Kaler talks bonding bill, int’l students and Vikings at TCF Bank stadium

Kickin’ it with Kaler

Dina Elrashidy


University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler just began his second semester at the University. He sat down with the Minnesota Daily to discuss the legislative session, new faces in the administration and the potential of the Vikings playing on campus.

Gov. Mark Dayton recently announced his proposal for the 2012 bonding bill. Were you surprised by the amount for the University?

Well, I would start by saying the governor has been enormously supportive to the U and to me. We put a request for $169.5 million. The governor did talk with me about where he was probably going to land. Obviously, I wouldâÄôve been happier if he had been able to put more, particularly in [Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement], but I understand heâÄôs been under a lot of pressures. You know, he felt this was as far as he could go with the bonding bill request.

It wasnâÄôt a surprise when the final numbers came out, but weâÄôll be working with the Legislature to be able to see if we can increase the HEAPR amount.

YouâÄôre speaking for the first time on Friday at the Capitol. What are you going to talk about? What case are you going to make as to why we should get more funding?

This is a chance to meet the Capitol press and talk to them about reasons for the bonding bill and the strengths of the projects that we had requested. I hope that theyâÄôd be able to tell their readers in some more detail.

The HEAPR request is important âÄî we have 27 million square-feet of space weâÄôre responsible for maintaining, and 70 percent of that space is over 30 years old. So we need to be in those buildings for preventative maintenance and modernization. And if we donâÄôt do it, it just costs more later, just like any other piece of real estate. And also, these are jobs that employ people in the trades, and weâÄôd like to be able to put those folks to work. So, itâÄôs a timely investment.

Do you support the Board of Regents decision to look further into Steve SviggumâÄôs new appointment as a potential conflict of interest?

ItâÄôs a board decision, and so the board will govern itself on that process, and I donâÄôt have input to it.

With international students making up almost 8 percent of the student body, whatâÄôs your reaction to the lack of resources for international students? How can administrators help to make it better?

I have asked Vice President [Robert] Jones, to whom the Global Studies ultimately reports, to look at what resources we actually have and what we might need. If we really are lacking, we need to provide some funding to address the most critical needs. And clearly, we want our international students to have a good experience and thrive here. I havenâÄôt been fully briefed on where weâÄôre lacking there. I read some of the news reports, so I asked the appropriate people to take a look at that.

ItâÄôs a budget issue. Every year we go through a budgeting process and if this is an area that we havenâÄôt been funding appropriately, then we need to look at that.

What are your thoughts about the possibility of the Vikings playing at TCF Bank Stadium for the next three years? How do you think itâÄôll complicate things on campus? Would the University under any circumstance allow a liquor license for the stadium?

Our position âÄî the UniversityâÄôs position and my personal position âÄî is to be as helpful as we can. We welcome the Vikings if thatâÄôs needed in the transitional time. And we will work with them to get the facilities and other infrastructure needs that they would need to have to play at TCF.

The traffic impact on Sundays would be something we need to sort out. ItâÄôs a lot of people in a close area so there [are] public safety issues. And it would be difficult to turn the field between a Saturday and a Sunday, so weâÄôd have to coordinate the schedules so that there would be only one game per weekend. Whether we could accommodate Thursday night or Monday night games would be something weâÄôd have to look into.

The current law would allow liquor to be served in TCF without any change in that.

Obama made a call last night for Universities to lower tuition. âÄúSo let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you canâÄôt stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.âÄù How serious do you think ObamaâÄôs statement is?

The really important part to note is what came in front of when he said that, and what came in front of when he said that was that the state needs to maintain its support of the University. And itâÄôs that decline in state support thatâÄôs driven recent tuition increases. If the state support holds then we would have at least in the foreseeable future a very minimal need to raise undergraduate in-state tuition.

Did you have knowledge of former Provost TomSullivanâÄôs application to become president of the University of Vermont beforehand? What advice would you give a provost stepping into the presidency?

He had not shared that with me, but Tom is a seasoned and very good senior administrator. I think heâÄôd be a terrific president.

You know, I have been trying very hard to listen and learn. When you go to a new place itâÄôs very important to meet as many people as possible and get your arms around the institution. Listen to what people have to say and then begin to pull together your ideas about what direction the institution should go. ThatâÄôs what I have been trying to do.

With the new faces in the administration âÄî ranging from Provost Karen Hanson to Jason Rohloff, special assistant to the president for government relations âÄî might things slow down as a result? What benefits are there to having so many fresh faces?

I think leadership in institutions âĦ [has] a natural turnover. When you have a presidential transition, itâÄôs natural that some fraction of senior administrators is also going to turn over. And I think itâÄôs an enormous opportunity. I think new faces and new perspectives bring new energy, bring new ways of thinking, and thatâÄôs good for an institution. Change is usually a good thing.

What did the winter break of the president look like?

We had a great winter break. Karen and I went to visit our son in Santa Barbara, and then we went to Napa and Sonoma, and then I was the guest of the Big Ten at the Rose Bowl. It was very good, very restful.