UMN President Eric Kaler talks free speech and sexual misconduct at 2018 State of the U

Kaler gave his annual State of the University speech Thursday at Coffman Union.

University President Eric Kaler fields questions from the audience at his State of the University address in Coffman Union on March 2, 2017.

Carter Jones, Daily File Photo

University President Eric Kaler fields questions from the audience at his State of the University address in Coffman Union on March 2, 2017.

Kelly Busche

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler addressed campus free speech, sexual misconduct and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in his annual State of the University speech Thursday afternoon.

University community members nearly filled Coffman Theater, and students, faculty and regents also tuned in from coordinate campuses. Around 30 staff, parents and supporters of the school’s Child Development Center were also in attendance to voice concerns around the center’s postponed closure.

“Right now, we are wrestling with a handful of tricky issues, and that, frankly is at the heart of our University today,” Kaler said in the speech.

Peter Levin, a CDC assistant preschool teacher, said he feels teachers’ voices have been left out of conversations about the center. In the question-and-answer portion of the speech, Levin asked Kaler for job “assurance,” for which Kaler said he can’t give an “iron-clad guarantee.”

“He didn’t have a good answer … so we’ll keep pushing to figure out what we’re going to do next,” Levin said.

Reaffirming the University’s position on free speech, Kaler said in the speech that opposing viewpoints and disagreements make up the education experience. 

“We must dedicate ourselves to promoting free speech while still fostering a campus climate that supports equality, diversity and inclusion. That, of course, includes a diversity of thought and the ability to learn how to disagree with each other,” he said. 

Protecting the rights of sometimes controversial speakers — like Ben Shapiro, who spoke on campus Monday night — is “the business we’re in” as an academic institution, Kaler said.

In the midst of the rollout of the President’s Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct, Kaler also addressed the campus-wide coordination of scholars, counselors and health care experts aiming to “do better.” 

“Stopping sexual misconduct on our campuses begins with every one of us, and our challenge is to become a community where sexual assault and harassment aren’t tolerated and where those who would attempt it find the community united to stop it,” Kaler said.

Kaler also reiterated his support for the state’s DACA recipients, stating that “likely several hundred of our students” are Dreamers and that “the elimination of DACA would potentially remove 6,000-plus individuals who are vital to the Minnesota workforce and our communities.”