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Monte Bute’s circuitous route to winning 2010 alumnus award from Metropolitan State University

Monte Bute must be one of the most-unusual winners of Metropolitan State University’s annual alumnus award.

His teenage rebellion landed him in Red Wing’s reformatory school for boys. He dropped out of college in 1967 and dropped acid in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. He earned his peace stripes as an anti-war activist. He toiled for laborers as an organizer for Jobs Now! of Minnesota. He’s labored for the union representing faculty for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Bute, an associate professor of sociology at St. Paul-based Metro State, took not only the road less traveled but also the long and winding road to his bachelor’s degree. Even Metro State’s award bio notes that he became a “a social scientist by the seat of his pants.” Excerpt:

Monte Bute
Monte Bute

“Bute began teaching at Metropolitan State as a community faculty member in 1984. He finally finished a long-delayed B.A. at the university in 1991. After a 20-year career as a community organizer, he realized that his next mission in life was teaching. To fulfill that calling, Bute began graduate school rather late in life.”

The official bio also describes Bute as a “prolific writer” and “first and foremost, a master teacher.”

But Bute’s account of his life is far more entertaining. His 2004 speech, “The Making of a Backstage Sociologist,” travels to the far-out corners of his life and reminds us of Metro State’s experimental roots. He gave the speech upon winning the Distinguished Sociologist award from Sociologists of Minnesota. A few excerpts:

“To be honored with the Distinguished Sociologist award is alone enough to leave one somewhat tongue-tied. Further compounding this sense of being dumbstruck is the eerie coincidence that this year’s meeting of the Sociologists of Minnesota (SOM) is being held at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing.”

“I inhaled my sociological moxie the old-fashioned way — as a deviant, a dissident, and an organizer. I will probably never receive the American Sociological Association’s seal of approval.”

“Founded in 1971, Metropolitan State was an experimental college for adult learners. Finding myself at a school known for thumbing its nose at the academic establishment, I devised a course that was befitting — ‘Interpersonal and Social Power: A View From Below.’ While this was a pleasurable avocation, I kept my day job.”

The deviant, the dissident, the organizer and the sociologist come through vividly in his speech. Definitely worth reading. Too bad there isn’t video.

Update: No video link has shown up yet, but photos of Bute from the 1960s and later are on “The Monte Bute Fan Club” page on Facebook. Bute, who is undergoing chemotherapy for a rare form of lymphoma, says he still isn’t sure who among colleagues, friends and students set up the page. But he’s getting a kick out of it.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Nancy Hokkanen on 07/06/2010 - 05:09 pm.

    I’m pleased to see Monte Bute’s educational contributions thus recognized and awarded. His vivid real-world presentations easily hold the attention of his weary, overcommitted working adult students.

    His provocative sociological discussions were in-depth, open-ended, inclusive. Participating in his class was a refreshing intellectual workout. He’s a gem.

  2. Submitted by Ken Peterson on 07/06/2010 - 05:34 pm.

    Bute is a madman. That’s what several people have told me in the thirty years I’ve known Monte. Maybe. He’s also an inspiring teacher; an old fashioned search for truth,non-ideological public intellectual; an excellent organizer; a fine family man; and a loyal friend. The world should have more madmen and madwomen like Monte Bute.

  3. Submitted by Russ Stanton on 07/07/2010 - 10:03 am.

    Monte is indeed a madman, who revels in speaking truth to power. A teacher by instinct, he has the rare ability to unfailingly turn five minutes of testimony before legislative committees into a half hour of meaningful dialogue with legislators. His background and unconventional style are a prefect fit for Metro state and the students it serves.

  4. Submitted by Edward Malecki on 07/08/2010 - 08:45 am.

    Monte Bute and Metropolitan State have followed parallel paths. Both began as irreverent, radical experiments in higher education thumbing their respective noses at conventional wisdom and academic tradition. But over the years both have embraced enough of those traditions and enough of that wisdom to create a unique educational environment for adult learners. Students in Monte’s classes are challenged to think critically, which is the hallmark of classic liberal education and the core element of lifelong learning that is at the heart of Metro State’s educational philosophy.
    Monte Bute embodies the passion, critical thinking and lifelong learning that Metropolitan State faculty seek to instill in all its graduates. Naming Monte as the 2010 recipient of the Alumnus of the Year is a tribute to the thousands of students who have graduated from the University and embody the traits of a well educated person. The award for Monte is also a tribute to the outstanding faculty in the Social Science department– Professors Nancy Black, Janet Enke, and Thomas O’Connell–who have not only tolerated this madcap academic, but also supported him and nurtured his students who do not always understand his passion for learning means that they will have to struggle with difficult materials and with critical self-examination of their own beliefs.
    Everybody who has met Monte knows that he wears his passion for learning and teaching on his sleeve. If you are afraid about somebody bursting your balloon of hallowed beliefs, you might think it wise to avoid Bute and take an easier route. But you would be wrong because underneath his passion and strong beliefs is a gentle person who has learned that a life without pain is a life without learning. By struggling with and coming to terms with his own personal demons, Monte has served as a role model for countless students who came to Metro State doubting their ability to succeed in a rigorous academic environment. Like Monte, many of these thirty year olds started the journey earlier in their lives and had failed to achieve their goals. But Monte over the years has greeted thousands of new Metro students, young and old, at orientation meetings with an inspiring message: if a crazy guy like me can start late and succeed so can you.
    Make no mistake, the Alumnus of the Year award is not a popularity contest. If that were the case, Bute would never receive the award. He has broken far too many eggs at Metro to make a seamless academic omelet. When I was the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, I could have earned my entire salary simply cleaning up the muddied waters Monte left behind in his drive to right wrongs and defend rights which were not universally perceived by others as rights and wrongs. Those stung by his barbs will probably question his selection as Alumnus of the Year, but even some of his harshest critics have to reluctantly concede that they too have occasionally benefitted from his willingness to attack pomposity and provide leadership at crucial moments in the life of Metro. Without his passionate leadership for a wide variety of causes, Metropolitan State would be a much different institution than it is today. And Monte’s selection as the Alumnus of Year is living proof that Metro State does indeed follow the beat of a different drummer.

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