Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I'm back, with a response to an MSU editorial

Well, finals kicked my butt, but I'm back, mainly in response to a post on Spartan Nation about MSU's lack of commitment to agribusiness in Michigan. My responses to selected portions of the post can be seen posted below; my main criticism is that the article smacks of oversimplification of the vast economic problems facing Michigan right now, and puts the onus on MSU to save Michigan. The excerpts from Spartan Nation's post is offset, I trust you'll be able to discern my responses.

Sports-related content to come tonight, now that heat exchanger design is no longer my main concern.

Ugh. As an MSU student right now, I believe that this article oversimplifies many of the problems facing Michigan today.

I am not interested in rich oil barons sending their sons and daughters to MSU Dubai. I am interested in seeing Detroit turn around with a commitment to bioeconomy through education. I am not against the Dubai campus, it will open opportunity for agrieducation to a brand new corridor. I am asking if the emphasis is being placed in the right places?

These ideas are not mutually exclusive.

How many people from inner city Detroit would like a job that pays 25-30K? With all of the warehousing space and the access to shipping lanes, Detroit could be an economic power in food processing. Problem is that MSU doesn’t even have a program in food processing. This is particularly disgusting considering the diversified fruit and vegetable markets that continue to boom in our back yards.

Detroit's problems go way past MSU not creating jobs there. In 2006, Detroit had an abysmal graduation rate of 21.7% for its high-school students. The problem isn't that MSU doesn't offer food processing, it's that the majority of kids from Michigan's largest city will fail to graduate high school, which presents more problems than one university can handle.

So while society is brainwashed into believing that higher standardized test scores and GPA’s result in a higher quality graduate, does it benefit the state of Michigan? Are MSU graduates today better prepared to deal with the problems of tomorrow more than they were ten or even twenty years ago? Are MSU grads any smarter or more capable than they were ten or twenty years ago? I don’t think so.

So what should MSU's criteria for admission be? Having each prospective student sign a statement vowing to stay in Michigan after they graduate? Should a 2.5 student who pledges to stay in Michigan beg given preference over a 4.0 out-of-state student? Like it or not, test scores and GPA are the best indicator we presently have as a society to predict a student's future success. Are MSU grads smarter than they previously were? I'd like to think so, due in part to the academic competition that has bubbled to the surface.

I have heard numerous people talk badly about Ohio State because they “let everyone in.” Anyone think that OSU is less prestigious than MSU? How are OSU’s sports teams year in and year out? The truth is that OSU abides by the very principles that gave the university life. Unlike MSU, Ohio State sees that access is the most important thing.

This is partly true. While Ohio State as a whole is open to any graduate from an Ohio high school, admission is only guaranteed to its satellite campuses (Lima, Mansfield, Marion, and Newark). Admission to the Columbus campus is competitive and works exactly like any other Big Ten University. In fact, you praise Ohio State for admitting everyone, but the Columbus Campus' average SAT and ACT scores for the freshman class are higher than MSU's! The only reason Ohio State admits everyone is that some of those admitted students go to a regional OSU campus. Should MSU construct regional campuses like OSU's? I'm not sure where the money would come from for that.

The luxury suites in Spartan Stadium are fit for kings and queens. They are truly a marvel, a masterpiece built to showcase the very university that we have all grown to love so deeply. They are also used as a tool to raise money for the school, which is largely a positive thing. They are also used to purchase the very politics that sell the potential sons and daughters of Michigan State to the highest bidder.

Are there any examples of this? I'm not quite sure what you mean.

Landgrant university access and education are something that I fundamentally believe is both important and necessary. So while many will wait to see what happens with this automaker bailout in the hopes that our state’s economic complexion changes, I will carry the torch that John Hannah believed was the fundamental right of Michigan residents.

Access to higher education is tantamount for a society to succeed; however, that university need not be a Land Grant one, as many, many Michigan residents have gotten a quality education from Central, Western, Michigan Tech, GVSU and numerous other universities. If one doesn't get in at first, he or she can go to another college and transfer. Also, going to college is not a right, it is a privilege. Ask anyone who got banned for a year from public universities for CedarFest crimes if post-secondary education's a right.

This holiday season, while you watch MSU run up and down the court and play on New Year’s Day, ask yourself this question. What does the slogan… from landgrant to world grant actually mean? Is it a campus in Dubai that MSU needs or more undergraduates educated in a future economy that promises to become Michigan’s most crucial overnight?

The aspect of this article that irked me the most was that there was no mention of the great economic good MSU has brought to Michigan. The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, which will pump $1 billion into Michigan's economy, was not mentioned. The construction of MSU's new medical school in Grand Rapids, which will train more doctors vested in Michigan, went unmentioned. The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a $100 million joint venture between UW and MSU went unmentioned. MSU is training graduates for the top 30 growing fields, such as elementary education, accounting, registered nurses, doctors, computer scientists, and many many more.

My point is that while the agriscience industry is expanding, Michigan is still going to need many other professions to keep jobs in the state. The agricultural economy is still crucial to Michigan's success, but the undergraduates will have to make the decisions themselves to go into agriculture. It is not MSU's fault that Michigan's economy is failing, and to imply that MSU is failing Michigan by not investing more money in one sector of the economy oversimplifies Michigan's problems right now.


kj (spartans weblog) said...

Hear, hear. To add to your list of criticisms:

"While Michigan State University builds a campus in Dubai, the state of Michigan is in economic shambles."

Can the author explain how MSU building a self-funding campus in Dubai adds to Michigan's economic problems?

witless chum said...

I generally agree with all of this and y'know, it's Hondo. Nothing about his sports coverage makes me at all surprised by the lack of thought that seemed to go into the stuff you quoted.

However, this is a pet peeve.
"Detroit's problems go way past MSU not creating jobs there. In 2006, Detroit had an abysmal graduation rate of 21.7% for its high-school students. The problem isn't that MSU doesn't offer food processing, it's that the majority of kids from Michigan's largest city will fail to graduate high school, which presents more problems than one university can handle"

It's a weird American thing that we spend a lot of time and money trying to make our schools into places that create social mobility. The problem poor kids have in school is that they're poor. Just like the problems they have in health care is that they're poor. And on and on. Tinkering with the school system is certainly a worthwhile idea, maybe we can lower those numbers some by better educational policy, but it's not going to solve the underlying problem.

The only answers I can see involve, fundamentally, taxing away more of the money from those individuals at the top of the economy and transferring it in some form to those at the bottom. And yes, I guess I am a huge commie (I blame an adolescence listening to thrash metal, seriously).

Good to see you back posting.

DP99 said...

Well, I was an out-of-country enroll at MSU, so I might be biased. I also left my job in Dearborn for an opportunity in Seattle, so I'm double-black-diamond bad, I guess.

But I was also a math TA for several freshman courses, including sections upon sections of 1825, at which point I came to the thought that the land grant model as it was applied at MSU could use a review. PSU, Purdue, and Wisconsin are cited, all enjoy better academic reputation (unfairly) than MSU. OSU is used as the comparison, but what about this other schools?

Other than that, I don't know any specifics of what might be going on with admissions, though I might imagine that tightening state budgets of the past several years might have something to do with it too. I'm not sure where all the money to accept more kids and build new programs in Michigan, right now, is supposed to come from.

I also don't know why the pursuit of certain opportunities are necessarily to the detriment of others. MSU and its researchers and grads can help agri-business in Dubai, and MSU could use Dubai money. MSU grads need jobs and opportunities, not necessarily jobs and opportunities in Michigan. But the higher rate of exodus from Michigan is not due to MSU's growing world view, it's due to Michigan's now decades long detrending economy. By the way, the finance and business department in the major university in the foreign city I grew up in was founded with the help of MSU professors among others -- in the 50's during John Hannah's tenure. To my understanding his whole goal was to grow a small agricultural school into a wide-ranging and influential institution.

This are frustrating times. I'm not from Michigan and I don't live in Michigan anymore, but I did so for 10 years. Most of my friends are still from my MSU ties, and all my teams are the Michigan teams except for one. And it's still pretty frustrating to me to see where the state has gotten too in the last 20-30 years. Like Pete says, there way more problems than MSU's investment in agribusiness. It looked to me the author is pretty frustrated too, and I think it resulted in an article with many ideas squeezed together and the author's nearest and dearest frustration taking forefront. At least that part is understandable.