Kaler reflects on 17-18 school year, looks forward to next

Tuition increases, disarming the UMPD and the incident at Somali Night were among the topics discussed.

Kelly Busche

The Minnesota Daily sat down with University President Eric Kaler for the final monthly interview of the 2017-18 school year.

Kaler reflected on challenges and successes of the year, as well as discussions about a possible tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students.

How have you been enjoying this spring weather?

Oh it’s beautiful. It’s really nice. We have events at Eastcliff all the time. Including a graduation reception … a week from Sunday. Eastcliff Graduation Reception, so graduates and their parents are welcome to stop by … But yesterday was the first event we had outside, and it was nice to be able to sit out in the sunshine. It felt good.

As the school year draws to a close and you’re reflecting on this past year … What were the biggest challenges?

… I think the challenge, which was also an opportunity, was the managing of the over 6,000 brand-new students that we had in the fall. So that was more than our target and it’s the biggest class since 1970. And we got them in and managed, and I think most everybody had a good experience … I’m very pleased that we had the public start of … our $4 billion capital campaign … And a lot of good research breakouts … and the terrific economic impact study we have that shows the big multiplier in effect that we have per state dollar we receive. And exciting opportunities to open the Athletes Village on the Twin Cities campus. [We] celebrated a national championship with the Bulldogs Hockey team. And so, we had a lot of good things going on this year.

The University asked the legislature for an additional $10 million in a supplemental budget to freeze tuition for … undergraduate resident students. The MN House and Senate higher education committees left this request out of its omnibus bill that was passed last month. How will this impact tuition?

Well, unfortunately, it does mean that we will have to ask for a modest tuition increase from Minnesota undergraduate resident students as we go through the budget process. It will be an inflationary-level adjustment. And for students who are eligible for Pell Grants — the Pell Grant amount has gone up at the federal level, so they’re likely to not feel much, if any, tuition increase. And for some students who receive significant financial aid … what they pay for tuition will go down. So you know, we don’t like to raise tuition. But the balance of the benefit of an enhanced budget, in terms of class availability and advising and the quality of the undergraduate experience, I think is worth the tuition increase we have to ask for.

What does modest look like?

Two percent at the absolute most.

Last month, Lindsay Whalen was announced as the new head coach of the Gophers women’s basketball team – 

Yay. 

–  Whalen is a familiar face to the University, as she is a Gophers alumna who went to the Final Four during her senior year in 2004. How do you think the change in leadership will impact the team?

… I’m very excited for the team. Lindsay is a Minnesota icon. There probably is not a Minnesota graduate who is more beloved by the people of Minnesota … or interested in her sport, than Lindsay. So that’s an exciting opportunity for our players to learn from an absolute master of the game. And our fans to see the benefit of that on the court.

After police responded to an incident at Somali Student Association’s Somali Night on Friday, April 20, several facts of the night have been disputed. SSA board members say police presence was unwarranted and excessively aggressive, while University officials say police officers were called to a disruption. Is the University planning to look further into the disputed facts?

… The police and our student affairs folks are continuing to have conversations with our Somali students. It’s unfortunate that the end of what – by all accounts – was a pleasant gathering was marred by fights. My understanding is that there were individuals involved in fights, and that the police acted to protect the safety of others, and to break up the violence. And again, that’s the role that police have in our society.

In April, Students for a Democratic Society rallied outside of the University of Minnesota’s Police Department — calling for the department to be disarmed. Similar protests have occurred at other universities and college, joining a nation-wide movement. What was your reaction to these protests?

Well I appreciate the desire to live in a safe environment that is free from violence. But unfortunately there are people in our society who do act with violence. We employ the police to protect other individuals from those acts of violence and to ensure public order. Unfortunately, sometimes those criminals may be armed with weapons. And it’s important that our police be able to respond with the appropriate force when those situations arise. They’re rare, but it would seem to me unwise to not have a police department prepared to deal with events that certainly, as we all know, tragically have happened across our country involving weapons.

Now looking forward. What are you looking forward to next school year? Any big plans?

… The biggest event, we hope will be the completion of intensive conversations around our clinical partners, with regards to our medical school, places where our doctors can practice. We’re really hoping to make progress on those partnerships. That will open real opportunities for our students, faculty and staff involved in medical research. We also will prepare a biennial budget. And the [2019-20] Legislature will take that up for us. So we’ll be very prepared to articulate the need for additional support of the University of Minnesota. And, of course, there is an election in November, which will be interesting to see.

Any big summer break plans?

We are going to go on a vacation for a couple of weeks with two sets of friends in two different places in Europe. So we’re excited about the chance to get away and relax and recover … and I get to go to the State Fair.