Eric Kaler Looks to Make U More Entrepreneurial

Eric Kaler now leads a school with a $3.7 billion annual budget, 67,000 students, 4,000-plus faculty members, and 15,000 other employees-and he plans to embark on efforts to make the U of M more entrepreneurial. The September cover story in Twin Cities Business asks what makes him the right man for the job.

It's no doubt that when Eric Kaler took the helm as president of the University of Minnesota in July, he entered the role at an interesting time.

He faces a punishing budget, a legacy of top-down management, intense demands to grow research, and a sports and marketing machine on a Big 10 scale he's never seen before. So what makes him the right catalyst to take the university out of rough idle?

Kaler, 54 and a native of Vermont, earned a PhD in chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota 29 years ago. He taught for seven years at the University of Washington, 18 at the University of Delaware, and most recently was provost for four years at the 24,000-student Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York.

He'll now lead a school with a $3.7 billion annual budget, 67,000 students, 4,000-plus faculty members, and 15,000 other employees-and he plans to embark on efforts to make the U of M more entrepreneurial.

To do so, he emphasizes the need for an “enhanced collaboration” with Minnesota's business community. He says he needs to convince business leaders that he is open to all kinds of cooperative ideas, including greater cross-pollination in the areas of teaching, research, philanthropy, and lobbying-but always with the university as an equal partner, not “some kind of charity.” The U is an asset-rich environment capable of providing a significant return on investment, and it will engage “from a position of strength,” he says.

Kaler also aims to rid the school of its reputation of being inefficient and push the university into the conversation of the top research universities in the country-not just in terms of pulling in grants, but also in terms of research achievements. And Kaler says he intends to “empower” the university's two dozen deans and chancellors to be “more entrepreneurial” on behalf of their schools.

How will he do it, exactly? Kaler will outline his agenda for the university during his inauguration address on September 22.

But to learn more about his plans and to read input from several of his colleagues, former Governor Arne Carlson, U officials involved in selecting Kaler for the job, and others, pick up a copy of the September issue of Twin Cities Business, and check out the in-depth cover story, “Can Eric Kaler Retool the Engine?”