One contentious issue swirls over his head at the regents level. It's a normally placid level where cool and wise heads assert judgment to keep the seas calm. It's a troubling sign when things aren't working that way.
Kaler can only watch while those above him disagree in a less than restrained way.
The problem might be worse than personalities. It's Republicans.
A common criticism of today's GOP is "these aren't your father's Republicans."
Is it a sign of decline of the American model that the old model or example has faded? Part of being a "conservative" is wanting calm and continuity with our institutions. Conservatives aren't supposed to be big on conflict. The agitating lefties are supposed to be the ones without inhibitions.
A good conservative U.S. president, one would think, would be happy going weeks without even making the news. Or, months without having a news conference.
Today we have conservatives and their spokesmen who throw around words like "slut" and aren't immediately condemned and muzzled from within. My late uncle who was a Barry Goldwater conservative would turn over in his grave.
Conservative Republicans who have transformed as if into zombies are creating discomfort in Minnesota. Steve Sviggum isn't even a young Republican. He has been in Minnesota politics a long time. How he got on the U of M's board of regents I don't know, as I find the media still not refreshing me on this. Who has his fingerprints on that decision? Are there not a lot of brilliant people who could fill the role with calm wisdom and integrity? The regents should epitomize those qualities.
The board is "normally harmonious," according to a post on Minnpost.
Instead there is a contentious tone building over Sviggum's role as a regent even while he holds a very politically partisan separate role. He's executive assistant and communications director for the Senate Republican caucus. A person with his background ought to see the inherent difficulties here. If not, a few reminders from colleagues ought to nudge him in the right direction.
He should act before the matter becomes a counterproductive distraction. The issue has percolated for some time now. So, is the veteran politico slowly seeing the writing on the wall and quietly admitting some adjustments need to be made? Is he behaving like the temperate and thoughtful Republican he's supposed to be?
Or has he turned into the contemporary zombie-like Republican who likes to invite fights? Who likes to intone the language of junior high boys a la Rush Limbaugh, or at least stand idly by while such language appears to speak for their party?
The board has already had a "contentious" meeting on the conflict-of-interest matter, Minnpost reports. Sviggum "vigorously objected" to a three-regent panel that stated objections. He's using words like "victim" and "underdog" to describe himself. He should be above offering to take a lie detector test. But the tone of conflict has descended to that level, very un-regent-like.
The test would be over whether Sviggum actually got an OK from his U peers before taking the caucus position.
A huge thorn in this matter is that Sviggum apparently can't be compelled to do anything. We might eventually be depending on a gentleman's agreement, that is if Sviggum is a gentleman. Rush Limbaugh isn't, so maybe we can't assume much about any Republicans these days.
We learn that Sviggum and former GOP representative Laura Brod "liven debate often (on the board), and these two often cast the only dissenting votes" (item from Minnpost).
The ad hoc regents group of three called on Sviggum to choose and to not continue his dual roles. Sviggum has already been dragged down this road once. Last spring he was pressured into resigning a part-time teaching position at the U. There was an ad hoc panel then too. It's a nagging distraction.
At least it's not like the distraction of having the "Fighting Sioux" nickname. North Dakota is awash in embarrassment over that now. And if you North Dakota folks aren't aware it's embarrassing, perhaps you should take pills.
We're safe in Minnesota with nicknames from the animal world: Gophers (rodents) at the main U, Bulldogs in Duluth and Cougars out here in Morris, although "Cougars" is in the curious position of being potentially problematic due to our fluid language. The name has already been shot down by a new school out west because of "double entendre." I'm not a pop culture maven but apparently "cougars" denotes middle-age females in a certain way.
I haven't heard anyone raise the subject locally.
President Kaler, the man from Stony Brook, can be a spectator with the regents' food fight of sorts. But there are other matters where he's quite close to the pulse.
I don't blame the U for having a very cautious policy with newspaper reporters. A University acquaintance of mine told me once there's a policy: If a reporter calls you, refer that person to your superior.
The University of Minnesota is an institution that deals with public money. Even private donations can become relevant where expenditures might be called into question. Recent Star Tribune articles have been expose-like. It's Jan Gangelhoff redux. Or "deja vu all over again," to use a phrase many people have come to believe is serious (when in fact it was coined as humorous).
First we learned of the golden parachute for Joel Maturi, outgoing U athletic director, whose programs often have a hard time fighting their way out of a paper sack. Football has been humbled by the likes of Fargo ND and Vermillion SD, among others. There isn't much buzz these days about Gophers sports.
Maturi got an "employment extension" with rewards to the extent that some legislators spoke out about a lack of prudence. Are we seeing a reckless use of taxpayer subsidies? We're prompted to become cynical and talk about "sweetheart deals and golden handshakes."
Board Chair Linda Cohen isn't just sitting on her hands and accepting the status quo. She reports the board has been discussing creation of a committee focused on compensation, for greater oversight. We learn that North Carolina has enacted specific reforms in the wake of such issues coming before the public.
But holy cow, don't we have administrators, paid beyond my wildest dreams, who are supposed to vigorously oversee these matters? Aren't they first and foremost called upon to be vigilant caretakers of the public money? If not, then just what kind of "racket" is this?
We hear Robert Bruininks (Kaler's predecessor) using words like "I rounded up." This was in regard to a departing provost's retirement account. We hear bureaucratic language for explaining such decisions, words like "administrative transitional leave," "deposits to retirement funds" and "severance payments."
As much as a half-million bucks can land in someone's lap without much fanfare, were it not for the Star Tribune and other outlets. Keep showing the Woodward and Bernstein spirit, guys. Let them continue to refuse to talk to you (as at least one monetary recipient did, cloistered away presumably with some windfall).
It's only money, I guess. Actually it's O.P.M. (other people's money).
Would Mr. Bruininks manage his own finances the way he dispenses largesse within the U?
Again I'll cite Jesse Ventura, the eccentric but determined former governor, who said amidst his wrangling with Mark Yudof: "For the amount of money you're asking for the University, maybe I should run it."
The current University procedures have been described as a "caste system." Hearing of some of the payments, many within the U might well ask "where do I apply?"
How do certain people develop the instincts to secure such wealth? I certainly don't have them. We learn that Bruininks "signed many such compensation packages" like the one for Kathryn Martin, retired U-Duluth chancellor. Cohen reports that the board oversees the initial employment agreements for executives, but "from then on it's a management issue."
Cohen suggests a "committee." Hoo boy, how often is this a panacea? We in Morris had a "re-use committee" for our old school. Isn't the establishment of a committee more like buck-passing?
Anyway, as the world turns, the Gophers struggle, excuses are made and the regents tussle in a food-fight way, President Kaler might want to seek relief like Tooter Turtle, the old cartoon character. Tooter would visit his friend, Mr. Wizard the Lizard, and ask a favor, mainly to get his life changed to another destiny. It never worked out, so Tooter appealed to Mr. Wizard who intoned the well-remembered "twizzle, twazzle, twozzle, twome, time for this one to come home."
The moral was "be what you is (sic), not what you is not."
The moral ought to be heeded by Steve Sviggum, who must realize his innate nature is that of a political partisan, not a restrained, sober and realistic member of an august entity like the University of Minnesota board of regents.