are falling behind in that maintenance. …

The HEAPR funding … while substantial, is unfortunately not enough to keep up with our needs. …

Your biennial budget request proposes a tuition freeze for graduate and professional students. Some school leaders have expressed concerns about this proposal, including how the tuition freeze could in turn affect funding levels within the graduate and professional schools. …

Could this freeze potentially affect their funding at all?

No, because the way funding is allocated is that it is state funding that is distributed just as if it were tuition.

So, for the deans managing their budget, it is completely as though there were a tuition increase. So they can’t have a concern about that.

Your proposed tuition freeze for undergraduate students only covers students paying in-state tuition. Do you plan to address tuition rates for students paying out-of-state tuition as well?

… There is legislative concern about the fact that our out-of-state tuition is amongst the lowest in our peer group. So, we will over time move that tuition more towards the middle of our peer group.

It’s difficult to explain to a legislator why an out-of-state student should not be paying more than an in-state student.

Many schools nationwide have enacted a tuition freeze in recent years, similar to the freeze you recently proposed to continue. Some legislators have expressed concerns about this trend and believe administrators should look to cut costs rather than rely on increased funding from the state.

Do you have any other plans to cut the cost of higher education in addition to the tuition freeze?

We obviously are cutting administrative costs. We are $36 million down the road to a $90 million reduction in administrative costs. …

We have two sources of revenue to direct to our educational program: tuition and state appropriation. …

So I think we need to rebalance the contribution of the state and those of students and their families.

Yesterday, the Student Senate passed a resolution asking Gophers athletics to discontinue current bundling of sports tickets and refund students who purchased football tickets they no longer want.

Gov. [Mark] Dayton sent a letter to you [on Friday] saying he was opposed to the bundling practice. How do you respond to this, and do you have any plans to address these concerns?

We’ve already released a statement addressing that. We clearly should have provided single-season or single-sport tickets for Gopher hockey. … When you look last year, 70 percent of the students who bought hockey tickets also bought football tickets. This year, by selling hockey and football together at a discount, those students actually saved money. Unfortunately, there were students who didn’t want football tickets, and we should have had a way to provide for hockey-only tickets …

What kind of caused this change in the bundling practice?

The student concerns. We heard good comments from the students who wanted to buy both tickets, but as this rolled out and there was increasing student concern about the lack of a single-sport ticket for hockey, we looked at that issue and decided that we’d make that change.

You mentioned last month that the University is participating in an ongoing conversation with the Minnesota Vikings regarding the use of the Washington Redskins’ name in materials for the Nov. 2 game at TCF Bank Stadium. …

Have you heard back from the Vikings, and what do you plan to do if they don’t comply?

I don’t believe we’ve heard back from the Vikings. …

We are lining out a variety of educational initiatives around racism and issues associated with using names like that for sports teams …

We are leasing the stadium to the Vikings, but our contract does not allow us to dictate their schedule and who they play. But we have made a request that they not use that name in the stadium or promotional material.

You participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge at a Gophers game last month. What was that experience like, and how was it different from your past game-day appearances?

I like a good challenge, so it was good to be a part of fundraising for ALS. Fortunately, it was a pretty warm day, so as for the initial chill, it didn’t feel too bad. And the difference is I normally don’t have to change my clothes completely during a football game.


Editor’s note: Kaler’s responses were edited for clarity and accuracy.