Pre-emptive PR on Kaler's new U contract

  • Article by: SCOTT GILLESPIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2014 - 6:51 PM

Before the ink was dry, president’s people were busily ‘reaching out’ to offer a positive spin.

Shortly after Wednesday’s announcement that University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler is receiving a healthy raise and contract extension — in part to pre-empt his possible departure for unidentified greener pastures — the U’s director of public relations sent an e-mail to several of us in the Editorial Department.

The U’s Chuck Tombarge said he was “reaching out” on behalf of Board of Regents Chairman Rick Beeson, who just wanted us to be aware of the board’s action. The e-mail included attachments detailing terms of the contract, a report on the president’s glowing performance review, and a Big Ten compensation chart showing that Kaler is just the sixth-highest-paid leader of a Big Ten university, based on total 2014 compensation of $784,700.

Tombarge also noted that he would appreciate a heads-up if we planned to write about the contract on the opinion pages.

It’s always nice to have public officials “reach out” with public information instead of trying to bury it, and Tombarge was just doing his job as a spokesman for the boss. But at the same time, all of the reaching on Wednesday felt a little, well, pre-emptive.

So did the Thursday voice mail we received from Diana Harvey, Kaler’s deputy chief of staff, who was offering up a commentary from several faculty members in support of the Kaler contract.

Now keep in mind that Star Tribune’s Page 1 news story on the pact was a straightforward report with nary a hint of criticism of the terms of the deal or the process that led to it. But you can never be too careful these days, apparently.

From our vantage point, it’s notable that in this era of purportedly tight administrative budgets and trumpeted efforts to hold down costs, there clearly are adequate resources available to put the most positive spin possible on a raise and contract extension for the U’s top leader.

Critics of the deal may surface at some point — they often do at the university and in the Legislature — but at least for now they are a step behind the well-oiled PR machine in the U’s administrative offices.

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