President Kaler delivers final State of the University address

A maroon banner with the University Block M that says "We are driven."

Reflecting on his eight years as president and highlighting the growing impact of the University of Minnesota’s education, research and outreach missions, President Eric Kaler delivered his final State of the University address Thursday afternoon.

Speaking to more than 200 students, faculty, staff and members of the University community at Coffman Memorial Union Theater – and many more around the state watching the event online – Kaler noted several accomplishments from his time as president, including maintaining affordability for students, producing groundbreaking research and innovative start-ups and powering the state of Minnesota’s workforce through the strong academic achievements of University alumni.

Kaler participated in a moderated question-and-answer session following his address.

The following are excerpts from President Kaler’s address, which can be found in full here shortly.

On student outcomes at the University:

"We have remained affordable for Minnesotans. We flattened the tuition curve for Minnesota resident undergraduates, with tuition for Minnesota residents increasing at the lowest rate since the Eisenhower administration, about the time I was born, and less than the rate of inflation. Our four-year graduation rate has dramatically improved, from a 54 percent four-year graduation rate in 2011, up to 71 percent in 2018.

"At least as important, and tightly linked to those improved graduation rates, we have reduced the amount of debt our students carry upon graduation, and increased the fraction of students who graduate debt-free. We did not do this important work in a vacuum. A strong partnership with the Governor and the Legislature was key to that success. The state of Minnesota has a lot to say about how affordable the University of Minnesota can be."

 On research and innovation:

"We’re on track to pass the $1 billion threshold in external research expenditures by next year. That’s a big number. Our MnDRIVE research partnership with the State of Minnesota has generated more than 70 million additional research dollars, in areas such as neuroscience, robotics, water quality and food protection — all tied to key Minnesota industries.

"The U of M conducts remarkable research across the state. At the University of Minnesota Duluth, the Natural Resources Research Institute is pioneering research through the Natural Resource Atlas of Northeastern Minnesota, which allows users to view, explore, analyze and share information about forest, water and mineral resources and infrastructure in the region. And 100 percent of University of Minnesota Rochester undergraduates engage in research.

"In innovation, the numbers tell a good story, too. Nearly 300 new agreements have been signed with business partners under the MN-IP program. We’ve created more than 130 startups in the last nine years — some of which have been named the best higher education startups in the nation. Our economic impact from research is phenomenal: A $1.2 billion annual impact from U of M research and $407 million in revenue generated by U of M inventions for Minnesota over the past nine years.

"We’ve also been innovative in our approach to reducing administrative costs. Since my arrival in 2011, we’ve moved over $91 million from administration toward other priorities."

On the Driven campaign:

"I’d argue that how a person allocates limited resources — limited time and limited money — is a good indicator of their values. And as president, I’ve given priority to a handful of initiatives.

"An important one has been developing and then helping to drive our philanthropic campaign called 'Driven.'  This is a $4 billion campaign — another big number — to raise money for scholarships, professorships and research support and new facilities for all of our campuses. We have raised to date $3.3 billion dollars, and we have two more years to go.

"These funds will provide extensive scholarships for students from low-income families and underrepresented backgrounds. These funds will help us recruit and retain our talented faculty. And these funds will help us continue to develop and improve our built infrastructure in support of the good work of our faculty, staff and students across the state of Minnesota."

On the Fairview Health Services partnership:

"A … priority has been the improvement of our relationship with Fairview Health Services and the associated investment in and improvement of our Medical School standing and the work of our health sciences programs more broadly.

"As the result of hard work and leadership by many, including Dean Jakub Tolar and others for the U and the team led by Fairview CEO James Hereford, a remarkable new agreement and alignment of funding and leadership was achieved in November of last year. This will provide both the resources and the landscape for dramatic improvement of teaching, research and most importantly patient care, again for the benefit of all Minnesotans."

On supporting underrepresented student populations:

"While we have made progress, we continue to have a long way to go.

"Our population of students of color has grown by 46 percent in the past ten years, and the number of black undergraduate students has increased to about 1,900 on campus. But the percentage of black students is only 6 percent, and even in that number I know we are significantly lacking in attracting and retaining students from historically black communities in Minnesota.

"Moreover, once talented black students join the U, we have more work to do to ensure that they have an outstanding University experience, and are able to graduate and thrive. Part of our continued work is through the University's Community Outreach Retention and Engagement program, or CORE, which engages students of color as early as the eighth grade to expand a talent pipeline from our community to our University.

"The University of Minnesota Rochester has effectively eliminated an achievement gap between minority and white students that exists at other schools — and I want to be able to say that about the entire U of M system.

"We also need to make sure we continue to serve American Indian students, including through the University of Minnesota Morris’s American Indian Tuition Waiver Program. One-fifth of Morris students are American Indian, and all attend the University tuition-free. American Indian students at Morris graduate at rates higher than the national average for four-year colleges."

On his time as president:

"In the end, my actions as president have been consistent with my personal values and the mission of the University of Minnesota. In the end, I believe this University is a better place for students, faculty and staff than it was in 2011. In the end, I am very thankful for all you’ve done during these exciting years.

"I’m thankful for our health and safety professionals, who work 24 hours a day to keep our campuses safe. I’m thankful for our custodial and maintenance staff and engineers who keep our sidewalks plowed, our malls green and our campuses operating — enabling all aspects of our mission.

"I’m thankful for our students who show up, day after day, year after year, despite many obstacles — in pursuit of knowledge, skills and that all-important degree from a top-tier public university.

"I’m thankful for the faculty and staff who also show up, day after day! I’m particularly thankful for faculty and staff who mentor and guide students toward success in their classes and post-graduate careers. I’m thankful for your partnership to make a University of Minnesota degree as valuable, excellent and accessible as possible.

"I’m thankful for the innovative, creative and relentless passion of faculty, staff and student researchers across the U, who are grappling with and solving problems that impact all of us.

"And I’m thankful for my wife, Karen — for her generosity, enthusiasm and shared commitment to the U of M.

"Of course, I’m thankful for the life-changing opportunity to serve as your University President for these past eight years. It’s been the honor of a lifetime."

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