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Bread for Circuses?

New Stadiums aside, higher ed is far from flush...

As Lori Sturdevant writes in today's Strib:

In terms of entertainment value, taking stock of the gawkers wandering around outside TCF Bank Stadium might seem lame, especially compared with the action expected inside the place on autumnal Saturdays.

Still, the trickle of Minnesotans getting to know the new Golden Gophers football palace has been fascinating to Margaret Sughrue Carlson.

A few of those stadium admirers must have been struck by the incongruity it represents. Here's a stunner of a stadium, with a $288 million price tag, rising next to a row of pricey bioscience research buildings that will cost three times as much.

They're emblems of a proud and prosperous state, one that appears willing and able to spend big money on its biggest educational institution and on the promise of a new industry.

But those familiar with the state budget know a different story.
The University of Minnesota and its public-sector counterpart, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, each just took a $50 million cut in operating funds from what the Legislature authorized for 2010-11, courtesy of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment.

Real fiscal pain is due to hit higher education in 2011 and beyond, as the 2011 Legislature closes what's been projected to be an 18 to 20 percent gap between state spending and revenues in 2012-13.

"We want to engage the people of this state with the university, not just ask donors to give back. We want people to do a whole lot of things: Speak up for the university. Recruit a student. Attend events. Mentor a student. We need 5 million people to have a story that they can tell somebody else about how the university has affected them. We need them to tell those stories."


Dr. Carlson is described in a photo as "among the TCF Bank Stadium's leading cheerleaders." The above paragraph is a good example of her modus operandi.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of baggage at the U of which I am sure she is aware.

What does the large amount of money being spent on a stadium and buildings say about priorities at the U?

What does the lowest graduation rate in the BigTen and among our self-selected competitors say?

What does the highest debt load in the BigTen for our undergraduates say?

These are the kind of bullets that are difficult to dodge, Dr. Carlson. And when going hat in hand to the legislature or donors these questions and many others will be asked.

Have a good retirement. It is well deserved.

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