« Regents Meeting This Week | Main | Iowa Does the Right Thing on COI - They started in January of this year »

The U UpNorth...


Sad. I don't know what else to say.

So here's some recent material from the Daily Planet:

University of Minnesota, meet North Minneapolis.
Oops, try again.
And again.
It hasn't been easy for the University of Minnesota to work its way into the North Side. A child development program it originally planned to locate there brought out protesters with picket signs. Its land acquisition attempts resulted in a rift with Hennepin County.

Its efforts to study the mortgage foreclosure crisis have been criticized as too little, too late, in neighborhoods that had already been dealing first-hand with the issue for more than three years.

And a recent hiring flap outraged many neighbors and public officials, to the point where some are saying that the U just doesn't seem to get it.

When the University's Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center (UROC) recently hired former Jordan Area Community Council (JACC) Executive Director Jerry Moore for a short-term mortgage foreclosure research project, some community members said they were shocked. JACC had fired Moore in January after he got into a fist fight at a neighborhood meeting. He has been at the center of controversy that has included legal action and heated arguments at meetings.

Dottie Titus, former JACC executive director, wrote in a recent blog: "What I mostly feel is disappointment. There was a great deal of mistrust of the University when the [University-Northside] partnership was first proposed, but I saw an incredible potential if the University was going to bring some of its best minds to help solve the problems North Minneapolis has faced over the past two or three decades."

Hiring Moore was a betrayal of trust, she added. "In my mind, it speaks volumes about the University's real interest (or lack thereof) in the Northside Partnership. We simply cannot depend on that bright vision once held out to us."

When asked if the U did a background check on Moore before hiring him, Jones said they had not.

"I understand the community has concerns. We were not aware of any accusations when he was hired. No accusations or concerns were ever mentioned to my staff. Our goal was to hire people from the community and we tried to do that. We typically don't do background checks on casual temporary workers; you can be hired on Monday and let go on Tuesday. Because of this issue, however, I have asked staff to do background checks from now on."

Roberta Englund, executive director of the Folwell Neighborhood Association, said, "I'm pleased with what the U will bring to North Minneapolis from their base at Plymouth and Penn. 500 Under 5 can be a meaningful, contributing program to families. The U could be a supportive partner for stabilizing and revitalizing North Minneapolis neighborhoods. But they need to come with an understanding of what their mission is and what they can contribute. I don't think that, from the very beginning, the U was in touch with the realities of North Minneapolis.

"They simply don't pay attention,"
Englund said. "They came to North Minneapolis with what I believe were good intentions, but they fell into the North Minneapolis trap of organizational self-aggrandizement. There were organizations and individuals involved with their coming who thought they would benefit.

"The voices the U listens to," Englund added, "are those most collaboratively supportive to the opinions they have already formed. They have structured outreach according to their rules, and they have imposed a structure they are comfortable with.

"This whole business of foreclosure crisis is like closing the barn door," Englund said. "It's too late. For the U to come to the table and talk about it is a waste of their time and money and will not benefit anybody.
This is not a storm that is going to regroup. If the U wanted to contribute anything meaningful, they would have looked at information from 10 years ago, including what was going on with the Federal Reserve, that contributed to the social and economic damage to the community. I don't think anybody expected the kind of financial malfeasance and exploitation that we had. I wonder if we wouldn't be better off understanding that."

Last spring (2009), the University of Minnesota hosted a foreclosure symposium and invited representatives from different cities. What city didn't get invited? Minneapolis.

Tom Streitz, director of housing for the city of Minneapolis, said, "They did not connect with either me or [foreclosure coordinator] Cherie Shoquist in an expeditious way. We were not included in an invitation to participate. It was a little bit of a disappointment to us, because the City of Minneapolis is considered a national leader in foreclosure delivery efforts. I've personally given presentations on foreclosure response in other cities."

Streitz added that the U eventually invited Minneapolis, after city officials learned about the symposium. Shoquist attended, he said, but he did not.

Louis King, CEO of Summit OIC, a Northside employment training program, said Banks had contacted him about the UROC project, but he turned it down. "This was a $2 million deal. We are involved in a $200 million project at Target and a $4 million project at the Twins stadium. I told her I was not interested in tying up my people going to those meetings for this job [to get this job], which was a relatively modest rehab over a short period. We want long term engagement, where people can launch careers. From our perspective, it was a whole bunch of talk about nothing. I told them they were putting in more hours in meetings than there were hours of work for our employees."

An initial 2005-2006 plan to partner with Hennepin County on a center for early education and child development, led by Dante Cicchetti--head professor at the U's Institute of Child Development--triggered protests from a group called Leaders of African Americans Concerned Together (LAACT).

The group accused the U of not being forthcoming about its research plans, and said it worried that it would be similar to past projects that targeted low income African Americans for mental health tests without their knowledge or consent.
The U denied that, and tried to move forward with plans to locate the child development center in one of three places: in NorthPoint's human services building at Plymouth and Penn, across the street from NorthPoint on a vacant lot, or in a strip mall at the same intersection.

Meanwhile, its partnership with Hennepin County didn't go so well, when the U decided that the rent the county proposed to charge was too high.

"It's all water under the dam as far as I'm concerned," Jones said, "But it was unfortunately framed that we were pulling out of the North Side, when we said we couldn't afford to be in the building."

Jones said they are still looking for a site for Cicchetti's program. "That's what the original partnership with the county was supposed to house. We intended to renovate the shopping center and address other critical programs the community said it wanted: early childhood education, health and nutrition, technical assistance to small businesses. The plan was to locate all of those in the shopping center, but it wasn't big enough for the Cicchetti program, so we started talking to the county."

Jones, who lived in North Minneapolis for 20 years, said that from the beginning, the U has encountered "naysayers, people who are vocally against what we're trying to do on the North Side.

"People have a right to their opinions. But UROC is a vision that [U of M] President Bruininks and I came up with. We are one of the largest, most complex universities in the world. We are a land grant U, which means that implicit in our mission is an obligation to serve the citizens in the state, and we've done that very well.

What to say, what to say? "an obligation to serve the citizens of the state, and we've done that very well."

I don't think so. Nor do the people who live UpNorth, apparently.

It is also amusing to see someone from this U admin turn on the old land grant charm.

Please don't get me wrong. What goes on UpNorth is a disgrace and the U should be doing everything in its power to assist. Unfortunately the present gang that can't shoot straight is not cut out for the job. If it comes down to spending money on MoreU park or UpNorth, what to do is clear.

Gates Foundation? Anyone with me?

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)