State should fund education before entertainment

Given a state budget deficit and rising tuition, the University should not seek a new football stadium.

As a Minnesota taxpayer and graduate of the University (1958) I am appalled by the misguided attempt to get a new on-campus football stadium. Mind you, I grew up a Gophers fan, attended scores of games in the old Memorial Stadium and enjoyed the golden autumn afternoons and outdoor football. I even was The Minnesota Daily sports editor, 1956-58.

But, what’s going on now is a case of the tail wagging the Gopher. I fail to understand why University President Bob Bruininks, the Board of Regents, at least one student group and various self-styled University athletics boosters don’t understand that with a state budget deficit of $1.4 billion the University needs to use whatever clout and prestige it has at the State Legislature on projects dealing with education, not entertainment.

I cannot for the life of me see how Bruininks can, with a straight face, go to the State Legislature and ask for one cent of public money for a new stadium (even one partially funded with private dollars) and at the same time also seek funds for educational projects; the two are diametrically opposed!

In addition, consider:

– Many other state institutions and agencies are vying for those precious tax dollars to fund truly worthwhile projects, not unneeded, unproductive facilities such as a stadium.

– Tuition is soaring out of sight and the University is becoming unaffordable to the thousands of young people who desperately need what it provides. They are Minnesota’s future; a stadium is not.

– Valued faculty such as Lawrence M. Benveniste, Carlson School of Management dean, are leaving for positions elsewhere.

– The University ranks dead last in the 11-school Big Ten when it comes to graduating its “student-athletes.” What’s being done about that? Isn’t improving the graduation rate maybe more important than winning the Music City Bowl?

(Quick, now: tell me whom the University played, who won, the score, where and when the game was played.)

– How will the University comply with new NCAA graduation and scholarship regulations?

Is there any truth to the rumor that the University’s alma mater song is being changed from “Hail Minnesota” to “Fail Minnesota”?

– The University athletics program has for years been riddled with scandal such as academic fraud, recruitment travesties, sexual improprieties and the like. The University is far better known for its athletics debacles off the field than for any successes on it.

These are just some of the problems Bruininks and the regents should be trying to solve, not building a stadium.

Here are some other facts to consider: The paid-for Metrodome will serve the University’s football (and baseball) stadium needs for years to come. (Ditto the Minnesota Twins and Vikings whose billionaire owners can well afford to build their own new stadiums if they dislike the Metrodome.)

– A story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press last fall debunked the claim that a winning athletics program elicits increased alumni and other financial contributions to a college or university.

I implore students, faculty and others whose taxes support the University to take a step back and assess just what it is that makes the University the state’s most important asset and then decide what’s more important: a costly, counter-productive athletics program or a university properly focused on meeting the educational needs of Minnesota’s young people as well as serving other tax-paying constituencies such as business and industry to name just two.

I also urge students, faculty and other taxpayers/voters to contact Gov. Tim Pawlenty and their state senator and state representative now and urge them to reject any legislation calling for expenditure of public funds for a new Gophers football stadium. Copy in Bruininks at [email protected] and the regents at [email protected]

In sum, a new Gophers stadium simply is not needed and would be a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars in these very tight economic times in Minnesota. If private donors want to totally finance a stadium, I cannot stop them from so doing, but I would urge them to first reconsider and put education, not entertainment, first on their list of social priorities.

Unlike a stadium, that would truly enhance Minnesota’s “quality of life” and benefit the entire state and all Minnesotans.

Willard B. Shapira is a University alumnus. Please send comments to [email protected]