Kaler talks Legislature, admin changes, safety

Eric Kaler sat down with the Minnesota Daily to catch up on current events.

Greta Kaul

The Board of Regents didnâÄôt meet in November, but the University of MinnesotaâÄôs administration is abuzz with candidate searches and legislative strategies.

Last week âÄî about a year after the board selected him to be president âÄî Eric Kaler sat down with the Minnesota Daily to catch up on current events and talk about whatâÄôs going on behind the scenes.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

The goal in canceling the November Board of Regents meeting was to focus on the big picture. Has that been the case?

Those meetings are very time-consuming to prepare. This will give the University side time to do other kinds of work than prepare for the regents meeting. I think the goal is that we should bring to the regents things that are about governance or things about improvements that need to be done. I want to engage the regents at a very high level about the things going on at the University, and so weâÄôll try to provide that framework for them.

Has the next legislative session, which begins in late January, been part of those discussions?

We certainly are having conversations with our government relations people to do a little pre-game, if you will, on what the legislative issues are likely to be, how our capital request is likely to fare and the other things that may be on the minds of the Legislature.

I think everybodyâÄôs holding their breath around the financial forecast, which will come in around the first of December. Depending on what that says in terms of a potential deficit and how legislators feel that they have to react to it, we could have budget issues. But this is an off-cycle year, and so our hope is that they will focus their attention on a bonding bill, and weâÄôll be able to advance the items on our list successfully.

A lot of longtime University supporters at the Legislature have left or announced they wonâÄôt run again. Is that going to complicate things for the U?

The Legislature is just part of the deal. WeâÄôre certainly grateful to our supporters and hope that their successors also are receptive. But thatâÄôs a given in the world of politics âÄî that people will come and go.

The University just announced the candidates for a new vice president and chief information officer. What are you looking for in the candidates?

I really need someone who has simultaneously a really good understanding of the technology because itâÄôs such a rapidly advancing field âÄî I mean, look at the iPhone âÄî but at the same time knows how to integrate that technology across the business activities of the University. And then that person also has to have a face in the academic areas so they can help the faculty and the research enterprise with their IT needs. So itâÄôs a pretty demanding job.

With technologyâÄôs advancement, how has the role of a VPCIO changed?

I think itâÄôs certainly become more important. I would say 35 years ago, there was one great big mainframe computer on campus. That was the job of the person who was the chief information officer to maintain that âÄî to do payroll, do automated things like that. Now itâÄôs enormously more decentralized and embedded in everything we do. And [weâÄôre] moving further into our lives with cloud computing and virtual servers and technologies that are really just remarkable.

YouâÄôve met with Joel Maturi in the last month, presumably to discuss his contract. Any word on that?

Not yet. WeâÄôre still in conversations about how weâÄôre going to move forward.

Last week, 11 OccupyMN protesters from a march that started on Northrop Mall were arrested. Any thoughts on that?

I celebrate peopleâÄôs First Amendment rights to free speech and to assemble peacefully. ThatâÄôs an important part of our society and thatâÄôs an important part of how weâÄôve operated for 200-plus years. A peaceful demonstration, to me, is a perfectly legitimate way for people to express their feelings. I donâÄôt know the details of the arrests, but as far as I know, there were no injuries and no permanent damages to facilities. So I think thatâÄôs a part of the interface between the elements of free speech, which are critical to our society and also the elements of personal safety and the role of law, which are also an important part of our society.

There have been a string of armed robberies near campus recently. How can the administration get involved in ensuring studentsâÄô safety?

Those are very troubling to me. Unfortunately, we can be a magnet for crimes against property because if you come to the University area, pretty much everyone you run into is going to have a cellphone, is going to have a wallet, and we can be victims. I encourage people to use common sense when theyâÄôre out: When possible, stay with a group and stay in lighted areas.

The policing thatâÄôs needed in the Dinkytown area is a combination of Minneapolis and University police, and I know personal safety is very important to them. TheyâÄôre working to restore a higher level of safety to the community, and I think the arrests will be a good step in that direction.

Things are pretty crazy at Penn State right now. What impact have those events had on the University and the Big Ten in general?

I think itâÄôs a wake-up call. We [sent] out an email reminding people the need to report any illegal activities they see âÄî and particularly something as horrific as the abuse of a child. ItâÄôs not enough to tell your supervisor. If you see something like that going on, itâÄôs your responsibility to call the police.

Right now, there are a series of really awful allegations at Penn State. I think itâÄôs important to remember theyâÄôre allegations âÄî thereâÄôs a process that goes forward. But if itâÄôs true, it does represent a situation in which people who had positions of responsibility failed to fulfill those responsibilities.

How would you have handled that situation?

That situation reflects a structure that did not allow allegations to reach the proper law enforcement authorities. Our structure is more open and our instructions to our employees are clear about the need to report to the proper authorities âÄî internal reporting is not enough.

What are your Thanksgiving plans?

The boys are here. [My son] Sam came Friday and Charlie and his girlfriend will be here [Wednesday], so weâÄôll have a nice Thanksgiving time together. My wifeâÄôs a fantastic cook, so sheâÄôll have a million-course meal, which will be good family time.

Any favorite dishes?

I love pecan pie. My wife can make a pecan pie âÄî the best in the world. And this year weâÄôre having âÄî whatâÄôs that thing called? A turducken? ItâÄôs a duck inside a chicken inside a turkey. ItâÄôs a composite meat dish. Karen has ordered a turducken, so thatâÄôs what weâÄôre having with pecan pie.