U of M president delivers State of the University address
Grounded in the University of Minnesota’s enduring values — including respect for all and its mission as a public land-grant research institution — President Eric Kaler announced new commitments to address concerns of immigrant and undocumented students, faculty and staff, and to prevent sexual assault in his State of the University address today.
Speaking to more than 200 students, faculty and staff in the University’s Coffman Memorial Union Theater — and many more at U of M campuses across the state — Kaler also stressed inclusiveness, expressing the institution’s support for members of the University’s transgender community, and decrying recent racist and hateful incidents. Further, his remarks focused on the University’s role in the State of Minnesota and its commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Kaler’s address was followed by a moderated question-and-answer session.
The following are excerpts from the full speech, which is available here.
On current challenging times:
This is a moment of great uncertainty for many people in many ways but I know of one indisputable certainty, and that is the deep and broad impact our University has on all 87 counties of our state and just about every one of our more than 5 million citizens. A way to enhance that impact is to stay true to our core values and ensure our actions reflect them.
On the importance of facts, science and academic freedom:
We are dedicated to the facts and the thoughtful interpretation of them. Along with a set of shared facts, we must also come together around a reservoir of empathy, humility, and aspirations. We must care about each other. Combined, that embrace of facts and our willingness to share our humanity with each other forms the basis of our core values. There can be no wavering. If our ability to conduct our research at this University is hindered by those with self-interest or political agendas, we must fight that.
On free speech:
To me, diversity also applies to an openness to ideas and to the freedom to use words to express opinions. In all of its activities, our University strives to sustain an open exchange of ideas in an environment that embodies the values of…responsibility, integrity, and cooperation. If we don’t create an accepting and respectful atmosphere here in this setting of intellectual vitality, who will? Free speech is a core value, and we can’t chip away at it.
On denouncing hate and discrimination:
We surely don’t stand for hateful words or actions. There’s been too many of them at this University recently, and it angers and saddens me. It provides an ugly reflection on our University. We have worked hard on Campus Climate issues throughout my tenure, and that will continue to be a priority. I’m pleased with the way our Bias Response and Referral Network on the Twin Cities campus has developed.
On supporting gender identities:
We must denounce hate at every turn and the discrimination that fuels hate. That applies to gender identities of our students, faculty and staff. I’m proud that we have been open and responsive in our support of transgender and gender nonconforming students, faculty, and staff. And now, the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life and the Transgender Commission are working with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action to develop policies to improve the campus experience for trans- and gender nonconforming students.
On the role of international students and creation of an Immigration Resource Center:
We are a global university, with students from more than 135 nations, with a remarkable number of faculty from many countries, and with a history of sending our own students abroad, of being honored with Fulbright scholars, and with supplying the Peace Corps with volunteers. Globalism is a part of us. That’s why the recent executive order on immigrants and concerns about the future of undocumented students has been so troubling, frightening and complex for so many of our students, faculty and staff.
We are creating a dedicated service that, for now, I’m calling an Immigration Resource Center. It’s a collaborative effort with many Twin Cities campus and system-wide partners, including our Global Programs and Strategy Alliance, the Office for Equity and Diversity, the Office for Student Affairs, University Relations, Office of Human Resources and the Provost's Office. The Provost and I are committed to ensuring that all who are affected by any immigration policy changes will have a clear and accessible path to resources and support, and to get their questions answered in a timely fashion. We will also provide outreach to the greater University community on issues around immigration, DACA, and diversity. The Provost and I are committed to identifying resources, including a dedicated website and reallocating staff and funding as needed, to support this important work.
We must ensure that our students, faculty and staff at this University are safe and treated with respect and dignity. Helping the state to value the contributions of immigrants and undocumented students or neighbors is a job for all of us. To University of Minnesota students who are Dreamers under the DACA law, we support you and embrace you.
On sexual assault prevention:
While the University has a strong and comprehensive approach to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct — with the guidance of our nation-leading Aurora Center — there is much more we can do and need to do, particularly in terms of education, training and advocacy.
Earlier this week, I received recommendations from [an ad hoc working group] and I will immediately be asking the appropriate units to implement them. They include:
- Mandatory training for faculty and staff. Not everyone will like this, but the time has come. A resolution in moving through faculty governance supporting such training and we will consult broadly in implementing this recommendation.
- Enhanced training and additional education for students after their first year
- A sustained public health and public awareness campaign
- Creating a President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault that will regularly report to me.
- Developing metrics to evaluate and measure our sexual assault and misconduct prevention, education, advocacy and awareness efforts on campus, including conducting a campus climate survey every three years.
On reassessment of liberal education requirements and the value of the liberal arts:
To me, active citizenship, ethical reasoning, clear writing, an understanding of history and different cultures, leadership and teamwork are not only so-called commodities for employers. They are knowledge that we all need to address the issues facing us today: free speech, an ability to navigate diverse environments, a welcoming campus climate, and respect for each other. They also help us to better understand the human condition, which is critical in these trying times. To be sure, our commitment to the liberal arts today and into the future — on all of our campuses — is a core value of this University.