Kaler talks divestment, free speech

President Eric Kaler discussed research ethics, the student health report and tuition rises.

Youssef Rddad

Just before spring break, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler sat down with the Minnesota Daily for the latest edition of Kickin’ It with Kaler.
 
 
With this year’s state legislative session now in full swing, Kaler discussed the University’s proposals to lawmakers as well the divestment movement and research ethics.
 
 
We’ve had some unusually warm weather lately. Have you been able to get outside much and take advantage of this early spring?
 
 
My schedule this time of year is pretty hectic. I like to take a walk around campus for 10, 15 or 20 minutes every day.
 
 
The University’s Faculty Consultative Committee recently drafted and passed a free speech resolution. Do you support this type of resolution?
 
 
Absolutely … I think it’s an important step in ensuring that we have free and open dialog on campus and that we do it in ways that let people listen to each other and not talk over each other.
 
 
Earlier in February, an external report criticized the University for lapses in protection of human research subjects and research practices that weren’t considered best practice. The report said some researchers retroactively filled out some required paperwork, staff conducted psychiatric trials and minors were recruited without parental consent. The school has since refuted a number of the allegations. What parts of the report does the University refute?
 
 
We had concerns about some of the statements there. I felt like we needed to fact-check them and see the background documentation. … We’re working hard to improve our processes in psychiatry. … It’ll take a while to get best practices in place, but we’re dedicated to making that happen.
 
 
With that critical light and added scrutiny of the psychiatry department, have concerns been voiced about the University’s ability to conduct research because of the added attention from lawmakers and critics?
 
 
I think there’s no doubt that the research enterprise across the enterprise is strong. … But in psychiatry, there are challenges in dealing [with] … patients who have fluctuating levels of the ability to consent. … Again, we’re trying to put in place the best practices to enable that work to be done as safely and ethically as possible.
 
 
In a discussion with the Board of Regents last month, some administrators have laid out plans to raise nonresident tuition to the middle-point of the Big Ten. While some fear this may drive off potential out-of-state students, others have expressed that the University should prioritize attracting more students from Minnesota and the surrounding reciprocity states. What are your thoughts on raising tuition for out-of-state students?
 
 
I’ve said for a while that I think it would be appropriate for … students at the University of Minnesota from nonreciprocity states should pay tuition that’s closer to the middle of the Big Ten. … I think it’s appropriate that they pay somewhat more of their educational costs. … We’re going to monitor this very carefully. The out-of-state students that we get are important to us for a wide variety of reasons.
 
 
To help erase ongoing budget woes, University of Minnesota-Duluth administrators have laid out plans to help the school balance its budget. What are your thoughts on the plan?
 
 
I think it’s a good plan. … They got out of balance because of some enrollment fluctuation, some structural imbalances that have persisted for a long time and primarily because we declined in state support. I think this is a realistic plan, and I think it’ll get the campus back in balance.
 
 
Do you have any other ideas or ways that UMD could balance its budget and prevent any future shortfalls?
 
 
We’ve put about $600,000 in new money toward a new initiative around retention of students. … So really focusing on that retention and improving four-year graduation rates is our next step.
 
 
We had a question on Twitter from @radiofreeumd, which said: #umnduluth hopes to get #mnleg funding for new chem building, but must also pay 10+ million. will #umn help?

 
 
So chemistry and advanced materials building on the Duluth Campus is our second-highest priority after HEAPR in the bonding bill. The state funds two-thirds of the costs. … The University then, through a variety of funds, pays for the other one-third. UMD will have in place a financing plan to enable that to happen.
 
 
With the state Legislature in session and the University seeking about $236 million in capital projects and another $38.85 million for other initiatives, do you plan to spend any time at the capitol to lobby lawmakers to support the U’s request?
 
 
I spend a lot of time there. … It’s pretty important I spend a lot of time there.
 
 
Have you heard any feedback or reaction from legislators so far?
 
 
There’s a range of optimism about the bonding bill. … We’ve gotten good reception around our HEAPR request — the idea being we need to maintain our assets is something that resonates well. … This time of session it’s easy for everybody to be positive. It gets harder as you get closer to the end.
 
 
As the Minnesota Student Association was set to vote on two resolutions — one to call for the University to divest from companies involved with certain activities in Israel and the other to condemn anti-Semitism on campus — you released a statement saying you didn’t support either resolution. MSA leaders responded by decrying administrative intervention in student government. How do you respond to some of their criticisms? What do you hope to accomplish Wednesday when you meet with MSA President Joelle Stangler?
 
 
There was no call in my statement for the resolution to be taken. I think the students could have had a vigorous debate about both of these resolutions and reach a conclusion about them. It’s important for me to sit with leadership and understand the source of their anger.
 
 
Some state lawmakers sent you a letter before MSA’s vote urging the school to disavow the student divestment movement. Did the letter influence your decision to speak out?
 
 
It really was a combination of lots and lots of voices. … It certainly was not in response to that letter but a lot of voices that expressed that concern.
 
 
Boynton Health Service’s most recent student health survey, released in December, showed a rise in mental health problems around the University and some sexual health trends that are alarming to some, [such as] STDs on the rise, for example, and condom use declining. … Are there any ways that the University could address some of these issues?
 
 
We had been working hard to address the mental health issue, and again, I’ve directed the Provost and Office of Student Life to increase staffing there. … Sexual health is a little more challenging. That’s obviously an individual’s decision at a point in time as to what kind of protection to use. I would encourage people to be safe in all things that they do.