University squanders student, taxpayer money

There comes a time when every rash and stress-addled newspaper columnist must abuse his or her monopoly on the opinions page by airing semi-frivolous personal grievances in the name of the greater good. For me, that time is now.

Over the last month, I have put up with overcrowded classrooms, no air conditioning, grossly understaffed facilities and incessant jackhammering outside two of my four classes. I have “put up” with these things, although in reality I had no choice in the matter – much in the same way that I have no choice but to pay an extra $700 in tuition and student fees this year.

I will say what we have all been thinking: Namely, we are not getting our money’s worth out of this University. I don’t mean to sound like a crybaby, and I know running a school this large is no small task, but the fact of the matter is every year we pay more money to attend a school that is beginning to look like Disneyland and is run like a former Soviet republic.

A classroom environment conducive to learning is paramount to education, and the safety of the students ultimately falls on the administration. Therefore, it stands to reason tuition money be spent on those two basic conditions before peripheral concerns, such as constructing and operating new buildings, are addressed.

Our campus is neither an ideal learning environment nor safe (as recent tragedies have proven), and still every year our school breaks ground on some Chablis-swilling architect’s post-modernistic impression of a building and sticks us with the bill. In the rare instance they actually build something we need – like a new student union – they screw it up by finishing the project two years late and $27 million over budget.

And while it’s nice to have Coffman Union back, let’s face it: The thing is basically a $70 million mini-mall without enough chairs to sit down on during lunch.

There is a point to all this haphazard nitpicking: Tuition hikes are part of the administration’s larger pattern of contempt and disregard for students and staff.

Remember, this University invested $7 million in a controversial telescope built on sacred Apache land in Arizona and did not allow student representatives to comment on it. Remember, it consistently thumbs its nose at state law and then asks the legislature for more tax dollars anyway. Remember, it botched up the Coffman renovation and now expects us to pitch in for a new football stadium. Remember, it is currently trying to screw its clerical workers out of a fair contract at the same time administrators’ salaries are skyrocketing.

Remember all this, and ask yourself if a school that would do those things and spend $5 million to match the pedestrian bridges over Washington Avenue to the Weisman Art Museum is likely to exercise any caution when spending your money.

This is one thing students do not understand: While most grudgingly accept tuition hikes as an unfortunate but temporary necessity in the midst of a “budget crisis,” this kind of thinking presumes the flagrant gouging of our pocketbooks will eventually stop – presumably when all the new buildings are constructed and the “budget crisis” is over.

Wrong. The construction will never end, and neither will the “budget crisis.” The University is addicted to money, and addictions do not just stop. Either addicts destroy themselves or someone cuts off their supply of junk. In our case, it means someone has to stand up to the University and slam the cookie jar lid on its chubby little hands.

The problem is no one is in a position to bargain with the administration.

There are organizations – such as the Minnesota Student Association – that are supposed to do exactly that. But while I am sure MSA is full of good and intelligent people, they have wasted two years of time and money on a late-night busing scheme nobody really cared about in the first place, and they are still not even past the planning stage on it. A group that operates like that is not much help.

The only hope in this rotten situation is that the general feeling of discontent arisen in the wake of a house fire, sexual assault, hockey riots, protests, tuition raises, impending strikes and Minneapolis’ war against Dinkytown and greek chapters will somehow incite students to fight back.

Next time you are sitting in German class and cannot hear your teacher over the gigantic crane-operated jackhammer pulverizing concrete directly above your head, or when you are on a Campus Connector and hear a loud “bang!” and see a mysterious pink fluid flowing down around your shoes, or you are attacked by a mugger because the campus police are busy pursuing a quixotic, Eliot Ness-style crusade against underage drinking, remember who is paying for it.

Nick Busse’s column appears alternate Mondays. He welcomes comments at [email protected]