Letter to the Editor

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Dear MSUM Dragons,

I write in response to the opinion piece authored by Editor-in-Chief of The Advocate, Alex Bertsch. The letter from the editor titled, “Anne Blackhurst Isn’t Your Friend,” was published on Friday, May 8th, 2020.

Before I get started, I’d like to tell you a bit about myself. My name is Zac Spohn, I will be a student with Junior standing on campus next fall. After serving on committees across campus this past school year, I was recently elected to serve on Student Senate starting in the fall. The committees I have served on include the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee (formerly SABC) and the Student Fee Review Committee. My tenure on these campus committees has especially equipped me to respond to the letter from the editor.  I have also been involved in our school’s chapter of Collegiate DECA during my two years here. Collegiate DECA recently won organization of the year here at MSUM. Further, I was also recently elected President of Minnesota Collegiate DECA.

I reveal these facts about myself not to gloat, but to explain why I choose to serve in these leadership positions. I choose to serve my fellow Dragons and my fellow Minnesota DECA members, not for the status, but in order to give back to two communities that have given me so much. While our leadership positions are very dissimilar, I am sure President Anne Blackhurst feels the same way about the students she serves. 

I commend The Advocate and administration for allowing a healthy debate on this issue. Freedom of speech needs to apply to all, not just those whom you agree with. That said, I have many reservations about the assertions made by the editor-in-chief in his piece.

First, the editor-in-chief claims that President Blackhurst isn’t equipped to serve the students, arguing instead that due to her social class she is compelled to serve the goals of the state system (MnSCU) and the state government collectively. The editor-in-chief also claims that the state is not interested in funding institutions of higher education. It is true that the most recent higher education bill passed into the law by our state lawmakers, SF 2415, did ultimately result in tuition increases across the board at MSUM. However, that was the result of the state legislature only granting $81.5 million of a $246 million request to the MnSCU system. Were President Blackhurst and Chancellor Devinder Malhotra of the MnSCU system doing the bidding of the ‘state’ when they requested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to fund our system for the 2019-2020 biennium, only to receive a third of that amount? Of course, they weren’t. That outcome was a result of a divided state legislature, trying to pass a funding bill before a special session was required.

Further, was President Blackhurst doing the state’s bidding when they successfully lobbied Governor Tim Walz to include $17.3 million in his bonding request to the state legislature to renovate Weld Hall? No, she wasn’t.

Second, the editor-in-chief claims that when it comes to firing faculty, cutting programs, and raising tuition, that President Blackhurst doesn’t care. This is a step too far in my eyes and I think many of our fellow Dragons would agree. It is blatant and unfounded character assassination. The editor-in-chief should retract these comments.

The entire pretext of the letter from the editor stems from the announcement by President Anne Blackhurst on April 15th that MSUM will be cutting 10 major programs and laying off 43 faculty in order to rectify a projected $6 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2022. The financial troubles facing Minnesota State University – Moorhead are not unique to our beloved university. In fact, this past fall, another university in the MnSCU system, Saint Cloud State University (SCSU), entered into retrenchment. Retrenchment is formally known as a way to lay off tenured faculty. SCSU had to begin laying off tenured faculty due to projected budget shortfalls, just like MSUM. Post-secondary education as a whole is facing dire financial challenges. This is all taking place in a climate where less and less people are going to college. That problem has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.

All of that said, MSUM administration was faced with the simple fact that the course they were on was not tenable for the future. Their costs were outpacing their revenues. No business, organization, or institution can proceed in that manner for an extended period of time without eventually having to fold. In order to keep the programs open, the university would have to receive a significant influx in cash. They were unlikely to receive an expansive line of funding from the state legislature, which is now facing a significant deficit for the current biennium, following the devastation wreaked on our economy and society by COVID-19. The only option left on the table in order to rectify the projected $6 million budget shortfall was a large tuition increase. In that vein, President Blackhurst undoubtedly made the decisions she did with the best interests of all the Dragons she serves in mind. Further, she delivered the news with empathy and compassion. To suggest that she did so without a care for the lives she was affecting is low and thoughtless.

Third, the language and tone utilized by the editor-in-chief intends to divide our Dragon community and incite a class rivalry on our campus. To close his piece, the editor-in-chief writes, “We need to stop being kind to Administration and acting like we’re all on the same team.”

Really? In light of COVID-19, challenging financial times for all, and polarizing politics across our nation, we need to stop being kind to others? I reject this sentiment wholeheartedly.

As a campus community we are stronger together. I stand in solidarity with my fellow Dragons and President Anne Blackhurst as we approach these turbulent times with grit, humility, and heart.

Yours most sincerely,

Zac Spohn

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