How Kaler answered an admin spending question from an alumnus

Calling all alumni

Last night, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler held the U’s first mass conference call with alumni across the state.

(Macalester College has done something like this at least once.)

A university spokesman said about 10,000 people were on the half-hour call at least part of the time. I was one of those listening in, having piggybacked on the call of an alumnus. Our call got dropped about 15 minutes into the discussion, and we were unable to reconnect.

I’m trying to get details about what was said after I lost the connection, as well as how the U gauged the success of the call, its cost and so forth.

For now, here’s the first question:

“Greg” from Minneapolis, a 1967 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts, went right for a timely topic —

Q: Are there too many administrative costs at the U?

Kaler said the U has been “focused on administrative costs like a laser”  ever since he became president a year and a half ago — and said “my predecessor (Bob Bruininks) worked on it, too.”

Kaler discussed his cost-cutting moves — among them, elimination of the systemwide office for academic administration (more than $1 million in recurring funds, he said), merger of the U’s two foundations ($1 million), and consolidation of some computer server farms (millions of dollars).

He said, “We’re focused on this. … We need to put our resources into delivery of our mission, and we need our back-office activities to be as efficient and effective as they can be.”

He added:

“People who do administrative jobs at the university do do important work — and a lot of it, whether it’s advising students or helping manage our research enterprise, or improving our graduation rates. It’s important to have people behind the scenes working for us. But we are working as hard as we possibly can to drive those costs down.”