President Kaler's answers to questions not covered during the State of the University Q&A session

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Before and during President Kaler’s State of the University speech, faculty, staff, and students submitted more than 90 questions. Many fell into categories: for example, tuition, Operational Excellence, diversity, and the future of graduate education. The president addressed many of these and others issues in his speech and, then, during the Q&A session that followed. The text of his speech and the full video of the State of the University address and Q&A session are posted here.

The following are the President’s answers to other questions that were submitted.

What steps are being taken to lower graduate tuition (both in-state and out-of-state)?

Actually, right now leaders in the Provost’s Office, the Office of Budget and Finance, and the Graduate School are studying graduate and professional student tuition issues. In my State of the University address, I announced that I’ve asked Provost Hanson and Vice Provost Schroeder to bring me recommendations by this fall to sharpen our focus on graduate education. I’m calling it “Graduate School 2.0.” But any changes in graduate and professional tuition must be presented to our Board of Regents later this spring.

In units, certified approvers are still being trained to invest hours checking out tiny expenses and it still seems to cost us $100 or more to buy a $10 supply on a grant. What are you and your leadership team doing to address this issue, and do you see the solution as a matter of fine-tuning or one of structural change?

I addressed the need to recalibrate risk in my speech and asked all of our vice presidents and policy owners to review procedures. I see this matter as a culture change and reducing barriers to getting our work done efficiently and effectively. If we’re spending $100 to buy a $10 item, I want to know about it.

What do you see as the sustainable competitive advantage of the University of Minnesota?

We are the state’s only comprehensive research university. We are global in nature. We have a world-class faculty. We are forward looking. We are ahead of the curve nationally on containing costs and examining our operations. Our net cost for families with household income of $75,000 or less is the lowest in the state of Minnesota for any public or private college. We are an excellent university, with great opportunities, from robotics to dance. Add all that up, and we have a great competitive advantage over other fine colleges and universities.

The U is currently moving funding from administration to the academic side. Are any safeguards in place to ensure that this cut doesn’t all come from support staff? Will your administration see the specific job details of each reallocation?

Our Office of Human Resources is currently undergoing a job family study. As I recently told the Board of Regents, if it comes to having to make decisions about job reductions, they will be done fairly and with compassion. I think the recent elimination of the Office of Academic Administration is an example of how we’re doing things. A vice presidential job was eliminated, but others were able to find positions in openings across the University.

Has the university split out the various categories of P&A staff to reflect real duties? So many are working in disciplines rather than administration, yet the public sees us all as top-loaded administration.

Our ongoing jobs family study will address this issue.

You have said that one of your priorities is to reduce administrative costs. How do you explain the restructuring of central HR? It is all P&A consultants with salaries beginning at $60. How is that reducing administrative costs?

The Office of Human Resources was significantly out-of-date with people and priorities not aligned with the work that needed to be done to recruit and retain a world-class staff and faculty. Vice President Brown has made some changes to strengthen that alignment and, as in all areas of the University, that office provides market-based competitive compensation. The Office of Human Resources has not increased its headcount due to restructuring.

How do you feel about the ratio of middle management positions to workers? Why does the University cut skill trades jobs and create even more management? Will the focus on reducing administrative costs affect current staffing or job classifications? How is a job classified as ‘Administrative’? Is the U more or less in line with universal HR standards?

The recent analysis of four of our administrative units, done by outside experts, shows that we are, generally, not top heavy, at least where we have looked so far. We are not creating more management. Please see the report we submitted on March 12, 2013, to the Minnesota Senate.

You have been pushing for a tuition freeze and I’m all for freezing tuition, but why do we have to ask the Minnesota people to pay for our overcrowded administration? Much discussion has followed the Wall Street Journalarticle, but is any consideration being given to Tim Mulcahy’s quote in that article about an “onerous bureaucracy?”

A priority is our work on Operational Excellence. Please see our website, The goal is to reduce administrative costs and redirect them to our core missions, and we’re having some successes, as the website details.

Is the controversy following The Big O seminar going to stop you from holding educational events on subjects that may be viewed as taboo? Even if the subject matter is essential to individual health and well-being?

I addressed this during the Q&A portion of the State of the University event. Fundamentally, I support the tenets of academic freedom, and that applies to that particular seminar.

How will UMTC help students who have financial need succeed without the constant thought of “how do I pay for college?” What do you plan on doing to make the University more affordable to those who are from middle-class white families and don’t qualify for many scholarships and financial aid?

Affordability and accessibility are priorities of mine. As part of our legislative request, we have committed to increase financial aid to students. We are also seeking to halt the rise of tuition. Right now, for Minnesota households earning less than $75,000 a year, we have the lowest net cost of any college or university in the state, public or private.

Please address the ways in which the University/Twin Cities campus can increase diversity of our underrepresented student population. Can this happen while increasing admission standards? What is being done to help diversify the staff, faculty and student population here at the UMTC?

Early in my presidency, I kept the Office for Equity and Diversity at the vice presidential level. Katrice Albert, our new OED vice president will take office in June. Increasing student, faculty, and staff diversity will be among her top priorities. I look forward to her joining my senior leadership team.

Dear President, how can our University remain an internationally visible light if the travel support for faculty is converging to zero? Thank you for letting us ask questions! Sincerely Guerino Mazzola, School of Music

Clearly, funding for travel is expensive and difficult to sustain in times of budget reductions, which we have faced. Generally, such funding is provided locally through the college budgets. There may need to be some tough conversations about reducing spending in other areas to restore some travel funding and/or to support the development of external funding sources.

Can we get an update on the salary equity—sometimes known as the gender equity—study?

A salary equity study for tenured and tenure-track faculty was undertaken by the U using data from the ninth pay period in 2007. The report, completed in 2011, showed an overall difference of 2.2 percent between men and women, with women’s salaries lower. Now, an updated study is under way with data from the ninth pay period in 2012 to look at any changes in overall differences, and differences within colleges. Salary inequities will be examined at collegiate levels as the basis for any salary adjustments. We should have study results by mid-April as the basis for any future action.

All the world’s great universities are dominant in both the sciences and humanities. Yet, your initiatives focus entirely on STEM fields. What is your vision of the role of the humanities in preserving UMN’s status as a leading research university?

I addressed this at the very beginning of my State of the University address. The liberal arts and humanities are critical to the U’s status as a leading university. The College of Liberal Arts’ work on re-imagining humanities education confirms our desire to be leaders. It was recently announced that Dean Parente will be stepping down. Our new dean of CLA will be a critical leader in the envisioning the future of the liberal arts and humanities at the U’s Twin Cities campus.

It seems that higher ed in general is getting a bad wrap these days. How do you plan to work strategically with MNSCU to strengthen higher ed in Minnesota?

We already have more than 200 cooperative agreements and arrangements with MnSCU, especially a transfer compact. Our conversations with MnSCU are ongoing. But we do have different missions. Through groups, such as the Itasca Project, the U and MnSCU are also developing shared visions and strategies. I’ve worked closely with Itasca. Here’s the white paper that the Itasca Project released last year. [LINK] Just about every day I am meeting and working with business, civic, and elected officials to strengthen the U and higher ed, in general.

Can UMN assess, summarize, and distribute performance of the education it provides per increased or improved employment? Does the university offer graduates jobs at the university or from the university’s business alumni network?

Many of our schools and colleges do an excellent job in tracking employment of their graduates. But there is unevenness across the system. Many colleges and schools actively engage their alumni in job networking, and we support and promote job fairs.

How deeply have you looked into the possibility of using, or even creating open-sourced textbooks to both reduce the cost to students and promote the equal distribution of knowledge to those who seek it?

This is an option we are actively exploring. Provost Hanson has extensive experience in this area from her time at Indiana. I am deeply committed to reducing costs for students.

Should the University add resources to the effort to team with small businesses that come out of University research?

Over the past five years, we have greatly improved our Office for Technology Commercialization. We created 12 start-ups in 2012, a record for us. We are also hoping to begin a Venture Fund to invest in our discoveries.

In times of intense public scrutiny and tight budgets, how can we respect the institution of tenure, and make it accountable and avoid abuse of it in the future?

I believe that is a key responsibility of the faculty to hold each other to high standards of excellence and to ensure that our limited resources are being put to the highest and best uses.

Does the president feel that children at the University of Minnesota Child Development Center daycare should be allowed the same degree of disability accommodations as are provided to disabled students and faculty? If so, how is this vision enforced?

I do not know the operational details of our Child Development Center. But speaking broadly, consistent with the statement I made in my speech about risk recalibration, I believe the University should have policies that meet all federal and state requirements.

Is it important that we keep our libraries as expansive as possible? For example all the subscriptions the U of M pays for research. Are people using these resources enough?

We have one of the best and most progressive libraries in the nation. The Libraries are also efficiently operated. Let me tell you just how active our Libraries are: We have 7.4 million volumes, both in print and electronically. Last year, more than 2 million articles were successfully requested. The University Libraries is tops among the nation’s 123 North American research libraries in loans to other libraries. Our staff answered 129,000 reference questions last year. As part of the statewide Minitex system we oversee, 400,000 book loans and article requests were supplied. So, yes, the Libraries are a wonderful University asset.

What involvement, if any, do you anticipate for UMR in the recent announcement by Mayo Clinic that some $6 billion will be invested in creating a Destination Medical Center in Rochester, MN?

Clearly the strength of Mayo Clinic and the City of Rochester will be important to the future of the University of Minnesota Rochester and they will create exceptional opportunities for the growth of our academic program there.

How can you justify the massive new construction expenditures that have occurred this past year while most of the University workers, including students, had to suffer a pay freeze as well as higher tuition?

Each construction project has a source of funding that is, largely, not fungible when it comes to supporting personnel or other uses, such as instruction or research costs. In the case of the Physics and Nanotechnology building on the East Bank, the funding is bonding from the State that we cannot use for any other purpose. In the case of the Recreational Sports facility on the East Bank, it is funded by student fees, which cannot be used for any other purpose.

What is the University, particularly the Liberal Arts department, doing to accommodate the community of introverts and socially anxious students?

Certainly in all of our colleges and throughout the University there are a wide range of communities of students and resources for them. If anxiety is interfering with a student’s success, I would encourage him or her to talk to his or her adviser, contact our University Counseling & Consulting Services, or visit our Mental Health Clinic at Boynton Health Service.

How will the University improve its impact on the environment, specifically when it comes to refurbishing or building new facilities?

We are committed to sustainability, and we have been decommissioning buildings, reducing energy costs and engaging in a system-wide recycling program. Our Morris campus is known as a model of sustainability. For more information, please go to and

A barrier to continued education for employees who are pursuing a degree is the requirement to pay the tuition difference up front and out of pocket. Could a payment plan option be considered for recipients of the Regents Scholarship?

I will look into this.

How are you working to ensure that the reputation of the caliber of education at the University of Minnesota is recognized in other parts of the country? How does UMN make use of its alumni network in other regions of the country?

We are recruiting students nationally. In fact, as we are setting records for applications across the system, applications from students outside of Minnesota and Wisconsin are up 38 percent. Clearly, the excellence of our University is known in many parts of the country, and we are promoting that more. We have about 250,000 alumni living outside of Minnesota, and we are in communication with them frequently. We are in the process of hiring a new CEO for the Twin Cities UMAA, and that person will have national issues on his or her agenda. Each of our statewide campuses has its own active alumni network.

What is the vision for improvement in support for education by the OIT?

OIT Vice President Scott Studham is committed to redirecting administrative costs to our eLearning initiatives. In fact, recent server reductions and help center consolidations have helped OIT to invest in educational and faculty support.

I find it very irritating that we have whole departments on academic probation, and yet I see expenses going towards making the school look nicer. Why hasn’t there been an effort to spend money on improving these underachieving departments?

It may be the case that the sources of funding for facility upgrades are not fungible for hiring faculty or other academic program enhancements. For example, the dollars we receive from the state to repair and maintain facilities are dedicated funding. With 29 million square feet of space to manage, staying on top of maintenance needs is critical to managing our overall facilities cost.

With respect to the imminent deal with the Opus Group to build a high-quality apartment building on a block of historic Dinkytown, what is being done to preserve the cultural value and economic stability of the iconic neighborhood?

The University of Minnesota has an extensive community relations function and we are actively engaged with all of the neighborhoods around the Twin Cities campus. We are active in discussions with the community about promoting economic vitality, safety, and uniqueness of these neighborhoods.

We receive numerous discounts on food and entertainment but not on common educational supplies. What kind of benefits on educational supplies do you offer or can you offer to U of M students who invest so much time and energy into the University?

I am not exactly sure what types of educational supplies you have in mind. However, we do offer discounts on computers and software—one of the most expensive educational supplies—for students

Through the Greek Strategic Task Force, your support for Greek life growth has been well received. What can we see from you or your office in the next five years to help grow the size of our campus’s Greek life?

The Task Force’s report addresses forward-looking matters. Please see the full report:

Safety and congestion are of concern to me between classes. How has the LRT Central Corridor construction impacted the University, and how will its future be a blessing to the University?

Traffic and safety are a big concern with the LRT corridor opening. Bikes, buses, and trains will all be together on parts of the corridor going through campus. It will require everyone to be aware and abide by traffic rules.

Regents Scholarship. Will you please change it back to 100 percent covered for those with a bachelor’s degree? 25 percent is too much to pay.

We examined this matter last year when we reinstated full payment for those seeking their first degrees. There is a cost to this, and I think a 25 percent contribution towards a graduate degree is a fair balance. We’re not anticipating any additional changes.

Will there be any retirement incentives, RIOs offered in the coming year to help balance the budget and urge those who are close to retirement to make that move?

We are not anticipating any RIOs in the near future.

To evaluate a professor’s teaching ability, do you go beyond looking at a resume? Do student evaluations get taken to the head of the department? How do you determine if a class is doing well/poorly, what actions are then taken?

Faculty members go through a comprehensive review process that includes input from their peers within their department. Student evaluations are not used in this process. However, teaching, research, and public service activities are critical aspects of their performance evaluations.

At my previous college, each student was able to print things off (up to a certain amount) without having to pay extra since it was part of the student service fee or technology fee. Why is it not the same at such a larger (and more expensive) school?

Our printing fees vary by college because we have a decentralized budget model. Some colleges do not charge a fee, and you should discuss this with your college.

TCF staffers in the U Card office make it seem like signing up for their bank accounts is required for getting a U Card. This is deceptive and wrong. How much does the U make from this?

The University does not make any money from students signing up for TCF bank cards. We should be presenting this as an individual choice to students, not an obligation to receive a U Card. I will share your concern with the U Card office leadership.

Do you believe that the University of Minnesota’s policy, which strips all IP created and takes two-thirds of the income if commercialized, is just, or would you agree that it squashes the incentive for students to be truly innovative?

The University’s IP policy is consistent with the policies of peer institutions. The federal government requires universities to commercialize technology developed with federal funding and maintain an organization to do so, and that is a costly process. We do not think that the policy prevents students from being innovative, but we are in the process of modifying the policy to allow students to own their IP under most circumstances.

Our department has one departmental laptop for all faculty to share if they do not have their own. This means only one class at a time can give a PowerPoint presentation. Where is all the money spent on “technology improvements” going?

This sounds challenging. I would encourage you to talk to college leadership about whether there are “floater” laptops elsewhere that faculty could check out. Technology improvements are spread across central systems and unit needs. Our major project at this time is the Enterprise System Upgrade Project:

Why isn’t our campus tobacco free?

We have been examining this issue. There does not yet seem to be consensus on this from all of the stakeholders.

Does the long-term strategy of the University continue to be “To become one of the top 3 research institutions in the world” and if so why don’t we hear very much about it anymore? If not, what is the new strategy of the University?

This was a strategy adopted during the last strategic planning process, soon after President Bruininks took office. My goal is that the University be widely cited among the top public research universities nationally. This fall, we will launch a new strategic planning process and that broad goal may be further refined.

Will tuition go down within the next year?

We need, and we have requested, a renewed partnership with the state of Minnesota. We need that partnership to keep tuition flat. If the state does not invest in the University, I will do everything I can to keep tuition low but it will be impossible to reduce tuition while maintaining quality.

Some departments seem to have oodles of resources ($, space) that are either not used or severely underutilized, while others are begging for basics, can departments invest in each other? Should this be encouraged?

As you may know, we have a decentralized budget model. That said, within colleges, there is certainly flexibility for departments to “cross subsidize” each other. Doing so may create some unanticipated consequences or disincentives to revenue generation and those probably need to be explored.

How will you address the systemic lack of accountability that exists in the Med School and AHC? Without accountability, division chiefs/department heads don’t operate with UMN’s mission in mind but rather their own self-interest to retain power.

We seek accountability from all of our colleges, schools, and units. As you know, the Medical School is going through a strategic planning process and we are beginning the search for a new dean. Together, these things will help align priorities and drive additional accountability.

Hopeful with our refreshed proposal to avoid another high/low state budget negotiation, I am disappointed with Dayton’s budget and our chances of being rewarded. Are you discouraged by how it was received or how do you plan to approach future cycles?

I was actually quite pleased with Governor Dayton’s budget. He supported the vast majority of our request and clearly understands the value of higher education to this state. I am a hopeless optimist and I am optimistic about a positive outcome to this session.

Many students find their student advisers unhelpful and disinterested. What regulations does the University have to ensure these advisers help their students and how do you justify this dissatisfaction?

I am disappointed to hear that you find our advisers unhelpful. I would encourage you to talk to someone in advising in your college about changing advisers. We invest significant resources in advising and the vast majority of our professionals in this office provide high quality, effective services.

Faculty and administration salaries are no doubt set with reference to practices at other institutions; with reference to the other educational institutions that are used as reference points, which ones are they? Thanks.

The peer group we typically look to is the Big Ten and other large, public research universities such as University of Florida, Berkeley, Texas.

Why is this school so dumb?

Is this a rhetorical question?

Right now the University system is holding $776.4 million dollars in carry forward with a projected carry forward of $795.5 million. With a looming 3.5 percent tuition increases and administrative cuts, how does the University justify such a number?

A significant portion of this carryover is dedicated to cover future commitments. I have encouraged deans and leaders to use remaining carry forward responsibly on one-time expenses. But you should know that holding cash is critical to our ability to retain a very solid bond rating. That rating allows us to borrow money at lower interest rates than those universities with less cash on hand.

The rising costs of fees have represented an often-discussed issue for grad students. What is the most effective way for graduate students to get involved directly with the University to reduce the total amount that they pay out of pocket?

Work through the Graduate and Professional Student Association.

There’s a lot of conversation going on in popular media regarding two of the research priorities identified in MnDRIVE—water and food. To what extent should the day-to-day operation and life of the campus address these issues too?

We should certainly work to integrate our own research—as appropriate—into informing University policies, procedures, and purchasing decisions.

Graduate student fees have steadily increased over the last few years, most notably, the capital enhancement fee. The U’s graduate student fees have grown faster than peer Big Ten institutions. What are the plans to decrease the fee burden?

In my speech, I asked Provost Hanson and Dean Schroeder to make recommendations for improve graduate education. Funding and costs, including fees, will certainly be part of this review.

When will the new Healthy Communities Innovation Center (HCIC) open? Original expectation was in January.

It is opening in March. It’s a wonderful new space that will significantly improve our nursing education program.

What are some concrete steps that the U needs to take to better prepare its students for global citizenship and competitiveness?

We are taking a number of steps: requiring in some colleges and supporting study abroad, admitting international students and supporting them to success, supporting students in getting internships at one of Minnesota’s many global, Fortune 500 companies, teaching language skills, teaching students to work in teams, teaching about and supporting cultural difference…and the list goes on.

How does the University plan on addressing the local issues of the achievement gap and students not being able to matriculate to the University?

This is one of the most important issues in our community and for me personally. I am co-chairing Generation Next, a new community-based initiative to close the achievement gap. Through the College of Education and Human Development we are working to document and align our engagement and research to make a real impact on this critical problem.

Are you committed to finding more ways to support the international students on campus, and fully take advantage of the resources and knowledge they bring to our campus?

If we admit international students, we need to ensure they are appropriately and meaningfully contributing to our campus community. This is certainly a goal I will support, and I know our Global Programs and Strategy Alliance office is actively pursuing.

Have you watched Downton Abbey yet?

Ha! I wish I had more time home at night. I have not watched it, but my wife, Karen, loves it.

A cause that has united the Morris campus is that of establishing gender-neutral housing, especially for our LGBTQ friends. Despite the great support on this issue, sluggish administrative processes have made [sic] held us back. What can we do?

I am sure you have talked to Chancellor Johnson about this work. Not knowing the details of the processes in this area, I have to defer to her on this issue.

I have encountered many staff who were [sic] attained their positions through connections. If those same people applied for their jobs, they would not be granted even an interview, as they lack the required skills. What can be done?

As a public university, it is critical that our searches are open and that all applicants who meet the minimum qualifications posted get a fair review (in all but the rarest of circumstances in which a highly technical or unique skill set is needed). If a candidate does not feel s/he gets a fair review, I would encourage him or her to contact our human resources department.

What are SPECIFIC ways that international and immigrant students’ academic work can be supported, and their fund of knowledge tapped on our campus?

We need to work with faculty to integrate international and immigrant student perspectives in classes and the curriculum. That will enrich the experience for all students. We also need to provide access to reading and composition classes, and access to resources and services that will enable our international and immigrant students to be successful. One example of a new initiative is the New International Student Seminar, which provides students an extended orientation for students to explore expectations, strategies, and resources for academic success in the U.S.

I was hired to teach and do research. Yet I am spending more and more time doing secretarial work since we no longer have secretaries. How will the University change this trend?

Budget reductions created staffing challenges. I would encourage you to talk to your department chair or collegiate administration to identify resources and staff capacity to help with discrete tasks, as needed.

I have been told by many people in the industry “We don’t hire grads from the U if we can help it because they are too theoretical and not practical.” What will you do to balance research with hiring practical people to produce practical grads that companies will want to hire?

I have not heard this concern from the business leaders I talk to. However, it is incumbent upon us to give students the skills they need to succeed in the private sector. They need to be well rounded. Internships can be a key piece of this puzzle and we need to encourage students to pursue those opportunities.

What changes do you want to see from student representation? Specifically, from governance groups like the student senate or MSA?

I have found our student leaders to be thoughtful, committed partners. I do not have changes to advocate.

How does internationalization of the University figure into your priorities? Does it include all students domestic and international?

Internationalization is important. We live in an increasingly global society. Yes, I think both domestic and international students benefit from internationalization.

What about segregation?

Segregation is not good if it is the result of groups being exclusive. I would encourage students to reach out to others who are not like them, even if it is uncomfortable.

Minnesota has one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation. How is the University addressing this—both within the University and in our schools?

We recently consolidated all of our achievement gap efforts under one roof in the College of Education and Human Development. We recently named Dr. Michael Rodriguez to the Campbell Leadership Chair to coordinate our work. And I’m the co-chair of Generation Next, a coalition of school districts, higher education leaders, and civic and business leaders dedicated to closing Minnesota’s achievement gap. 

In the Feb. 8 Star Tribune article about the University moving toward offering more courses year around, you are quoted as saying “By 2014, all summer courses will start on the same day and run for several weeks.” Does this include summer graduate and professional courses? Will there still be a May session? Thank you.

No, this does not include graduate and professional courses. Yes, there will be a May session.

The higher education bubble and administrative bloat are ultimately fueled by subsidized federal loans. Moreover, students are incurring massive unforgiveable debt, and obtaining degrees in fields that hold little promise of sufficient remuneration for repayment. Given this, would you support the goal of removing federal support for student loans?

No, federal student loans are an important source of funding for students. We need to couple degree work with financial literacy and with internships and other experiences that get students ready for jobs.