Kaler, the University and area development

Kaler’s call for a University voice in development supports its mission, faculty and campuses.

Maybe it takes a former student who lived in the University neighborhood, as University President Eric Kaler did, to think about the University’s role in the growth and development of this particular student neighborhood. It is also a commendable recognition of the three-pronged mission of U.S. land-grant universities: teaching, research and service. As an old alumnus (1948) and a longtime southeast Minneapolis neighborhood activist, I congratulate Kaler for this acknowledgment of the University’s interest in, and a measure of responsibility for, its surroundings.

The Minnesota Daily Editorial Board is right to pose questions about this new endeavor, as it did in a March 12 editorial (“Kaler calls for U hand in development”), but the questions are limited to development projects. Transportation, transit, public health, safety and many other concerns are also elements of a healthy neighborhood. Why shouldn’t the University think of the area and the city as a laboratory for thought and experimentation, not only in urban development but in public health, traffic safety and a myriad of other problems that need attention? Why shouldn’t the talents of many renowned and brand-new faculty members be put to the service of the city and the neighborhood? Putting theory into practice can be very interesting and informative.  

Minnesota residents and taxpayers should count themselves lucky that the University has escaped the fate of other private and public universities around the country. Partially because of their own neglect, these schools have found themselves in the center of a slum, which forced them to spend millions, including on improvements of physical conditions. Kaler and the University regents have a better foundation on which to build.

Many of us living in the neighborhoods around the University eagerly await the presentation of Kaler’s plan to the Board of Regents in June and look forward to working with university experts in a variety of fields.