Eric Kaler

Eric Kaler

Best Book I’ve Read This Year:
Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Aliveby Harvey Mackay

Red, White, or Beer?

Favorite Vacation Destination:
Cape Town, South Africa


University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler is looking for strategies to simultaneously tame administrative costs and catapult the university to national prominence in teaching and research.

How does the rapidly changing economy affect how the University of Minnesota educates its students?

When I talk to business leaders, they tell me they need students who can communicate well, can work in teams, and are aware of diverse cultures. That is exactly at the core of the liberal arts education that all of our majors get.

So when you tee up choosing a major that is interesting to a student, layer in a liberal arts general education and a foreign language skill, you wind up with a student who is well-prepared to contribute to the economy.

What about internships?

We really stress a broad range of out-of-classroom activities. About two-thirds of our students engage in undergraduate research, study abroad, or have an internship.

Now that you are in the third year of your presidency and engaged in a strategic planning process, what type of change do you expect to lead?

I have great ambition for the University of Minnesota. I think ambition is a word we need to use more frequently. This is a great institution. It’s an institution whose actual products—whether they are research, teaching, education, or outreach—far exceed their reputation.

So that gives us a huge opportunity to move in what I hope will be a transformational way, to sharpen our delivery of education, to enable greater learning by our students as they are here, to expand our research portfolio, to address the problems not only in Minnesota, but of the world.

Ambition is a word a lot of Minnesotans shy away from.

It’s a very non-Minnesotan word. There is a Minnesota culture, so our ability to talk about the good things we do is sometimes a little lacking. I don’t have that problem. I think we do great things and I think more people should know about them.

But more important is the substance of moving us forward, to delivering better outcomes in our classrooms, to having a research enterprise that is already the eighth-largest public research university in the country to be even better. We need to deliver on discoveries, to deliver on cures, to grow our health-care enterprise and our medical school quality.

Would better classroom outcomes translate into a higher percentage of students completing degrees in four years?

Absolutely. Right now people are very worried about the cost of higher education, and they should be. Students are leaving now with more debt than they should have. So part of that is being efficient as a student and moving to complete a degree in a timely way. We’re very proud of our four-year graduation rate, which is now 58 percent. We have ambition to drive that well above 60 percent. And that’s important.

The news media and politicians have been scrutinizing administrative costs at the U. What have you accomplished to address this issue?

We’ve taken $32 million of recurring costs out and another $2 million of one-time costs. I think people are welcoming the conversation about how we can do what we do more efficiently and more effectively. I’m eager to deliver on that.

At the September regents’ meeting you pledged to cut a total of $90 million over the next six years. Is that in addition to the $32 million?

That’s right.

With such a large number of business and management schools in the United States, how is the Carlson School faring in this competitive environment?

Our location is an enormous plus. Minnesota is home to 18 or 19 Fortune 500 companies. That provides a rich environment for our students to be in when they graduate and when they come back for an MBA after working for a couple of years. Our applications to the full-time MBA program are up 13 percent. The placement rate for Carlson MBA graduates is above 90 percent. That’s remarkable.

How do you see online course offerings affecting how you educate students?

We’ve been offering online classes since the 1990s. In terms of how it changes undergraduate education, I think you’ll see an evolution away from large lectures into situations in which students watch a lecture at their convenience and in their pajamas. And then they’ll come to class and the faculty member will work with students and coach them. She’ll be assembling teams and students will work together. But I don’t think brick-and-mortar institutions like the University of Minnesota are going to go away anytime soon.