President Kaler announces new efforts to combat campus sexual assault at UMN

The changes were announced at his annual State of the University address Thursday.

President Eric Kaler delivers his State of the University address at Coffman Union Theater on Thursday, March 7, 2016.

Daily File Photo

President Eric Kaler delivers his State of the University address at Coffman Union Theater on Thursday, March 7, 2016.

by Max Chao

The University of Minnesota will increase efforts to combat sexual assault, President Eric Kaler announced Thursday.

The changes — announced at Kaler’s annual State of the Univeristy address — include required training for faculty and staff, a public awareness campaign, additional training for students after their first year, a campus-wide survey focused on campus sexual assault and the creation of a committee to advise Kaler on sexual misconduct issues.

“We all know that even with these actions, we will not eliminate sexual misconduct on campus,” Kaler said Thursday. “Some students, faculty and staff may come into our community with belief systems that will be difficult to change. But what we can do, is stand firm on our values and effectively articulate the behaviors we expect and the culture we want to create.”

The move comes amid an increase in the number of sexual assaults reported to the University and after scrutiny of how the school handles sexual misconduct surfaced during a sexual assault scandal involving Gophers football players.

Kaler said the changes were recommended by a working group formed earlier this year.

The move follows other changes the University has made in recent years to how it handles sexual assaults.

State of the University Address

About 200 students and faculty members listened to Kaler’s speech Thursday afternoon, where, besides sexual assault, he discussed topics like discrimination, free speech, academic freedom, immigration, among others.

Kaler opened the address by responding to recent campus racial, gender-based, religious and LGBTQ discrimination.

“Sadly, we can’t escape the climate of our times and of our nation, but — as we have — we must denounce hate at every turn and the discrimination that fuels hate,” he said.

While stressing the importance of diverse viewpoints, he said the University should be a space where people can discuss ideas free of racism, sexism and xenophobia.

Despite criticism, he said the University’s Bias Response and Referral Network doesn’t infringe on free speech.

“We need the network as a place for all of us to go when we experience, see or hear biased behavior,” he said.

Immigrant and undocumented students are an important part of campus, Kaler said, adding that the University will soon open a new Immigration Resource Center to help those affected by changing federal policies.

“The Provost and I are committed to ensuring that all who are affected by any immigration policy changes will have a clear and accessible path to resources and support, and to get their questions answered in a timely fashion,” he said.

After the speech, some audience members questioned Kaler on a range of topics, which included his recent comments that resident and non-resident students could see tuition hikes as early as next fall.

Kaler said his comments on tuition increases were preliminary and depended on the Board of Regents and the state’s response to the school’s budget request.

He told the Minnesota Daily Wednesday that the tuition hikes could come even if the Legislature met the University’s full $147.2 million budget request.