Systemwide strategic plan put on hold after Kaler’s resignation

The Board of Regents reviewed the plan’s priorities last week, but the plan will be finalized by the next University president.

by Helen Sabrowsky

University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents reviewed President Eric Kaler’s systemwide strategic priorities at last week’s meeting instead of reviewing a comprehensive plan as originally scheduled. 

The board originally planned to review the systemwide strategic plan at their September meeting and possibly take action in October, said Jon Steadland, the University president’s chief of staff. Kaler ‘s resignation delayed the review. The bulk of the plan will be left to his successor, who will be named later this fall. 

The plan’s priorities include increasing systemwide enrollment, addressing Minnesota’s research needs in areas like opioid addiction and improving marketing and resource use across the University system, Kaler said at the meeting. 

In his final year as president, Kaler will complete the M Health agreement between the University and Fairview Health Services, finalize the St. Paul Strategic Facilities Plan and the Academic Health Center reorganization, address the prospect of renaming some historic campus buildings and focus on the school’s child care needs. 

“When the president made his announcement, we had conversation with the board [leadership] about a pathway forward and came to a shared understanding that the plan itself should have an imprint of a new president in a comprehensive way,” Steadland said. “But that there had been a tremendous amount of good work done on [the plan] already.”

Rather than abandon the progress that had been made on certain areas of the systemwide plan, board leadership decided Kaler should continue to work on the plan’s priorities. 

But the comprehensive plan will be delayed until the new president takes office next July. No timeline has been established for the new president, Steadland said. 

“A new president is ultimately going to get the opportunity to bring their own ideas to the table,” he said.

One of Kaler’s last administrative priorities before stepping down is the renaming of historical buildings on campus. Coffman Memorial Union was a major target for renaming last year after a campus exhibit showcased Lotus D. Coffman’s segregationist housing policies during his tenure as president. 

Regents Michael Hsu and Abdul Omari criticized Kaler for making slow progress on the project. 

“I was also disappointed in the naming memo, that committee has been running for some time,” Hsu said. “I’m not going to take a position on whether or not we should rename something, but I think we need to get closer to that sooner or later because this is just going to drag on if we pass it from committee to committee.”

Kaler said he is being cautious on the topic of renaming buildings, which may appear to be moving slowly. He said he wants to find a way for the community to carefully consider and weigh in on an important decision.

One of the benefits of the plan is that it helps clarify the goals and direction of the University, Steadland said. He said he doesn’t think the delay will have an affect on how the state legislature perceives the University.

“I think we can still make the points we need to make about what our priorities are,” he said.