A stain on the maroon and gold?


If it hasn’t already, a thank you card should be arriving soon for the University of Minnesota Board of Regents from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

For years, MNSCU has played second fiddle to the U at the state Capitol when it came to funding priorities. But that may change next time around, judging from reaction by lawmakers to the U’s treatment of clerical, health care and technical staff.

Opinion: A stain on the maroon and gold?

A tarnished reputation is one possible outcome of the 16–day strike by AFSCME workers that ended Friday.

In the days after the strike began, state legislators took the unusual step of speaking out about the university administration’s behavior and warning of its consequences. They noted that the 2007 session had passed an increased university appropriation in part to boost salaries for all U workers – not just those at the top.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, chair of the House subcommittee that takes first crack at the university’s budget, put it succinctly: “I did a lot of cooperating with the university . . . I’m not going to be too happy if I see the typists and the receptionists getting hosed.”

Whether or not you subscribe to the union or the administration’s description of the wage offer – or understand the difference between cost-of-living raises and step increases – the outcome is still less than that provided to many other U workers. And the perception of unfairness is very real – among not only the unionized workers, but other staff, faculty, students and people in the community.

Double-digit tuition increases have put a U of M degree out of reach for many Minnesotans. The focus on becoming the nation’s No. 1 research university has also fueled an image of elitism and criticism that the U is thumbing its nose at its land-grant mission to serve everyone in the state.

Add that up and the University of Minnesota, long a beloved institution, may be risking its future. In the words of state Rep. Frank Hornstein, the U could “squander the good will they now have . . .”

No doubt Minnesotans will still cheer when the Gopher basketball teams take the court and hockey teams score yet another goal. They’ll pack the new football stadium when it opens and wave the maroon and gold.

But will the colors shine as bright?

Barb Kucera edits Workday Minnesota, which is a project of the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service. LES staff provide training, research and telecommunications services to workers and unions across the state.