Kaler: Top priorities include safety, affordable tuition

He also hopes to keep the Washington Redskins’ name out of school materials when the team plays at on campus this fall.

by Blair Emerson

About a week after University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler returned from a trip to Norway, he sat down with the Minnesota Daily for its monthly Kickin’ It with Kaler interview.

On Friday, Kaler discussed topics such as the student housing market, the University’s strategic plan and the first day of the semester, when he handed out snacks to students.

With students back on campus and the Green Line light rail now in operation, are you frustrated with how safety-conscious students are around the tracks?

Frustrated is a strong word, but I sure do wish people would pay more attention. It’s just flat-out dangerous to have a train running through the middle of campus. …

If people are walking with their heads down [and] they’ve got their headphones on and they’re texting … the potential for a serious accident is there. …

We’ve got our police out. We have some crossing guards, including my wife. … And a lot of people are doing what they should, but not everybody.

Do you have any plans to further increase the safety of students on campus this year?

Safety is a really high priority for me and for Vice President [for University Services Pamela] Wheelock and [University police] Chief [Greg] Hestness. … And we’ve done a lot.

We have well over 100 buildings now on electronic locks, we’ve enhanced the lighting and we now have 50 sworn officers on the University police force.

I think, probably, a big breakthrough that will have an effect is the recent arrest of this gang of cellphone thieves that [was] across state lines and really a big operation. And I can’t help but think that that was a market for some of the cellphones that were stolen on campus last year.

So, hopefully, if that demand goes away, we’ll see a reduction in those kinds of thefts. … We’ll just keep up the messaging and the police work to keep people safe.

Last month, you sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, [D-Minn.], saying you would work with the Minnesota Vikings to eliminate the Washington Redskins’ name from materials for the Nov. 2 game at TCF Bank Stadium.

The name, you wrote, is “offensive and should be replaced.” Have you heard back from the Vikings about that, and what are the next steps?

We are in an ongoing conversation with the Vikings. [University] Vice President [for Equity and Diversity] Katrice Albert is our point person on that, along with … Wheelock.

Those conversations, I think, will be fruitful, but they are ongoing, so it’s too early to report a definitive outcome. I do find the name personally offensive and will continue to get that message out.

Some developers feel the student housing market near campus may be saturated.

What are your thoughts on the increase in luxury student housing developments around campus?

We work hard to provide enough on-campus housing for first-year students and transfer students who desire it, so we do look to the free market to provide housing for other people who want to live near campus. …

The free market is the free market, and supply will grow to meet demand. Certainly I hear the same comments that you report: The market is saturated. … I don’t have quantitative data to say whether or not that’s true. I do note that students are living in apartments that are nicer than places I lived when I was 40 years old. I hope they’re enjoying it while they’re here.

We work hard on affordability, and I just hope students are making wise choices in their housing accommodations and the costs associated with them.

How was your trip to Norway, and what did you accomplish?

That was a great business trip, and I think the return on that is going to be terrific.

We visited four partner universities … and [I had] a very exciting conversation with four members of the Norwegian Parliament. They’re very interested in technology transfer and moving inventions out of the universities into the marketplace. … They don’t have a very well-developed way to do that across [Norway].

We excel at that at the University of Minnesota, so I invited [the members of Parliament] to come visit and see what we do, and I hope that we’ll be able to be a partner with them as they move that [idea] forward.

I also had terrific visits with those institutions [centered] around international students and growing the exchange opportunities.

Do you have any other international trips planned in the future?

We don’t have a University trip planned yet. I am going to go to South Korea to speak at an international forum in November. That’s on their nickel.

What can the University community expect from the 2015-16 capital budget request, which the Board of Regents will review this week?

We do have a policy of not talking about either the capital or the operating budget requests until the regents get to see it. It is their prerogative to see it first. So I can’t give you very much specific information. …

I will say I think there are good things in there for students, and we’re hoping for a productive engagement with our friends in the [state] Legislature.

Regents will also review your 2015-16 operating budget request [this] week. Can you talk about whether you plan to propose another tuition freeze for undergraduates?

That certainly is a topic that we talk a lot about, but I can’t give you the specifics.

This year, professional students in the College of Veterinary Medicine will see a tuition freeze and an 8 percent tuition reduction for senior-year students.

Have you considered a similar tuition freeze for students in other professional programs, or perhaps graduate students?


As two of your goals, you have mentioned a more selective University and, at the same time, a University that is accessible to students of all social and economic backgrounds. How do you plan to accomplish this?

Clearly, our demand for a University of Minnesota degree has never been higher. We have [about] 45,000 applications for our first-year class this year.

And again, we work to be affordable and accessible to qualified Minnesota students. We have a President’s Emerging Scholars Program which helps support students who may have had things in their background or that appear on their application that disadvantage them. We have a program [called] Retaining all Our Students, which we focus on trying to provide some structures for students once they’re here to be able to stay.

And at the end of the day, the access driven by an affordable tuition is a very high priority for us, and I think we’ll be able to do that.

How did it go greeting students near Coffman Union on the first day of school?

You know, [there] … was a lot of energy and excitement, and it was great fun to be able to meet both returning and new students.

But I always enjoy being with our students, and that was a good opportunity to do that.