In July I am retiring after more than 40 years in higher education, 11 years as a president. Over the years I have had many opportunities to work with elected officials, and I have always been impressed. I don’t envy the job they have to do — especially when they face hard decisions, as our legislators did late in the session. It is easy for all of us to second-guess their work and their decisions.
Many Minnesota legislators make time during their off months to tour the state and evaluate every proposed project at our public colleges and universities. Most of these projects aren’t “new and shiny.” They’re the sorts of investments that preserve assets the state already owns. They make a dent in backlogs of deferred maintenance, and they renovate existing space so today’s students can learn with technology from this century, not the last. These projects also make sure classrooms are accessible, warm and safe — places where students can gain knowledge and skills essential to a well-educated workforce, in subjects such as history and literature and science, as well as how to care for patients or fix a roof or help keep our lakes clean.
When elected officials visit our campuses, they get to see firsthand the value our institutions bring to Minnesotans. I think these visitors come away with a deeper appreciation of the contribution we make to the state’s economy as we work to meet the needs of employers, now and in the future.
Return to the table
I understand that in difficult negotiations, walking away from the table is sometimes the right thing to do. But I also know that just as often, returning to the table is also the right thing.
My hope is that our legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton can find a way to reconvene. I also hope that in doing so, they will renew their attention to the portion of the bonding bill that includes projects on the campuses of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, as well as $21 million in supplemental funding needed to maintain valuable programs and support systems for students. That is also the hope of my colleagues on the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Leadership Council, a body that includes all 30 state college and university presidents.
The governor has proven how deeply he cares about the work we do, making our bonding and $21 million in operating requests a priority. When Minnesota invests in the proven value of our state colleges and universities by funding their capital needs and base operations, it protects what it already has. Failing to do so is a disservice to the people of Minnesota, to whom the campuses in all our communities ultimately belong.
State needs our graduates
There are legislators in every district who realize their communities are counting on our colleges and universities. More than ever, this state needs the men and women who are our graduates. Investing to maintain outstanding higher education is the right thing for the people of Minnesota.
It is crucial that Dayton continues to make supplemental funding and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities bonding a must-have in a special session and it is key that the Legislature upholds its support for this important request to meet the fundamental needs of our students.
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