"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)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Is St. Cloud State a drag on MnSCU?

SCSU's Holes Hall, now razed
Joe Scarborough once said that if you're a student at a college that is not a prestige college, you might wonder if it's worth it. St. Cloud State University was guaranteed long ago to never be a prestige college. By allowing its name to be bandied about in "party school" discussions, it essentially dug itself a hole.
Today when a person drops the name of that school, we wonder if in the next breath we'll get some levity about the party school thing. I have argued online that the state should never have let this theme about St. Cloud State spread so far. The state has an interest in the school being optimally effective in sending well-educated young people out into the world or work force. I guess an "educated work force" is what MnSCU is all about.
It would be wonderful to learn that MnSCU is achieving its mission. Instead we hear about a "financial crisis." In a sense, institutions that are tied up with government always proclaim they're shy of needed funds. A truism about government is that it lacks efficiency, and that's because there's no incentive to be efficient. Efficiency might suggest that the current funding is satisfactory - no pressing need for more.
St. Cloud State fishes for more resources as aggressively as anyone. After all, the institution has a "comprehensive plan" that is a laundry list of projects requiring funding. The college "arms race" continues apace.
A whole dorm has come under the wrecking ball at my alma mater of SCSU. You see, dorms all across the country that were built in the mid-20th Century for the boomer generation, are deemed inadequate for today's kids. The public is getting quite the bill for these changes/upgrades. SCSU's Holes Hall is no more. It has sat empty the past few years. Click on this link to view the recent demolition:
https://vimeo.com/175604541
 
Today's students proclaim they want resident halls that have more of an apartment style feel to them. So outdated are the old dorms, dorms that were deemed good enough for my generation, it is cost prohibitive to renovate them. Considering that the very necessity of college is arguably coming into question, I wonder how much of a dive we need to take into new facilities. If MnSCU cries long and hard about its "financial crisis" - what really is that? - maybe it can fill its coffers well enough. There have to be limits to this.
We also have to question if a full-fledged "bailout" of old SCSU is underway. I don't think the campus has aged well. Nothing really distinguishes the place. I was disappointed several years ago to see the LGBT students get a real prominent headquarters on the main level of Atwood Student Center. I totally back gay rights but the conspicuous nature of this headquarters struck me as uncalled for. I was at SCSU that year for Homecoming, something I never had time to attend in my newspaper career.
St. Cloud State Homecoming! That's a punch line, isn't it? The media began gearing each year to collect police blotter data after each Homecoming. Some people started using the word "riots" to describe what went on. The party school image became a real caricature. A president was brought in to hose it down. No, not to literally hose down the dumpster fires, but to eradicate the dubious reputation. Good luck.
This individual moved to cancel Homecoming. Unfortunately he's no longer with us. I'm sure you heard on the news that Earl H. Potter was killed in a car accident. No other vehicle was involved. I wonder what happened. If he were still alive, he might email me in reaction to this post. He did this once before when I reacted to his posturing about maybe cancelling the football program. Football has survived at St. Cloud State, but you've probably read about the cancellation of some minor sports.
SCSU has the typical laundry list of goals for at least giving the campus a facelift. All campuses do this. SCSU seeks new pathways on campus. It wants to "open up the (Mississippi) River and make it more user-friendly." SCSU has the river on one side and old residential neighborhoods on the other. Those neighborhoods were old when I was there 40 years ago. I'm quite certain that blight has crept in. I learned from a comment board that those neighborhoods are evidently one of those places you don't want to take a walk after dark.
SCSU shares the buzzwords of wanting to improve technology in the classrooms. We hear about the desired renovations to athletic facilities: grand old Halenbeck Hall and the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The hockey thing wasn't there when I was a student. Brooks met his maker the same way Potter did: a one-vehicle accident, perhaps due to drowsiness at the wheel.
SCSU's comprehensive plan has been in development for two years. It is broken down for projects to be completed in the next five years, six to eleven years, and then eleven years and up.
How much more of a toll will the digital world take on traditional college education in the next eleven years? The MnSCU system office has approved the plan. Can the bureaucracy create enough smoke to get us, the public, to be led along as if we're a horse being led by the ears? I'm a Democrat but if we need Republicans to apply some discipline and restraint in all this, I'll go with the elephant.
MnSCU appears ripe for a unique outside analysis to find the bloat and inefficiencies. The MnSCU Board of Trustees has behaved like sheep. Our legislature has appeared no more bright. Maybe St. Cloud as a community has political clout that intimidates the stewards.
SCSU has shown declining enrollment and multi-million dollar annual deficits. The school has lost a whopper of a sum of $ on Coborn Plaza. Since fiscal year 2014, SCSU's annual financial deficits have been in excess of $5,000,000. Meanwhile, MnSCU submitted a supplemental budget request for an additional $21,000,000. Ergo, we can readily conclude that a big part of that is earmarked for St. Cloud State as a bailout. A bailout!
Republicans try to make sure taxpayers aren't used as ATMs to cover for $ mismanagement.  This is where Democrats irritate me: a lack of vigilance. Democrats make me cringe with their talk of "investing in education." This is no investment. It covers amenities many of which have only a vague connection with learning. We ought to have the proverbial "housecleaning" at MnSCU.
Conservatives are better able to achieve power than when I was a student at SCSU: those disco '70s. Citizens need to get more suspicious.
The old "party school" SCSU is anything but the "prestige college" that Scarborough (of "Morning Joe") referred to. This isn't to say that a large number of students don't get a lot out of the experience there. I'm talking about overall reputation. Potter had to know that cancelling Homecoming in itself was a damaging gesture because it highlighted the problem so much. It was the lesser of two evils, the other being those continuing riots and burning dumpsters.
Holes Hall was home to tens of thousands of SCSU students from 1965 to 2014. Surely it was plain-Jane. And yet, I feel it was a decent place to live if only certain essential rules were enforced, No. 1 being quiet hours when all those infernal stereo record players would be shut down. This was hard to achieve in the 1970s. Loud rock music was considered an essential part of our culture. Quality stereo systems were a status symbol. How quaint.
Today there's no financial issue with acquiring the best possible sound system, like right on your computer. No need to buy records, as tunes are routinely called up on YouTube. It was uncool in the '70s to complain about someone's loud stereo. You might get a resident assistant (R.A.) to go talk to an offender, but this would be done grudgingly. The R.A. might even whisper to the offender who the complainer was, then you'd be in for some harassment.
Students drank alcohol. My, how they consumed alcohol. The drinking age was lowered in the early '70s on the logic that if young men could fight and die in Viet Nam, then everyone their age ought to have the "privilege" of drinking.
The site previously occupied by Holes Hall will be converted to green space.
A recent feature in the New York Times highlights what it describes as the "dorms you'll never see on the campus tour." These residence halls stand in stark contrast to many of the opulent living situations colleges now use to lure students on campus.
"Built in the middle of the last century or even earlier, they have survived to shock and dismay new freshmen with their cinder block aesthetic and dingy common rooms," Times reporter Vivian Yee writes. "Air conditioning is a distant luxury. Bathrooms are nasty, crowded and few."
Let's put on our futurist caps. As we move from today's primitive state of Internet education to the more sophisticated levels, the question arises: will we ever reach a point when colleges (the ones with campuses, dormitories and cafeteria food) become obsolete?
In talking about the coming revolution in higher education, Fay Gale, the president of the Academy of Social Sciences, said "the bulk of a student's work in the future would be done at home and they would only visit campus to socialize or for occasional intensive face-to-face work with tutors."
Traditionalists will put up a battle, surely. As I reflect on my time in St. Cloud, I distinctly remember the differences in pizza between Tomlyano's, Newman Center and House of Pizza. This must say something. I did eschew alcohol.
Earl H. Potter III, RIP.
 
The video of the Holes Hall implosion on a WJON web page appears to have been removed. I think I know why. I remember seeing passers-by appearing to scurry to avoid the dust cloud. I was surprised because you'd think the area would be cleared and plenty of warning given. My alma mater is not always the brightest bulb on the chandelier.
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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