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Preview/Review (Apr. 20 to May 4)

Reviews and previews of some fun and informative U events and lectures occurring through May 4

Compiled by Adam Overland



Before the Budget Negotiations Begin: Minnesota’s Budget Deficit and Possible Solutions
On Apr. 11, University Regent Steve Sviggum brought House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Senate majority leader Amy Koch, commissioner of management and budget Jim Schowalter, and commissioner of revenue Myron Frans together for a frank and open discussion at the Humphrey School. Minnesota’s budget deficit looms at a projected $5 billion over the next two years. The Republican-controlled legislature proposes reduced spending, while the Democrat governor proposes a mixture of spending cuts and tax increases.

To the public, government gridlock can look like I-94 at rush hour. The legislature and governor must agree on a budget just like we must get to work on time or get home for dinner. So how do we deal with the headache of "sitting in traffic"—the growing frustration with lawmakers who don’t seem to want to work together to get us where we need to go?

Each panelist had their own "guiding principles" for working on the budget

  • Speaker Zellers suggested creating a budget that would lead to fiscal stability into the future, not just this biennium, and would fundamentally change the way our tax money is being spent, using a priority-based budgeting model.
  • Majority leader Koch suggested curbing the growth of the budget and using more efficient business models in state government, such as a comprehensive energy savings plan, updated vehicle fleet management, strategic sourcing, and vendor renegotiation.
  • Commissioner Schowalter described increasing the progressivity in the tax system and reforming government systems to be more efficient and responsive to the people of Minnesota.
  • Commissioner Frans talked about how to make Minnesota’s tax system more progressive by adding a tax bracket for the highest earners, which he said would increase revenue and result in fewer cuts in local government aid and reduced pressure to increase property taxes.

How do these theories work together, and is it possible to find common ground before the end of session in May? Regent Sviggum, having dealt with budget negotiations himself as a former Speaker of the House, demanded detailed ways they plan to work together. In the end, all pledged a willingness to engage in honest negotiations to find a bipartisan solution. Let's just hope they don't "agree to disagree."

You can listen to the audio from the event for more details.
--Review by Anne Mason, assistant director of communications, Humphrey School

CURA Housing Forum: Housing Careers of Very Low Income Persons

Professor Ed Goetz stands at the front of the room and points to a series of bar graphs illustrating “housing careers” of several low-income people. Column height represents how long each person has stayed at a housing accommodation. The graphs speak for themselves—bars spike and descend dramatically over the course of each person’s life starting when he or she left home. One graph showed 18 different accommodations with lengths of stay varying from one month to two and a half years.

Goetz, along with Kim Skobba and Cynthia Yuen, interviewed 47 low-income people, in the Twin Cities area, for one year. They found that the average number of housing accommodations for participants was 15; an average length of stay was 20 months. The details of their study can be found in their CURA Reporter article, “Housing Careers of Very Low Income Persons.” Goetz, Skobba, and Yuen’s Mar. 25 presentation of the same name was hosted by Center for Urban and Regional Affairs' (CURA) Housing Forum, a monthly brown-bag discussion of housing issues and research in the Twin Cities.

Goetz told the housing forum audience that researchers interviewed participants on the number of housing accommodations they've had since moving away from their parents, the housing type of each accommodation, their perceptions of their housing and neighborhood conditions, their life circumstances during each accommodation, and their reasons for moving. Each housing accommodation was categorized, and included subsidized rental, shared rental, living with parents or friends off-lease, homeless shelters, jail, home ownership, and homelessness. The researchers also tracked what prompted each move and found that 49 percent of the participants’ moves were forced. Reasons for voluntary moves ranged from wanting a higher quality living situation to relationship problems.

Most Americans have progressive housing careers—they move from renter to owner, and the quality of each living accommodation increases over time. Low income persons move much more frequently, are often forced to move, and their accommodations are often informal—meaning some of their accommodations are neither rented nor owned.

Researchers also looked at the poverty rates of the participants’ various housing locations and it varied. Interestingly, an accommodation with a lower poverty rate did not necessarily coincide with a participant’s positive perception. What mattered most to the participants’ positive perceptions of housing were relationships and the physical environment associated with a housing accommodation.

In terms of policy recommendations, the researchers suggest a more holistic approach to housing assistance that offers social services along with subsidies, vouchers, and other placement assistance.
--Review by Sara Bielawski, community program specialist with CURA.

Wine Class with Jason Kallsen: Biodynamic, Organic, and Sustainable Wines

Biodynamic wines are those made using the principles of biodynamic agriculture, which in part evidently involves burying a lot of cow horns filled with manure. That fascinating tidbit from local wine educator Jason Kallsen was just one of many thrown to a crowd of about 50 at a Campus Club wine class in early April—something the club does on a semi-regular basis.

If you're often confused by the differences between organic, sustainable, and biodynamic—or maybe you haven't even heard of biodynamic—this class was sure to confuse you even further, and I say that in the most complimentary way. Confusion leads to inquiry, inquiry leads to knowledge, and knowledge, plus some experience, often leads to wisdom.

A few more bits of knowledge from Kallsen:

  • "When someone says they're sustainable, they're absolutely allowed to use chemicals. Do a lot of wineries do that? No. A lot of wineries that call themselves sustainable do it because it costs a lot of money to call yourself organic."
  • "Anytime you use the term organic, it is a legal term. The USDA regulates its use."
  • "A malady that hits vineyards quite often called powdery mildew… It can ruin the crop if it hits at the right time. One benign treatment of copper sulfate will stop the mildew. But… copper sulfate breaks down into a natural byproduct—arsenic. A certified organic vineyard can have arsenic in the ground."

Ask questions. Don't be followers. Build your knowledge.
Fortunately, Kallsen was joined by the equally fascinating Peat Willcütt. Just 25 years old, Willcütt received a minor in sustainable agricultural at the U. He farmed at the student organic farm Cornercopia in St. Paul, managed the Mill City Farmer’s Market, and is now starting a thousand-acre farm in the Catskills. Sometimes the talent at this institution is staggering. Willcütt thought so, too.

"Here at the U of M," he said, "there are a lot of exciting things going on. We should be really proud across the board of everything being done in the agricultural and food sciences here. We have the ability at this school to learn how to make cheese, how to grow any type of plant, raise just about any type of livestock, and how to be good conservationists in ecology."

The same confusion that surrounds wine surrounds food production, Willcütt told the audience. Does cage-free eggs mean chickens are in a field running around, or locked in a barn? Can you visit the farm where your food is grown?

Willcütt's message seemed to be that ethical farming is a better label than organic or any other, and that relationships are key to quality food.

"The greatest advice I can give you tonight is to meet a farmer. I mean, you have a plumber, you have an electrician…but who grows your cow every year? Your vegetables? Ask questions. Don't be followers. Build your knowledge."

If you get a chance to go to one of these classes at the Campus Club, go. It's so much more than wine. 

--Incidentally, Jason Kallsen will teach a class through the College of Continuing Education titled, Wine Exploration: Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties, on May 2. Register online--Review by Adam Overland.

br_080617_CampusClubTerrace.jpgThe Campus Club Terrace in the summertime. During the summer, the Campus Club is open to everyone during happy hour (3-6, no membership required). Look for those dates in an upcoming Brief

Upcoming events at the Campus Club
April 24: Easter Sunday Brunch
May 8: Mother's Day Brunch
May 20: Ninth Annual Beer Tasting
June 2: Aficionado Cocktail Class with Lindsay Bryda, bar manager
June 15: Beer Class: Hop Forward Brews with Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint



Guy Stanton Ford Lecture: Markets, Morals, and Civic Life After the Financial Crisis. Apr. 21, Ted Mann, 12:15–1:30 p.m. Free. Do bankers deserve to make hundreds of times what schoolteachers earn? Is the free market fair? What have we learned from the financial crisis? What is the role of markets in achieving the public good? Join Michael Sandel, Harvard political philosopher and author of the New York Times best seller Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, for a lively discussion of markets, democracy, and the big ethical questions that confront American society today. For more info, see the news release.

CURA Housing Forum: Can Affordable Housing Survive Today's Political Environment? Apr. 22, 12:30–1:30 p.m. L-110, Honeywell Auditorium, Carlson School of Management. Free. Research conducted in 2009 found Minnesotans might be supportive of affordable housing in their community if their concerns were addressed. What do the findings of the comprehensive research say about the attitudes of Minnesotans to affordable housing in today's political climate? Register online and find out. Tom Horner presents.

The Community Orchard: Growing Fruit in the City. Apr. 23, 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Oswald Visitor Center, U of M Landscape Arboretum. Cost: $30 members, $35 nonmembers. Ever dreamed of owning an Strawberry 165apple orchard but don't have the money or the land? Dream smaller. An increasing number of urban groups and organizations are attracted to the idea of harvesting apples, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, blueberries and cherries in a backyard, schoolyard, churchyard, or community center. The symposium will address key questions about growing fruit, including: Is your location suitable? How much work and how long will it take? What varieties are best for your site? Where can you get plants? Can they be grown organically? Featuring Emily Hoover, an expert in sustainable fruit production and professor and head of the Department of Horticultural Science; Emily Tepe, research associate at the U and author of the UM Edible Landscape Blog.

SteelRoots 165Ongoing exhibit: "Steelroots: Touching Earth & Sky." Landscape Arboretum. Continues through January 2012. While you're out at the fruit show (above), stop and see an exhibition of 16 massive root shapes sculpted in steel by artist Steve Tobin. The exhibit opened Apr. 16 at the arboretum. In fact, it's going to be hard to miss some of these massive structures. This is the first exhibition ever of Steelroots in Minnesota and only the second showing worldwide. Tobin's work has been featured in National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian magazine, and more.

Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America. Apr. 25, noon–1:15 p.m., Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey School. During the 2008 election and afterward, many commentators speculated that Barack Obama moved America beyond its history of fractious racial battles, which Obama and his political advisers encouraged to broaden their political appeal. After two years in office, however, it is clear that the first black president has not introduced a new post-racial America. Instead, Obama’s color-blind policies and political strategy of avoiding racial discussions has turned a blind eye to deepening racial disparities, says speaker Desmond King, whose research covers race and American politics, immigration, welfare and urban politics and U.S. federal policy. King is the Andrew Mellon Chair of American Government and a Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. The event will be moderated by U professor Dara Strolovitch. 

MOMENTUM 2011: "A Fact-based Worldview," with health guru Hans Rosling, joined by MPR's Kerri Miller and a performance by comedian Cy Amundson. Apr. 26, 7:30 p.m., Ted Mann Concert Hall. Cost: $15 for U staff, faculty, and alumni. The Institute on the Environment's Momentum event series opened with Majora Carter (view a recording online), a world-renowned leader in local economic development strategies. Next up is international health guru Hans Rosling, who is known worldwide for using animations of global trends to brings statistics to life as he lectures about past and contemporary economic, social, and environmental changes in the world. He's guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser, despite the challenging topic he takes on: daunting problems and inspiring solutions at the interface of international health and the environment. The final event will be May 12, with oceanographer and deep-sea diver Sylvia Earle, with local host Robyne Robinson and a performance by musician Mason Jennings.

Frontiers in the Environment: Experiences Dealing with Climate Literacy in Minnesota, with the U's Mark Seeley. Apr. 27, noon–1 p.m., IonE seminar room R380, VoTech Bldg., St. Paul campus or via UMConnect. Working with the NOAA National Weather Service and Minnesota State Climatology Office for the past 33 years in outreach education has brought many challenges. Mark Seeley will share some stories of success and failure and present some examples of recent partnerships in climate adaptation planning.

KatrinaPoet 165Beyond Katrina
: A Discussion with Poet Natasha Trethewey. Apr. 27, 7:30–9 p.m., Coffman Union Theater. Free. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey talks about her family's experience on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and how it led to her 2010 book Beyond Katrina. Trethewey is the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet. She has won Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, among others, and her poems have appeared in several volumes of The Best American Poetry. She is a professor of English, holding the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry, at Emory University. Reception and book signing to follow.

Truck Farm Film Screening
. May 3, 7 p.m., St. Anthony Main Theatre. Cost: $0-8 (Free with student ID). If the above review of the wine and agriculture event at the Campus Club wasn't strange enough for you, go see this film. Truck Farm takes a look at the quirky world of urban agriculture. After filmmaker Ian Cheney (who will be present at the event) plants a garden in the back of his pickup truck, he and the Truck Farm set out to explore the rooftops, barges, and windows that represent New York City╩╝s newest edible oases. Can these urban farmers feed a city? Can the old Dodge and its crops survive the winter? Blending serious exposition with serious silliness, the film asks viewers to ponder the future of urban farming, and to consider whether sustainability needs a dose of fun and whimsy to be truly sustainable. The showing is sponsored by the U's Institute on the Environment, the Bell Museum, and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Psychology + Economics: Perspectives on Decision Making. May 4, 5:30–7 p.m., McNamara Alumni Center. Free. What can bringing economics and psychology together tell us? Research shows that economic success relates to a combination of cognitive skills, human capital accumulation, and personality characteristics. Now, researchers are trying to formulate more accurate predictions of life outcomes, from educational achievement to economic success.

The recent debate on the relative virtues of different approaches to education or parenting (such as the discussions around Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) have made clear the need for a systematic evaluation of how character shaping, the formation of social skills, and academics enter into economic and personal success. Robert Krueger and Aldo Rustichini will present and debate on this topic and related policy implications. The discussion will be moderated by Art Rolnick, codirector for the U's Human Capital Research Collaborative.

Find more Twin Cities events using the U's events calendar.

University events and lectures preview/review is a periodic column (about every two weeks) highlighting events and lectures recently past and soon-to-come on the UMTC campus. Faculty and staff are invited to contribute. Review submissions should be no more than 500 words, previews 200 or fewer. Both are subject to review by the Brief editor.