To the candidates

Tuition, the economy and gay rights are important issues for students.

Daily Editorial Board

The audience in tomorrowâÄôs gubernatorial debate on campus will be students who have been closely following the race and know whatâÄôs at stake. Candidates should remember that weâÄôve had ample opportunity in past weeks to hear their talking points: Their presence here is a unique opportunity to specifically address Minnesota students, the University of Minnesota community and our particular set of concerns.
This University is of fundamental importance to Minnesota, but these are uncertain times for the stateâÄôs flagship higher education institution. We need candidates to show us they understand the challenges it faces and are willing to confront them. Here, as we see it, are the issues at stake in this election that have the greatest relevance to the University.
Along with other important state institutions, the recession has curtailed the UniversityâÄôs ability live up to its public mission. As cutbacks have diluted the quality of education, tuition here has more than doubled in the past decade. Only 61 percent of University students graduate in six years and many are forced to work while attending school. The average student will still graduate $23,000 in debt. Tuition has risen higher than the rate of inflation as public funding for the University has dwindled.
Indeed, this year tuition, not state appropriations, will be the UniversityâÄôs largest source of funding. This marks the regrettable failure of MinnesotaâÄôs lawmakers to keep the promise of an affordable education open to all Minnesotans. We need our next governor to keep the burden of these costs off studentsâÄô backs by recommitting to public financial support of higher education.
In this deep recession âÄî marked by egregious fiscal abuses by the present administration âÄî it is natural and fitting that the economy should be the central issue in the race for governor. All Minnesota students are affected by cutbacks in government services. As Minnesota struggles to fix a $6 billion deficit, the next governor will have to accept or reject the hard choices made by the Legislature. It is imperative that the next governor balance the budget without stripping the government bare of essential services like health care.
Nevertheless, even balanced state ledgers will be a hollow victory so long as we continue to allow so many Minnesotans to pass as second-class citizens. We have been disappointed to see that pressing social issues, such as health care and economic equality, have largely been ignored.
We see gay rights as a civil rights issue. The recent tragedies concerning young gay men across the country underscores the urgent need to work toward cultural and legal acceptance of homosexuality. The University has a large and active GLBT population whose welfare can no longer be ignored. National polls show attitudes toward homosexuality are on the verge of a generational shift. Younger people tend to support gay rights more strongly than the older generations that all three of the gubernatorial candidates represent. ItâÄôs time they took notice that gay youth are dying because of legal, religious and cultural repression âÄî created and upheld by their generation.
We want our citizens to be free and equal under the law without exception. We want them to have access to affordable public higher education without being crippled by private or pubic debts. We want to enter the workforce in a healthy Minnesota economy with college degrees.
The University should continue to be of central importance to the state, but it needs a strong ally in St. Paul.