Since the Legislature started cutting back its contributions to the University of MinnesotaâÄôs budget, administrators have scrambled to find alternative money wells. Oftentimes, they look to the business community.
President Eric Kaler seems to understand that the University is a unique place thatâÄôs worth state investment, but his jump-started effort to partner with Minnesota businesses is worrisome.
It appears the University has become more concerned with making the case that it is a private good than a public one. Though Kaler has said publicly that business ties wonâÄôt interfere with academic freedom, the more the University depends on corporations, the more it places itself in a potentially compromising situation.
Students need to see that administrators believe in educationâÄôs inherent value. Administrators seem to think the University is only as good as its direct contribution to the workforce. This is simply not the case and, frankly, it feels like a cop out. It is the intangible benefit of higher education that is being lost with declining state funding. Students are coming and going as quickly as they can because they canâÄôt afford to grow here.
If higher education in Minnesota is perceived overwhelmingly as a private investment, either by businesses interested only in exploiting the UniversityâÄôs research capabilities or by students looking only for a leg up in the job market, the University will lose even more state funding than it already has. State legislators wonâÄôt consider the University a public good that deserves their funding if the University never makes that case.
The total impact of higher education canâÄôt be quantified, and that is a message the state needs to hear.