Governor Pawlenty: Taking the trust out of trustee


To ensure that the voices of the students are heard, the MnSCU Board of Trustee’s has three student positions. By statute, a student must be appointed to represent students at two-year community colleges, two-year technical colleges, and the four-year state universities. The responsibility for advocating for 70,000 four-year students or 110,000 two-year college students is an enormous task.

Opinion: Governor Pawlenty: Taking the trust out of trustee

The selection of these students is a serious matter for both the Minnesota State University Student Association (MSUSA) and the Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA). Typically, the process to select new trustees begins more than six months before the statutory deadline of April 15th.

Students go through a detailed process, being vetted by their own respective governing board and oftentimes a spirited group of delegates. I went through this process back in 2004 for MSUSA. Another student from Bemidji State and I were recommended by our Board for appointment by the Governor.

During the past year MSUSA has engaged in the process of selecting member(s) for appointment to the MnSCU Board as their seat is being vacated on June 30th by Michael Boulton. I have known Michael for a few years now, having served on the MSUSA Board with him and having worked with him on the MnSCU Board as well. He has been a strong advocate for our students and his service to four-year students is deeply appreciated.

Two students have been recommended by the student association and I know both of these individuals well. Ezra Kazee is a student at Winona State University. He has served in a myriad of positions at both the statewide student association and at Winona. I would argue that he knows more about MnSCU policy than any other student in the state, having served for many years now on a student disability services panel at MnSCU. Ezra is highly qualified for a position on the board and I have a great deal of respect for him.

The other student is Adam Weigold. Adam is a current student at Metropolitan State University in St Paul and has been active in both the statewide student association and at Mankato and Metro State. Adam has been equally as busy in student organizations as well, working with the MSU-Mankato College Republicans and student media outlets. While I may not always agree with Mr. Weigold’s stances on various issues, I do know that he is a student-oriented leader and would serve our students well.

Both are highly qualified to serve on the MnSCU Board.

In recent discussions with colleagues in St Cloud and Mankato, I have heard of a third candidate for the Board, a candidate who supposedly has been recruited by someone in Governor Pawlenty’s office, in a blatant attempt to thwart the work of four-year students across the state. That candidate is Luke Hellier.

A quick search produced a blog posting for Luke Hellier that published his resume. (Since the time of that search, his resume has been removed.)

The first eye catching tidbit is that Mr. Hellier is a graduate of the College of St Johns, a private college just north of St Cloud. Mr. Hellier’s resume indicates he will attend school in Mankato in the Masters in Public Administration program, and will attend on a part time basis.

A private college student advocating for four-year public college students in one of the most prestigious positions a student can have? He must have some deep higher education qualifications then, right?

His resume is a virtual who’s who of conservative politics in Minnesota. He served as the political director for Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s campaign. (Which would explain my run-in’s with him in the past, which I will elaborate on later.)

He worked as a research assistant for Young America’s Foundation, an intern for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and as a House of Representatives intern. Mr Hellier was the President of Students Fostering Conservative Thought, Vice Chair of the Minnesota College Republican’s in 2006, and a member for the Center for Public Policy. To be fair, Mr Hellier would also appear to have given some significant time to some great organizations in the local area as well, including being a Big Brother to the Boys and Girls Club.

The work at Students Fostering Conservative Thought really caught my eye.

SFCT is a non partisan campus organization at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. SFCT’s goal is to spark conversation about conservative issues on our campus and across the state of Minnesota.

A “non partisan” campus group working to spark conservative issues? That’s a partisan group! This “non-partisan” group worked to bring controversial speakers to the St John’s and St Ben’s community. Mr Hellier worked to bring conservative writer David Horowitz to St. John’s University.

Some students were not impressed by the presentation.

St. Ben’s senior Kirsten Flaten was not as pleased.”He said a lot that wasn’t backed up. Some of his comments were intentionally offensive,” she said. St. John’s senior Devin O’Brien also had qualms.”Who’s going to disagree with freedom in the classroom?” O’Brien said. “He cites three examples and throws in a few conservative one-liners to get the audience riled up.”

Hellier remained supportive of Horowitz, even after Horowitz asserted that “peace studies programs are probably the leading example of campus support for terrorism.”

If Hellier is appointed to the MnSCU Board, he will be dealing with numerous student and faculty policies alike.

While a Student Senator at St. John’s University, Hellier defended Congressman Kennedy’s vote against college students when Kennedy voted for the Budget Reconciliation Act, a bill that cut $14.3 billion from the federal student loan programs, $7.8 billion taken from students through new charges and fees.

“Personally I don’t have a problem with it,” said Luke Hellier of the College Republicans. “We have to figure out a way to pay for the damage Katrina caused. We had to do it some way.”

Years later, Katrina relief is still needed. The Budget Reconciliation Act may go down as one of the most fiscally irresponsible pieces of legislation from the 109th Congress.

By the way, Hellier was co-director for Students for Kennedy and started a facebook group for Students for Bachmann.

A representative of students must be able to respond to the diverse nature of the MnSCU system. A community on-line publication at St. John’s/St. Bens tells the story of a sad altercation a Senator from St John’s had at a Johnnie hockey game.

I, apparently, made the mistake of sitting a few rows behind what I refer to as “the rowdy boy section”. While this group is fun to sit near, as they often will start many a rousing chant of “Let’s Go Johnnies”, I was disappointed in their behavior at this particular game.

A SJS Senator and his friends began yelling at the Tommies such phrases as: “You’re a fag, #24!”, “You still suck dick!”, “I’m going to stab you in the heart!”, and “I’m going to kill your family!”

This is appalling to me, as was it to the people sitting around me. There were at least two known members of the GLBT community within earshot of this Senator who were disappointed with his comments, especially his homophobic remarks.

Note that the letter writer did not name any specific names

Hellier responded:

Lisa, I think we both deserve the opportunity to clear the air about Saturday’s game. I read your letter to the editor and was surprised about some of the remarks. At no time do I recall that myself or any other Senator made any homophobic remarks. I agree that language is completely unacceptable. I understand of the negativity language such as that is uncalled for and should never be used. Those comments could have been made, but never were directed towards anyone in the GLBT community. In the heat of the moment things are said and possibly the homophobic remarks came from them, I would hope that would never happen again.

Again, I want to apologize to you or anyone else that might have been offended by any of the remarks at the game.

Please let me know if there is anything else on your mind.
Luke Hellier

The kicker: he was the Community Relations Chair.

I have been to my share of Johnnie/Tommie games, as well as Gopher/Husky and Gopher/North Dakota games. Heat of the moment? I have not heard those phrases uttered at these games before. This conduct is not befitting of any sentient being, much less a student leader on the MnSCU Board of Trustees.

Which leads me to my run in with Mr Hellier. I worked a few parades this summer above and beyond my own, walking for Amy Klobuchar and Patty Wetterling.
I believe we were in Monticello for a parade, having a great time when I confronted a Mr Hellier as his group, including himself was walking through the Wetterling group on a parade route putting Bachmann stickers on Wetterling signs and the 8 foot banner.

Hellier, holding a video camera, filmed me “asking him” what he was doing and that what he was doing had crossed a line and that they needed to stop. It was an interesting confrontation to say the least.

Governor Pawlenty has a choice to make soon. He campaigned on higher education issues and working with the powerful student associations in choosing who represents them would be a great start. History is against the students though. Governor Pawlenty is the only Governor to ever appoint a student who did not receive the support of the student associations. While the statute provides the Governor with that choice, Pawlenty has made these appointments political in nature, at times putting the concerns of college students on the back burner for political gain.

It could be happening again.

Minnesota Statutes are clear as to the higher education goals for the MnSCU system.

(1) to ensure quality – to provide a level of excellence that is competitive on a national and international level, through high quality teaching, scholarship, and learning in a broad range of arts and sciences, technical education, and professional fields;
(2) to foster student success – to enable and encourage students to choose
institutions and programs that are best suited for their talents and abilities, and to provide an educational climate that supports students in pursuing their goals and aspirations;
(3) to promote democratic values – to enhance Minnesota’s quality of life by developing understanding and appreciation of a free and diverse society;
(4) to maintain access – to provide an opportunity for all Minnesotans, regardless of personal circumstances, to participate in higher education; and
(5) to enhance the economy – to assist the state in being competitive in the world market, and to prepare a highly skilled and adaptable workforce that meets Minnesota’s opportunities and needs.

History of the three candidates indicates that Weigold and Kazee can remain consistent with those objectives as laid out in statute. Either would serve the system extremely well. Both already have extensive experience as students within the MNSCU system.

Hellier’s undergraduate experience is as a private college student. His history shows his desire for political gain and advancing a conservative agenda.

With national aspirations surrounding Governor Pawlenty, I wonder if he is viewing this appointment as yet another opportunity to show his handlers the conservative nature of his appointments, and his time as Governor.

He is following the trend of the neo-conservatives in putting their unqualified people in places of political importance, sacrificing democracy. Hellier is just another example of the neo-conservative methods for organizing. He could be at the forefront for destroying public higher education in the State of Minnesota.

If this happens, look for a big fight in the legislature next winter…

Hal Kimball is a student who writes the Blue Man in a Red District blog.