By Colleen Harrington
There will be an opening in the Stony Brook Provost’s office come this July.
Stony Brook Provost Eric Kaler has been selected as the 16th President of the University of Minnesota.
“I’m ready,” Kaler said to the board after being appointed, according to media reports.
The U of M is substantially larger than Stony Brook, serving more than 67,000 students at five campuses spread out over the state, making it the second largest university system in the Mid- west. Founded in 1851, the university employs more than 4,000 faculty members.
“It’s a big job, but I’ve been preparing for a long time to take on such a job,” Kaler said, citing a long career in higher education including his work as a professor, chair, dean and provost. “I get it,” he said before a public interview prior to being selected.
Kaler has been a top administrator at the university since 2007, before Stony Brook President Samuel Stanley was inaugurated. Stanley said in a statement he had mixed emotions about losing one of his top guys, but noted, “It would be difficult for anyone of his caliber to pass up such a remarkable opportunity.”
Kaler visited the U of M’s flagship Twin Cities school November 18 and 19 for a whirlwind of meetings with university leaders, who termed his visit a “final checkup” before formally announcing him as the next president.
On November 17, the university held a public question-and-answer forum with Kaler, where a moderator grilled him for over an hour with lengthy policy questions submitted by community members. The session was held before a large crowd of campus community members, and was aired live on local TV and webcast on the university’s website.
Kaler appeared at ease during the session, confidently tackling tough questions on budget cuts, tuition hikes and employee unionization, and he frequently spoke as though he were already confirmed as president. He said he hopes to be at Minnesota for the next ten years or more.
Kaler, who sported a tie with the U of M’s maroon and gold colors for the forum, acknowledged the importance of athletics at the school, right from his very first statement. “Let me tell you what I am not,” he said. “I cannot coach football. I’m here for the other job.”
On the flipside: “Athletics are very important because they’re a window through which a lot of people see the university and a door through which a lot of people walk through,” he said, in a nod to the football fans watching, as the school is in the Big Ten Conference.
Several Minnesotans questioned Kaler’s commitment to liberal arts, seemingly taking issue with his research-based history in chemical engineering. But Kaler brushed off these questions, proclaiming he “remains committed” to liberal arts because it plays a central role in our society.
The sole stumbling point for Kaler seemed to be when he was asked to name a piece of art, music or dance that had moved him personally. Kaler paused in thought for a moment and seemed to rack his brain for the name of any work of art before responding that he found it hard not to be moved when walking through any big museum. He eventually mentioned the Statue of David.
There were also a couple softball questions, like who is Kaler’s hero (his father), and Mac or PC (Mac, because “it’s a higher life form.”).
The U of M has confirmed Kaler, who was the sole finalist in the search for its new president.
Sweetening the deal for Kaler: Minnesota’s current president ranks as one of the highest paid public university presidents in the country, reportedly taking home a compensation package of $650,000 per year.