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Pres. Kaler talks football boycott, Title IX and bonding requests

The first Kickin’ It With Kaler of 2017 also addressed President Donald Trump’s immigration order.
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler fields questions from the Minnesota Daily on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 in his Morrill Hall office.
Image by Chelsea Gortmaker, Daily File Photo
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler fields questions from the Minnesota Daily on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 in his Morrill Hall office.

The Minnesota Daily sat down with University President Erik Kaler Wednesday for the first Kickin’ It with Kaler of 2017. Kaler talked about the Gophers football boycott and concerns over immigration policies.

The last time we had Kickin’ It, you said all you wanted for Christmas was a bowl victory for the Gophers and a healthy grandchild. You got the first one, and I know you mentioned your granddaughter Ophelia was born January 9. How does it feel to be a grandpa?

It’s wonderful. People say it’s the most wonderful thing in the world, and so far it has been absolutely a joy.

Since the last Kickin’ It in December, the Gophers football team participated in a 48-hour boycott of team activities following the suspension of multiple players who were involved in an alleged sexual assault in September. A few of the players had been suspended following the alleged incident but were reinstated. Can you say why the suspensions were lifted and then reinforced?

At the time, the county prosecutor declined prosecution; there were no criminal charges against them. The Student Conduct code activity had begun, but there were no findings. So the decision was to let the players participate in their sport.

P.J. Fleck was hired as the new Gophers football coach following the firing of former coach Tracy Claeys. Coach Fleck’s contract will earn him roughly $3.5 million a year. What do you say to those who are uneasy about the price tag on Fleck’s contract?

It’s an enormous amount of money, I realize that. But it’s also essentially the average salary for a Big Ten football coach … I expect as his teams perform at a high level that we will drive additional fans to TCF Stadium and that will be additional revenue that will offset that sum.

The suspension of the players caused backlash among some, including the rest of the team, who thought the suspended players didn’t receive due process under the Student Conduct Code investigation. Has this raised concerns for you about how the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action handles these types of cases?

Not at all. The students do have due process … Again, there’s a Student Conduct Code process that generates findings … when findings are found and presented to the responsible office, that office then has an opportunity to take some action …

There is no due process around a player being suspended. There’s due process around the Student Conduct Code … Unfortunately, people have conflated the Student Conduct Code due process with being suspended from the team. Again, you don’t have a constitutional right to play a sport …

After President Trump issued an executive order restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries last Friday, you released a statement expressing solidarity with the communities affected by the order. What effect has that had on the University so far?

I’ve received generally positive comments from members of the University community. They appreciate the support, and they appreciate the resources the University has provided to students who might be affected by this executive order.

Petitions are being circulated around college campuses nationwide asking school leaders to establish “sanctuary campuses,” which would protect undocumented students and community members from deportation. A petition was filed to make the Twin Cities campus a sanctuary campus. While you said your administration will do everything it can to protect the welfare of students, some students claimed the response wasn’t strong enough. To what extent will the University go in establishing a sanctuary campus?

Some students and community members also responded that that statement went too far … we will do all we can to protect those students. But I remind you … the [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] order has not changed. So we will react appropriately if that law changes.

Some legislators expressed concerns that the University’s priorities in its $147.2 million budget requests reflects wants, not needs. How will you make the case at the legislature this session to communicate the difference between the University’s wants and needs?

We work hard to identify the resources that the University needs in order to remain excellent, and be as affordable as we possibly can … to my point of view, those are resources that the University needs to be excellent and affordable.

With new recommendations to changes in student service fees, groups seeking a portion of the fees would be split into categories — student groups, administrative units and media groups. The recommendations came about after several complaints from student groups said the process was too confusing. How will the recommended changes affect the student service fees allocation process and how will the process be bettered?

My understanding is that the fee process will be more transparent and simpler. And I think that’s really what students were asking for …

Since this is our first Kickin’ It since the start of 2017, what are your goals for the University in the coming year?

… As you know, we establish our biennium budget in odd numbered years, so success at the legislature is really important. We are also vigorously fundraising in the private sector … And I hope that the tensions that many in our country feel will begin to dissipate and people will become more comfortable with where we are.

Do you have any thoughts on the upcoming election at the Board of Regents?

We, from the administration’s point of view, stay far away from that process. We welcome the four new regents that the representatives of the people of Minnesota will send to us.

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