My college alma mater can make the news in odd ways. They're at it again. "St. Cloud State nixes Homecoming." That was a headline on page B3 of the Saturday Star Tribune (actually the "Early Sunday" edition thanks to a marketing gimmick by the Strib).
St. Cloud State is where I honed the craft you're (hopefully) appreciating right now: writing/journalism. It was a nice experience.
The school had a little baggage but it didn't bother me. Some felt that it sought size at the expense of quality - it has about 18,000 students today - and then, ahem, there's the partying component.
A black mark? I think many of us were bemused by that reputation (partying) during my days there. Like many popular reputations it led to caricature.
I have argued before on this site that St. Cloud State offers opportunity. It won't necessarily hold your hand. It can't promise an intimate setting like our U of M-Morris. But it becomes what you make of it. The tools and resources are there.
Tony Hansen, a 1971 Morris High graduate, teaches meteorology there. I think he'll hold your hand.
I have always bristled when UMM advocates belittle St. Cloud State. I even heard a former UMM chancellor engaging in this, in an informal moment. I also heard a retiring UMM professor do this formally in a retirement speech, by insinuation (toward all larger state institutions). It rankled me.
Today people are not inclined to sit around and just shrug about a dubious reputation, so St. Cloud State is doing something "proactive." I put "proactive" in quotes because I don't think this buzzword was around when I was a student. Or "win-win."
I read the Saturday Strib article with fascination while sipping the coffee brought to me by my favorite waitress, Felixia, a UMM student who I hope appreciates UMM's attributes. You go to school where you fit.
I didn't mind getting "lost" in the larger setting of St. Cloud and SCSU for four years. The school took on the "University" title during my time there (from "College"). The name change was of course superficial.
But what of the partying reputation? This would come to the fore with real gusto on Homecoming weekend. This aspect of the reputation was not myth.
Excessive as it all was, I don't think it brimmed into the statewide news until the 1980s. I seem to recall newspaper articles and photos about such things as dumpsters ablaze.
Once that reputation got imprinted on people's consciousness, there was no turning back. "Party school," I heard that UMM chancellor (not the current one) mutter, at the RFC.
At a school of 18,000 students, any dubious reputation can be hard to rein in.
UMM has had its own problems with Homecoming, quite serious really, but we're small and out on the prairie. We have had gender issues with our Homecoming royalty. There was the terrible goalpost incident that I've written about before, and may have affected my ability to survive in the media industry. I also recall reading about minor injuries from a Homecoming tug-of-war.
But I have never heard any murmurs about Homecoming being cancelled here.
Will St. Cloud State University be a trendsetter? Will we start to get the message that Homecoming is anachronistic? Historically it has been associated with a football game. But today women's sports are supposed to have equal footing.
We have developed quite far beyond "Hoosiers" and the male exclusiveness we once associated with school sports. Colleges always list women's sports events with Homecoming promotion, but still it seems football is the big selling point. In terms of revenue I'm sure it is.
So, Homecoming is no more at the home of the Huskies: St. Cloud State. It has a history dating back to 1925.
The article in the Saturday Star Tribune quoted an old college classmate of mine, Mike Nistler. I thought it was odd because his title was given as "spokesman" (with a small "s") for the school. The title was put before his name which means it's supposed to be capitalized if it's a formal title.
Was it not a formal title? If not, on what basis was he quoted? Maybe he should have been identified as "well-known SCSU product and media maven." Nistler and his wife Jeanine (Ryan), who also attended SCSU, gave us "Minnesota Moments" magazine. It looks like today the Nistlers are part of the circle of SCSU advocates pulling every conceivable string to eradicate any baggage the school has, in these austere economic times for colleges.
Last fall, St. Cloud State hit us with a headline about how football might be cut there. I immediately wrote a post about that because I blew a gasket about how preposterous that proposal was. Regardless of the economic stresses, that simply wasn't going to happen there.
I instantly saw the proposal (or idea) as posturing, to get the right people aroused to get the overall ship financially righted.
The football issue blew over, I guess, and today the Huskies continue playing at their still-new Husky Stadium, a grand facility that overlooks the Mississippi River. Just imagine a larger version of our Big Cat Stadium.
Now that St. Cloud State has actually cancelled Homecoming, maybe I ought to look back and take that earlier football suggestion more seriously. Maybe there really was a cloud hanging over that program.
Now that the financial situation (noose?) has seemed to tighten even more with public institutions, maybe anything is possible. Look at the discord in Wisconsin. And, I have argued many times on this site that colleges in general are going to feel duress as the "information age" continues. All the information in the world is online.
Colleges had better give young people value. Lawmakers are going to watch this process closely. While there may have been a time when excessive partying by SCSU students might have seemed cute, we're really not inclined to think that way now. I think Nistler and his fellow SCSU advocates are trying to tamp all that down by any means necessary.
Cancelling Homecoming? It sure seems drastic. The last time I was at St. Cloud State it was for Homecoming and I enjoyed doing the morning 5K run which was a big attraction. I guess I won't be doing it again. There certainly are no behavior problems in connection with the 5K run.
Nistler was quoted saying SCSU is "transitioning away from Homecoming to spirit/pride activities." Sorry Mike, but that statement suggests "spin." I can smell PR talk instantly.
Actually, anyone who read the article would have come away with more negatives than positives about SCSU. I can't imagine that President Earl H. Potter III would be pleased. The second paragraph cited "school officials" saying "dwindling attendance" led to the decision. That's certainly not encouraging.
I sensed tremendous enthusiasm at the 5K run. Excellent numbers too. It was overseen by Brad Pickle who once ran our RFC in Morris. It was state of the art, including computer chip thingies you'd put in your shoes. Of course you paid for it.
You also paid dearly to attend the football game, if what you wanted was a single-game ticket. I shelled out for it but it was a one-time thing. I suspect that season passes are much more economical. But why stick up people for a single game? Maybe that's part of their problem.
I wasn't enthralled sitting and watching football. St. Cloud State has essentially a small-college program when it maybe ought to be at a higher level like NDSU.
SCSU official Wanda Overland was quoted in Saturday's article explaining further the SCSU decision on Homecoming. Frankly, these quotes came off as lame. She said "scheduling Homecoming grew difficult with so few home football games." Also, that Homecoming coincided with deer hunting season. It seems to me that deer hunting season has been around for a while.
School officials are singing a new song, that "alumni are welcome back anytime." My impression is that this is nothing new either.
I noticed a note of discord in the article. An athletic department spokesman seemed to be nonplussed. Anne Abicht said athletics reacted to the decision with "disappointment." She said Homecoming has always been tied to athletics.
An alumnus was quoted expressing disappointment.
An Alumni Association spokesman followed the institutional party line, talking about dropping attendance. But why crow about that, and are there really numbers to support it? Have the people studying this figured in the 5K run which surely includes lots of alumni? There was a "sea" of people at the starting line when I was in it. It gave me a chance to appreciate the wonderful walking/biking trail proceeding from Halenbeck Hall - an asset that wasn't there when I was a student. The trail goes along the river.
The Star Tribune article quoted a Chronicle of Higher Education spokesman. Andrew Mytelka, news editor, said of the Homecoming cancellation that "I've never heard of it (happening)." And then: "They must be doing something wrong if they're not getting enough people."
The Star Tribune article by Paul Walsh omitted the "elephant in the room!" That's the party reputation of SCSU which becomes inextricably associated with Homecoming.
Media people sought police blotter information after each year's SCSU Homecoming. I could be blunt here and say it was becoming kind of a joke. So was "move-in weekend" at SCSU.
With 18,000 students there are going to be issues like this. And the troublemaking certainly isn't done exclusively by SCSU students. This is a point that President Potter would certainly make. I would know because he has emailed me.
My conclusion: Intelligent people ought to know that SCSU is a place of serious study, always has been, and the occasional incidents to the contrary only create a caricature that doesn't reflect reality. So I think SCSU has overreacted, big-time, in cancelling Homecoming.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org