Kaler reflects on presidency in final State of the University

Eric Kaler discussed his achievements and regrets during his eight-year tenure.

University President Eric Kaler fields questions after stepping down as president one year before his term is scheduled to end on July 13, 2018 at McNamara Alumni Center.

Easton Green

University President Eric Kaler fields questions after stepping down as president one year before his term is scheduled to end on July 13, 2018 at McNamara Alumni Center.

Austen Macalus

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler gave his final State of the University address Thursday — a reflective speech that highlighted the University’s successes, setbacks and Kaler’s own regrets during his eight-year tenure.

Calling the state of the University “strong,” Kaler said he’s proud of the school’s direction under his watch. 

“In the end, my actions as president have been consistent with my personal values and the mission of the University of Minnesota,” Kaler said. “In the end, I believe this University is a better place for students, faculty and staff than it was in 2011.”

Kaler touted efforts to limit tuition hikes and increase four-year graduation rates, as well as the University’s research, innovation and impact on Minnesota’s workforce. 

“We’re in the top 25 universities nationally in nine distinct categories — from undergraduate student entrance exams, to endowment research dollars,” he said. “In Minnesota terms: Pretty good.”

Though challenged by limited resources, Kaler said he’s prioritized issues that match the University’s mission, including leading a $4 billion fundraising campaign, improving the University’s partnership with Fairview Health Services and taking on sexual assault as a “public health emergency.” 

However, Kaler didn’t shy away from talking about both the good and the bad. 

One of his main regrets, Kaler said, was the University’s response to the death of Dan Markingson, who killed himself while enrolled in a controversial drug study at the University in 2004. 

“While his passing occurred long before I arrived, I regret that I didn’t recognize the reality of the flaws in our work with human research participants sooner,” Kaler said. “Getting it right took too long.”

Kaler also acknowledged the University’s ongoing challenges with diversity. Though the number of students of color on campus has grown 46 percent in the past ten years, he said black students still only make up 6 percent of the student body. 

“Honestly, while we have made progress, we continue to have a long way to go,” Kaler said. “And even in that number, I know we are significantly lacking in attracting and retaining students from historically black communities in Minnesota.”

Looking back at challenges, Kaler said he would have liked to listen more when making decisions.  

“I wish I had taken more unstructured time to talk with people,” Kaler said. “From my bosses on the Board of Regents, to researchers, to community members, to students on the walkways and in the residence halls, to staff members in their labs, to faculty in their classrooms and their offices.” 

Throughout the speech, Kaler emphasized his gratitude, thanking numerous members of the University community — including faculty, staff, researchers, students and his wife, Karen Kaler. 

“I’m thankful for your partnership to make a University of Minnesota degree as valuable, excellent and accessible as possible,” Kaler said. 

“Of course, I’m thankful for the life-changing opportunity to serve as your University president for these past eight years,” he said. 

This is a breaking news report. More information will be added as it becomes available.