Know thyself

School spirit can’t cut tuition or pay professors.

Greg Corradini

Maybe it’s the unlikely marriage between utility and flamboyant art, but the McNamara alumni center definitely looks like a piece of the Death Star from “Star Wars.”

Inside, another example of empire looms.

The Curtis L. and Arleen M. Carlson Heritage Gallery, a museum of sorts dedicated to University alumni, offers the “Wall of Books” and an alumni association video overwrought with accolades about University spirit and pride.

Both are forms of propaganda, advertisements for school “patriotism” and a full-on marketing campaign for “community.”

Making up the “Wall of Books” are 5,500 real Ph.D. theses and student/teacher literary contributions.

Glued, nailed and crammed into a 60 foot by 30 foot space, the contributions range across various disciplines and the past century.

J. G. Red Horse’s 1975 thesis about the Indian New Careers Program in Minneapolis seems fashionable. Xianyang Pan’s thesis on liquid distribution and binder migration looks pretty neat glued among the others. But in this set-up, individually they might as well not matter.

Viewers are supposed to be impressed with the stacked spectacle, this Tower of Babel, and the “University’s contribution to human knowledge,” as an inscription says about the “Wall of Books.” Golden Gopher group identity stymies individualism and personal autonomy.

“We’re ambassadors for this great University’s mission,” says Margaret Carlson, University alumni association executive director, in the video.

Informative depths about the University’s rich academic disciplines are abandoned for gloss.

“University of Minnesota Alumni Association is about people; strong people, courageous people, people who are compassionate advocates for the University,” says Carlson.

Images of campus over the century fade in and out on the screen. The words “student and staff diversity” are applied in earnest and endearing tones, as if they existed.

And then the image of the Memorial Stadium that was demolished in 1992 is evoked. You can bet that the University Alumni Association will be implemental in finding financial support in the University’s push for a new stadium.

What should be more central to the Alumni Association’s mission?

State funding for the University seems to be continually dwindling each year and there is a $70.4 million hole in next year’s budget. Students and faculty (who are already grossly underpaid, compared to their top-30 counterparts) will be directly affected. Most importantly, the value of education the University promotes could be severely dented.

It would be nice to see something more in the Heritage Gallery about the alumni association’s role in bolstering support for these concerns rather than fluff about stadiums and their new “Death Star” home.