MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Eric Kaler was inaugurated as the 16th president of the University of Minnesota on Thursday, using his inaugural address to stress the importance of quickly transforming the workings of the institution while preserving its historical commitments to affordable education and research.
Kaler, who took office this summer, said the land-grant university with roots in the 19th century must re-invent itself as a provider of 21st-century education.
“In every aspect of university operations, we need to question what we do,” he said. “We need to know if it has the intended outcomes, or if we could do it better, or not at all.”
He also called for help toward that goal. “I’m just one person,” he said. “I can’t achieve excellence alone, not in these unusual times, not amid increasingly scarce resources, not across this vast organization.”
Gov. Mark Dayton pledged his support for the university. “If we want excellence from its graduates, we must fund and support its own excellence,” Dayton told the crowd at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the Minneapolis campus.
Dayton presented Kaler with the mace and Linda Cohen, chairwoman of the university board of regents, presented him with the university medallion, two symbols of leadership. The ceremony was rich in university tradition, with robed faculty walking in procession into the hall, speeches, orchestral and choral music and a video message of congratulations from alumni around the world.
Kaler said transforming the university will mean cutting overhead, eliminating unnecessary programs and pushing faculty members to provide lively classrooms and do innovative research.
“If your research is stale, if your classroom is boring, if your community engagement is ineffective, you must re-invent yourself, or, frankly, step aside,” he said.
In Kaler’s emphasis on redesigning the university in a time of shrinking state resources, he echoed many of the themes Steven Rosenstone, the new chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, made Tuesday in presenting his vision for change to the MnSCU trustees.
Like Rosenstone, Kaler called for the state to invest more resources in higher education. Kaler said it would pay off in lower costs to students and fuel the University of Minnesota’s research mission which over the years has produced developments from the pacemaker to the Honeycrisp apple.
“I can guarantee you this: If we don’t invest, if we don’t attract and retain the best scientists, if we don’t recruit and support the best young investigators, we absolutely will not discover new things,” Kaler said.
Kaler said he depended on financial aid when he was a graduate student at the university in the 1970s and was committed to providing help for students who couldn’t afford to attend otherwise. To emphasize that, he said, he was establishing the Kaler Family Scholarship Fund, which will support scholarships for four undergraduate students a year.
He was hired in November and took over this summer from Robert Bruininks, who returned to teaching. Kaler came to Minnesota from Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York.
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