Kaler talks aging faculty, human research programs

Christopher Aadland

As spring semester draws to a close, the Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler for the semester’s last monthly installment of Kickin’ It with Kaler.
 
Kaler discussed aging faculty members, the distribution of funds to coordinate campuses and improving the institution’s human subject research programs.
 
It was recently reported … that 40 percent of the University’s faculty are 55 years old or above, and that the school might face waves of faculty retirements in the coming years. How does the University brace for retirements as baby boomers are aging?
 
Not that there’s anything wrong with being over 55, but the strategy really is the obvious one, which is to invest in younger faculty, be aggressive in our searches and try to bring in as much new blood as we can. … Right now, one of our challenges is that people are staying on for quite a while, not opening a space for a new faculty
member and not giving us much certainty about when that transition’s going to come. 
 
Some have questioned how funds are distributed between campuses recently, claiming some campuses are unfairly underfunded by the University system. An amendment to the Senate’s [higher education] omnibus bill was added that would require the University to report how it allocates funds 
between campuses. Do you agree with this?
 
I don’t think legislation is required to do that. We very clearly outline how we allocate funds, and if anyone in the Legislature wants to talk about that with us we’ll go through it. Again, I don’t think it needs legislation.
 
In its version of the higher education omnibus bill, the Senate again included performance measures tied to a portion of the state allocation to the University. …
 
Some of the benchmarks included in the Senate’s bill are increasing graduation rates for students of color, graduating more science, technology, 
engineering and math students and further reducing administrative costs. Do you agree with this tactic?
 
We believe we can do that again going forward. If that’s something the Senate needs to feel necessary to hold us to that accountability, then we will meet those goals.
 
After last year’s election, Republicans seized control of the state House of Representatives. In the House’s higher education omnibus bill, additional requested funding for the University goals like the tuition freeze and Medical School weren’t included. Has a Republican majority in the House made it more difficult in for the University to seek more funding?
 
I don’t necessarily want to make it into a partisan issue, but I think it is fair to say that the Republicans have outlined a quite different budget for the state across the board with cuts and minimal increases that’s quite different philosophically from the [Democratic-Farmer-Labor] Party approach …
 
After two recent external reports criticized the University for lapses in protection of human research subjects, an implementation team was assembled to recommend changes to the University’s human subjects research protection programs to you by May 15. … Some have expressed concern about conflicts of interest with members making up the implementation team. Do you agree with those concerns?
 
All the members of the committee have been found by University policy to not have conflicts of interest. 
 
Also, the human research protection implementation team started meeting this month to discuss how to make recommended changes. What are some of the things that they’ve been working on?
 
There was an external panel that provided us with many recommendations, and so they’re working their way into those recommendations …
 
How are these recommendations going to be presented to the public?
 
Our current thinking is that we’ll post these on a website for public comment. … One area where we’ve been criticized is being clear and open and transparent, and so we will have a website that documents progress towards these goals, and we will have people involved in ways that make it clear how we’re moving forward.
 
A number of critics, including former Gov. Arne Carlson, have called for your resignation in the wake of the two recent human subject’s research reports. Those reports called past administrator reviews of the school practices superficial and said administrators issued misleading statements about the thoroughness of those reviews. How do you respond?
 
I’m not going to resign, and I’m focused on the future and then leading the implementation of the improvements that we need to make.
 
Would you have done anything differently, though, with how you’ve handled the research issues brought up after the 2004 death of Dan Markingson?
 
I would have looked at our human subjects research with an external panel more quickly if I had everything to do over again. Hindsight is 20/20.