Kaler talks out-of-state student enrollment decrease, student alcohol-related deaths

The Minnesota Daily interviewed University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler on Thursday.

by Helen Sabrowsky

The Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler on Thursday to talk about tuition increases for out-of-state students, student voting and alcohol-related deaths on campus. 

Gopher winter sports are just beginning, what are you most excited for during their season?

I’m always excited about our women’s hockey team. They’re just first-rate and [they have] a great record of championship runs and competitiveness lately. …  But this year, you’ll also have to be very excited about Bob Motzko and the new men’s hockey coach. … And then of course you’ve got Lindsay Whalen across the street in the Barn. She’s going to be amazing … the energy she brings and the history and the tradition she brings back to the [University] is terrific. So you’ve got to be excited about women’s basketball.

There are high early voting numbers in areas by campus, which some experts say could suggest a boost in student voting. Why does it matter that the student population votes?

The single most important thing a citizen can do is get out there and vote. And the country right now is home to lots of different opinions, some divisive activities and points of view. And if you don’t like that, your recourse is the ballot box, and it’s critically important that all Minnesotans vote, and I am particularly pleased to see our students are taking on that obligation and challenge. 

Since we last talked, it was found that University student Dylan Fulton died as a result of alcohol-related complications last month. Earlier this year, Mitchell Hoenig died of alcohol poisoning. The University has started a task force to address the problem, what is the goal of the task force and how will it prevent this from happening again? 

It’s very hard to prevent alcohol poisoning from happening, of course, but you can educate your community about the dangers, about the symptoms, about the need to watch out for each other [and] the need to take care of somebody who is struggling with intoxication. We have a medical amnesty program here so you can do that without getting in trouble yourself. I’m very pleased the Interfraternity Council has banned hard alcohol being served at events unless it’s served by a third party who will be legally responsible for checking IDs and, importantly, monitoring consumption. 

Following a 15 percent raise in nonresident, nonreciprocity tuition this school year, the number of out-of-state freshmen students has decreased by 26 percent. What are the implications of this and how will the University address this decrease?

This has been a long conversation between the Board of Regents, the legislature [and] my administration as we do move the NRNR — nonresident, nonreciprocity — tuition up towards the middle of the Big Ten. … In any economic situation like this, there’s a price-yield curve and clearly a 15 percent increase resulted in a lower yield than we would hope. … I’ve put on the table the idea of a 10 percent increase for NRNR students this year, again with continuing students having a 5.5 percent tuition increase. There’s sentiment on the board, I think it’s fair to say, for an increase that’s lower than 10 percent and some for an increase that’s higher than 10 percent. So we’ll have a robust discussion. 

You recently named Christopher Cramer as the new vice president for research. What does he bring to the table?

He is a fabulous researcher himself. His work in chemistry has had a national and international impact. He is very experienced in the execution of research. That’s critically important experience for somebody you’re putting in charge of the research enterprise and enabling other researchers to succeed. He has good administrative experience as an associate dean in the College of Science and Engineering. He’s got high energy and high integrity, so I’m looking forward to working with him. 

The final draft of the Minneapolis 2040 plan was recently released and will affect zoning near the University. What are your thoughts on the Minneapolis 2040 plan and how it will affect areas surrounding the University?

Well, it is a draft plan and we will continue to provide input to that. I think a key element, for us, is the City’s investment in its infrastructure around our campus. So roads and bridges need to be a very high priority. We can have different points of view on what housing mix works best, and those conversations will continue to move forward, but we do want infrastructure investment.

The University Student Senate has been pushing for a student minimum wage increase to align with Minneapolis minimum wage. What is the University’s response to this?

Well, we have pretty consistently said that we view student employment as a form of financial aid. We want to make it available to as many students as possible. We think that student employment is flexible and provides some opportunity for professional development and develop a resume. It’s convenient, so it has a lot of important components. One of those is what you get paid, obviously, but there is a limited amount of money available for student employment. So if we raise that hourly wage, we either have to employ fewer students or the students work fewer hours. And I don’t think that’s a good outcome. 

The College Republicans Washington Avenue Bridge panel was defaced for the third year in a row last weekend. What is the University’s response to this?

Well, we think the bridge painting is a good community activity. It generates awareness … but we also recognize that some groups will find other groups’ messages offensive. The way to combat a message you find offensive is to communicate your own message in a way that is compelling and changes peoples’ minds. Vandalism does not accomplish that. And if we locate the person who vandalized that sign, we will move them forward under student conduct code to the greatest degree we can. It’s not appropriate to vandalize another group’s statement.

Halloween is approaching. … Who or what will you be dressing up as this year?

It’s a secret …  It’s a great costume, but I’m not previewing it.

Any hints?

Nope. Oh, I’ll give you a hint. It might involve a newspaper.