A greater conversation

Nicholas Hengen

This Thursday, everyone at the University of Minnesota has been invited to participate in a “great conversation” called “Renewing the Promise: Shaping the Next Century for the Great American University.” In an e-mail, we were told that President Bob Bruininks would be talking about “the future of American higher education” with some eminent thinkers.

Unfortunately, this “great conversation” is not a conversation that will include anyone. Instead, it will be on a stage in the Ted Mann Concert Hall. And our “participation” âÄî sitting quietly and listening âÄî comes at a cost of $20 per ticket. Even if we got to ask questions or share our own ideas, how many of us could afford that?

This isnâÄôt a real conversation. We are going to be told about the future and how the University will soon be one of the worldâÄôs top three public research universities. Strategic planning is on track. We are Driven to Discover. WeâÄôve heard it all before.

But if the future is so strong, why is the present so bleak? This year, budget cuts have led to increases in non-tenured faculty in our classrooms. Tuition has more than doubled in the last decade, barring the doors the of University for many Minnesotans. Staff members are facing layoffs and unpaid furloughs.

We need to have a conversation about who we are and what the University should do to face the ongoing state of financial crisis. This conversation should involve significant input not just from administrators but also undergraduate students, graduate students, staff and faculty. Many of us have ideas.

On Thursday âÄî before BruininksâÄô “great conversation” âÄî a faculty group will sponsor “Renewing the Promise, Reclaiming the University,” a real conversation about the future at 5 p.m. in Blegen Hall, Room 5. Three people âÄî undergraduate student Sofia Shank, bioethics professor Carl Elliott and Gary Rhoades, the general secretary of the American Association of University Professors âÄî will offer ideas about the UniversityâÄôs future. There will be plenty of time for discussion. And you donâÄôt have to pay anything to participate in the conversation.

This discussion should be the first of many. Indeed, on Oct. 7 students, faculty and staff will join people who support quality public higher education across the country in sharing that vision with marches, teach-ins and free public conversations. In my time at the University, I have met amazing people with great ideas about how to make it better.

Instead of inviting us to listen, itâÄôs time for the administration to start hearing us.

 Nicholas Hengen, Graduate student