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Kaler talks 9/11 recognition and Mizzou protest

The Minnesota Daily discussed research funding, athletics and his recent trip to South Korea.


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Before students leave for Thanksgiving break, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler sat down for another installment of Kickin’ It with Kaler.

In November’s question-and-answer session, Kaler talked about protests, research at the University and his recent trip to Asia.

Can you tell us a little about the trip you just got back from?

I visited several partner institutions in Korea and one in Hong Kong. It’s just a great opportunity, so much joint research that we can do, faculty exchanges, student exchanges. We have over 800 Korean students on this campus, so continuing to build the brand in Korea and being attractive for high-quality students, almost all of whom pay out-of-state tuition.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

I always enjoy meeting with students and alumni and sharing in the alumni’s happy memories of their time here.

Last week, the Minnesota Student Association voted down a resolution to hold a moment of remembrance for the anniversary of 9/11, saying there was a lack of a plan for the demonstration and the possibility of Islamophobia arising from the demonstration as reasons why they voted down the amendment. And later the school said it would still hold a 9/11 remembrance. What prompted the University to release that statement?

There was a lot of news in major media markets that really misrepresented what the student decision was and what drove it and what very much made it look like a statement of non-patriotism — elements that both Dean Johnson, the chair of the board, and I thought were not reflective of the values of the University. So, we issued our statement saying we had a moment of silence at the board meeting this year and of course this will be the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11 in 2016, and we plan to have an appropriate memorial or remembrance of that. But we will also use this as a teachable moment, really an opportunity for students of different faiths to come together and talk about what both brings them together and what sometimes drives them apart.

University researchers recently raised concerns about a lack of transparency in how the University spends overhead dollars from research grants. Some researchers said they would like the University to inform them on the exact ways overhead money is spent. What are your thoughts on that?

Overhead is always returned to the college that generates it. The college administration uses it to support activities of the faculty. College budgets are publicly available documents, so someone can see how much of that money comes in and money is spent on research support.

At that same press conference, researchers also highlighted difficulties researchers face when applying for grants, and they said they would like more school support in finding grants. What are your thoughts?

Writing research proposals is a stressful business. … Federal support of universities dropped again this past year. Whereas to the contrary, our total research spending is up about 2 percent this year. … Among the things that I know, we have some of the most generous opportunities to support faculty research.

Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz has been the subject of a couple different editorials in the past month, detailing reasons why Minnesotans think she should or should not be the new athletic director. Where does the University sit in the search for a new athletic director?

It is important that we get the external review in and understand what that says about culture in the department of athletics. I expect that we will be able to stay on our original plan, which is to search for an athletic director in the first part of next year.

There is a conference to discuss human research ethics at the University planned for December. How will hosting this conference help the improve the University’s image in light of past concerns highlighted in critical reports earlier this year about how the University handles research ethics?

The University has been the subject of a lot of examination and criticism around this. … And a conference like this, where we bring thought leaders from around the country, from around the world I think actually, to talk about these challenges will inform our faculty and staff and help us continue to have our thinking evolve.

There was a protest organized by the Black Student Union on Nov. 12 in support of the Mizzou protests. They laid out a number of demands, such as a cluster-hire of faculty members of color and requiring students to take an ethnic studies class before graduation. They said this will fix what they called a “toxic environment” for students of color at the University. What are your thoughts on their demands?

We are working very hard to improve campus climate around these kinds of issues. … In particular, there is a hiring initiative in [Race, indigeneity, gender and sexuality] to bring faculty in the ethnic studies area. It is, however, illegal to hire somebody based on the color of their skin, so there is our need to follow the law. At the end of the day, the faculty decide on the curriculum. … I am not sure the faculty would agree to mandate that every student take one of those courses.

Jerry Kill recently stepped down from his position as head coach [of the football team] because of health concerns. What were your thoughts when you learned he was going to step down?

Like most Minnesotans, I had a very high opinion of Jerry Kill’s ability and his commitment to Gopher Athletics. But also, as a friend and a human being … his first focus has got to be on getting well … to be able to live the life that he and his wife, Rebecca, want to have.

Do you have any plans for Thanksgiving?

We have our sons in town and my new daughter-in-law. We will be excited to have a couple of friends over and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. My wife loves to cook Thanksgiving.

That answers the next question I was going to ask of who is the better cook.

I can order pizza, but that’s really about it.


Editor’s note: this interview was edited for clarity and length.


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