Kickin’ It: President Kaler visits the State Fair, talks upcoming school year

Amid tours of U of M exhibits, Kaler talked about his hopes for this year.

University President Eric Kaler answers questions for the Minnesota Daily in his office on Mar. 3, 2016.

Maddy Fox

University President Eric Kaler answers questions for the Minnesota Daily in his office on Mar. 3, 2016.

Kevin Beckman

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler attended the Minnesota State Fair last week, touring several University of Minnesota exhibits alongside University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

The two visited the University of Minnesota building, the Dairy Barn and the Miracle of Birth Center. The two leaders of rival institutions learned about Minnesota sustainability initiatives, were quizzed on their knowledge of rabbits alongside Minnesota 4-H members, saw several different University research projects and even went down the giant slide together with Bucky Badger and Goldy Gopher.

Goldy handily beat Bucky in their race to the bottom.

The Daily caught up with Kaler that afternoon to discuss the fair, his priorities for the upcoming academic year, disappointments from last year and the failed Fairview Health Services-M Health merger.

What has been your favorite part of the State Fair so far?

I just enjoy how connected the University is to the Fair. We’ve got the University building, the Driven to Discover research building, the Footprint and the Eco Experience building, the Vet School’s presence in the birthing barn, the 4-H kids showing their animals. We play a big role here. It’s nice to see.

You mentioned the birthing barn. Did you get to see any births?

I was about 45 seconds late for a little piglet. That was as close as I got.

What will be some of your and the University’s biggest priorities for this academic year?

We obviously want to continue to advance our conversation with Fairview around M Health. We want to see if we can make progress on that. We’re also working hard on our biennial budget requests that we’ll make to the legislature. It’s a goal to get some important new areas funded or to help control tuition prices and to further our research mission. Again, we focus on improving the student experience. We want to continue to improve graduation rates and student success. Those are probably the big ones.

Where do negotiations with Fairview around M Health stand?

I would think right now it’s fair to say we’re kind of cooling off a little bit, taking a step back and evaluating what may be a better approach to those conversations.

Was there anything about last year that you’re particularly proud about going into this year?

Again, it’s continued student success. We were able to again recruit an outstanding class of first-year students. It was very satisfying to see the success of our graduates’ good job placements. Again, able to build a budget with no tuition increase for Minnesota residents whose families make less than $120,000; so good progress on a lot of fronts.

Was there anything you were disappointed about from last year?

We’re certainly very disappointed that the Legislature and the governor were unable to come to an agreement on a bonding bill. We have some critical infrastructure needs that are not going to go away. They’re only going to get worse and more expensive to repair if we delay, and the lack of a bonding bill really does hurt our ability to create the kinds of spaces for the 21st century research and teaching that we’re doing.

Is there anything that you’re particularly excited about for this coming school year?

It’s a time of transition in my administration. I’m excited about bringing a new senior VP on board, new General Counsel, other senior leaders and building a strong team for the rest of my presidency.

How smoothly are you expecting this transition to go?

We’re devoting a lot of time to the search processes and a lot of effort around onboarding our new leaders so that they hit the ground running and can be an effective part of the senior team quickly.