Ralph Doty: It's past time for university CEOs to get publicly involved

As the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica continue to smolder because of the steady influx of more student renters into former single-family homes, the top administrators at the two cam...

As the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica continue to smolder because of the steady influx of more student renters into former single-family homes, the top administrators at the two campuses continue their public silence on the issue.

Last week, I commented about the crisis in some neighborhoods caused by a growing number of students from campuses seemingly hell bent on growing their enrollments as fast as possible, without considering the consequences. The reaction of readers was overwhelmingly in favor of my premise that until UMD Chancellor Kathryn Martin and CSS President Larry Goodwin get publicly involved in this crisis, things will not get better.

To assert that tempers are getting shorter on both sides -- residents on the one hand and students and landlords on the other -- is, I fear, to understate the seriousness of a growing problem. And, as of Thursday, there hadn't been a single public utterance from the two campuses' CEOs.

Here are comments from a few of many e-mails received in the past few days. Not cited are letters written by people who didn't want to be quoted.

Allen Makynen testified before the City Council last week. He writes: "Along with you, I wondered where the university leadership was at Monday's meeting ... I contacted both campuses after the council meeting and advised them of the damage they were doing to themselves."


Mr. Makynen continues: "Will law enforcement -- the use of citations, not warnings -- become a new culture? Neighbors want it. Landlords want it. There seems to be a unity of interest on this issue."

Finally, while hoping for the best, Mr. Makynen expresses skepticism: "We did not resolve [the student rental issue] in 2003 and now here we are again, four years later, with an even larger student body needing housing."

Sean Adams, a student at St. Scholastica, writes: "I think they [the CEOs] just wait for things to blow over ... I also plan to put some added pressure on and from the Student Senate, because this is their issue, too."

Sharla Gardner, a campus neighborhood resident and city council candidate, writes: "I've been struck by the silence of the campus administrations in the controversy that the implementation of their growth plans created."

Robert Evans presents another perspective.

A few years ago, he relates, he attended a meeting called by the city to deal with student rentals. Dr. Evans writes: "I made the remark that I

didn't see how any of their planning could go ahead unless they had some idea about the number of students UMD was planning to admit, and I asked if the city had ever approached them. The answer was 'no' and it was clear they would not do so. Then [a city hall bureaucrat] made the remark that we all should think about the city at large, not just about our own neighborhood ... I don't know about the city at large, but I know a lot about the dangers of the central hillside blight moving east."

Dr. Evans concludes: "How can any city planning about the east side of Duluth make any sense without knowing the long term enrollment goals of UMD and CSS?"


Ron McKinnon, a former member of the Duluth Alcoholic Beverage Board, writes that "UMD has not been a good neighbor nor a good cooperative community citizen. The 'big dog on the block' concept seems to be their mode of operation."

For example, writes Mr. McKinnon, "one of our issues was the control of beer kegs as related to some of the parties that occurred in the neighborhoods. The police had a very difficult time in identifying responsibility for the purchase of multiple kegs and we attempted to get UMD involved in working out a procedure for control of sales. They went through the motions of interest and concern, but we never heard from officials at UMD when it came to any suggestions or indication of cooperation."

Mr. McKinnon concludes his letter by describing a growing consensus among people concerned about the student housing glut: "That UMD does not now show an interest in the solution of any student housing problem does not surprise me at all."

The bottom line is this: Neighborhood anxieties created by unlimited enrollment growth at UMD and CSS, and the problems created each year by hundreds more students needing a place to sleep, require prompt and lasting solutions. Before another effort to solve the housing dilemma fails, CEOs Martin and Goodwin need to get their hands dirty and publicly work with others to resolve a bad and perhaps dangerous neighborhood situation.

Make no mistake about it. As a college president for nearly a quarter century (now retired), I know that when a college president publicly acknowledges a problem and pledges to work on solutions, it not only assures members of the community that they are being heard, it also sends the following strong message to his/her subordinate administrators: Get moving and be part of the solution.

Never underestimate the power of a college or university president in getting everyone's attention. The time for CEO action is now. Enough of this benign neglect!

Ralph Doty can be contacted at .

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