When University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler started his term nearly a year ago, he inherited a University that was in trouble. The state of Minnesota had been cutting aid to the University for years, tuition had been rising sharply since the early 2000s, administrative costs had been rising at the expense of front-line services, and the educational mission of the University and faculty and student voices were being marginalized in University decision making.
Under Kaler, the status quo hasn’t changed. Top administrators are still paid obscene and unnecessary salaries, faculty and student opinion is still marginalized, and tuition continues to go up. Kaler has made some improvements, but they have been small and at the margin. It says something that one of Kaler’s main supposed “accomplishments” is that tuition will only rise 3.5 percent next year.
The time for tweaks and playing small-ball passed a long time ago. America’s higher education system is in crisis. Student debt is over $1 trillion, more than the nation’s credit card debt. The student debt bubble is growing faster than the mortgage debt bubble was during the lead-up to the 2008 financial collapse.
Because he was hired by wealthy, out-of-touch regents who went to school when tuition was a miniscule fraction of what it is now and who don’t have firsthand experience with the present crisis, Kaler may not understand the desire for systematic and fundamental change to current higher education coming from below, but it exists. Marginal adjustments and narrow fixes aren’t enough anymore. As campus transitions into the calmer summer period, we hope Kaler will take some time and start to think big.