MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The man poised to become the next University of Minnesota president said Monday that the school should not only look to become one of the country’s top three public research universities, but should aim to be one of the top state universities, period.
Provost Eric Kaler of Stony Brook University in New York, named the lone finalist for the Minnesota job Friday, told The Associated Press he wants to see the school put on par with institutions like Michigan, Virginia, University of California-Berkley and North Carolina.
Kaler, 54, knows such ambition won’t come cheap.
“We have the potential to get there,” he said. “It’s a one word answer: money.”
The university’s state funding has been falling for years and now stands at 18 percent of the budget, less than tuition and fees. There’s little chance that will change with the next Legislature facing a projected two-year shortfall of $5.8 billion, but Kaler said he would try.
“I fully intend, and in short order, to meet all 201 of the representatives and senators,” he said. He said he would tell them how the university “impacts the social and financial well-being of their communities.”
Kaler said he also would tap individuals and philanthropic groups and continue the university’s push to turn more of its research breakthroughs into marketable products, one of his areas of expertise.
Kaler earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1982 and was elected earlier this year to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering. He holds 10 patents and sits on the board of Stony Brook’s incubator for high-tech businesses.
Turning research into revenue “is an under-realized opportunity at Minnesota,” he said. But in the meantime, more budgets cuts and tuition increases are possible.
“There’s clearly going to be some hard choices made,” he said. “I’m going to have to do things that are unpopular with large numbers of people, I’m sure. You know, that’s part of the job. I’m prepared to do that.”
Kate VandenBosch, chairwoman of the university’s Faculty Consultative Committee, said her colleagues were impressed by Kaler’s academic achievements and his success at Stony Brook, a public university much smaller but nearly as complex as Minnesota.
“He’s dealt with many of the issues that I would expect that he would deal with here,” she said.
Minnesota faculty also were happy Kaler worked his way up from being a professor himself, VandenBosch said. “I think that it’s a very reassuring thing for faculty members to see that their potential leader has sat where we sit,” she said.
Kaler said he planned to fly to the Minneapolis on Tuesday for two days of meetings on campus. Two of them will be in public, at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Coffman Memorial Union Theater and a public interview with the regents Thursday morning.
Although Kaler is the only finalist for the job, Regent Dean Johnson has told the Star Tribune his hiring “is not a done deal yet.” The regents have said they planned to hire a new president by the end of the year after President Robert Bruininks announced plans to return to the faculty when his contract expires in June 2011.
Kaler is sure to get questions about athletics when he arrives on campus, particularly about finding a new Gopher football coach. The team is limping toward the end of a losing season and coach Tim Brewster was fired last month after going 15-30 since 2007, including 6-21 in the Big Ten.
“That’s clearly a problem,” Kaler said. “We need to work very, very hard to identify the right coach for the football team. Somebody with the right kind of experience and the ability to recruit well.”
It’s just the sort of challenge Kaler said he had been working toward for several years.
“When the opening at the University of Minnesota appeared, it just seemed like a truly perfect opportunity, combining my love of the place with my career objectives,” he said.
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