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The Strib Again Carries Water for U

Or, If You Build It, Grants and Jobs Will Come

This is the fourth re-incarnation of this craziness. For an introduction to the backstory, please see:

"The Red Phone Line Between Morrill Hall and the Strib Editorial Office Still Works"

From yesterday's Star-Tribune:

Chances are better today than they were a few weeks ago that in 2028 and beyond, Minnesota will be among the states that are home to a globally competitive biosciences industry.

That's the result of months of negotiating by Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, several senior House DFLers, and University of Minnesota officials. Word went out last week from House Capital Investments chair Alice Hausman: "We have a deal."

Under the arrangement, the state would be committed to paying the debt service on $233 million of the $292 million bond issue the project requires.

So the state is going to be servicing the majority of the debt. Could this money not be used for other things of higher priority, say tuition stabilization?

But -- significantly -- the bonds' issuer would be the university, not the state.

The buildings will be a robust contributor to the state's economy in their own right, housing about 4,800 new hires and generating $100 million to $120 million a year in federal research grants.

And where are the funds for these new hires? And funding for the equipment that needs to go in the buildings? Where did the numbers come from for new federal research grants? Last I heard both NSF and NIH were on the skids...

But their bigger promise lies in the job-producing potential of new companies that will be spawned by the knowledge they generate. They can be the locus of the next generation of "medical alley" comercial [sic] ventures for Minnesota, based less on devices and more on molecular and cellular manipulation to ease human suffering. Venture capital firms are already inquiring about the plans, attests Frank Cerra, the university's senior vice president for health sciences.

Hmm...3M Pharmaceuticals has just shut down. A U stem cell patent has been sold to Athersys of Cleveland. Medical Alley is alive and well and still employing lots of our graduates.

And, miracle of miracles, despite all this talk about interdisciplinarity - the current buzzword for garnering grants - employers actually want people who know something. Things like electrical engineering, computer science, chemistry, physics... As our administrators may eventually learn, in order to have strong interdisciplinary programs you first need strong disciplinary programs. Would you prefer - to use a made up example - to hire an electrical engineer who did molecular biology for an advanced degree, or would you be better off hiring a real molecular biologist?

Is putting all of our chips on the table in an irrevocable way such a hot idea? Seems as if a little diversification in the research and intellectual portfolio is called for here. Simply mumbling about interdisciplinarity is not going to do it in the long run.

Also some honesty about the collateral expenses of these buildings is in order. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or even a university president to see the logical consequences of this proposed blank check expansion.

Are we going to continue to bleed the core, jack up tuition, and make ridiculous statements about ambitious aspirations to become one of the top three public research universities on the planet? Or are we going to get real, roll up our sleeves, and strive to be one of the better universities in the BigTen?

Think about it, please, President Bruininks.

Ciao, Bonzo

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