We’re shelling out, so put it in the right place

I enjoyed reading Lori Sturdevant’s Jan. 19 column “Heaps of repairs at U, MnSCU,” but it could just as easily have been titled “The black hole of higher education” or “Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes and misplaced priorities.”

I am not an alumnus of the University of Minnesota, so my allegiance does not lie there, but I understand and appreciate the value of a world-class university within our state far more than that of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings or a new office building for our part-time elected representatives in St. Paul. There is no question that education is expensive and that higher education is even more expensive. However, if we want the U to be a world-class university and want to have a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system that meets the educational needs of today’s students for tomorrow’s world, we need to get our priorities straight and adequately fund their needs for both operations and facilities.

As we think about these issues, let’s remember that the NFL was formed in 1920; the Minnesota Vikings joined the league in 1960; the Metrodome was built in 1982, and fewer than 32 years later, it was declared obsolete. In contrast, the University of Minnesota was formed in 1851; it has touched the lives of more people than we can count, and it is being asked to make do with some buildings that are more than 70 years old.

DAVID R. WITTE, Plymouth

• • •

Regarding Paul John Scott’s Jan. 19 commentary (“What would you pay a person to run a college?”), Macalester’s president is a piker compared with mine. The president of my alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, is Shirley Ann Jackson, who for a few years past was No. 1 on the salary hit parade of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Every year, without fail, a student there calls me to contribute my yearly $150 or more to the annual fund. I explain that I will not contribute anymore because of Jackson’s obscene salary. The students usually try halfheartedly to convince me that my money can go to scholarships, but when I mention the F-word (fungible), they back off. Some even agree with me — after all, their parents are the ones working hard to come up with the high tuition.



Farming cited wrongly as technology triumph

The Jan. 19 commentary from the Economist (“Worker vs. machine: Managing upheaval”) argues that social dislocation and rising inequality are inevitable with changes in technology, but that governments can be proactive so that prosperity and progress are the longer-term outcomes for workers. The article cites as an example the changes in agriculture in the 20th century: “A hundred years ago, one in three American workers was employed on a farm. Today less than 2 percent of them produce far more food.”

The narrative that Americans have been freed from the land in order to eventually prosper in a more sophisticated economy belies the challenges we now face from the industrialization of agriculture. Rather than being freed, most of us are alienated from our food and the land. In fact, many of us have little idea about where our food comes from — how it has been grown, harvested, produced and marketed. We have become dependent on questionable industrial technologies that at one time created a green revolution yet now seem unsustainable.

At stake now is our health; the fertility of the land; the availability of water resources; the humane care of animals; family farms; justice for agricultural workers; access to seeds, and a secure genetic legacy, among many other challenges. Perhaps the proliferation of school and community gardens, CSAs, farmers markets, and organic and no-till alternatives stems from a hunger to be reconnected to the land. These are innovations that anticipate a different trajectory of prosperity and abundance for a postindustrial world.



Do precautions have diminishing returns?

After reading the Jan. 22 story on how concerns over security at the Sochi Olympics have caused some athletes to cancel their families’ plans to attend, my lasting thought was: Bad Guys 1, Rest of the World 0. As a child, I watched the horrors play out in Munich as 11 Israeli athletes were murdered and as the world was forced to watch radical insurgents alter forever the landscape of sport. All my life, Islamist militants have attempted to create unease and distrust and fear in the West and in Israel. I have grown tired of watching the world react to these murderers. We shouldn’t react; we should act. It is one thing to not attend an Olympics or another event due to expense, lack of opportunity or distance. But it is another to allow fear to alter our plans. If our reaction is to let terror and those who wish to perpetrate it dictate how we live, then the terrorists and the insurgents are well on their way to winning. And that is a bad message to be sending them.

John Klassen, Minneapolis

• • •

Reading the frustrating stories of Somali families struggling to unite in the United States, we sympathize with those affected (“Visa backlog keeps families separated,” Jan. 20). However, after reading five articles about terrorists and violence by Page A4 that day, one gets to “Al-Qaida is again active in the U.S.” The summary for that story reads: “Somalis from Minnesota are among the potential recruits the FBI monitors.”

There have been at least four cases of radicalized Americans, trained by terrorist organizations, returning to carry out attacks within the United States. We must continue to be vigilant and follow every precaution to minimize these threats, and this will unfortunately continue to adversely affect our Somali citizens of Minnesota.

Michael Tillemans, Minneapolis