Sunday, June 13, 2010

Minnesota State Senator Cohen

gets to hear from

University of Minnesota faculty

unfiltered by the Morrill Hall Gang

(Senator Cohen chairs the Senate Finance Committee and sits on the Senate Committee on Higher Education)

From the FRPE site:

Upon Cohen's arrival, after introductions we invited him to enlighten us on how the U is perceived at the Capitol.

He first spoke in general terms of how successive presidents present the U to the legislature, and of the U's importance as the "economic engine" of the state.

As to appropriations, being chair of the finance committee, he also outlined how target appropriations are set. We then steered away from the "economic engine" concept of the university, explaining that we believe it to be harmful to education and research in manifold ways.

We brought up the differential budgetary allocations among colleges, the effects (practical and ideological) of rising tuition, the U's budget model, and the deployment of resources for new initiatives that putatively have economic promise at the expense of parts of the U that putatively don't; in this way disciplines that are most easily instrumentalized get supported while disciplines that are inherently non-instrumental are starved, despite their being essential to the U's core mission.

Cohen received these ideas and data readily, disavowing the utilitarian notion of education (in particular higher education), and he expressed consternation at realizing that, through their tuition, students in the College of Liberal arts in effect subsidize the rest of the U.

Prompted by a question from Cohen about the search for the next president of the University, as well as other remarks touching on the faculty role in governance, we described how the faculty are excluded from any meaningful participation in governance; the University Senate has no real governance powers...

We asked Cohen whether Governor Pawlenty's notion that "basic" university courses should be offered on line, rather than in classrooms, is widely shared among legislators. Cohen said it was not, and expressed incredulity that Pawlenty himself could really hold such a view.

Finally, we explored the idea of developing a program of faculty outreach to legislators and their constituencies, with a view to enriching and transforming the public debate over what the university is and does (likewise, more broadly, education).

Cohen mentioned that there used to be fairly frequent meetings, often held in people's homes, involving legislators and faculty members -- many U of MN faculty live in his district, making it fairly easy to get people together.

He wasn't sure how this practice was instigated or why it lapsed. He said legislators would gladly agree to recommencing such meetings, and suggested procedures for organizing the faculty to participate...

...many issues got aired, and we as well as Senator Cohen came away from the meeting newly informed about them.

This kind of dialog between people who do the actual work of the University, unfiltered by the Morrill Hall Gang, is going to be essential if we are to enlist the aid of the legislature and the citizens to take back our public university.

As Mark Yudof put it:

To the best of my recollection, no great scientific discoveries, no insightful social science tracts, and no novels have been produced in Morrill Hall.

No classes are taught in Morrill Hall. No patients are made well in Morrill Hall.

Help, or get out of the way!

Without authority invested where the real work of this University is done, the light of excellence will only grow dimmer.

University administrators have not yet cornered the market in acumen and foresight; a monologue will not suffice.

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