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Kaler talks riots, Pitino, adjunct unions

The president also discussed the 2014 capital request and his summer trip to Norway.
University president Eric Kaler discusses the hockey riots, new light rail and his summer plans in his office in Morrill Hall, Monday.
Image by Amanda Snyder
University president Eric Kaler discusses the hockey riots, new light rail and his summer plans in his office in Morrill Hall, Monday.

The Minnesota Daily sat down with University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler for its monthly “Kickin’ it with Kaler” interview Monday morning.

In the last meeting of the semester, the president discussed the recent contention over the student services fees process, updates to TCF Bank Stadium and Gophers head men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino’s future at the University.

Adjuncts in the Twin Cities are moving to unionize in hopes of receiving greater pay and better work benefits. Do you expect this movement to pick up at the University?

I would not be surprised, but we believe that our adjuncts are treated fairly. And we certainly are aware of this movement that’s really happening not only in the Twin Cities, but across the country, and as I said, I would not be surprised if there’s an effort made here. But again, we try to treat all our employees fairly.

Any reason you wouldn’t be surprised if it picked up here?

Minnesota is a pretty pro-labor, pro-union state, and given what’s happening in other parts of the Twin Cities, it would seem to be something to be expected here.

Do you know if it would be more difficult here because it’s a large public institution? Do you know if there are any more obstacles?

You know, I don’t. I know there have been attempts to unionize our graduate students, which have failed, so it’s certainly not historically true that all unionization attempts succeed here.

[Student groups] have voiced criticism over student services fees allocations, but the final recommendations have been decided. How do you think the fees process went this year?

Well, I think the fees process here is good because it’s run by students and students make those decisions, so that feels right to me.

I know groups have expressed some concerns, and I know that the dean of students, Danita Brown Young, has heard those. … And it’s in her brief to make any changes that she thinks are appropriate there.

How do you think the Dinkytown riots after the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal and championship games affected the University’s reputation?

Well, I don’t know that I’d call that a riot. I would call it a disturbance.

You know, I’m disappointed when our students make bad choices, and that kind of public disturbance was a bad choice. It’s something that doesn’t reflect well on the people who took part, and by implication, on the University.

Is the University continuing to investigate those involved with the disturbances? Will there be any expulsions?

I think that the students who have been arrested are going to go through the Student Conduct [Code] process, but I don’t know the status of that. …

How do you feel about Jonathan Foley, the director of the Institute on the Environment, moving on?

Jon has been a terrific citizen of the University, a very strong leader. I’m obviously sorry to see him go, but he’s going to a fabulous position being the head of the California Academy of Sciences. It’s a big job, and I’m happy for him and wish him well.

Have there been any preliminary discussions regarding a potential raise or contract extension for Richard Pitino after a successful first season at the helm?

Norwood [Teague] and I discuss the coaches at the end of each season. We’re certainly very pleased with Richard’s performance — a very strong first year — but we haven’t discussed a raise or a contract extension. It’s a little early for that.

As TCF Bank Stadium undergoes construction, what have your conversations with the Vikings football team been like?

They’re cordial. Certainly we’re having good conversations — [Vice President of University Services] Pam Wheelock is the person having those — and I think we’re on track and on schedule to be a good host for the Vikings starting in August.

How does the University plan to recover if the state Legislature doesn’t allocate full funding that was requested in the 2014 capital request?

We don’t usually get all that we ask for, and so we go with an ambitious list, and we’ll work with what the Legislature and the governor allocate to us, and we’ll put that to our most critical needs and keep moving forward.

Will there be any cuts to different projects to make sure some construction projects move forward?

We’ve given a target of $100 million for [Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement], for example, and it seems like it’s not likely that we’ll get that amount, and so we will have to go and put the dollars that we do get for HEAPR against our most critical needs.

And of course, we have a list of what those are and we’ll just work down that list as far as we can go with the money that we have.

How is the University’s current relationship with the state Legislature different than in the past?

I can’t talk about what is was before I got here because I wasn’t here, but … we’ve worked very hard to get legislators to come to campus to see students, to see what happens here, to see the buildings, and I think that’s really been very helpful in educating legislators about what the University does. …

We think good relations with our elected leaders is important to the University, and we work hard to make that happen.

This is the last week of classes before finals and summer break. Do you have any big plans once school is out for the semester?

We will spend the summertime inside the University on our strategic plan work and laying the groundwork for our biennial budget request, which will be at the Board [of Regents meeting] in the fall.

I am going to make an official University trip to Norway in August to visit some great collaborators, historically important collaborators to the U.

I have a few domestic trips planned for professional meetings and for fundraising, but Karen [Kaler] and I have not landed on our summer vacation plan yet.

… We’ll either look for some beach time or maybe some travel in Europe, but we will get away for a week or two for sure.

What kind of collaborators in Norway?

We have some folks at the University of Oslo who have been longtime collaborators … they’ve been in place for a long time [and] are important given Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage.

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