Eric Kaler is the lone finalist for the presidential post at the University of Minnesota. Before we knew that Kaler was the candidate, FRPE prepared a list of questions, published in the Minnesota Post on Friday. Now that we know Kaler is the finalist, we think that it might be useful to have a bit of context about developments at Stony Brook during Kaler's tenure as Provost. We think that this information might prove useful in generating additional questions for Kaler at next week's public forum.
1. The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA): SUNY has low tuition rates and tuition is set by the state legislature. The state has on occasion raided SUNY to balance the state's budget. PHEEIA is an attempt to give SUNY more autonomy from the stage legislature. Campuses would set tuition and revenues generated by SUNY would remain in SUNY. Campuses could raise tuition 6-10% per year and could institute variable tuition across majors. PHEEIA would facilitate "public-private partnerships" by untying the hands of campus administrators to do things like lease land and form joint ventures without approval of the legislature (but subject to approval by a newly chartered State University Asset Maximization Review Board). PHEEIA was not passed by the the state legislature this year. The Faculty Senate passed a qualified resolution supporting PHEEIA, and undergraduate and graduate student organizations also supported it. The union, however, opposed PHEEIA, noting that it would result in the privatization of SUNY, reduce access, and result in educational apartheid (because poor students would attend campuses and degree programs with lower tuition--these would be the less prestigious campuses and programs with lower earning potential). "President Stanley, Chancellor Zimpher, and Provost Kaler have all been lobbying tirelessly in support of PHEEIA."
2. Closing of the Southampton campus: Stony Brook acquired the Southampton campus in 2005, purchasing it for $35m. Since then, $43m was invested in the campus. Facing drastic budget cuts, the new President of Stony Brook decided to close the campus earlier this year without consultation with students (and apparently faculty) and in violation of state education law. The rationale for closing the campus was that it was losing money. Critics of the campus closure dispute this claim, arguing that the main campus wanted to cannibalize Southampton's state allocation and use the scenic campus to pursue lucrative revenue generating opportunities with the private sector (in anticipation of the passage of PHEEIA). Kaler co-chairs the committee tasked with “re-purposing” the Southampton campus. Even assuming that the closure of the campus was necessary for budgetary purposes, the closure of the campus raises two troubling issues. The first is the lack of consultation with those affected by the closure and failure to follow state law. The second is flushing $78m down the toilet in five years. The purchase of Southampton occurred before Kaler arrived at Stony Brook, but it's scandalous that the University invested that much money only to walk away a few years later. It would be good to know what Kaler has learned from this fiasco, specifically: 1) what factors would he take into account in making decisions about major new investments that add to recurring costs (in times of very tight fiscal constraints in which major new investments may require cuts in existing programs), and 2) the role of members of the university community in making difficult decisions about restructuring.
3. The Office of the Provost webpage at Stony Brook provides very little information about his activities as Provost. The links for reports are broken and there aren't any statements that indicate his priorities or vision as Provost. (For example, there's nothing like Sullivan's "academic update" there--we made fun of this update, but the virtue of having these documents is that we have a record of what the Provost stands for.) In other words, based on Kaler's public statements and the available documentation on the Stony Brook website, it's hard to tease out what motivates him and what his vision for Minnesota might be. We urge people to make inquiries to colleagues at Stony Brook and to share useful information with us.
4. Administrator salaries: Kaler earned $347,395 in 2009. What is his stance about administrative bloat and high salaries for administrators? (The Prez at Stony Brook has a total compensation package of $650K.)