Minnesotans owe University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler a debt of gratitude for many things, not least among them the plans he announced Friday for an orderly departure from his office. Kaler’s intention to leave the university presidency one year from now, then spend a year as a fundraising president emeritus, ought to serve the university well as it seeks his successor.
Board of Regents Chair David McMillan said Kaler had given the presidential search process “the luxury of time” for consultation with stakeholders. More than that: Kaler’s drama-free exit raises no warning flags that might repel worthy applicants for his job. His willingness to remain in Minnesota and join the university’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science after leaving the presidency attests to Kaler’s confidence in the institution, something potential successors will notice.
Kaler, 61, appears to be leaving on his own terms. “Quite simply, it is time,” Kaler said, citing the achievement of many of the goals he set when he succeeded Robert Bruininks as president in 2011. The university’s ranking has improved on Kaler’s watch, climbing to 35th in the world in one recent list, and the steep increases in undergraduate tuition that characterized the previous decade have moderated.
But an 8-4 regents’ vote to approve the most recent tuition increase Kaler recommended revealed a board that increasingly questions the balance Kaler has sought to strike between affordable access and academic quality. Those questions could get sharper a year from now after the 2019 Legislature fills four seats on the board — particularly if that Legislature opts for regents who favor a tighter clamp on tuition growth.
Kaler’s move allows the current Board of Regents — not the one that’s seated a year from now — to choose the next president. We count that as another reason to be grateful to Kaler for initiating a thoughtfully planned leadership transition at the state’s most important academic institution.