Eric Kaler talks football, tuition

The Daily also discussed protests, resignations and holiday break.

by Brian Edwards

Just in time for the semester’s final issue, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler sat down with the Minnesota Daily for December’s edition of Kickin’ It with Kaler. 
In this question-and-answer session, Kaler talked about proposed tuition increases, the athletics department and successes over the past year.
The Gopher football team was awarded a bowl game even though they went 5-7 this season because of strong academic performance. What are your thoughts on that?
I am delighted that the NCAA has started to take more account of academic progress when it comes to evaluating overall team effectiveness. … It’s a reflection on Coach Kill and his staff who have been working for a lot of years and a lot of work by the academic support staff.
Speaking of the athletics staff, Coach Claeys and Coach Kill both are going to split a bonus for making the bowl game, but universities like Nebraska didn’t give their coaches bonuses [for going 5-7]. What was the thought process going into that?
The idea that you can go to a bowl game while being 5-7 is a new one. I think it’s fair to say we will approach contracts in the future with bonuses paid for a non-losing season and a bowl game, not just a bowl game.
The Minnesota Student Association proposed a fall break for students to ease their stress and workload during the semester. What are your thoughts on a possible fall break?
We do have a constraint on the Twin Cities campus that we cannot start classes before the State Fair ends. That’s a Minnesota thing. If you bookend between the end of the state fair and the Christmas break, there is a limited number days of instruction available. While I appreciate the sentiment around it, I think it — logistically is going to be hard to put into place.
David Wippman, dean of the Law School, announced that he is leaving to go to Hamilton College in New York. What were your first thoughts when you heard he was leaving?
You are always proud when one of your leaders has chosen to move up to a presidency. … He’s been an absolutely terrific Law School dean, very well-respected in the community, very good fund-raiser and has led the college through a period of time for law schools across the U.S. that has been quite difficult.
During our previous chat, we talked a little bit about that despite the criminal charges being dropped against the Whose Diversity? students who occupied your office, you say they should still be required to go through the disciplinary process. After the gatherings this week, have your thoughts changed at all?
They really haven’t. … They did come into my office. They did choose to stay in a building after closing hours. There was jostling and discomfort caused for my staff, so I think going through the discipline remains the right thing.
The past two Board of Regents meetings have seen protesters either interrupt a committee or the full board meeting. What are your thoughts on these protests/interruptions?
It’s a way for students to express an opinion. In terms of the last one around divestment, I continue to believe that the divestment movement is not in the best interest of the
University of Minnesota.
What are your reasons for thinking that is not in the best interest of the University?
I don’t think energy companies … are going to pay much attention to the actions of universities in the stock market. I think they pay more attention when we use the power of the institution in the research space to arrive at alternatives to CO2-producing fuels.
There was a discussion by the Board of Regents and yourself on Thursday about raising out-of-state tuition, and that gained quite a bit of attention. Could you elaborate on why you think your proposed plan to raise tuition to $35,000 by the 2019-20 school year would benefit students and the school?
First off, we have the lowest out-of-state tuition in the Big Ten by a margin. … We also are under political pressure by Minnesota legislators who view that tuition is too low.
We, of course, need that legislative support for our operating budget, which benefits all of our students.
An external audit commissioned after the resignation of Norwood Teague found the athletics department did not have a climate conducive to sexual harassment. What were your first thoughts when you were able to read the report?
A combination of relief in some sense, because, obviously, I thought there was not a culture there, and it’s good to have that confirmed. … It’s necessary that we have a culture that promotes the appropriate treatment of all of our employees, male or female.
The same day the external review was released and you mentioned in your plan [in the presidential report] that Chief Financial Officer Pfutzenreuter and Vice President of Human Resources Kathryn Brown would overview the department’s finances to help avoid future misspending or mistakes. What ways do you think they will help with that?
I think we will probably find some situations in which we need additional training. We may need some additional policy enhancements that ensure that we are constantly good stewards of the money that the University of Minnesota and the people of Minnesota invest in our athletics department. 
What would you say, in your eyes, are the big successes at the University for the year?
Oh my goodness, it’s just really been a remarkably positive year. … We were in the top 25 in all nine of the criteria from the Center for Measuring University Performance. That sounds a little geeky, but there are only nine public universities in the country that are there. … Record number of start-up companies … record ACT scores amongst our entering students. … We’ve made great progress in the research front.