Kaler talks Prince, tuition increase and higher-ed bill

President Eric Kaler sat down with the Daily for this semester’s last Kickin’ It.

University president Eric Kaler answers questions for the Minnesota Daily in his office on Monday morning.

Maddy Fox

University president Eric Kaler answers questions for the Minnesota Daily in his office on Monday morning.

by Youssef Rddad

In the Minnesota Daily’s final issue of the semester, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler sat down with the Daily to discuss the last weeks of the legislative session, athletics, ongoing concerns surrounding the psychiatry department and the death of Prince. 
Prior to the interview, Kaler also called Prince’s death “a huge loss” and added that the University is considering an honorary degree to recognize Prince’s legacy. 
In its E-12 and higher-education bill, the Minnesota House did not appropriate any additional funding for the University of Minnesota’s request for cybersecurity, mining resources and rural health initiatives. … What are your thoughts on the measure?
We try to work with both sides. … The House bill marks us at zero, but there are funds. … The process is these will go to conference committee, the senators and representatives will hammer out the differences and reach a compromise. We are hopeful that compromise will include funding. 
The University has, however, praised the state Senate for approving about two-thirds of its requests for capital investment projects. Why do you think the Senate approved some funding for these projects, whereas the House did not?
I think it represents really a different philosophy between … parties. … I think the Republicans are focused on smaller spending. … The Senate is willing to invest in a variety of things, including higher education. I do stress that these are investments in the future of Minnesota.
You mentioned in a statement Monday that almost half of University buildings are more than 50 years old — some of which require fairly immediate attention. How do you plan to address aging infrastructure and buildings around campus in the future?
That’s at the heart of our HEAPR … request. … The Governor gave us $55 million, and it’s $61.2 [million], I believe in the Senate bill. … The House bill is not out yet, but … we expect a smaller allocation in the House for HEAPR. … We need to educate our students in 21st Century facilities, not 20th, and some cases, 19th century facilities.
Now that a number of voices have been heard on the topic of raising nonresident, nonreciprocity tuition, is there anything new that you’re considering in light of these discussions? 
No, I think we are teeing up the discussion for the Board of Regents. … I think the Regents will have a robust conversation about what that number should be. There certainly are voices on the side that say the increase should be even higher, and other voices on the side of having it be lower.
Some staff at the Daily scoured the paper’s archives for hours and dug up story from the 1970s of an 18-year-old Prince. Did you read it?
It painted a very human picture of human of him. … I think it said in the article, he had a crystal falsetto. He was a musical prodigy. Obviously, he played any instrument there was and sang beautifully.
The University announced nine candidates recently in the AD search, including Beth Goetz, Sean Frazier and Peter Najarian. When do you expect to name more finalists?
No, no, no. The University did not announce those. … Joe Christensen [of the Star Tribune] scoured the open literature and came up with a list of nine people that he thought we [had as] candidates for the AD. There’s no University endorsement of anything that’s in that article.
After meeting with some Gophers football boosters last week, Gov. Mark Dayton called the University’s athletics department tattered and added the coming of a new AD with strong leadership was needed. Has the governor’s comments changed the AD search?
Nope. And, in fact, I think the Governor’s comment is not an accurate representation. … If you look at the performance of the athletics department in the Learfield Cup … we won a national championship in women’s hockey. … Outside of football and Men’s Basketball … Gopher athletics is in very good shape. … I don’t disagree with the need to have a strong AD. College athletics is a big-money, big-time activity now with a huge amount of public scrutiny, and the department needs strong leadership.
Back to the E-12/Higher Education bill: Lawmakers also included measures that would create more oversight of drug trials in the University’s psychiatry department, including oversight by the ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities. University leaders have voiced opposition to the measure, why is that?
I think it’s not necessary. I think we’ve set up a sufficient new external oversight that makes the ombudsman review an unnecessary step. But I understand that lawmakers are concerned about oversight in our psychiatric department. … I just don’t think it’s that necessary.
More concerns were raised last year after the recruitment of Robert Huber, who said he was recruited into a drug study after a 72-hour hold by Dr. Stephen Olsen, who in 2004 also recruited Dan Markingson. New legislation would ban recruitment into drug studies while a patient is being involuntarily held, but some have raised questions if others have been recruited in this matter. Have there been?
We’ve asked for people to come forward who have been. To my knowledge, and check me on this with Brian Herman, we have not had any other people identified.
With the ombudsman for mental health, is there some reluctance because it’s, along with the fetal tissue measure, a possible infringement on U of M autonomy?
I think you could make a case for both of those bills that it does infringe on our autonomy. … I just think we have enough structure to ensure safety without involving the ombudsman. 
What do you think students should do this summer?
Find a little time to relax and spend time with friends and family. … At the same time … [students] should use it wisely to do some professional or career development. It’s a great idea if you can get an internship, even if it doesn’t pay.
And what about students who are graduating? What advice do you have for them?
I wish them all the best and good luck in the rest of their lives. I hope that they find the University of Minnesota degree is a wonderful foundation for a successful career.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’re trying to find more ways to be more supportive to our graduate and professional students who are parents. … Women are in graduate or professional school at a time that is prime child-bearing age, and we really should find a way for people to pursue their advanced education and start a family.