President Eric Kaler is wrapping up his first semester at the helm of the University of Minnesota. He sat down with the Minnesota Daily between meetings last week to talk about the Academic Health Center, Carlson School of Management and sports.
He also reflected on what heâÄôs learned in his first semester as president.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
The state budget forecast came out two weeks ago better than expected. What, if any, are the tangible benefits for the University?
I think there are two. One, it does give an indication that there wonâÄôt need to be further reduction in state support to the University in this biennium, which is pretty important so we can more firmly plan what our budget will look like [next year].
Number two, I think it changes the tenor in the Capitol around the opportunities for the bonding bill. We have a capital bonding request in for $169.5 million and it contains projects that are very important to the University. Any general indication of general health for the state economy is a good omen for a bonding bill.
You announced youâÄôd be looking at doing an external review on the Academic Health Center last week. Do you agree with the internal review that came through the committee, and why is there a need for an external review?
I havenâÄôt firmly decided to do an outside review yet. I need to work my way through some of the 10 other reports that have come out in the past little while. I think the report, as it currently exists, is a good self-study. But IâÄôd like to have a more external view to stack up against both our peers and our aspirational peers. Bringing in a group of outside experts is the best way to do that. ThereâÄôs a little time delay associated with that, thereâÄôs a modest cost, but I am leaning that way although I havenâÄôt made a final decision.
I think there certainly are many in the community who think an external review would be a good idea âÄî no doubt about that.
How would a downtown Vikings stadium affect the University?
I think a downtown Minneapolis stadium is a good idea.
I think there are a lot of positive elements, whether itâÄôs down near the Twins stadium or on the Metrodome site. As an organization, weâÄôre here to be helpful to retaining the Vikings. I donâÄôt know that thereâÄôs a specific benefit to the University, per se, at having them at any of the locations proposed. I think having the Vikings in the Twin Cities is important to the Twin Cities, so IâÄôd sure like to see them stay.
Why do you support CarlsonâÄôs proposed $2,000 tuition surcharge?
There are really two [reasons]. One is we need to invest in elements that are excellent around the University. WeâÄôre at a competitive disadvantage with our peer institutions âÄî weâÄôre the only school in the Big Ten that doesnâÄôt have differential tuition for either business,nursing or engineering, so itâÄôs an opportunity for us to generate some more funds that can be invested in Carlson and improve their programs.
Obviously, I wish the state support was there to enable us to do what we need to do, but absent that, IâÄôm willing to consider that additional tuition for students.
CouldnâÄôt that open up the option of surcharges for other schools?
We are holding a high bar. Any additional requests for that differential tuition would have to meet some pretty strict standards, as weâÄôre holding the Carlson School to. We donâÄôt have any of those requests pending.
What are those standards?
The model for the Carlson School is a very small fraction of other state funds. Carlson doesnâÄôt have access to grant contracting funding as [other University schools], who bring those revenue streams. So it really needs to be a high-quality program with a demonstrated need for that.
Are you happy with head coach Jerry KillâÄôs contract extension, given that the team finished 3-9 this season and had trouble with attendance again?
It was my decision to give him that contract, so I am happy with it. I did that because getting Gopher football back where it needs to be is a long-term process.
ItâÄôs going to require several years for Jerry to recruit all the players that fit into his system and that he needs, and itâÄôs going to take him a while to build that system. I wanted to send a message that the institution was invested for that long-term growth. I donâÄôt want him to have to look over his shoulder, and I donâÄôt want the people weâÄôre competing with to say that âÄòNo, we donâÄôt have a commitment to Jerry.âÄô I have the belief that heâÄôs the right guy to move us forward, but I recognize itâÄôs going to take a while.
How longâÄôs a while?
IâÄôm not going to try to predict that. Nice try, though.
When do you expect to announce your selection for the new VPCIO?
WeâÄôve had the finalists here. I didnâÄôt get a chance to meet them, so I would like to have that opportunity, but IâÄôd hope to be able to make a final decision before the holiday break.
This is pretty much the end of your first semester at the University. What have you learned?
It seems like itâÄôs been 20 minutes. IâÄôve learned an enormous amount. IâÄôve learned a great deal about the University. I know much more about its people, our programs and our impact.
IâÄôve had a great opportunity to meet with external constituents in both the business and political communities. I continue to be impressed by how many people are passionate about the University âÄî willing to help us be great and willing to invest their time, their talent and some of their fortune to help us be better. I think IâÄôve built a good foundation to help us continue to tell our story, particularly as we move into the legislative session.