U President: Tuition freeze can't last forever

Eric Kaler
University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler gave his State of the University address Thursday, Apr. 2, 2015 at Coffman Memorial Union in Minneapolis.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

The University of Minnesota is asking the Legislature to fund a second two-year tuition freeze. But university President Eric Kaler on Thursday cautioned that student costs must rise eventually.

"We will probably get back to a period in which we have relatively modest 2 or 3 percent tuition increases to keep pace with inflation," Kaler said in a question-and-answer session following his annual State of the University address. "I certainly hope that I never have to have the double-digit increases that we've had in previous years."

When tuition increases return, the U plans to put a "substantial" amount of the revenue back into financial aid, he said, adding students from wealthy families "probably could afford to pay a little bit more tuition."

Kaler used his speech to emphasize efforts to make the campus more diverse by including more women and minorities in faculty hiring pools and by reaching out to prospective students of color — possibly as early as middle school.

"Amid the changing demographics of our state, it's imperative that we make this university a more welcoming, respectful and diverse place to learn, teach and work," Kaler said. "We must intentionally reject complacency about diversity and campus climate."

More than a dozen demonstrators were arrested in early February after they staged a sit-in of Kaler's office, arguing the U was not doing enough to support diversity. Later that month, the university said it would stop using racial descriptions in campus crime alerts when the descriptions are too vague to be useful. Kaler said Thursday he was proud of the change.

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Kaler also discussed a change in how it conducts clinical drug research with people.

Over the past several weeks, the university has been blasted for how it handles human test subjects — especially how it treated Dan Markingson, a mentally ill man who killed himself in 2004 while taking part in a U drug trial.

In February, an external review of the university's research practices found "many weaknesses" in the U's protection of test subjects, and laid out several dozen recommendations.

Kaler told the audience that Dr. William Tremaine, a Mayo Clinic faculty member who leads a research oversight board there, is heading up a U of M team to lay out a plan of reforms.

"This outside leadership is important to gain the trust of the public, of legislators and perhaps of some of you," he told the audience.

Kaler said later that Tremaine's team met earlier this week to discuss the external review's recommendations. The group is expected to send Kaler a reform plan by May 15.