Our country is in need of leadership at all levels capable of preserving the best of our civilization. We are beset with the inability of our leaders to define our values and to apply them to addressing issues raised by poverty, social justice and, most of all, hatred.

These issues have been thought about and debated over centuries of Western civilization. This thinking has been conveyed to us by the institution of the university, which first appeared in Bologna in the 11th century and was brought to Minnesota in the 19th century via the Morrill Act for land-grant universities. The heart and soul of the purveyors of thought have been the humanities — the study of the nature and values of our species through literature, performing arts, language, life sciences, anthropology, philosophy and related fields. Minds trained in this tradition are our best hope to develop leaders up to the task.

Our university has a distinguished College of Liberal Arts. It is the engine that drives this intellectual enterprise that is critical to our survival. The most populous undergraduate courses are in the Department of English. A mastery of our language and its literature is central to this enterprise — yet the Department of English is scattered on the Minneapolis campus among sundry classrooms and offices like a poor relative given scraps.

On the other hand, many millions have been spent on the stadium and football program. Football is irrelevant to the core mission of our university. It has been said that it is a net money earner. That may have been true at one time — probably not now (and for some time) in an all-in businesslike accounting basis. But that is beside the point. The point is that this elephant sucks up the energy and resources of the university that should be devoted to its mission of teaching, research and service.

This commercial sports enterprise should no longer be allowed to use the University of Minnesota platform to present mass sports entertainment. This is not to criticize those who make a living off this enterprise or the fans who enjoy it. Good for them. But the time is long past when such use of the University of Minnesota should be allowed for commercial purposes unrelated to the university’s mission.

Yet, when the new president is announced this week (the lone finalist is Joan Gabel of the University of South Carolina), it can be anticipated that she and her family will prance about attired in athletic gear.

Gabel’s primary administrative experience is in a business school — hardly the core of a great university — albeit a terrific moneymaker benefiting only the business school in the case of the University of Minnesota. Has she written on the importance of the humanities?

Will she be up to the critical job at hand? We’ll see.


Thomas A. Keller III, now retired, was for many years outside labor counsel to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents on issues of faculty collective bargaining. He also was counsel regarding NCAA issues in the basketball program.