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December 8, 2009

New Models for the News

For most of the 20th century, newspapers were the primary source of information for the American public. At their best, they held governments and corporations to account and set the news agenda for the rest of the mass media. Until the early 1990s, the newspaper business was doing extremely well, earning staggering returns for its owners and shareholders. But more recently, it has been forced to rethink its place in a world of wireless communication.

Last year was the worst on record for the U.S. newspaper industry. Already hit hard by decreasing circulation and declining ad revenues, newspapers across the country laid off staff and cut editions to counter the combined effects of online competition and economic recession. Locally, the Star Tribune filed for bankruptcy protection in January, only emerging in late September. Just months after its workers agreed to concessions in bankruptcy, the St. Paul Pioneer Press opened discussions with its guild members seeking similar cuts.

Are today's diminished news organizations capable of sustaining the informed citizenry on which democracy depends? Are newspapers an endangered species? Or are they just obsessing too much over the "paper" part of their names?

On December 3, join Nora Paul, founding director of the University of Minnesota's Institute for New Media Studies, as she explores new models for the news.

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November 5, 2009

The Journey of Solar Decathlon 2009: A View from the Trenches

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Solar Decathlon, a challenge to college teams from around the globe to design, build, and operate an aesthetic and livable, fully solar-powered house. This international competition helps accelerate academic research in renewable energy technologies and educates the public about the benefits of energy efficiency and green building technologies.

In October, for the first time, the University of Minnesota was one of 20 teams on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., competing in the Solar Decathlon. The U's "Icon House" was the tangible result of two years intense, inspiring, and collaborative effort of 150 students in disciplines ranging from architecture and design to engineering and construction.

Meet architect Peter Hilger, adviser to the students working on the U's solar house, as he recounts their life-changing journey to Solar Decathlon 2009.

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October 1, 2009

Touching the Third Rail: The Politics of American Health Care

Since Theodore Roosevelt first called for national health insurance nearly a century ago, U.S. presidents have tried and failed to provide universal health benefits to all Americans. Today, the U.S. has the most highly privatized and expensive system in the world, with one in six dollars spent on health care and an estimated 46 million Americans left uninsured.

Restructuring America's health care system is now President Obama's top legislative priority. But during the August recess, irate opponents of his health care proposals confronted Democrats on the town hall circuit with inflammatory accusations, including outright distortions. The intensity of the debate galvanized the attention of the national media and caught the Obama administration off-guard.

What can we learn from the history of major health care policy debates? How did Lyndon Johnson win passage of Medicare and Medicaid, when Harry Truman and Bill Clinton failed to advance their versions of health care reform? How does the process work on Capitol Hill and when, if ever, can we expect to see this issue come to a vote?

Larry Jacobs holds the Walter and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies and directs the Center of the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. An expert in American politics and policy, he is the author of ten scholarly books including The Health of Nations: Public Opinion and the Making of U.S. and British Health Policy and Healthy, Wealthy, and Fair, as well as articles on health reform in The New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Robert Wood Johnson Investigator Award in Health Policy Research. Professor Jacobs received a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University and joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1988.

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May 13, 2009

Knowing Our Place in Time

May is graduation time at the University – a celebration of the accumulation of knowledge and the commencement of a new chapter of life. Yet as we graduate from one life experience to the next, our need to continue learning only grows. What advice might a commencement speaker give those of us contemplating a new phase of our wild and precious lives? Upon retirement, what insights might a faculty member “bequeath” about the principles and practices that have guided their tenure in higher education? Evolving from the concept of the best selling book, The Last Lecture, the last Headliners of the 2008-09 season examines the most important lessons of all, the core themes and personal meanings that guide us in knowing our place in time.

On May 7th, you are cordially invited to join Steve Simmons, Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus, as he embarks on the most personal research project of his long and distinguished career.

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April 3, 2009

Solar Decathlon: Building a Greener Future

Radiant heat from the sun has been harnessed by human ingenuity since the earliest times and sunlight has influenced building design throughout architectural history. Still only a fraction of available solar energy is being used in today’s buildings, creating a burden on the environment. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy held its first Solar Decathlon, a challenge to college teams from around the globe to design, build, and operate an aesthetic and livable, fully solar-powered house. This biennial event helps accelerate academic research in renewable energy technologies and serves as a reminder to all of us to act responsibly when making energy decisions at home. This year the University of Minnesota was selected as one of twenty teams invited to compete in the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C., the first and only Minnesota team ever to participate in this unique international competition.

On April 2nd, meet Ann Johnson, the project manager of the U of M’s 150-student Solar Decathlon team, as she unveils their house’s iconic design and discusses innovative energy features that just may help build a greener future.

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March 6, 2009

The Awful, Lawful Joyride: Minnesota's Budget Rollercoaster

What's in store as we face the state's worst budget deficit in modern history? This year, 46 other states are facing fiscal crises. But swings in budget forecasts are nothing new to Minnesota. In fact, it has one of the most volatile revenue systems in the country. In recent years, economic slowdowns caused budget deficits…only to be followed by revenue increases resulting in significant surpluses. Bouncing erratically between these financial positions requires elected officials to devote more time to solving crises than to improving and delivering public services. In January, the Minnesota Budget Trends Study Commission submitted its plan to better predict and manage the state’s budget to the legislature.

Join Dr. Jay Kiedrowski, co-chair of the Minnesota Budget Trends Study Commission and former state finance commissioner, as he reveals recommendations to meet future demographic challenges and reform the state’s financial volatility.

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February 5, 2009

Living on a Shrinking Planet: Challenges and Opportunities for a Sustainable Future

Complex global environmental problems have taken center stage in the 21st century. The needs of six billion people are rapidly depleting natural resources and weakening our planet’s ecosystems. Locally, the politically charged task of reducing carbon emissions was to have been a central issue in Minnesota’s 2009 legislative session. But the looming budget deficit has refocused the discussion. As economic pressures mount, how will environmental issues compete with other priorities? How can we keep sustainability efforts at the forefront even as we work to combat the effects of the economic crisis? To continue to inhabit our shrinking planet, it’s going to take a fresh approach.

Join Dr. Jon Foley, the new director of the University’s Institute on the Environment, and explore new ideas and opportunities for a sustainable future.

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