"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, May 16, 2011

UMM graduation makes us ponder higher ed

I have long felt that summer begins in Morris on the day after the UMM graduation. The community seems to lose a dimension after that.
The town slows down a few notches which can be nice in some ways. It's nice that it's temporary.
People employed by educational institutions have the opportunity to leave town.
One of our community traits is that we're not defined by lakes, but we're close to communities that have that attribute. We cling to UMM as our prime community attribute.
There's always some nervousness as the state ponders budget adjustments for the 'U'. These budget back-and-forth games, i.e. bickering, can be almost harrowing for some. It isn't always certain what you should take seriously.
There are those in politics who like to promote austerity which they see as responsibility. And they make proposals more in the spirit of sending a message as anything. It's posturing.
It's also a standard technique in negotiation. Start out with an extreme position so you can later say you compromised.
A lot of people thought Governor Scott Walker was using this approach when the big Wisconsin melee was unfolding. But then it became clear he was going for "game-set-match."
In Minnesota the Republicans could be doing the same if Tom Emmer had been elected governor. One of the great "what ifs" in Minnesota history will be: What if Emmer had gotten elected - he came within a hair's breadth - and Republicans had basically seized the machinery of government?
Voters everywhere seemed to want to give Republicans a chance. In Wisconsin we now see buyer's remorse, the evidence shows, not because Republicans' ideas are bankrupt but because they are too absolute with those ideas.
The machinations of the Minnesota legislature are not leaving University President Robert Bruininks in a placid or temperate mood.
We were blessed in Morris by having Bruininks come out here last May for our graduation. I have a photo of him speaking on one of the Flickr photo albums that is linked on this site.
It was a wonderful early-summer day for the UMM graduation in 2010. It was quite the opposite this past Saturday. My what a bleak and depressing day.
I rode my bike to campus just to soak in the atmosphere and get a general read of how things were going. The P.E. Center was quite abuzz of course. I'm sure the parents of the graduates came away with special memories.
But an outdoor celebration would have been quite preferable.
I walked across campus (after parking my bike) and must have looked rather forlorn, what with the rain steadily falling. It was sad, because UMM had gotten all set up for the outdoor ceremony. I wonder how much cost and effort went into that.
The weather forecasts never were very promising. I suppose they would have have gone ahead with the outdoor ceremony even if it was cool. There was no doubt it was going to be cool.
I'll bet it was a wrenching decision (whether to set up for outside). But the rain made the decision obvious.
Graduation sums up all the joy that accompanies the completion of one's studies. Words almost can't describe that joy.
Now that graduation is past we have to return to the more sober matter of funding. The state's lawmakers have put together a higher education funding package.
President Bruininks is less than pleased. He is quite blunt in expressing himself. How about "I'm hot as hell about it." The quote appeared on the front page of Saturday's Star Tribune (or "Early Sunday").
I'm not sure it's necessary to trot out words like "hell."
Back in my corporate media days, I was assailed by Puritanical elements in the community for using a photo of a spirit banner at a high school sports event that had the word "hell" in it. I didn't use it for that reason.
No, I didn't take the photograph. The Morris Area cross country coach actually took it. The last three letters of "hell" were actually represented by hyphens. Even that wasn't enough to appease the Puritans.
The exact phrase was "bat out of hell" (or "h---"), a la Meatloaf.
One individual was so mad, our whole family had to change dentists. Such is life in a small town.
And now U of M President Robert Bruininks makes a public statement on page 1 of our state's No. 1 newspaper that uses the word in a chippy way, versus our legislature.
Maybe he feels he can get momentum on his side. The problem is, there just isn't an endless supply of money available to keep happy all the various recipients like higher education.
I am much more concerned about potential cuts to health and human services than I am about higher education.
How important is higher education? Well, it's getting less important.
Now, some people are going to pull out their hair in anger over this statement. But the ecosystem of learning isn't as dependent on bricks and mortar institutions anymore. Is the legislature recognizing this?
The higher education bill was passed by a House and Senate conference committee on Thursday, May 12. The toll for the U of M: a 14.4 percent funding cut (from this year).
The pain is spread around as the state colleges are designated for a similar cut. The spending bill slashes $306 million from higher education. It's a much bigger step than Governor Mark Dayton would deem necessary.
The germane question becomes: Are we seeing posturing by both sides with an inevitable drift toward the middle?
And even if certain interests want to spend more, is this really prudent, given the money realities of the state? I mean, I don't want health and human services to take it on the chin.
I would argue, maybe even using the word "hell," that there are pressing reasons to elevate health and human services. More people are at risk in a bad economy. We have an aging population here, like everywhere, with more and more people "on the bubble" in terms of needing help.
A "win" for higher education could result in a loss for other priorities.
President Bruininks has rolled up his sleeves and is resolved to "win," using foul language if necessary.
And now it's time for the posturing to come from the other side (higher ed's). When education interests feel threatened they propose the most scary and draconian of solutions, so to get their coffers re-stocked. Often it works.
I often get irritated by media coverage of "preliminary budgets" which have about as much chance of passing as Mary Poppins landing in your backyard. Cuts with a capital 'C'.
I wrote a post several months ago about the ridiculousness of the St. Cloud State University suggestion that it might cut football. My somewhat cynical mind told me immediately this was posturing.
Of course, SCSU's football program sails forward, even if it's a red-haired stepchild compared to hockey there.
Here in Morris, the proposal to eliminate the USDA soils laboratory was once in a "preliminary budget." It got headline treatment in our local fishwrap.
It's all very primal, this posturing. Everyone protects their ox from being gored.
The Star Tribune headline on Saturday said President Bruininks was "furious." He'd better be careful because legislators hold the purse strings.
And the legislature may see the "big picture" of what is going on. We may be seeing a slow transition from the old bricks and mortar higher education model to a more liberating model enabled by communications technology and the easy availability of information.
Governor Tim Pawlenty has talked about this on national television. He talked about the old model of traipsing across campus for a class like "Econ 101" in a designated room at a designated time, with some professor droning on. He talked about this model as perhaps becoming anachronistic.
This is for futurists to mull.
It may go into retreat no matter now many times its advocates use the word "hell."
Congratulations to the University of Minnesota-Morris graduates of 2011, and you needn't make yourselves scarce around here now!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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