Chancellor, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities;
Eric Kaler, President,
University of Minnesota
This is the first end of the legislative session that either of you have gone through. It must have been a surreal experience. Hundreds of hours of breathless commentary on television and radio, legislative leaders with furrowed brows rushing in to closed-door sessions, then rushing out again and refusing to comment. The governor appeared stern and unwavering, with a dark hint about the end of government, or at least a shutdown. Hundreds of media interviews with the most obscure of lobbyists and paid hangers-on hanging on in the hallways of the state Capitol.
What was really going on was the cosmetic effort to make a decision—to build an additional professional football stadium—look deliberate. We have built these stadia (quite a few of them) before, and the scenario is generally the same; earnest brow-furrowing, hundreds of hours of hearings and interviews, but in the end the edifice is constructed.
Don’t get me wrong; It’s a good thing that we’re building a new NFL football stadium at a time when borrowing costs are very low, construction costs are even lower, and construction jobs are badly needed. The concern is that our priorities should be better aligned with our resources. Because, as you know, higher education is in crisis mode—and higher education is infinitely more important to the state than NFL football (or any professional sport).
Perhaps in the future, you higher education leaders could make a pitch similar to that made by stadium supporters. You could point out that in the 30-plus years the Metrodome has been in operation, including 27 of those years when 82 home baseball games were also played there, the area around the Metrodome basically consisted of one large bar and a newspaper company (the newspaper company was there before and will benefit handsomely from the new stadium). Unlike the Metrodome, the area around TCF Bank Stadium is surrounded by a growing and vibrant university.
You could also argue that, while it’s true that football players’ income will be partially taxed here, MnSCU and the University produce hundreds of thousands of graduates who live in the state 12 months a year and pay all of their taxes here. The tax return to the State of Minnesota from investments in higher education dwarfs any return from pro sports.
The university could also argue that it has a major football stadium (TCF Bank Stadium) and a major football team (the Golden Gophers), but in addition, the stadium comes complete with a huge research component. This research stadium-adjunct has produced a number of miracles and economic successes for the state of Minnesota—taconite, airplane black boxes, medical devices, and so on. The Vikings stadium will have no research component, and while the team has been in the Super Bowl four times in the last 50 years (during which time the Golden Gophers have not made it to the Rose Bowl), neither team has won a championship in that 50-year period.
The Capitol did have several hundred stadium supporters, mostly men, wearing fake gold braids, fake purple horns, with faces painted in Viking colors. Perhaps this encouraged our legislative leaders to vote for the stadium. If those tactics work, let me commend to you what the Quebec students did during the week of May 15 in Canada. They essentially went on strike over the province’s plan to hike fees by more than $1,700 over seven years. So many students went on strike and demonstrated that they shut down higher education in the province and—legislative leaders beware!—forced the resignation of Line Beauchamp, Quebec’s education minister. There are a lot more students than can easily fit in a football stadium and a lot more alumni than there are die-hard football fans; perhaps more feet on the ground while the Legislature is meeting would produce the desired result.
So gentlemen, welcome to Minnesota. We seem currently to be the state that, after a great deal of effort, does the OK thing while refusing to face the really important thing. Perhaps the Vikings can start a research department.