Kaler talks budget, UMore

The president also discussed the University’s bereavement and sexual assault policies.

Christopher Aadland

Earlier this month, when snow was melting and temperatures were warming up, the Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler for its monthly Kickin’ it with Kaler interview.

Kaler discussed changes to the University’s crime alerts, administrative spending, UMore Park’s new direction and Duluth campus’s $6 million budget deficit.

 

The Minnesota Student Association recently passed a resolution to update the University’s sanction policy on sexual assault. What do you think of the school’s current policy?

I think we’re having a lot of conversations about what the policy should be … I’m aware, obviously, of what MSA would like. I think I need to understand what the experts in the Aurora Center think about this and probably need to have a faculty-led discussion about what kind of change, if any, we should make.

 

The Student Senate also passed a resolution calling for changes to the University’s bereavement policies, including a recommendation that the University set a minimum length for excused absences for grieving and clarify which relationships are included in the policy. Do you think the policy should be modified?

I am sympathetic to making that longer and perhaps broadening the people [who are] eligible [and] situations for which it’s eligible.

Some state lawmakers have recently voiced concerns about administrative cuts the University has made as part of performance measures tied to the institution’s state funding last year. Some legislators said the University wasn’t reallocating savings in appropriate areas, like trying to lower costs for students. How do you respond to that?

The University has been under enormous pressure to reduce administrative cost since before I got here, and we’re in the process of doing that. … We put those [savings] to higher and better use in the academic programs that the University needs to have.

Some lawmakers would like to see us use those funds to even reduce tuition, but we think investing them and providing the highest quality education for our students is a better choice.

 

Can you list some of the areas where those have been reallocated?

In [the Office of Information Technology], we separated [duties] from some people who did things in IT that no longer needed [to be done], such as answering the phones if you dial zero.

We took those dollars and put them into instructional software to improve the environment for students using that software around campus. So that’s an example, and there are lots of them and it’s quite a detailed list.

 

Last month, the Board of Regents agreed to undertake a new market-driven approach to UMore Park and eventually sell the property to an outside developer. Do you believe this is the best option for the site and why?

I absolutely do. I think we’re in a free market. I don’t think it’s the University’s core strength to be in the real-estate development business.

So we stepped back from the idea that we would have a real strong tie to how that development looked to a more market-based approach, and I think that’s the right thing to do.

 

The University recently announced changes to how it issues crime alerts. Now, suspect descriptions will only be used when there is information available that will clearly identify the suspect. Why were these changes made?

Our feeling was that limited descriptions of race and gender only promotes a stereotype that we’re not anxious to support. We will decide on a case-by-case basis … about when we have enough information to provide a meaningful description of the perpetrator. And when we have that, we will include it in the crime reports, and always we will issue a crime report with location and time.

 

What are some of the criteria that will be used to determine when racial descriptions will be used?

For example, if we know race and gender and there’s an identifying tattoo or an identifiable characteristic, vehicle or hairstyle that’s distinctive, we’ll do that. It’s a matter of having enough information to distinguish an individual, or a small number of individuals rather than a large group.

 

UMD leadership met with system-wide leadership to discuss how the school could further reduce its $6 million budget deficit. Did you attend that meeting?

I have not had a meeting yet on the UMD budget directly. I’ve met with people and had separate conversations with people involved in that conversation, and this is the time of year in which the campuses and colleges go through what we call a budget compact process to determine what their allocations are next year.

 

What areas, if any, have been determined where cuts will occur?

I don’t know the details of that. It will depend on, in a real sense, what the state allocation to the University is, and then what the internal University allocations will be at campuses and colleges. So it’s just too early to know what the budget will look like.

I do plan to be supportive of some initiatives [UMD Chancellor Lendley Black] has laid out, and [I] hope … to have the money to do that.