Author: Amy Lohmann

Minn. senators discuss higher education

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, St. Olaf College students and faculty and Northfield townspeople engaged in a dialogue with the Minnesota Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee in Viking Theater.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Terri Bonoff, D- Minn., who represents Minnetonka and Plymouth, stopped at St. Olaf as part of its month-long Minnesota Higher Education “Listening Tour” around the greater Minnesota area in an attempt to gather input from students and interested parties about how to improve the state’s higher education systems. Bonoff was joined by Sen. Greg Clausen, D- Minn., of Dakota County, who is the vice-chair of the committee, and Rep.David Bly ’74, D-Minn., of Northfield.

“We want this to be a living, breathing tour,” said Bonoff, while explaining the aim of their visit to the attendees at the half-full Viking Theater. “I felt the need to get into the field and talk and learn from all of you.”

Clausen’s experience as a public educator and principal piqued his interest in the topic at hand.

“It is extremely important that legislators invest in education because ultimately it will improve the quality of life for our citizens,” Sen. Clausen said.

After receiving an introduction from Student Government Association SGA President John Schwirtz ’14, the panel opened up the discussion of higher education to the audience, inviting listeners to share their stories.

Sebastian Ford ’16 opened up the dialogue by asking the panel how the Minnesota Senate intends to address the issue of funding for groups like TriO, which represent low-income, first-generation college students.

“TriO students need support, and the structure of programs like these is very effective and leads to a much higher success rate for these students,” Sen. Bonoff said. “Because these programs are federally funded, we need to combine forces with congressional representatives. I’d like to see how we can expand programs like TriO so every student has access.”

Students also raised questions about the involvement of the state in private schools like St. Olaf. Sen. Bonoff brought up changes made to the state grant structure this summer, including increasing the monetary cap on various grants; this would allow more financial flexibility to students who wish to attend more expensive private schools.

Political Awareness Committee Coordinator Rachel Palermo ’15 asked what advice the panel would give to students who wish to become more involved with the state’s legislature; she also questioned the effect of student visits to the state capitol for annual events like Day at the Capitol.

“It’s very important that we hear from the public,” Sen. Clausen said. “Setting up an appointment with your representative allows us to hear from you. There are many reasons why people run for office, but, most of all, we want to make sure we are doing the best for our citizens.” Bly also highlighted the importance of making a personal connection with citizens.

“Putting a face to those that we represent is very important,” he said. “We’ve been on a trend of declining state involvement in higher education, and I think that’s really unfortunate.”

Approximately halfway through the session, Bonoff asked the audience members if any of them had had internships, and, if so, if those positions were unpaid.

“We talk a lot about how important it is to have internships, but we also believe you ought to be paid for your work,” she said.

Bonoff then described the idea of paid apprenticeships, where students are em

ployed at companies that help pay for their schooling and then offer them jobs at the end of the program.

“We’re experimenting with this idea,” she said. “We think we should pilot a program like this in Minnesota and get companies to commit to jobs for students.”

When asked about the Obama administration’s recent idea to rank higher education institutions and how this might affect schools in Minnesota, the panel had positive, if somewhat mixed, responses.

Bonoff was fully supportive of the idea and listed several areas that should meet criteria, including graduation rate, default rate, debt-earnings and outlook.

“These are key measurements we think we should require to protect our students,” she said. “We agree with Obama, and I’m anxious to see what they do.” Bly offered a few qualifications to Bonoff’s statement.

“I would recommend a cautious approach to this project because you can’t judge every institution as the same,” he said. “We have to have a broader view of our institutions and look carefully at each individual school.”

At the end of the meeting, students were able to converse briefly with the panel members one-on-one before the committee headed to its next stop, Carleton College. The meeting also proved interesting and useful for students who are not Minnesota natives.

“I was impressed, as an out-of-state student, to learn about the opportunities offered by the state,” said SGA Vice-President Wendy Raymond ’14.

“It really solidified faith in Minnesota legislation,” Palermo said. “To see them make such an effort to have our voices heard really shows that they do care and our voices do matter.”

lohmanna@stolaf.edu

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Low-Carbon Day celebrated

Students who lined up outside of Stav Hall on Monday, April 22, were treated to food prepared by Bon Appétit in celebration of the annual Low-Carbon Day in the Caf.

The event, which coincided with Earth Day, aimed to show students how certain foods are being impacted by climate change and to give examples of low-carbon, local ingredients. This year’s treat was a smoothie made of blueberries, basil and almond milk. Various staff members served the drink to students at a booth adorned with flashy signs and loaded with information about low-carbon and local diets.

By showcasing foods that have a smaller carbon footprint, as opposed to dairy, meat and packaged products, the Bon Appétit staff hoped to help students learn about how their ingredients impact their environment.

“This year our focus is on serving items that are affected by climate change,” said Bon Appétit Executive Chef Matthew Forgarty, as he served dollops of smoothie to a crowd of students. “We take things that have a low carbon footprint and showcase them. The fact that we can use local products is one of the beautiful ideas that we chose to focus on.”

Low-Carbon Day has been a tradition for the past eight years, and, according to Bon Appétit Sous Chef Lewayne Strand, the feedback from students is “always positive.”

“Sure, there’s always the boo-hooers who want cheese on their pizza, but we usually run naked pizza to balance things out,” Strand said.

According to a literature review on the impacts of climate change on agriculture, commissioned by Bon Appétit Management Company, “The one thing scientists and all models agree on is that temperatures are going to warm, and this is going to affect crops.”

The Bon Appétit Management Company aims to highlight the significant connections between food and climate change and to “take steps to reduce [their] contribution to the problem,” according to their website http://www.cafebonappetit.com. These steps include reducing purchases of high-carbon foods, reducing wasteful practices, focusing on local produce and increasing awareness about how the choices people make about food affect climate change.

Bon Appétit is always “absolutely trying to push for low-carbon food,” Strand said. “We try to use as much of Bon Appétit produce as possible, but it is more plentiful when school is not in session. During the school year, though, we try to get our produce locally.”

While signs pointing out locally-grown, vegan and vegetarian options are usually attached to the menus outside of the Caf, the chance to discuss the issues of food and climate change directly with students was a valuable opportunity for the Stav Hall staff.

“I love working here and making things from scratch, and for us to communicate what we are serving like this is really great,” Strand said. “We encourage any questions students may have.”

“One of the things I love about this day is that a lot of our low-carbon efforts are lost in translation,” Fogarty said. “But this connection is a lot more personal. There’s a lot more synergy as a whole.”

To learn more about a low-carbon diet, community members can visit EatLowCarbon.org. In the meantime, interested eaters can follow the site’s “Top Five Low-Carbon Diet Tips”:

1. You bought it, you eat it – don’t waste food.

2. Make “seasonal and regional” your food mantra.

3. Moooove away from beef and cheese.

4. Stop flying fish and fruit – don’t buy air-freighted food.

5. If it’s processed and packaged, skip it.

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New spring break shuttle offers rides home

As spring break approaches, students are likely dreaming about arriving at their vacation destinations. But, first they have to actually get there. For students traveling to the nearby locations of Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, a convenient option has just become available this year.

Director of Student Activities Kris Vatter sent an email to the student body announcing St. Olaf’s new partnership with Campus Connector, a transportation service that caters to students traveling from colleges and universities across the nation. Among Campus Connector’s other clients are Colby College, Gettysburg College, Skidmore College, Vassar Collge and Texas A&M University.

While shuttle services to nearby airports have been available in the past, this new service is more convenient, as it leaves directly from Buntrock Commons.

“We’ve always had a parent or student wanting help transporting to the Chicago area,” said Vatter, explaining that the distance always seems too long to drive, but too short to fly.

“We do know that the megabus is an option, but getting our students to a megabus stop is troublesome as there’s not usually enough students to merit providing transportation,” Vatter said.

The relatively small number of students requiring this type of transportation has been a complication in the past. Vatter has been trying to set up a shuttle service to the Chicago area for several years, but many providers ended up falling through due to a lack of ticket sales. Campus Connector is the third shuttle service Vatter has been in contact with this year alone.

“The first company was a local man who had been trying for a while to get a shuttle business going,” Vatter said. “But he was a small businessman and couldn’t do it. The second company we tried was unable to provide the service until after spring break.”

Eventually, Vatter was contacted by Campus Connector, who assured her that even if just one St. Olaf student purchased a ticket, the service would still run. “Hopefully the third time is the charm,” she said.

Students interested in the shuttle service can purchase their tickets for $89 online. Afterward, they will be emailed an e-ticket, which can be presented to the bus driver outside of Buntrock Commons at the time of departure, March 22 at 4 p.m. The shuttle service will be available for students returning to campus as well, departing on April 1 from Chicago at 3 p.m., Milwaukee at 5:05 p.m. and Madison at 6:30 p.m.

If all goes well, Campus Connector will be available to St. Olaf students for all major breaks in the future. Its website boasts that Campus Connector will save students from the hectic nature usually experienced in travel: “No more paying crazy taxi fees, or riding the subway to get back from far-flung airports. It’s that easy.”

While St. Olaf is not part of the process in acquiring tickets, Vatter hopes students will be able to make use of the service.

“I hope people have heard about the shuttle through the grapevine,” Vatter said. “It’s so hard to publicize, and I haven’t heard any feedback from the student body. I literally have my fingers crossed that it will work. I guess if the bus shows up, I’ll know!”

Hopefully, after an initial run students traveling to areas of Wisconsin and Illinois will have what Campus Connector claims to be “a reliable means of traveling to and from St. Olaf for major academic breaks.”

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Student body elects 13-14 leadership team

Student Government Association SGA general elections, held on Thursday, March 7, put a new set of student faces in power for the 2013-2014 academic year.

John Schwirtz ’14 and Wendy Raymond ’14 were elected president and vice president of SGA, beating their opponents, Gina Tonn ’14 and Nick Stumo-Langer ’15, by a mere 19 votes the final tally was 642-623.

“[Tonn and Stumo-Langer] were very strong candidates, and it was a pleasure to face them in the election,” Schwirtz said. “We worked very hard and the work showed, but we’re thankful we did everything we did in our campaign because literally every vote counted when it came down to the wire.”

After taking a weekend off, the newly-elected team will already begin training this week. They will meet with the current President Catherine Haines ’13 and Vice President Matt Alveshere ’13 to begin the transition process. Eventually, they will look into hiring an executive staff and start planning for the year to come.

“We’re thankful for everyone who supported us, but we intend to do our absolute best to represent everybody, whether or not they voted for us,” Schwirtz said. “We’re going to do our best to make sure that SGA is successful not just next year, but for years to come.”

Besides the election of student government positions, the ballot also gave SGA a window into the student body’s view on the recent tobacco debate that has risen up on campus. A referendum at the bottom of the ballot asked whether students would support a tobacco-free environment at St. Olaf. The results were relatively equal, with 518 students voting “yes” and 568 voting “no.”

“Regarding the referendum, the campus is really divided, so it’s not conclusive,” Haines said. “At this point, SGA won’t take any further steps, although I assume the nursing department will look at the numbers and student opinion for the future.”

The current SGA president and vice president noted that this spring election seemed more active than years past. Alveshere noted that the number of candidates who had to go through the primaries was almost “unheard of.”

Haines agreed, adding, “It’s usual for most of the positions to be uncontested. We were surprised that there were so many contested races. There was also very active campaigning, not just posters, but a lot of Facebook activity as well.”

A total of 1,668 students voted this spring, which is an increase in participation from the fall elections.

Election Commissioner Brian Finks ’13 said that while the number of student voters was similar to previous years, the increase in social media use made it difficult to completely monitor the campaigns.

“The use of Facebook, Twitter and Tightrope are campaign platforms that have been added to the policy manual in recent years and are continually being edited,” Finks said. “We generally just ask that candidates ‘keep it classy,’ and, for the most, part candidates do follow this request.”

The newly elected student government officials are as follows:

SGA President and Vice-President

John Schwirtz ’14 and Wendy Raymond ’14

ADC Coordinator

Erin Hynes ’15

BORSC Coordinator

William Raun ’14

SAA Coordinator

Bailey Williams ’16

DCC Coordinator

Kayla Dharampaul ’15

MEC Coordinator

Connor Petersen ’14

The Pause Co-Coordinator

Shane Allen ’14 and Becca Strommen ’14

PAC Coordinator

Rachel Palermo ’15

SAC Coordinator

John Bruer ’16

SOC Coordinator

Dan Frankenfeld ’15

VN Coordinator

Anna Christianson ’14

Student Life Committee Senator

Kyle Obermann ’14

Faculty Life Committee Senator

Mitch Kampf ’15

Curriculum Committee Senator

Evan Davis ’15

Faculty Governance Committee Senator

Stephen Crouser ’15

Intercampus Liaison

Alesa Boyle ’14

Environmental Senator

Sonja Smerud ’14

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Lutefest canceled after nine-year run; SGA president and VP say decision was ‘all facts’

Citing damage to students and campus alike, the Student Government Association SGA president and vice president planned to announce the cancellation of St. Olaf’s annual Lutefest celebration on Thursday, March 14.

The decision, executed by SGA President Catherine Haines ’13 and Vice President Matt Alveshere ’13, is the result of conversations that have been going on for months.

At the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year, the previous President Jon Laven ’12 and Vice President Klara Wagnild ’12 started a senate committee to address the behavior and attitude that has become associated with Lutefest. By collaborating with various branches of senate, including the Music Entertainment Committee MEC, other senators and coordinators of student organizations, SGA hoped to make massive changes to Lutefest.

“We wanted to try to maintain a really fun event that would be safer than it had in the past,” Haines said. “It was going to be a last-ditch effort. If we put everything into this and it still didn’t work out, then we would really have to reassess.”

Last year, SGA decided to plan a night activity as part of Lutefest, a comedy performance by Judah Friedlander, to encourage students to do something safe and fun with their evening. SGA also added additional security in Stav Hall and around campus for the day, while student organizations and student government branches put in extra work and money. All in all, SGA spent nearly $35,000 on that day alone. According to Haines, even with the extra precautions, the campus saw just as many, if not more, hospitalizations.

“After [last year’s effort], we sparked a conversation to critically look at the issues,” Alveshere said.

This fall, Haines and Alveshere formed focus groups with residence life staff, hall councils and campus Public Safety to talk about issues and changes that could be made to Lutefest in the coming year.

After discussions with the focus groups, as well as additional conversations with Public Safety Director Fred Behr and administrators, Haines and Alveshere eventually came to their decision to cancel Lutefest.

“Of course, it was such a hard decision for both of us,” said Haines, who expressed disappointment in the failure of SGA’s efforts to minimize the damage of the event. “It comes down to the fact that it’s not a safe event, and you can’t just keep trying when it’s not safe.”

Alveshere agreed that the event was a hazard to the campus.

“The way we treat Buntrock Commons, Stav Hall, the employees of this campus, the vandalism of residence halls and in the quad – it’s this type of behavior that we couldn’t find an answer to address it and stop it,” Alveshere said.

Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb ’87, who has been a part the decision-making process, agreed that the vandalism is in no way justified.

“It’s difficult to put a price on food being thrown and trampled in Stav, or persons urinating on the Stav floor, or trays being left on tables for staff to pick up or having to bring in professional security staff to monitor student behavior,” Eaton-Neeb said.

In addition to vandalism issues, the event was not always a positive experience for the student body, according to Alveshere.

“Lutefest is an event that St. Olaf students leave campus because of,” Alveshere said. “So, we’re planning an event that students want to avoid. How can we, as a student government, run an event like that?”

St. Olaf is not the only campus that has been re-evaluating its spring events. Peer colleges are addressing similar safety concerns, and the issue of culture change on college campuses is not a new one.

“We actually did some research about college campus culture,” Alveshere said. He said that the research pointed to the same conclusion to which he and Haines had been arriving, that “unless there’s drastic change, you aren’t going to change the culture.”

The executive team also emphasized the inconvenience the event imposes, not only on students and staff, but also on the larger Northfield community. Each year the city’s resources, from hospital staff to the local police force, are taken up by St. Olaf students on Lutefest.

“One year, all of the Northfield emergency medical technicians were occupied with St. Olaf students, so when an emergency call was placed, they had to dispatch Faribault EMTs,” Alveshere said. “In addition, last year the Northfield Hospital proactively increased their staff for the day, without being warned by the St. Olaf campus.”

Haines and Alveshere expect students to be upset, but hope that they will listen to the reasons behind the decisions. “It’s important to communicate with our peers about why this decision was made,” Alveshere said.

Haines agreed, adding, “At least a good chunk will understand. They’ll be upset, but they’ll understand the reasons. There’s no opinion in how we made the decision. It’s just all facts.”

In an attempt to avoid making what would have been Lutefest a “dark day” on campus, SGA is discussing the possibility of alternative programming for that night. In addition, several branches of SGA will have more money for programming of their own to take place throughout the remainder of the semester.

The cancellation of Lutefest will likely be a disappointment for St. Olaf’s campus bands.

“Obviously, this decision to cancel Lutefest is going to make campus band people livid,” MEC Coordinator Ryan Peterson ’14 said. “This was the biggest show of the year. I think this decision is detrimental to campus bands and their morale. It will affect them poorly. It’s frustrating.” Peterson said that because the executive team made the announcement to him three months before Lutefest was scheduled to occur, “it’s a big stumbling block.”

Even so, MEC is planning to create a venue for campus bands to perform before the school year ends.

“We’re thinking about doing a last day of class campus band festival in order to get a similar outcome with a less destructive reputation,” he said.

Peterson is not the only one predicting a negative reaction from some students. Eaton-Neeb said that she anticipates some of the student body will be disappointed, while others will be relieved.

“It’s possible that some will respond poorly, but I hope that they are able to pause to consider why,” Eaton-Neeb said. “A group of smart, earnest people tried very hard to continue Lutefest and could not see a way to do so safely.”

The decision to cancel Lutefest after its nine-year run was, ultimately, the only possible solution, according to Haines. Hopeful for a safer campus and a happier community that Saturday in May, the executive team is looking forward to finding a different way to spend time, energy and $35,000.

belisle@stolaf.edu

lohmanna@stolaf.edu

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Oles win nine straight, claim first round bye