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U of Minn. head Kaler to keep salary, benefits despite early exit

MINNEAPOLIS — When Eric Kaler leaves his job next year as University of Minnesota president, he'll keep his salary and retirement benefits for a year.

Kaler is moving into an ambassador and fundraising role for the U next summer, one year before his contract was to expire.

The Board of Regents approved an amended contract Thursday, Aug. 9, that preserves, for that final year, Kaler's $625,250 presidential salary and $325,000 supplemental retirement contribution.

When that year is up, he'll take a six-month "transitional leave" to prepare for a faculty position in the university's Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.

During that six-month leave and as a faculty member, he'll be paid $312,625 a year — half his salary as president.

After two years on the faculty, Kaler's compensation will be subject to the same merit review process as other tenured faculty.

Kaler announced last month that he would leave July 1, declaring he had accomplished "all that I set out to do." He told reporters he had thought about leaving for about six months but that he felt no pressure from regents to do so.

On Thursday, during the first Board of Regents meeting since the announcement, two of Kaler's strongest supporters, Dean Johnson and Richard Beeson, voted against Kaler's revised employment agreement. Johnson declined comment after the meeting and Beeson could not be reached.

Search plans

Regents also discussed Thursday what they're looking for in Kaler's successor and how they'll go about finding that person.

The board will appoint a search committee next month, which will inform a professional search led by Storbeck/Pimentel and Associates, which has offices near Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

The Minnesota State higher education system hired the same firm in 2016 after chancellor Steven Rosenstone announced he would retire. The Board of Trustees rejected the three finalists, instead appointing an interim president from within the system, Devinder Malhotra; he'd get the job full-time after a second fruitless search a year later.

Alberto Pimentel told regents Thursday that his partner led the 2016 Minnesota State search. He suggested trustees did not have a clear idea of what kind of leader they were looking for and should have spoken up sooner when they were unsatisfied with the candidates.

"If you don't see it, let us know and we will continue to look until we get what you're looking for," Pimentel said.

The U will pay the firm $224,000 plus reimbursements for travel, advertising and background checks.

Pimentel said he'd like to meet with the search committee members soon after they are appointed so that he can reach out to candidates before competing universities get to them.

What regents want

Regents took turns Thursday discussing the qualities they're looking for in the next president.

Linda Cohen said she'd like someone who wants to be "president of the University of Minnesota and not just be a president."

Johnson suggested a leader who will "challenge the board" when they get involved with matters they shouldn't and someone who is "as vanilla as possible in their politics" to avoid turning off donors and lawmakers.

Others said the U needs a leader who has teaching experience, understands budgets and can find new revenue sources.

Looking ahead, Darrin Rosha suggested that once they make their choice, regents should resist pressure to pay the next president as much as those at comparable universities. He said the prestige of leading a major research university should make the job attractive enough.

"This is an opportunity for us to actually be leaders," instead of following the market, he said.

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