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University of Minnesota president Kaler says he'll step down in 2019

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U president Eric Kaler announces that he is leaving in July 2019.
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler announces that he is leaving in July 2019, during a news conference in the MacNamara Alumni Center, Friday.
Elizabeth Flores | Star Tribune via AP

Updated 5:30 p.m. | Posted 11:53 a.m.

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said Friday he'll step down in July 2019, the end of his eighth year running the university.

In a  letter to faculty and staff, Kaler wrote that his tenure had already exceeded the national average for school presidents.

"This is an incredibly demanding job, essentially seven days a week, evenings and nights included, and as proud and confident of my contributions and ability as I am, I also know that the University will benefit from a fresh perspective," he wrote.

Kaler's current contract runs through the end of June 2020. His resignation will allow him to fulfill that contract, his last year in a fundraising role. 

"I have either accomplished or will have accomplished by the end of next year all that I set out to do when I started as president in 2011, I laid out some goals in my inauguration speech that frankly, we will have met," Kaler told reporters Friday. "A good leader knows when it's time to go. And this institution will benefit from new perspectives and new ideas that a new leader will bring."

  He said he was proud to have cut expenses at the U while holding tuition increases under the rate of inflation. He also led the institution as it dealt with scandals in the school's athletics program, including sexual harassment issues by an athletic director he hired and a sexual assault scandal with the football team. 

Kaler also dealt with questions over research ethics at the university in relation to the use of human research participants.

Kaler said he believes the athletic program is now in a better place after his hiring of athletics director Mark Coyle and football coach P.J. Fleck. 

He said his biggest concern moving forward for the university system is one about how education is valued.

"The biggest obstacle facing higher education in general and the University of Minnesota perhaps in particular, is the public attitude towards higher education, towards seeing the value of public higher education, being willing to invest in it, and a growing sense of anti-intellectualism or the idea that you don't really need to go to college to be successful," he said.

Board of Regents Chair David McMillan said he, vice chair Ken Powell and Kaler were discussing this possibility over the last six months, and that, with Kaler's contract coming to an end, it was a natural time to be thinking about what's next.

McMillan wants the next candidate to have very a strong academic background, but also wants someone with "a strong business sense" who can navigate a changing revenue model for the system - fewer dollars coming in from the state - while keeping tuition down.

"We have to compete for the best students in the country and in the state. We have to compete with a lot of socioeconomic concerns that the Legislature has and that they have to fund," he said. "As President Kaler mentioned, we'll be looking for somebody with some fresh vision and fresh perspectives to help us navigate what are certainly going to be some challenges, but also capture opportunity."

Larry Pogemiller the commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said Kaler did a good job upholding academic standards at the university and continuing to serve students from the state. 

Kaler was also praised by Gov. Mark Dayton for his "dedicated and principled leadership."

Kaler said he plans to continue a fundraising campaign a year after stepping down, then take a sabbatical. He said he'd return to become a member of the faculty teaching in the U's chemical engineering department.