Eight Minnesotans and guests get U tour

by Ka Vang

Before John Gfrerer, 72, ate cheesecake with a member of the University Board of Regents and solved a calculus problem with a student, he said he thought the University wasn’t doing much for the community.
Gfrerer was one of the eight Minnesotans chosen by the University for a day of tours, lunch and dinner with campus administrators, students and regents.
“(The University) is just a great big institution that is sealed off,” said Gfrerer, of St. Paul. “Now, it is being open to us.”
The tour offered people a chance to become better informed about the University. A brainchild of Regents Chairman Thomas Reagan, the tour lasted all day.
One guest was chosen from each of Minnesota’s eight congressional district. About 60 people expressed interest in the tour. Those chosen were each allowed to bring one guest on the tour.
“There is always criticism at a University of our size. But it is important for people to understand our University,” Reagan said. “We aren’t trying to hide any of our weaknesses.”
Reagan predicts that community outreach programs such as the tour will improve the University’s image.
The 16 guests began their day at Argyle House, a residence hall for the Residential College. The school combines residential living and academics in a program designed to foster team-learning experiences.
The tour ended at Eastcliff, the official home of University President Nils Hasselmo. The eight guests had dinner with the president and the regents.
Eastcliff often plays host to the board and invited guests during the regents’ monthly meeting. Guests usually include faculty members and political leaders.
“We’ve got to spread out and get more people engaged,” Reagan said. “It doesn’t make sense to continually have dinner with yourself.”
Gfrerer, whose five children graduated from the University in the 1970s, said he wanted to see where his tax dollars were going.
Regent Bryan Neel agreed with Gfrerer. “The vast majority of Minnesotans have a great appreciation for the University’s education, but they don’t understand the value of its research and outreach.”
Tom Lennan, 33, a guest from Minneapolis on the tour, said he signed up because he wanted to meet the regents and Hasselmo.
Standing in the middle of Northrop Mall, Lennan, a chemist at the McLaughlin Gormley King Company, said most people don’t realize how diverse the University is until they come and see it.
After sitting through a calculus class, where the instructor cracked jokes while teaching, Kathy Spaeth said she thought the University was a leader in education.
“The instructors and courses move with time, not only filling students’ minds with knowledge, but with social needs and self-esteem,” the Sleepy Eye, Minn., native said.
Spaeth, a small-business owner, said she never realized all the opportunities that the University has for students and the rest of the community.
She said she is going to strongly suggest that her 17-year-old daughter think about the school as an option for college.
“Most Minnesotans think we’ve got a good University,” Reagan said. “But they are bombarded continuously by negative publicity.”