From left, the new University of Minnesota President Dr. Eric Kahler receiving the “Mace” of authority from Governor Mark Dayton, Board of Regents Chair Linda Cohen. (Photos by J. Lee)
By J. LEE
MINNEAPOLIS (Sept. 22, 2011) — The University of Minnesota inaugurated its 16th President, Dr. Eric Kahler’s at their Ted Mann Concert Hall in a traditional ceremony open to students, alumni, faculty, Board of Regents, and special guests.
Musicians, singers and the University symphony Orchestra opened the ceremony. Attendees were surprised by the UM’s global reach when congratulations came from alumni, students and university connections filmed around the world.
Academic gowns worn in the processional represented the rank and dept. of University faculty, administrators, President, Vice-Presidents, Chancellors, Board of Regents, Regents emeriti, Regents professors, student government leaders, and delegates from other colleges and universities. Also in the processional were the Governor and Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Emcee Professor Frank Bates, head of UM Dept. of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Board of Regents and Chair of the Inauguration Advisory Committee quickly moved the program along.
Recognizing immigrants as “knowing the value of education”, Governor Mark Dayton spoke of the University’s graduates as including 2 Vice Presidents (Walter Monday and Hubert Humphrey), 55 members of Congress, 18 Nobel Prize winners, 5 Pulitzer Prize winners and millions of others in the fields of law enforcement, healthcare, legal services, etc. He referred of needing to be a “World Class University to compete”, “recruiting the best talent and teaching them to be the best”, so to “attract the best” it had to “offer the best. Governor Dayton committed his support to Dr. Kahler and indicated his expectation of Dr. Kahler “leading the University to greatness.”
Governor Mark Dayton presented “The Mace” to Dr. Kahler, saying it was a “symbol of greatness”. Historically, the Mace symbolizes peaceful leadership and authority. It was created in 1961 by arts professor Philip Morton and passed down at each Presidential Inauguration. The aluminum handle made at the university’s machine shop has the Regents seal while the hammer end is a four-inch crystal sphere representing the North Star, symbol of Minnesota.
Board of Regents Chair Linda Cohen presented the silver Medallion engraved with Dr. Eric Kahler name. It symbolizes authority and is worn at commencements and other academic regalia events.
Assisted by a fellowship, Eric Kaher at age 22 entered the UM as a graduate student in chemical engineering. He said “that was my first encounter with the excellence of the University, and with the mission and public support that made I accessible to me”, but because the excellence and access at the University which are foundations “for the prosperity of Minnesota have never been more at risk” he’s “devoting the next chapter of his life to the mission of the University and to the future of its students.”
Referring to the University’s mission inscribed on Northop Auditorium “ Founded in the faith that mean are ennobled by understanding, dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth, devoted to the instruction of youth and the welfare of the State”, President Kahler pointed out that they “continue to serve as a guidepost for all we do.” He spoke of the University “serving the entire state of Minnesota”, innovating, doing discovery and “creating the future.”
Interpreting “search for truth” as research, he reminded people that they are “Minnesota’s only research university.” Governor Dayton earlier pointed out that we have “all the eggs in one basket, so we have “take mighty good care of the basket.”
From earlier tours of the University’s facilities, President Kahler said they have “world class talent, laboratories, equipment and technology” with scholars working towards cures, technological advances, and new understanding of the world’s social and political problems. Committed to discovery, the university’s research and progress covers breeding cold hardy flowers, fruits and vegetables; food safety, identifying environmental and genetic influences; and work towards curing Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
He said the innovations contributed to the success for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and start-ups. Professional studies as law and medicine “makes Minnesota and the Twin Cities a cultural magnet within our region and within the nation.”
Focusing on investing in students for the benefit of future generations and the standards of living enjoyed, President Kahler said “we must strengthen our support of graduate students and programs and challenge them, and enable them to achieve higher levels of discovery.” His goal is for the University “to be the destination of choice for the best and brightest graduate students from around the world” since professional students “have in their hands the future of our health, our companies, our government, our society.”
Acknowledging by 2035, almost 50 percent of the Twin Cities will be people of color, President Kahler stated that “any great team, organization, or University, must actively pursue diversity in our faculty, among our staff, and within our student body.” He pointed out that “Minnesota has one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps between students of color and white students from K-12 that extends through higher education”.
President Kahler committed to partnering with K-12 leaders and others including using the University’s expertise and resources because “if we are to prosper in the future as a state, it is incumbent upon all of us to close this this achievement gap.”
In speaking of public engagement as a mission-critical activity and a directive of the Morrill Act of 1852, President Kahler said we must rethink the mission and “create new pathways for engagement locally, nationally and globally.” He spoke of a cultural change that’s “more entrepreneurial, less risk-averse, and better partners.
Referring to external partners, President Kahler spoke of partnering with the MN State Colleges and Universities system to define each one’s role, value, and part in delivering cost effective higher education.
Donations from philanthropic entities, businesses, foundations, and others were referred to as investments in the University. In speaking to the 500,000 alumni, President Kahler said their input, financial support and energy was needed and asked them to consider how they “can best give back”. Stating that his family is “committed to access for student who otherwise cannot afford to attend”, President Kahler announced their “Kaler Family Scholarship Fund” and encouraged others to make similar commitments.
President Kahler made bold moves in administration, calling for questioning what they do, “to know if it has the intended outcome, or if we could do it better, or not at all.” He said they needed to be effective in “supporting teaching, research and public engagement.”
Besides efficiency and commitment to reduce administrative costs, President Kahler said they would re-examine for efficiency the academic programs offered, the centers and institutes supported, and methods of engagement used. This means seeking opportunities of advancements, cuts to programs and centers not needed, and changes in faculty. “If your research is stale, if your classroom is boring, if your community engagement is ineffective, you must re-invent yourself, or frankly, step aside,” he said. “As you expect me to deliver on my job, I expect you to deliver on yours.”
Calling on students, faculty, staff, elected officials, business leaders, alumni and citizens of Minnesota to join him in moving the University forward, tell their stories, help all citizens to feel pride in the University, and show that they stand for excellence, access, discovery, community engagement, diversity and global reach”, President Kahler said there is “much work to do, let’s go do it together”. Also that “Together we can re-invent the land-grant vision of the 19th century to meet the global needs of the 21st century; together we can place the University of MN among the group of the best public research universities in the nation”.
President Kahler stated his commitments as: ”Re-invigorating how we teach and learn, ensuring an exceptional undergraduate experience, a rigorous graduate environment, and a world-class research enterprise; Re-imagining how we operate and function; Championing the value of this University to the people of this state; Strengthening our business, community and philanthropic partnerships; Unleashing an entrepreneurial spirit among us, reaching globally even as we serve and engage communities locally; Leading a University that understands that diversity is critical to achieving excellence.” Referring to the health sciences, President Kahler committed to “Moving us to the very top tier of excellence nationally.”