"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)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Is MnSCU really a sinking ship?

Steven Rosenstone, chancellor
It almost seemed like a parody headline: "Public colleges in 'crisis,' report says." It was on page 1B of the Wednesday Star Tribune.
I have the type of cynicism typical of a long-time journalist. Remember how former U of M President Mark Yudof - remember him? - jousted with Governor Jesse Ventura - surely you remember him? Ventura gave one of his most memorable quotes: "For the amount of money we (the state) give the U, maybe I should run it." Would all of the waste in athletics happen, if the governor had to sign off on the monetary system and values?
Well, now it's the statewide network of public colleges and universities, what I would call the many-headed hydra known as "MnSCU." There's a picture of a guy named Phillip Davis who says "we have to act now." Imagine, a publicly funded educational system that says it's in a financial emergency. Who could have expected this? Well, everyone.
All these representatives of public educational institutions are like those gremlins in a box in one of those "Gremlins" movies, clamoring to be fed. (They had tampered with the clock so as to be fed after midnight.)
Let's look at the opening sentence of the Strib article, where we learn that the future of these institutions is "financially unsustainable." The article quotes some sort of report that was eight months in the making. Our MnSCU "must act quickly to avert a crisis," the report says.
Oh my, a "crisis." Where is the finger pointing? Well, partly to a slowdown in state funding. Who wrote the report? A "work group," we learn. Let's push aside the layers of bureaucratic cobwebs surrounding this all. No wait, there's no way to really get clarity. MnSCU is nothing if not a maddening bureaucracy. It was created to promote efficiency. I could lose my cookies (or Twizzlers).
The reason government is not efficient is that it has no incentive to be efficient. MnSCU grew into a bloated self-serving bureaucracy. It educates or purports to educate about 400,000 students a year. This just shows that it's too big.
As a kid I was puzzled about why we had these state colleges along with our hallowed U of M - separate systems. How were they to be defined vs. each other? I'm not the only one wondering. I remember a Strib reporter writing a little in-house opinion piece in which she stated "we all know" there are redundancies between the two systems. The words "we all know" stood out for me. So it's understood there are inefficiencies, and we just shrug and accept this as status quo, like we might accept and love an eccentric or senile uncle or aunt.
I have always thought it sad that these two systems, which really have the same goal, are set up vs. each other with each seeking one-upmanship. Why?
I have heard UMM advocates including a former chancellor deride St. Cloud State as a "party school." It's not untrue that St. Cloud State has historically had problems with this. But it seems to me that everyone involved in state-sponsored higher education should show mutual respect. Wouldn't the state want it that way? All these schools are assets of the state. The state with its legislators would want all these institutions to command the public's respect.
Secondly, the drive to eradicate that party school image problem is way too belated. The state should have insisted sooner that any and all actions should be taken to remedy that. Earl Potter came along and rolled his sleeves up. He cancelled Homecoming. It was necessary but it also trumpeted to everyone that SCSU had a heckuva problem. Who cancels Homecoming?
Now Potter is gone, victim of a car crash for which we still don't have the answers.
The Wednesday Strib article quotes Phillip Davis saying "the financial model for public higher education in Minnesota and throughout our nation has broken down." Davis is identified as an associate vice chancellor and co-chair of that "work group." We hear about that "crisis" looming.
Look, there are accountable people in positions to guide these educational systems, and I shake my head at all of their hand-wringing. Education administrators are given resources and then their job is to add value to those resources. If a crisis is looming, it's because of a dereliction on various fronts. Yudof of the U was rather a flim-flam man.
Is the whole traditional model becoming questionable? All of education was affected by the Cold War years in which it seemed necessary to create discomfort for kids, to make it seem like they had to break through barriers in the classroom. It was "pain equals gain."
"Rigorous" education was a way to try to stay ahead of the Soviets. Then the Cold War ended. Now we didn't have to feel so threatened anymore. And then, we got the sea change of old "analog" systems of doing things, giving way to the digital-based approach. The old dirty and unpleasant ways gave way to user-friendly systems, systems that actually help you master them.
School classes with onerous requirements suddenly seemed not so necessary. I have heard about the following generational change: Kids today, when asked a question in a classroom assignment or discussion, will respond to the teacher by saying: "If you know the answer, why don't you just tell us." Amen and hallelujah.
I'm 61 years old now and no one cares much about what I think, but let me say my memories of being at St. Cloud State have their share of down notes. I think the traditional dormitory where you're assigned a roommate is obsolete. I would have been called a wet blanket if I had pleaded for "quiet hours" in a dorm, a time when you could simply sleep soundly. Maybe beginning at 10 p.m. and be firm in enforcement. Instead, so many of my generation were rambunctious and insisted on playing loud music on our "stereos."
I think that privately many students would have agreed with me. But my generation was so pampered, it wasn't proper to apply such discipline. My position would be equated with being "prudish." Prudish. We were so foolish with our stereotypes which included the notorious "nerds." The term "nerds" ended up having a short lifespan. That's due in large part to how they totally won that cultural skirmish.
I was handicapped in my young years having a physique that did not lend itself to the clothing fashions of the time. Boys wore clothes that had to be very tight-fitting, almost like they were painted on. If you really preferred loose-fitting clothes, you might get teased. It was hard to even find looser-fitting clothes. The solution was not to buy a larger waist size, because the pants would just look funny. I had a heckuva time.
Those were the days when if you went to a store for clothes, you'd immediately be accosted by a clerk who'd say "can I help you?" and then keep his/her eyes on you the whole time you were there. Finally the Wal-Mart model came along to relieve us of this. We can relax and examine clothes in privacy.
No one makes an issue of loose-fitting clothing today. It's fine to wear loose clothing and to be overweight. The old "Starsky and Hutch" look was a disgrace.
A tight-fitting shirt would develop perspiration odor by the end of one day. Tight-fitting pants were worse: they might tear at the crotch and even be hard on your genitals. All this was going on during disco music.
Young people just flooded into St. Cloud State University. Where did we ever develop the belief that young people mature well when spending so much time around each other? Kids break down and do stupid things when they live and socialize with each other all the time. Maybe we wouldn't have such a problem with sexual assault on campus if kids could be sent out into the world to seek maturity in different ways, like with spending more time with older, settled people.
In the meantime we have advocates for our behemoth State University system crying like those hungry gremlins in a box. Cliches are being tossed around, like "transformative change" (a redundancy?) and even "re-branding." I want to gag over these. We hear a recommendation for "consolidated duplicated services across the state." Well, do it then. In fact, you should have done it as soon as you realized the problem.
First, I suppose, they want the money. They say we need to "streamline" the curriculum. What in fact does that mean? It's a cliche. No one is against "streamlining" anything.
Chancellor Steven Rosenstone says that faculty, students and others will have a chance to comment on the report "over the next few months." Yawn. No hurry. But I thought this was a "crisis." Austerity will come and campuses will close, I predict.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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