Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back In The Saddle Again
Or, Good News, Bad News...

Apparently OurLeader has recovered from his recent health problems.

That is the good news.

He is now back in town coincident with the appearance of an opinion piece in MinnPost. From the text it appears that he has not learned very much from his recent experience with the Central Corridor problem, aka light rail, at grade, down Washington Avenue, through the U of M campus.

That is the bad news.

Some selections from his opinion piece as well as my own comments:

A land-grant university has a unique responsibility to take the long view. The preservation of the past and the realization of the future are inherent in our mission — and as a university, we have an obligation, greater even than that of our elected officials, to thoroughly analyze complex problems and their several solutions before drawing conclusions.

And so this entitles the University to stall, long, long after it makes sense?

You mention land-grant university.
Why is it that this only comes up when looking for cover?

There are other matters related to being a land-grant institution, like reasonable access to all citizens, that you don't seem to appreciate.

Is being one of the top three public research universities in the world consistent with being a land-grant institution, Bob? Maybe we could have one of those famous dialogs or conversations about it in MinnPost or even the Daily?

As a result, our approach to problems is deliberate and nuanced. But throughout our history, the University of Minnesota has delivered time and again on the state's behalf — and we will do so again on the Central Corridor light-rail transit project.
Delivered time and time again? Highest student debt load in the BigTen? A smoke screen campaign purporting to place us in the top three public research universities on the planet? Driven to Distraction? Some of these deliveries are not appreciated.

We felt strongly enough about the long-term potential of this route [Northern alignment] that, once it became clear that the long-preferred option, a tunnel beneath Washington Avenue, was not financially feasible, we agreed to fund and conduct a preliminary study of the northern option.

We "agreed" to fund a preliminary study?

Our intention has never been to derail or delay this project, but to ensure that all feasible alternatives were thoroughly explored before a costly long-term decision was made.

And you were in Washington, DC, lobbying against what? And Mark Rotenberg sent a 23 page memo to DC about what? And we are paying a DC lobbying operation how much to do what?

We are participating in fruitful negotiations with the Metropolitan Council and our partners in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hennepin County and Ramsey County regarding the details of this plan, and I believe we have made considerable progress toward an acceptable solution. However, we cannot gloss over the significant challenges that face a street-level train through campus. We are working with these stakeholders to address specific concerns, including:

• Re-routing 25,000 cars and 1,200 buses per day from Washington Avenue.

And so? We have a lot of smart people here at the University, to say nothing of the people in Minneapolis and St. Paul. You mean to tell me that a way to do this can't be found? In the words of your good friend, Barack Obama, "Yes we can!"

• The impact of those cars and buses on surrounding neighborhoods, the East River Parkway and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

See above.

• Access to our hospital and clinics for half a million faculty, students, staff and especially patients.

This had been a straw man from day one. The performance of university mouthpieces on this issue during the open hearing on campus at the Weisman was pitiful.

You do realize that there is a bridge over Franklin avenue?

You do realize that there is an exit off 94 (both ways) onto Huron avenue?

You do realize that the current traffic situation is a nightmare? It funnels from Washington Avenue onto a two lane street controlled by stop signs. Fairview is building a new (unnecessary) Children's Hospital across the river. A trauma center could also be relocated across the river for easy access.

Oh, and by the way, for patients who are ambulatory - that would be the majority - the light rail dropping them off very conveniently near the Health Center would be a godsend. No more dealing with the banditos parking your car for a lot of money.

• The effect of train vibrations and other disruption on highly sensitive measurements and mission-critical research conducted in nearby laboratories.

You have four new buildings on line, remember. Why don't you move the sensitive equipment to these buildings? This is called remediation and I believe you know that issues such as these have already been addressed by the Metropolitan Council. You might want to discuss these matters with our representative on the council, VP O'Brien.

• The impact of closing Washington Avenue on the only other cross-campus traffic artery, University Avenue-Fourth Street.

Weak, Bob, weak. Washington Avenue will be a walkway and light rail conduit. So take public transportation, or walk... Think about the gasoline that will be saved. Aren't you always bragging about how green the U is? Sorry about that decrease in parking revenue. Maybe we can make up for it from parking on game days?

• The environmental, cultural, and historical impacts of the route.

Sure Bob, and the same would be true in spades about the Northern route in this discussion. You have heard about the polluted land that would need to be remediated along the Northern route? How about destruction of low income housing? As to cultural and historical impact, what would Cass Gilbert have done?

These concerns are not simply aesthetic, and their impact is not limited to our campus. We maintain that the new Central Corridor line should improve our current transit system and must do no harm to the university's ability to deliver basic services and accomplish its mission. We believe our partners agree, and we continue to work collaboratively to complete a viable plan and budget to address these issues.
Hmm.. One of our state legislators seems to have hit a sore spot regarding aesthetics, Bob. What was said? Something about arrogance? Something that the people of Minneapolis and St. Paul might find insulting. About aesthetics wasn't it? Since when did you become an aesthetician, Bob?

Advocacy takes many forms. Sometimes it's an enthusiastic yes. Sometimes it is quietly consultative. And sometimes it involves asking hard questions and fighting to be understood. But if undertaken in good faith and with a common goal in mind, the outcome with debate and dissent is always better than without.
And where has the debate and dissent been on the matter of tuition increases, Bob?

How about so-called strategic positioning?

How about "ambitious aspirations to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]?" Maybe you and OurProvost ought to put up a realistic estimate of what it would cost to actually do this? Lacking such information, why don't you take on the more realistic goal of being the best land grant university in the BigTen or at least in the top half? The clock is ticking, Bob.

Your second in command said last September that he'd decided to do a blog ("Conversations with the Provost"). What happened to that? Turns out he didn't have enough time? Apparently dissent and debate is great, but only as long as you control the microphone? Wouldn't want any of these pesky perfessers questioning OurLeaders?

Welcome back, Bob. Advocacy is fine. But leadership and true concern for the public good of the state of Minnesota would be even better. What I'd like to hear from you sometime - as would most citizens, according to your own polls - is some statements along these lines:

"We have fought the good fight, because we believed in it. But the community has spoken unanimously and the money is simply not available to achieve our dream in this matter. We are truly grateful to the citizens of the state for all that they have given us recently and pledge unequivocally to do everything we can to make light rail down Washington Avenue a success of which we can all be proud."


"True to our land grant mission the primary responsibility of the university is education of the citizens of Minnesota. With the help of our state, we pledge to stabilize tuition and to be one of the top three public institutions in the Big Ten. Students at the University of Minnesota will be provided an educational opportunity that will allow them to compete with anyone. "

Whoever achieves this goal will be the best president the University of Minnesota has ever had.

Are you up to it, Bob

Your friend and an alum, Bonzo

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