The UMore sellout

The University should reevaluate the development of UMore Park.


Whenever I meet alumni of the University of Minnesota and we compare and contrast our experiences here, the air of our conversation always tilts toward the drastic changes ahead.
I fill them in on the light-rail corridor that will one day be operating down the heart of campus, as well as the expansion of campus eastward as the Biomedical Discovery District is being constructed.
And then I tell them that the school is building a city.
In 30 years, the University believes that they will build a sustainable community with a population similar to that of Chaska, Minn.
The 5,000-acre plot of land located about a 40-minute drive south of the Minneapolis campus, is currently home to Rosemount Research and Outreach Center, where close to 50 students and faculty of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources conduct research projects each year.
In fact, similar research projects have been using some 900 acres of the property since 1947, when the land was purchased by the University from Uncle Sam for a dollar.
The school promised everyone that the land would be used for education and research for at least 30 years, but now that the promise has expired, the University is looking to relocate CFANSâÄô research, even among heavy protest by the college.
Just this past week, the University finalized a 40-year agreement that would allow mining on  more than a third of the 5,000 acres, located on the west side of the property, right under the CFANS research center.
Having the tranquil plot of land overrun by dump trucks and heavy machinery would be to spit in the face of what Minnesota was and still represents âÄî the agricultural breadbasket of America.
What would the late Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner, agronomist, and one of the most celebrated alumni of the University who is credited with saving over a billion lives from starvation, think of this decision to mine under the soil that could one day foster a breakthrough that could feed the human face of hunger?
The sacrifices the University is making by allowing the mining is betraying many of the founding principles of this University, and for only a few million dollars.
Aside from the mining aspect of UMore Park, the story of another planned community similar to the idea of UMore Park comes to mind.
Development began in 1967 in Chaska of a planned community called Jonathan. The developers had a vision of a suburban community with a vibrant local culture. They took out advertisements nationally, sporting Jonathan as a revolutionary way of living.
But by 1979, the development corporation folded, nowhere reaching the expected total population of 50,000 residents.
At the end of fiscal year 2010, the University had already spent $9.3 million planning the development of UMore Park, with millions more to come.
The University could have used this money to tidy up our campus and to make it safer for students. Why not at least try to develop something similar and as grandiose as UMore Park that is closer to campus and accessible to faculty and students?
Like the example of Jonathan, there is no guarantee of success, and the University will have to assume the risk of UMore ParkâÄôs development âÄî is it something we are ready for?
It doesnâÄôt take an alumni or an enrolled student to see that our University is changing to become less of a school and more of a corporation.
The University should keep its course of developing itself as a top public research university. Leave developing cities to the professionals.