University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler made a stop at UMD last Friday to meet with administration and make himself available to students. "I am responsible for all of the campuses of the University of Minnesota system, and that gives me the opportunity and obligation to keep in touch,” Kaler said. “I do that by these visits. (They’re) a chance to really discuss with leadership and then to hear from students about how their experience is and what we can do to make it better."
He said the issues students bring to him range “from soup to nuts,” but students are always articulate and organized.
“It's impressive the amount of effort students will put into telling their stories,” Kaler said. “Occasionally I'll get a student who thinks they deserve a different grade in a course than they got. Not a lot I can do to help them with (grades).”
About a dozen students went to Kaler’s office hours. Senior Makayla Collins, a Phi Sigma Sigma, had questions about Greek life.
"I am going to ask him how Greek Life can be a more positive force on campus and ask him what are his thoughts about Greek Life in general," Collins said.
Visits like these are a break from Kaler’s normal routine.
"(I work) to tell the university story,” Kaler said. “(It) may be breakfast or lunch with a rotary club, a legislator, a conversation with a newspaper editorial board . . . about as diverse a range of speaking opportunities as you can imagine."
And when it comes to student office hours, Kaler takes them seriously.
"Sometimes I can tell (the students) things that they might not know or perspectives that they might not have," Kaler said, "Or sometimes I'll take what they say back to the relevant dean and say, 'You know this is what I heard about this—follow up and tell me how that works.'"
Freshman Jacob Froelich was one of the first students to speak with Kaler. Froelich said Kaler's emphasis was for students to take responsibility and action, like coming to his office hours and voicing their concerns to elected officials.
"(Kaler) told us to get involved with Bulldog Legislative Day, because that's when legislators see what issues are important to students," Froelich said. "(Kaler) said that if every student and their parents took 90 seconds to write an email to their representatives, it would make a huge difference.
After meeting with Kaler, Collins came out feeling that her questions about Greek Life had been answered.
"He gave us ideas to make it have a more positive image, like a mission statement and more volunteering," Collins said. "He told us that our adviser will be in touch with him. He made himself available and was very accommodating and supportive of Greek Life."
Kaler’s visits are consistent with his vision for the university.
“The overarching long term goal is for us to become a national destination for undergraduate education (and) an international destination for graduate and professional education, for us to solve the problems of Minnesota, to be embedded deeply in the solutions to problems like the K-12 achievement gap,” Kaler said.
BY JOHN FAHNENSTIEL