History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Steve Sviggum's political stance taints 'U'

Steve Sviggum is a former speaker of the Minnesota House (photo from Minnesota Independent).

The U of M had better not take for granted the lofty reputation it has always enjoyed.
We all revere higher education or so it would seem. Complacency can be risky though. Issues that are troubling or suggest questionable judgment are ill-afforded.
We have seen the rather irregular retirement package for Joel Maturi recently. It has been decried as a golden parachute for someone who hardly brought glory to the U.
We can go higher than that in the U hierarchy for another toothache-like issue. We're up at the board of regents to observe a thorny and unfortunate situation. The U is seeking opinions from attorneys (yes, plural) on a matter that apparently can't be adjudicated with common sense.
The U's attorney Mark Rotenberg is weighing in. Also weighing in will be "an independent attorney," the words used in Minnesota Daily coverage (2/13), as if Rotenberg's thinking might be clouded.
What makes this issue so super sensitive? Is Steve Sviggum so indispensable as a regent that his status has to be weighed with such gravity? Isn't he clearly more trouble than he's worth now? Isn't there a "distraction factor" creeping in now? Isn't there a basic credibility issue?
Sviggum - often it's pronounced "Swiggum" - has had his hands slapped on this type of matter before. He isn't satisfied being a U regent with a clear perspective on University matters. The tremendous privilege of being in this role should cause him to instinctively shove all nagging distractions aside.
Is his arrogance attributable to being a Republican? That's my bias. Republicans have as a basic tenet the belief that people should not like government. I don't think it's bias for me to assert that - I think it's an objective statement. Would Republicans even counter me?
The University of Minnesota is in theory an institution of the people which strives, partly if not largely through state resources, to serve the broad populace, to nurture young people from a cross section in the development of their possibilities.
Regents should not be encumbered by a narrow political philosophy. Certainly they should not be overt in how they subscribe to that philosophy.
How overt is Sviggum? In January this long-time politico was named executive assistant and communications chief for the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus.
Sviggum added eggbeater to troubled waters when he talked self-consciously and almost defensively about his political stance. He said "hundreds have reached out to (me) saying 'we need a conservative on the board.' "
A regent should be intelligent, forward-thinking and prudent and not sound like a crusading tea party type. America is getting weary of your kind, Mr. Sviggum. The self-conscious type of conservatism you project is wearing on people.
I have written many times that conservatism is fine when it simply encourages restraint - a prudent and sober eye with public resources.
People who talk in a crusading way with conservatism go a step further. They are pandering to a public that often just gets sick of government. When these conservatives actually get power, they don't stay focused on fiscal matters anyway. They veer off into social issues where they quickly wear out their welcome.
Regents shouldn't use partisan language. When Sviggum says "we need a conservative" it's below the kind of lofty thinking we want at this level.
The Minnesota Daily even had to insert a "sic" in a quote attributed to this wayward politico: "My ethics has (sic) never been questioned. Nor will it be."
But the current process is indeed putting Sviggum's judgment under review. It's questionable if he really answers to anyone though. The state constitution has no provision for impeachment of a regent.
Sviggum has said he won't resign although a later statement suggested hedging. Clearly the matter is a distraction and somewhat of an embarrassment. None of the recent media coverage has refreshed me on how Sviggum became a regent. If he could keep his mouth shut about his agenda - "we need a conservative" - it would help.
In the broader public we are seeing a backlash against the tea party-driven conservatism. It has worn out its welcome. It was emotional to begin with and largely unrealistic.
Thomas Frank has written a whole book about what happens when conservatives get the real power to govern. Have we seen this in Minnesota with the implosion of the Senate GOP majority caucus? The title of Frank's book: "The Wrecking Crew." Frank gained fame by writing "What's the Matter with Kansas?"
The state constitution painstakingly strives to keep the U's governance out of the reach of politicos - legislators and governors. It takes vigilance.
Politicians are gluttons with power and have chutzpah.
Regents cannot be elected officials. Sviggum parses words, saying he's merely a Senate employee and not a "decisionmaker."
What on earth would motivate this purebred politician to do what he's doing, if in fact he's completely away from the decision-making apparatus? Of course he isn't. He's a capitol animal as much as any. With arguably as much influence as any.
He is compensated $102,000 a year to represent the Senate GOP position to the public.
Again, sheesh. He's a partisan crusader. And we need two attorneys, one of them "independent," to sort this all out?
What's the matter with Kansas? What's the matter with Minnesota?
The kind of money tossed around with Sviggum and Maturi suggest a disconnect. We can't assume that higher education is always going to occupy the high ground. We must be vigilant to protect it. Prudent decisions are essential.
The theory about the higher education bubble carries some weight. I personally subscribe to it (as a futurist and IT observer). Tuition payments are rising while the rate of return on a degree is decreasing.
The issues with Maturi and Sviggum are unnecessary distractions for our venerable U of M. Regarding Maturi, I'm reminded of what a former Morris Area school board member said in an informal conversation once: "If you give us the money, we'll just spend it."
Regarding Sviggum, the basic integrity of the man has come into question. What, we can't trust a Republican? Sviggum claimed he had already cleared the current matter with other regents and the general counsel. Those other parties had their hair stand up as they said "no, that didn't happen."
So we have a regent with a defensive and self-consciously political agenda - "we need conservatives" - who speaks in a way that requires a "sic" and who makes factual claims denied by others.
I'm sure there are many distinguished and thoughtful people who would serve on the board nicely and with humility. An entitled-feeling politico who exudes some arrogance is the opposite of what we need.
Regents chairman Linda Cohen has asserted there is a conflict in Sviggum's roles. She says it's "a serious matter."
It's a recurring matter too. Last year Sviggum left his role as a paid fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs after a review committee determined this role was not compatible with being a regent.
Sviggum can't see the forest for the trees, apparently. But he answers to no one, apparently.
It's a kerfuffle we hardly need.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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