Since 1974, six men have held the job as president of the University of Minnesota. And they all shared the same stage for the first time Monday, at what was billed as a historic gathering at Northrop Auditorium.

President Eric Kaler, who’s been on the job since 2011, was joined by his predecessors C. Peter Magrath (1974-84); Kenneth Keller (1985-88), Nils Hasselmo (1988-97), Mark Yudof (1997-2002) and Robert Bruininks (2002-11) for a wide-ranging conversation about higher education moderated by Star Tribune editorial writer Lori Sturdevant.

Among other things, they shared concerns that support is slipping, among politicians and the public, for funding big research institutions like the U. They also agreed that the U will continue to face challenges to change, and balance its budget, without jeopardizing the quality of education.

“Everyone agrees that higher education is important,” said Yudof, “and no one wants to pay for it.”

Maura Lerner