U should have more pride in itself

In a promotional campaign several years ago, one of the University’s more prominent alumni, Garrison Keillor, called this institution “one of the glories of this state.”
Those eloquent words appeared on everything from magnets and pamphlets to radio commercials. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I first saw the flattering phrase printed on a refrigerator magnet I picked up at the State Fair one year. “One of the glories of this state? Compared to what?” I thought.
That was when I was a freshman at the University. Speaking as a graduate of this “glorious” institution four years later, I can tell you the University is not everything Keillor believes.
Consider the undergraduate atmosphere. The University is often labeled a commuter campus because of the high percentage of students who choose to cut college costs by living at home. This luxury allows many students to work while they take classes part time, postponing graduation.
This year’s incoming freshmen are officially considered the class of 2000. But realistically the newcomers are more likely to graduate between 2001 and 2003. The four-year graduation rate at the University is currently 15 percent, and the average age of a University graduate is around 26.
Is this what makes the University one of the glories of this state?
These statistics remind me of a scene from the movie “Tommy Boy,” a story about a stereotypical seven-year college student. At one point in the movie Tommy Boy (played by Chris Farley) commented to his sarcastic friend Richard (David Spade) that lots of students go to school for seven years. Spade’s response: “Yeah. They’re called doctors.”
But the University is trying its best to limit the number of Tommy Boy students. Last month, University President Nils Hasselmo presented a plan to help boost the University’s embarrassingly low four-year graduation rate.
The plan asks students to sign a form that guarantees they will graduate within four years as long as they register for at least 15 credits per quarter.
Minnesota isn’t the only Big Ten school to offer a graduation guarantee to incoming students. Iowa offers its students a similar option. What does this say about today’s students? Has timely graduation become so rare that a guarantee has to accompany it, like some big sales pitch?
When I began my college career at Minnesota this was never an option, and it shouldn’t be. If attending a Big Ten university doesn’t provide students enough motivation to take more than two classes a quarter and graduate within four years, maybe they shouldn’t be here anyway.
If I can do it within four years, I’m sure the majority of this student body can. You don’t need five to seven years of college to have your fun and earn your degree.
Most veterans of this campus have their own pet peeves about the U. For some, it’s that eyesore on the East Bank known as the Weisman Art Museum. For others, it’s those pesky little squirrels who run all over the place. And, still, others complain about a lacking undergraduate atmosphere.
This isn’t to say the University is a bad place. In fact, there are many things that make this college experience worthwhile. So what makes this University one of the glories of this state to me?
Well, it’s the life-long memories I’ll always have when I reflect on my college days. It’s the little things, such as walking on Northrop Mall when the song “Hail Minnesota” reverberated through an empty campus every night at 10 p.m. It’s listening to the preachers every spring, who always provoke students into debate.
But being the sports fanatic that I am, one of my favorite memories will always be the trip my friend and I took to Madison just to watch a basketball game. We sneaked into the Wisconsin Fieldhouse in the dead of winter via some open doors in the connecting football stadium since we couldn’t fork over the $50 ticket price scalpers were requesting.
After finding a couple of vacant seats high in the upper level, we watched the Gophers beat Wisconsin into oblivion. There’s probably not another instance when I felt so attached to this University than during that game.
I don’t know if all my memories make this University worthy of being one of the glories of this state. But one thing is certain about this school: It has provided me many opportunities that I wouldn’t find at many other institutions.
For the past four years, I have had the opportunity to write for this school newspaper, one of the glories of this state in my mind. And as a student, I’ve had access to some of the best learning facilities in the country.
Yet it’s frustrating to see some of the things that have occurred at this school since I’ve been a student. Consider what’s transpired in the last year alone: Hasselmo unsuccessfully attempted to close General College, and the University spent more than $7 million in court and investigative fees during its legal trials against Dr. John Najarian. Najarian, a University surgeon whose name is recognized throughout the United States, was accused of selling the organ transplant drug ALG illegally. After a long and public battle, the University lost.
Like any major college, Minnesota has experienced its share of problems over the years. But comments such as Keillor’s can be misleading, especially to incoming students who know little-to-nothing about this dinosaur of a campus.
Although the University has its own challenges heading into the new century, so does this year’s incoming class. Its challenge is to beat the odds and graduate within four years, not to mention making this University truly one of the glories of this state.
Scott Bradley is a former Daily sports reporter and 1996 University graduate. His first Daily article, a column on orientation, was published in the Daily’s 1992 fall preview issue.