"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)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

We should guard U's interests "every day"

Eric Kaler is president of the University of Minnesota. (Image from City Pages)

Eric Kaler wants us to "judge the University of Minnesota on what it does going forward."
Perhaps he wants us to apply the little Etch a Sketch in our mind. Shake it and erase whatever image or conclusions we have now. Our current conclusions might not be real flattering.
The Etch a Sketch is a toy very familiar to boomers like me. It has sprung into the political area in the past couple days, amazingly.
The U of M's Kaler would love to have us apply that Etch a Sketch in a manner suggested by Mitt Romney's operative. Realistically we must assess the past too.
"I welcome a close look," Mr. Kaler wrote as his nose grew longer.
The University periodically experiences a mess like this. It's a behemoth of a public institution which we are coached to love from a young age. Because it's large, gets tax dollars and is made up of human beings with failings, well. . .
Mr. Kaler actually used the "rear view mirror" term, as in "let's not concentrate too much on looking back."
He penned an essay seeking to quiet the agitated masses some. It was dated 3/18. It appeared in the Star Tribune but I studied the online representation Tuesday.
As of then, no one had corrected a misuse of the English language that the U president committed in the opening paragraph. In asking for the public's confidence, the man from Stony Brook wrote "I know we must earn it everyday."
When I was young I'd give the writer a break. Back then everything in a newspaper was "typeset." Screw-ups could easily happen in the production process.
I had a typesetter make a mistake in a correction line of all things. I was writing about an archer and quoted him saying "there is no great money" to be made in the pastime. "No" got changed to "now." The source later told me "it was caught" (i.e. understood as a typographical issue).
Today so much is "copied and pasted." When I was a kid, "pasted" suggested Elmer's Glue.
I'm sure the essay by Mr. Kaler was submitted electronically and processed in the typical lightning-fast way. Would an essay by a university president require even cursory editing?
So I think we can lay the English language misuse at Kaler's doorstep.
"We need the public's confidence," Kaler wrote. "I know we must earn it everyday."
The issue here is "everyday" as one word. We hear a lot about "everyday low prices" at Wal-Mart. That's certainly a blessing and Wal-Mart is to be complimented on the catchy phrase that has permeated our lexicon.
But there is a distinction between "everyday" and "every day."
The one-word version, "everyday," is an adjective that means "commonplace, ordinary or normal." It's used in front of a noun. This I learn from the "learn English language" website. Here we also get a usage example: "These shoes are great for everyday wear."
Another: "Don't use the everyday dishes - it's a special occasion."
Kaler should have easily realized we need the separate words. My online source instructs that "every day" means "each day." Examples illustrate: "I go to the park every day." And, "Every day I feel a little better."
I doubt U of M officials use the "everyday dishes" very often. That's the crux of the problem now. We're in one of these periodic cathartic episodes where the U deals with something uncomfortable or untidy.
At issue now is the very liberal tossing around of funds - it's only money? - benefiting the administrative elite.
"I have committed to doing things differently," the still-new U head wrote in response to the hubbub over monetary issues.
So we can expect the man from Stony Brook to vigorously shake that red-framed Etch a Sketch and start again, provided the public just shrugs, I guess.
I was bothered he got off to such a bad start with "everyday." The overall essay seemed rather stock and unremarkable in dealing with controversy. Kaler wrote how the U should have a "single focus" which is "what is best for our students," as if any other objective should cloud the matter.
There appear to be clouds obstructing accountability. It's as if the U consciously or unconsciously is mirroring the values of Wall Street. People anointed as movers and shakers get these dizzying figures. We become almost numb to the numbers.
It's our culture now, isn't it? "We mustn't tax the job creators."
A common word from someone under siege is "context." No matter how discomforting the facts, you can always say they're being viewed "out of context" or say that a particular quote - this is very common - is "taken out of context."
The conservative idiots among us assail Media Matters that way: "You're taking quotes out of context." Denial of the fundamental facts becomes unnecessary.
Kaler writes "the recent reports are troubling but let's put them in context." He reminds us the U has a $3.7 billion annual operating budget. "I expect and welcome close scrutiny," he stated, Pinocchio-like again.
The U of M is well known in media circles for not being enthusiastic about discussing messy topics. You know, like when a Clem Haskins type of thing comes up.
How many of you remember the famous "Minnesota Daily Humor Issue?" This goes back to the dark ages of about 30 years ago, when the Twin Cities campus paper, enjoying the type of monopoly perch such media had then, came out with a National Lampoon type of issue that angered many.
I remember doing a thought piece about it. I remember that for a long time henceforth, we at the newspaper got an occasional inquiry about what I wrote, meaning that it somehow got traction in those primitive days when we didn't speak of something "going viral."
We used Etch a Sketch (and Elmer's Glue).
Perhaps a photocopy of my work made it to the "big city" and was discussed in someone's class - whatever. But I always felt flattered.
I can't remember the exact points I made, but looking back I think that humor publication was just as offensive as it was funny. Well-executed humor in a vein of parody is to be appreciated, no matter how much it skewers. But the immature students at the U came up with ideas like calling Sid Hartman "Sid Fartman." I rest my case.
The matter reached the board of regents, which I remember well because I attended a regents meeting out here at the UMM HFA, where people got a little hot.
"Do we control University funds?" I remember one regent huffing when it was explained that "free speech" might protect the Daily and its status regardless of the regents' feelings. I knew that argument was bankrupt, just like I flinched reading "everyday."
The Daily has no guarantee of University funds just like Rush Limbaugh's inane thoughts needn't be bankrolled by sponsors who can't exercise independent judgment. They're exercising that judgment quite thoughtfully and appropriately now, belatedly yes, but the public (i.e. customers) got fed up.
So, the University of Minnesota every few years has a mess that makes officials go through a process of inspecting one's navel. They try to internalize all that stuff. They say they welcome scrutiny but if you believe that, well. . .
The headline for Kaler's piece was "Judge the U on what it does going forward." Let's just shake that Etch a Sketch, get it clear. Or, as Leslie Nielsen's character of Lt. Frank Drebin would say, at the scene of an obvious calamity: "There's nothing to see here folks, nothing to see."
But the revelations seem a little too troubling. And they involve money. They say money is the mother's milk of politics. It's quite the bedrock for higher education too.
I'll quote Jesse Ventura for the fourth or fifth time on this site, who said in a standoff with Mark Yudof that "for the amount of money the University is asking, maybe I should run it."
Well, someone sure as heck needs to seize on these matters with special resolve, and we can't count on the likes of Robert Bruininks who joined the University in 1968. The Monkees were at their peak of popularity.
We can't let "lifers" in an institution have so much money power. Their position is too cozy, where they have nurtured friendships and feathered preferred nests.
Cozy relationships and a "good old boy" mentality seem in evidence with the recent revelations about the loose purse strings issue at the U. And I don't think we can dismiss such matters like shaking an Etch a Sketch. We need to focus, be objective and vigilant and disregard any apparent sacred cows.
And we must do this "every day."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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