The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 7, 2012

My View: U of M is excellence in education

By Eric W. Kaler

— I’ve been back in Minnesota for eight months now, listening to hundreds, if not thousands, of people tell me how they feel about the University of Minnesota. More recently, I’ve been testifying to committees at the Legislature, including to lawmakers from the Mankato area.

For reasons as diverse as the people of this state, elected officials, community leaders, employers and parents have one thing in common: they recognize the great value the University delivers to Minnesotans. Consider:

Have you or your family member ever visited a University of Minnesota clinic or affiliated hospital, where cures, treatments, and reducing health care costs are our No. 1 priority?

Are you one of our 500,000 alumni around the world, or one of our 69,000 students this semester or one of the 14,000 graduates from last year, who are the best and brightest of the state’s talent supply chain and 21st century workforce?

Are you one of the U’s 25,000 employees, making us the fifth largest employer in the state?

Have you ever attended a University of Minnesota sporting event and — win or lose, fair weather or not — worn your maroon-and-gold pride?

Add it up, and there are lots of yes answers out there. Add it up, and that’s millions of fans, patients, parents, students and well-prepared employees.

Add it up, and that’s virtually every Minnesotan who has felt the impact and power of the University of Minnesota.

With our footprint 87-counties wide and our economic impact of $8.6- billion-a-year our value is enormous.

The University deeply affects the Mankato community. This semester, 352 students from Mankato attend one of our five campuses. The U, the fifth largest employer in the state, has 44 employees in your community, with an annual total payroll exceeding $1.5 million.

Meanwhile, 1,553 U alumni currently live in your community. This accounts for 1,965 U of M degrees, including advanced degrees in medicine, law and engineering.

Those jobs and degrees have saved lives, enhanced salaries, supported purchases in your community and increased tax dollars for this state. That’s all very quantifiable.

But how do you place a value on the work of great researchers such as professor Karen Ashe, whose cutting edge work on Alzheimer’s disease is leading us toward a cure? Others are fighting heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s and childhood illness every day.

How do you put a price tag on a unique interdisciplinary approach to early diagnosis of developmental disorders in pre-school children?

Who else can pull together the nation’s leading scholars and experts to earn a $15 million grant from the federal Department of Education to help close the racial and economic achievement gap?

How do you accurately find the bottom line to our College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences fighting the Ug 99 wheat rust fungus that threatens the world’s food supply?

How does a cash register ring up these historic victories: the birth of the heart pacemaker, the development of taconite, the invention of the seat belt or the creation of some of the world’s tastiest apples?

It’s impossible, really, but we can calculate this: Our alumni have started 10,000 new companies; 23 percent of those were started by alums who moved to the state to attend the U.

Why? Because as the state’s only public research university we bring more than $800 million a year in research funding — most of it federal — into this state.

Why? Because we are the state’s top talent magnet and developer of leaders and problem solvers.

With our campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester and the Twin Cities, we graduate all of the pharmacists, all of the dentists, all of the veterinarians, and 85 percent of all of the physicians in Minnesota every year.

You want value? You want excellence? You want an institution that, every day, raises the worldwide brand of this state?

If you do, I urge you to contact your legislator to support the university and our capital and budget requests currently being considered by the Legislature and governor. The U must remain strong and vibrant to conduct our groundbreaking research, to continue to engage with communities like yours across the state and to prepare leaders and employees for the state’s 21st century workforce.

That’s us, the University of Minnesota. We are committed to operational excellence, responsiveness and transparency. We have a value like no other institution in this state. We deliver strong benefits to the Mankato area.

And I’m proud to be the president of such a great university.

Eric W. Kaler is the 16th president of the University of Minnesota. To learn more, go to