Half a century ago, plus a couple of years, I left my small town of Kerkhoven and arrived at what is now St. Cloud State University to start what educators, parents and friends insisted would be a transformative journey. Another freshman, from even smaller Merrifield, had already checked in to our dorm room.
Covering most of the space between beds, closets and desks was an ink-stained, monster early version of a mimeograph machine. Win Borden looked at me, looked at the machine, and said for explanation, “I intend to be politically active.”
By the next day dormitory officials had found a larger room in the older section of Shoemaker Hall to house Win, his machine, and an obliging roommate. And Win went on to pursue his objectives, academically and politically.
We linked up again three years later in the upstairs of a large house off campus. I had the cheap bed. At the foot of it was a miniature pool table where Win and the five or six other guys in the house or visitors would play pool during study breaks.
With strength of personality and intellect, Win brought together a number of bright young people who would become the next generation of Minnesota policy wonks and watchers.
Win died a week ago.
Old friends are now telling stories for our own peace of mind and for his children. Looking back, it occurs to me that at least four future members of the Minnesota Legislature- including Win – would be shooting pool or conferring in that house.
Several students became lawyers and at least one became a long-serving state judge. One would be a deputy Minnesota Secretary of State. Another would become a USDA official before, oh yes, he’s teaching at a state junior college these days.
Our intertwined circles of friends and acquaintances included lots of future educators – K-12 all over the state and college professors stretching from Montana to the Middle East.
Within a few short years, SCSU expanded its program offerings. Later incoming freshmen would interact with people who became executives of major Minnesota and U.S. corporations, a Federal Reserve bank official, at least one nationally recognized commodities market analyst, and the CEO of one of America’s largest banks. And this doesn’t even look at the huge number of journalists, broadcasters and meteorologists who bring Minnesotans and other Americans their news each day.
Years later, I was a proud father taking a daughter off to college at a West Coast school. The president told parents that no matter how great the school was, our sons and daughters would learn more from each other in the next four years than from faculty and classes.
That was a humble way of commenting on the transformative role academic settings play in the lives of students. It was true a half century ago at SCSU. It is undoubtedly true at every major public and private college and university in Minnesota today.
SCSU and all Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) institutions are now going through reorganization planning. When all is said and done, programs and faculty must be left in place to continue to attract students like Win Borden and the gang of future leaders who came to shoot pool with Win at the foot of my bed.
That is what makes higher education transformative for lucky students, me included. Now as MnSCU and SCSU consider their Charting the Future report, it’s important they remember the strengths of their universities and colleges.