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University of Minnesota President Kaler holds line on administrative costs, announces new initiatives in teaching, learning, research and engagement in his first State of the U address

Kaler stresses need for U to balance its many responsibilities in challenging times

Thursday, March 1, 2012

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler this afternoon outlined his vision and key priorities in his first State of the University address in the university’s Coffman Union Theater.

Kaler’s speech, “Balances,” expanded on the balances the university must strike as it moves forward in a challenging time, including the need for public support to balance tuition support, training for a job to balance educating for a life of learning, balancing the university’s research mission and its education goals and, most importantly, he said, the balance of risk and reward.

Kaler particularly emphasized his priority to minimize tuition increases and reduce student and family debt, saying, “My hope is that the State of Minnesota will engage us in the important work we do at a level that minimizes or eliminates tuition increases.”

Additionally, Kaler announced a range of initiatives to improve student, faculty and staff productivity and success, including kicking off a discussion that could move the university to a three-semester, year-round academic calendar.

The following are key excerpts from the speech, which is currently being livestreamed at www.umn.edu/president/speeches-and-writing/2012-state-of-the-u/index.html.

On minimizing tuition increases and reducing student and family debt

“… tuition and student and family debt, critical issues that are directly tied to state support. Simply put, as the State of Minnesota’s investment in the University has declined, our need for tuition dollars to replace part of that state support has increased … The fantasy that the University could somehow advance its mission and hold the line on tuition as state support dwindles is just that: a fantasy … My hope is that the State of Minnesota will engage us in the important work we do at a level that minimizes or eliminates tuition increases.”

On “operational excellence” at the U

“Operational Excellence isn’t a buzzword or a project or an initiative.

“It is about innovation and operating differently, not simply about cutting costs. It is about fundamentally changing the culture of this University, and how we manage change. Culture change is not easy, and it is not fast.  But we absolutely have to move to a more nimble and responsive way of doing our administrative work, and we have to do it at a lower cost.” 

On administrative costs

Kaler also discussed his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, 2013, saying, “I pledged to hold the line on administrative costs, and this budget does that.”

On examining everything to achieve excellence

“I was surprised to find out—and you may be surprised, too—that we have 265 academic centers and institutes and they have budgets totaling more than $200 million annually … I have directed all of our deans to look at and examine the mission centrality, value, and scope of each of these centers and institutes. Administrative centers will also be examined. We may find that some, and maybe even most, remain valuable and relevant, but I’m willing to bet others are not.”

On new academic investments in fiscal year 2013

Kaler also reiterated his promise to support and reward innovative faculty research and teaching, saying, “… there is a pool of about $21 million for academic investments. This substantial pool of money will be awarded competitively through the annual compact budget process. I encourage your best ideas—and those of your deans and chancellors.”

On a new academic calendar

“… I’d like to take a serious and rigorous look at moving to a year-round academic calendar. This would include three 14- or 15-week periods … First, it would give more students a real chance at graduating in less than four years. On such a calendar, a full-time, year-round student could earn 120 credits in less than three years.

“… [it] would also give students more opportunity to study abroad, have meaningful internship or service opportunities, or complete honors or other significant senior projects.”

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